Alison Bechdel

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Alison Bechdel
Alison Bechdel at Politics and Prose.jpg
Alison Bechdel at Politics and Prose for a book signing in May 2012.
Born (1960-09-10) September 10, 1960 (age 54)
Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, United States
Occupation Cartoonist, author
Nationality American
Genre Autobiography, social commentary
Literary movement Underground
Notable works Dykes to Watch Out For, Fun Home, Are You My Mother?

Alison Bechdel (/ˈbɛkdəl/ BEK-dəl;[1] born September 10, 1960) is an American cartoonist. Originally best known for the long-running comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For, she came to critical and commercial success in 2006 with her graphic memoir Fun Home, which was subsequently adapted as a musical. She is a 2014 recipient of the MacArthur "Genius" Award.[2]

Early life[edit]

Alison Bechdel was born in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, the daughter of Helen Augusta (née Fontana) and Bruce Allen Bechdel.[3][4] Her family was Roman Catholic, and her parents were teachers. Bechdel's brother is keyboard player John Bechdel, who has worked with many bands including Fear Factory, Ministry, Prong and Killing Joke. Her family also owned and operated a funeral home. She attended Simon's Rock College and then Oberlin College, graduating in 1981.


Alison Bechdel at a London signing for Fun Home in 2006

Bechdel moved to Manhattan and applied to many art schools but was rejected and worked in a number of office jobs in the publishing industry.

She began Dykes to Watch Out For as a single drawing labeled "Marianne, dissatisfied with the morning brew: Dykes to Watch Out For, plate no. 27".[5] An acquaintance recommended she send her work to Womannews, a feminist newspaper, which published her first work in its June 1983 issue. Bechdel gradually moved from her early single-panel drawings to multi-paneled strips.[6] After a year, other outlets began running the strip.

In the first years, Dykes to Watch Out For consisted of unconnected strips without a regular cast or serialized storyline. However, its structure eventually evolved into a focus on following a set group of lesbian characters. In 1986 Firebrand Books published a collection of the strips to date.[6] In 1987 Bechdel introduced her regular characters, Mo and her friends, while living in St. Paul, Minnesota. Dykes to Watch Out For is the origin of the "Bechdel test," which has become a frequently used metric in cultural discussion of film. In 1988, she began a short-lived page-length strip about the staff of a queer newspaper, titled "Servants to the Cause", for The Advocate. Bechdel has also written and drawn autobiographical strips and has done illustrations for magazines and websites. She became a full-time cartoonist in 1990 and later moved near Burlington, Vermont. She currently resides in Bolton, Vermont. In 2012, Bechdel was a Mellon Residential Fellow for Arts and Practice at the Richard and Mary L. Gray Center at the University of Chicago and co-taught "Lines of Transmission: Comics & Autobiography" with Professor Hillary Chute.

In November 2006 Bechdel was invited to sit on the Usage Panel of the American Heritage Dictionary.[7]

She received the Bill Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement from Publishing Triangle in 2012.

She was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 2014.[2]

Fun Home[edit]

Main article: Fun Home

In 2006, Bechdel published Fun Home, an autobiographical "tragicomic" chronicling her childhood and the years before and after her father's death. Fun Home has received more widespread mainstream attention than Bechdel's earlier work, with reviews in Entertainment Weekly, People and several features in The New York Times.[8] Fun Home spent two weeks on the New York Times Hardcover Nonfiction bestseller list.[9][10]

Fun Home was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by numerous sources, including The New York Times,[11],[12][13] The Times of London,[14] Publishers Weekly,[15],[16] New York magazine,[17] and Entertainment Weekly.[17]

Time magazine named Alison Bechdel's Fun Home number one of its "10 Best Books of the Year." Lev Grossman and Richard LeCayo described Fun Home as "the unlikeliest literary success of 2006," and called it "a stunning memoir about a girl growing up in a small town with her cryptic, perfectionist dad and slowly realizing that a) she is gay and b) he is too. ... Bechdel's breathtakingly smart commentary duets with eloquent line drawings. Forget genre and sexual orientation: this is a masterpiece about two people who live in the same house but different worlds, and their mysterious debts to each other."[18]

Fun Home was a finalist for the 2006 National Book Critics Circle Award in the memoir/autobiography category.[19][20] It also won the 2007 Eisner Award for Best Reality-Based Work.[21] Fun Home was also nominated for the Best Graphic Album award, and Bechdel was nominated for Best Writer/Artist.[22]

In 2014, the Republican-led South Carolina House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee cut the College of Charleston's funding by $52,000, the cost of the summer reading program, to punish the college for selecting Fun Home for a reading program.[23][24]

Are You My Mother?[edit]

Dykes to Watch Out For was suspended in 2008 so that Bechdel could work on her second graphic memoir, Are You My Mother?, which was released in May 2012.[25] It focuses on her relationship with her mother. Bechdel described its themes as "the self, subjectivity, desire, the nature of reality, that sort of thing,"[26] which is a paraphrase of a quote from Virginia Woolf's To The Lighthouse.

The story's dramatic action is multi-layered, and divides into a number of narrative strands:

  • Bechdel's phone-conversations with her mother in the present.
  • Bechdel's memories of interactions with her mother during childhood, and an earlier adulthood.
  • Bechdel's therapy sessions, whose primary content is composed of analysis of her relationship with her mother.
  • Bechdel's richly imagined, but also diligently researched, historical portrayals of psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott, and author Virginia Woolf, spliced together with Bechdel's own therapeutic journey with text from the psychoanalytic writings of Alice Miller, along with the story of Bechdel's own reading-through and relating to the works of Sigmund Freud.

An excerpt of the book entitled "Mirror" was included in the Best American Comics 2013, edited by Jeff Smith. This episode riffs heavily on psychoanalytic themes quoted explicitly from the work of psychoanalysts Alice Miller and Winnicott.

Personal life[edit]

Bechdel came out as a lesbian at age 19.[27] Bechdel's gender and sexual identity are a large part of the core message of her work. "The secret subversive goal of my work is to show that women, not just lesbians, are regular human beings."[28] In February 2004, Bechdel married her girlfriend since 1992, Amy Rubin, in a civil ceremony in San Francisco. However, all same-sex marriage licenses given by the city at that time were subsequently voided by the California Supreme Court. Bechdel and Rubin separated in 2006.[29] According to her mother's obituary, as of 2013, Bechdel lives in Bolton, Vermont with her partner, Holly Rae Taylor.

Selected works[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Alison Bechdel Audio Name Pronunciation". Retrieved 2014-08-11. 
  2. ^ a b Lee, Felicia R. (September 17, 2014). "MacArthur Awards Go to 21 Diverse Fellows". The New York Times. 
  3. ^ Bechdel, Leanne Keefer (July 2, 1980). "Bruce Allen Bechdel". Find a Grave. Retrieved June 19, 2014. 
  4. ^ "Alison Bechdel". Gale Biography in Context. Retrieved July 19, 2014. 
  5. ^ The Indelible Alison Bechdel: Confessions, Comix, and Miscellaneous Dykes to Watch Out For (Firebrand Books, 1998), p. ??
  6. ^ a b Bechdel, Alison. "Frivolous, Aimless Queries". Retrieved February 22, 2012. 
  7. ^ "Dictionary". November 30, 2006. 
  8. ^ Wilsey, Sean (June 18, 2006). "The Things They Buried". The New York Times. 
  9. ^ "July 9, 2006 Hardcover Nonfiction Best Sellers". New York Times. July 9, 2006. Retrieved 2006-12-18. 
  10. ^ "July 16, 2006 Hardcover Nonfiction Best Sellers". New York Times. July 16, 2006. Retrieved 2006-12-18. 
  11. ^ "100 Notable Books of the Year". Sunday Book Review (New York Times). December 3, 2006. Retrieved December 12, 2006. 
  12. ^ "Best Books of 2006: Editors' Top 50". Retrieved June 19, 2014. 
  13. ^ "Best of 2006 Top 10 Editors' Picks: Memoirs". Retrieved June 19, 2014. 
  14. ^ Gatti, Tom (2006-12-16). "The 10 best books of 2006: number 10—Fun Home". The Times (London). Retrieved 2006-12-18. 
  15. ^ "The First Annual PW Comics Week Critic's Poll". Publishers Weekly Online (Publishers Weekly). 2006-12-19. Archived from the original on January 23, 2007. Retrieved 2006-12-19. 
  16. ^ Miller, Laura; Hillary Frey (2006-12-12). "Best debuts of 2006". Retrieved 2006-12-12. 
  17. ^ a b Bonanos, Christopher; Logan Hill; Jim Holt et al. (2006-12-18 cover date). "The Year in Books". New York. Archived from the original on 13 December 2006. Retrieved 2006-12-12.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  18. ^ Grossman, Lev; Richard Lacayo (December 17, 2006). "10 Best Books". Time. Archived from the original on January 9, 2007. Retrieved 2006-12-18. 
  19. ^ Getlin, Josh (2007-01-21). "Book Critics Circle nominees declared". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2014-06-19. 
  20. ^ "NBCC Awards Finalists". National Book Critics Circle website. Archived from the original on 2006-10-02. Retrieved 2007-01-22. 
  21. ^ "The 2007 Eisner Awards: Winners List". San Diego Comic-Con website. Retrieved 2007-07-31. 
  22. ^ "The 2007 Eisner Awards: 2007 Master Nominations List". San Diego Comic-Con website. Archived from the original on August 8, 2007. Retrieved 2007-07-31. 
  23. ^ Seanna, Adcox (February 19, 2014). "SC lawmakers vote to punish colleges' book choices". San Francisco Chronicle. Associated Press. Retrieved February 21, 2014. 
  24. ^ Borden, Jeremy (February 20, 2014). "Palmetto Sunrise: College of Charleston dollars cut for ‘promotion of lesbians’". The Post and Courier (Charleston, SC). Retrieved February 21, 2014. 
  25. ^ "Bechdel’s ARE YOU MY MOTHER gets 100K first printing". The Beat: The News Blog of Comics Culture. January 4, 2012. Retrieved January 14, 2012. 
  26. ^ Garner, Dwight (2007-07-20). "Stray Questions for: Alison Bechdel" (blog). Paper Cuts. New York Times. Retrieved 2007-08-14. 
  27. ^ "A Conversation with Alison Bechdel". 
  28. ^ "Sing Lesbian Cat, Fly Lesbian Seagull: Interview with Alison Bechdel". Goblin Magazine. Retrieved 27 February 2012. 
  29. ^ Burkeman, Oliver (2006-10-16). "A life stripped bare" (free registration required). The Guardian. Retrieved 2007-01-22. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]