Alison Bechdel

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Alison Bechdel
Bechdel at the Boston Book Festival in 2011
Bechdel at the Boston Book Festival in 2011
Born (1960-09-10) September 10, 1960 (age 60)
Beech Creek, Pennsylvania, U.S.
OccupationCartoonist, author
EducationSimon's Rock College
Oberlin College (BA)
GenreAutobiography, social commentary
Literary movementUnderground
Notable worksDykes to Watch Out For,
Fun Home,
Are You My Mother?
SpouseAmy Rubin (m. Feb. 2004, voided Aug. 2004)
Holly Rae Taylor (m. July 2015)

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 that won a Tony Award for Best Musical in 2015.[2] In 2012, she released her second graphic memoir Are You My Mother? She was a 2014 recipient of the MacArthur "Genius" Award.[3] She is also known for the Bechdel test.

Early life[edit]

Bechdel was born in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania. She is the daughter of Helen Augusta (née Fontana; 1933–2013)[4] and Bruce Allen Bechdel (1936–1980).[5] Her family was Roman Catholic. Her father was an army veteran who was stationed in West Germany. He was also a high school English teacher, working full-time and operating a funeral home part-time. Her mother was an actress and teacher. Both of her parents contributed to her career as a cartoonist.[6] She has two brothers, Bruce "Christian" Bechdel II and John Bechdel, a keyboard player who has worked with many bands including Fear Factory, Ministry, Prong and Killing Joke. Bechdel left high school a year early and earned her A.A. in 1979 from Bard College at Simon's Rock. She graduated with a degree in studio arts and art history in 1981 from Oberlin College.[6] After her father died in 1980, her mother sold the family house, in Beech Creek, Pennsylvania, the small town where Bechdel grew up, and moved to Bellefonte, a less provincial small town near State College with her longtime partner Dr. Robert Fenichel.[7]


Alison Bechdel at a London signing for Fun Home in 2006

Bechdel moved to Manhattan during the summer of 1981 and applied to several art schools, but was rejected and worked in many office jobs in the publishing industry.[8]

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".[9] An acquaintance recommended she send her work to WomaNews, a feminist newspaper, which published her first work in its June 1983 issue.[8] Bechdel gradually moved from her early single-panel drawings to multi-paneled strips.[10] Dykes to Watch Out For began this process, developing into a series of posters and postcards, allowing for people to have a look into the urban lesbian community.[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.[10] 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. The success of Dykes to Watch Out For allowed Bechdel to quit her day job in 1990 to work on the strip full-time.[8]

In November 2006, Bechdel was invited to sit on the Usage Panel of the American Heritage Dictionary.[11] 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.[12] On April 6, 2017, Bechdel was appointed as Vermont's third Cartoonist Laureate.[13]

In 2014, she posted a comic strip based on her Fun Home! The Musical![14] After Donald Trump's election as U.S. president she posted three new episodes of Dykes to Watch Out For: "Pièce de Résistance,"[15] "Postcards From the Edge,"[16] and "Things Fall Apart."[17]

Bechdel resides in Bolton, Vermont, and works with the Vermont-based alternative weekly, Seven Days.

Graphic novels[edit]

Fun Home[edit]

In 2006, Bechdel published Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, an autobiographical "tragicomic" chronicling her childhood and the years before and after her father's suicide. It follows both the past and present regarding the relationship she shares with her parents, specifically her father. Additionally, this graphic memoir helps show the hardships individuals face when coming out.[18] 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.[19] Fun Home spent two weeks on The New York Times Bestseller List for Hardcover Nonfiction.[20][21]

Fun Home was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by numerous sources, including The New York Times,[22],[23][24] The Times of London,[25] Publishers Weekly,[26],[27] New York magazine,[28] and Entertainment Weekly.[28]

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."[29]

Fun Home was a finalist for the 2006 National Book Critics Circle Award in the memoir/autobiography category.[30][31] It also won the 2007 Eisner Award for Best Reality-Based Work.[32] Fun Home was also nominated for the Best Graphic Album award, and Bechdel was nominated for Best Writer/Artist.[33]

In 2014, the Republican-led South Carolina House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee considered cutting the College of Charleston's funding by $52,000, the cost of the summer reading program for selecting Fun Home for a reading program.[34][35][36]

Fun Home premiered as a musical Off-Broadway at The Public Theater on September 30, 2013, and opened officially on October 22, 2013. The score was by Jeanine Tesori and the book and lyrics were written by Lisa Kron.[37][38] Kron and Tesori made history as the first all-woman team to win a Tony Award for best score.[39] Originally scheduled to run through November 3, 2013, the run was extended multiple times and the musical closed on January 12, 2014. The Public Theater production was directed by Sam Gold. Sets and costumes were by David Zinn, lighting by Ben Stanton, sound by Kai Harada, projections by Jim Findlay and Jeff Sugg and choreography by Danny Mefford.[40] The musical played at Broadway's Circle in the Square Theatre, with previews from March 27, 2015, and an official opening on April 19, 2015, running to September 10, 2016. Sam Gold, who directed the Public Theater production, also directed the show on Broadway, leading the Off-Broadway production team. The Off-Broadway cast reprised their roles on Broadway, except for the actors playing John, Christian, and Medium Alison. The Broadway musical won five Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Performance by an Actor in Leading Role in a Musical, Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre, Best Book of a Musical, and Best Direction of a Musical.[41]

On January 3, 2020, it was announced that Jake Gyllenhaal and his Nine Stories Productions banner secured the rights to adapt the musical version of Fun Home into a film. Sam Gold, who directed the Broadway production, is set to helm the film, in which Gyllenhaal will star as Bruce Bechdel.[42]

Are You My Mother?[edit]

Bechdel suspended work on Dykes to Watch Out For in 2008 so that she could work on her second graphic memoir, Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama, which was released in May 2012.[43] 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,"[44] 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 throughout her life, beginning in childhood.
  • Bechdel's therapy sessions, whose primary content is composed of analysis of her relationship with her mother.
  • Bechdel's richly imagined, and 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.[45] Bechdel's sexuality and gender non-conformity are a large part of the core message of her work, and has said that "the secret subversive goal of my work is to show that women, not just lesbians, are regular human beings."[46] In February 2004, Bechdel married Amy Rubin, her girlfriend since 1992, 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.[47] She subsequently lived with her partner Holly Rae Taylor, a painter,[48] for seven and a half years before their marriage in July 2015.[49] She lives in Bolton, Vermont, in a house she bought in 1996, adding her own studio to work in.[7] Bechdel and Taylor also own a female cat named Donald, named after the British psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott.[7]

Selected works[edit]

  • The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For (Houghton Mifflin, 2008, ISBN 978-0618968800)
  • Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic (Houghton Mifflin, 2006, ISBN 0-618-47794-2)
  • Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012, ISBN 0-618-98250-7)


For her outstanding contributions to the comic art form, Comics Alliance listed Bechdel as one of twelve women cartoonists deserving of lifetime achievement recognition.[56]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Alison Bechdel Audio Name Pronunciation". Retrieved 2014-08-11. (mp3)
  2. ^ "Tony Awards: 'Fun Home' Wins Best Musical and 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time' Best Play". Retrieved 8 June 2015.
  3. ^ a b Lee, Felicia R. (September 17, 2014). "MacArthur Awards Go to 21 Diverse Fellows". The New York Times.
  4. ^ "Helen Bechdel Obituary - Bellefonte, Pennsylvania | Wetzler Funeral Home, Inc". 2013-05-14. Retrieved 2017-01-13.
  5. ^ "Alison Bechdel". Gale Biography in Context. Retrieved July 19, 2014.
  6. ^ a b c "Alison Bechdel." Gay & Lesbian Biography. Ed. Michael J. Tyrkus and Michael Bronski. Detroit: St. James Press, 1997. Literature Resource Center. Web. 8 Mar. 2016.
  7. ^ a b c "Drawn from Life". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2018-12-03.
  8. ^ a b c "Collection: Alison Bechdel papers | Smith College Finding Aids". Retrieved 2020-05-15.
  9. ^ The Indelible Alison Bechdel: Confessions, Comix, and Miscellaneous Dykes to Watch Out For (Firebrand Books, 1998), p. ??
  10. ^ a b Bechdel, Alison. "Frivolous, Aimless Queries". Retrieved February 22, 2012.
  11. ^ "Dictionary". November 30, 2006.
  12. ^ "Alison Bechdel". Richard and Mary L. Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry - The University of Chicago. Retrieved 2020-05-15.
  13. ^ Hallenbeck, Brent (March 28, 2016). "Alison Bechdel named Vermont Cartoonist Laureate". Burlington Free Press. Retrieved April 4, 2018.
  14. ^ Bechdel, Alison. "Fun Home! The Musical!". Seven Days. Retrieved 2018-12-03.
  15. ^ Bechdel, Pamela Polston, Alison (November 23, 2016). "Dykes to Watch Out For: Pièce de Résistance". Seven Days. Retrieved 2018-12-03.
  16. ^ Bechdel, Alison (March 14, 2017). "New 'Dykes to Watch Out For' Tackles the Ides of Trump". Seven Days. Retrieved 2018-12-03.
  17. ^ Bechdel, Alison (July 5, 2017). "'Dykes to Watch Out For' Ponders How to Unify a Divided Country". Seven Days. Retrieved 2018-12-03.
  18. ^ Killacky, John R. "Alison Bechdel: graphic alchemist." The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide 19.5 (2012): 44+. Literature Resource Center. Web. 8 Mar. 2016.
  19. ^ Wilsey, Sean (June 18, 2006). "The Things They Buried". The New York Times.
  20. ^ "July 9, 2006 Hardcover Nonfiction Best Sellers". The New York Times. July 9, 2006. Retrieved 2006-12-18.
  21. ^ "July 16, 2006 Hardcover Nonfiction Best Sellers". The New York Times. July 16, 2006. Retrieved 2006-12-18.
  22. ^ "100 Notable Books of the Year". The New York Times. Sunday Book Review. December 3, 2006. Retrieved December 12, 2006.
  23. ^ "Best Books of 2006: Editors' Top 50". Retrieved June 19, 2014.
  24. ^ "Best of 2006 Top 10 Editors' Picks: Memoirs". Retrieved June 19, 2014.
  25. ^ Gatti, Tom (2006-12-16). "The 10 best books of 2006: number 10—Fun Home". The Times. London. Retrieved 2006-12-18.
  26. ^ "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.
  27. ^ Miller, Laura; Hillary Frey (2006-12-12). "Best debuts of 2006". Archived from the original on 2008-05-12. Retrieved 2006-12-12.
  28. ^ a b Bonanos, Christopher; Logan Hill; Jim Holt; et al. (2006-12-18). "The Year in Books". New York. Archived from the original on December 13, 2006. Retrieved 2006-12-12.
  29. ^ Grossman, Lev; Richard Lacayo (December 17, 2006). "10 Best Books". Time. Archived from the original on January 9, 2007. Retrieved 2006-12-18.
  30. ^ Getlin, Josh (2007-01-21). "Book Critics Circle nominees declared". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2014-06-19.
  31. ^ "NBCC Awards Finalists". National Book Critics Circle website. Archived from the original on 2006-10-02. Retrieved 2007-01-22.
  32. ^ "The 2007 Eisner Awards: Winners List". San Diego Comic-Con website. Archived from the original on 2010-06-26. Retrieved 2007-07-31.
  33. ^ "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.
  34. ^ Seanna, Adcox (February 19, 2014). "SC lawmakers vote to punish colleges' book choices". San Francisco Chronicle. Associated Press. Archived from the original on February 26, 2014. Retrieved February 21, 2014.
  35. ^ Borden, Jeremy (February 20, 2014). "Palmetto Sunrise: College of Charleston dollars cut for 'promotion of lesbians'". The Post and Courier. Charleston, SC. Archived from the original on February 21, 2014. Retrieved February 21, 2014.
  36. ^ "College students object to reading bestselling, 'pornographic' memoir | Minnesota Public Radio News". 2015-09-01. Retrieved 2017-01-13.
  37. ^ "The Verdict: Critics Review Jeanine Tesori-Lisa Kron Musical Fun Home at the Public Theater". Playbill. 2013-10-23. Retrieved 2017-01-13.
  38. ^ Ben Btantley (2014-01-12). "'Fun Home,' a New Musical at the Public Theater". The New York Times. Retrieved 2017-01-13.
  39. ^ Purcell, Carey (2015-06-07). "Fun Home Duo Make History as First All-Female Writing Team to Win the Tony". Playbill. Retrieved 2017-01-13.
  40. ^ "Fun Home | IBDB: The official source for Broadway Information". Oct 12, 2014. Archived from the original on 2014-10-12. Retrieved Nov 27, 2019.
  41. ^ Pedersen, Erik. "ony Award Winners 2015 - Full List: 'Fun Home,' 'Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time' Lead The Way". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 15 April 2017.
  42. ^ "Jake Gyllenhaal to Produce & Star in Movie Musical Adaptation of Fun Home".
  43. ^ "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.
  44. ^ Garner, Dwight (2007-07-20). "Stray Questions for: Alison Bechdel". ArtsBeat (blog). The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-08-14.
  45. ^ Samer, Roxane (2010-02-23). "A Conversation with Alison Bechdel". Retrieved 2017-11-22.
  46. ^ Joost, Wesley (May 15, 2000). "Sing Lesbian Cat, Fly Lesbian Seagull: An Interview With Alison Bechdel" (PDF). The Guardsman. p. 10. Archived from the original (PDF) on November 17, 2015. Retrieved 21 September 2015. (pg. 11 missing)
  47. ^ Burkeman, Oliver (2006-10-16). "A life stripped bare" (free registration required). The Guardian. Retrieved 2007-01-22.
  48. ^ "Drawn From Life" The New Yorker, April 23, 2012
  49. ^ Teeman, Tim. "Lesbian Desire, a Father's Suicide and 12 Tony Noms: Alison Bechdel on ‘Fun Home'", April 29, 2015
  50. ^ a b Kennedy, Martha H. (2018). Drawn to purpose : American women illustrators and cartoonists. Hayden, Carla Diane, 1952-. Jackson, Mississippi: Library of Congress. pp. 182–183. ISBN 9781496815927. OCLC 993601764.
  51. ^ "ALA | Stonewall Book Awards". Retrieved 2016-03-08.
  52. ^ Inkpot Award
  53. ^ "Winners of the 26th Annual Lambda Literary Awards Announced". Lambda Literary. Retrieved 2016-03-08.
  54. ^ "Erikson Institute Prize for Excellence in Mental Health Media". Austen Riggs Center. Retrieved April 4, 2018.
  55. ^ Gustines, George Gene (Sep 25, 2019). "Harvey Awards Hall of Fame to Induct New Members". Retrieved Nov 27, 2019 – via
  56. ^ "12 Women in Comics Who Deserve Lifetime Achievement Recognition". Archived from the original on 2016-08-01. Retrieved 2017-01-13.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]