Jump to content

Alison Bechdel

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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 63)
Beech Creek, Pennsylvania, U.S.
  • Cartoonist
  • 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?
Amy Rubin
(m. 2004; voided 2004)
Holly Rae Taylor
(m. 2015)

Alison Bechdel (/ˈbɛkdəl/ BEK-dəl;[1] born September 10, 1960) is an American cartoonist. Originally 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 originating the Bechdel test.

Early life[edit]

Bechdel was born in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania. She is the daughter of Helen Augusta (née Fontana)[4] and Bruce Allen Bechdel. 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.[5] 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.[5] 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 long-time partner Robert Fenichel.[6]


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.[7]

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".[8] An acquaintance recommended she send her work to WomaNews, a feminist newspaper, which published her first work in its June 1983 issue.[7] Bechdel gradually moved from her early single-panel drawings to multi-paneled strips.[9] 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.[5] 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.[9] 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", intended as a joke,[10] 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.[7]

In November 2006, Bechdel was invited to sit on the Usage Panel of the American Heritage Dictionary.[11][12] 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.[13] On April 6, 2017, Bechdel was appointed as Vermont's third Cartoonist Laureate.[14]

In 2014, she posted a comic strip based on her Fun Home! The Musical![15] After Donald Trump's election as U.S. president she posted three new episodes of Dykes to Watch Out For: "Pièce de Résistance,"[16] "Postcards From the Edge,"[17] and "Things Fall Apart."[18]

Bechdel resides in Bolton, Vermont, and works with the Vermont-based alternative weekly Seven Days.[19]

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 the past and present phases of her relationship with her parents, principally her father, and depicts the hardships individuals face when coming out.[20] 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.[21] Fun Home spent two weeks on The New York Times Bestseller List for Hardcover Nonfiction.[22][23]

Fun Home was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by numerous sources, including The New York Times,[24] amazon.com,[25][26] The Times of London,[27] Publishers Weekly,[28] salon.com,[29] New York magazine,[30] and Entertainment Weekly.[30]

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."[31]

Fun Home was a finalist for the 2006 National Book Critics Circle Award in the memoir/autobiography category.[32][33] It also won the 2007 Eisner Award for Best Reality-Based Work.[34] Fun Home was also nominated for the Best Graphic Album award, and Bechdel was nominated for Best Writer/Artist.[35]

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.[36][37][38]

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.[39][40] Kron and Tesori made history as the first all-woman team to win a Tony Award for best score.[41] 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.[42] 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.[43]

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.[44]

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.[45] 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,"[46] 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 Donald Winnicott.

The Secret to Superhuman Strength[edit]

Bechdel published another memoir, The Secret to Superhuman Strength, in 2021.

Personal life[edit]

Bechdel came out as a lesbian at age 19.[47] Her sexuality and gender non-conformity are a large part of the core message of her work, and she has said that "the secret subversive goal of my work is to show that women, not just lesbians, are regular human beings".[48] 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.[49] She subsequently lived with her partner Holly Rae Taylor, a painter,[6] for seven and a half years before their marriage in July 2015.[50] She lives in Bolton, Vermont, in a house she bought in 1996, adding her own studio to work in.[6][51] Bechdel goes by she/her pronouns.[52]

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)
  • The Secret to Superhuman Strength (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2021, ISBN 978-0224101905)


For her outstanding contributions to the comic art form, in 2016 ComicsAlliance listed Bechdel as one of twelve women cartoonists deserving of lifetime achievement recognition.[60]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Alison Bechdel Audio Name Pronunciation". TeachingBooks.net. Retrieved August 11, 2014. (mp3)
  2. ^ Michael Paulson; Patrick Healy (June 8, 2015). "Tony Awards: 'Fun Home' Wins Best Musical and 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time' Best Play". The New York Times. Retrieved June 8, 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. May 14, 2013. Archived from the original on December 20, 2013. Retrieved January 13, 2017.
  5. ^ a b c Tyrkus, Michael J.; Bronski, Michael, eds. (1997). Gay & Lesbian Biography – "Alison Bechdel". Detroit: St. James Press. ISBN 978-1-55862-237-1. Literature Resource Center. Web. March 8, 2016.
  6. ^ a b c Judith Thurman (April 16, 2012). "Drawn from Life". The New Yorker. Retrieved December 3, 2018.
  7. ^ a b c "Collection: Alison Bechdel papers". Smith College Finding Aids. Retrieved May 15, 2020.
  8. ^ The Indelible Alison Bechdel: Confessions, Comix, and Miscellaneous Dykes to Watch Out For. Firebrand Books. 1998. ISBN 978-1-56341-097-0.
  9. ^ a b Bechdel, Alison. "Frivolous, Aimless Queries". Dykes to Watch Out For. Retrieved February 22, 2012.
  10. ^ Anderson, Hephzibah (July 2, 2023). "Alison Bechdel: 'The Bechdel test was a joke... I didn't intend for it to become a real gauge'". The Guardian.
  11. ^ "Dictionary". Dykes to Watch Out For. November 30, 2006.
  12. ^ Robertson, Mike (October 22, 2013). "College to Host Award-Winning Cartoonist and Author Alison Bechdel". The College Today. Retrieved January 10, 2023.
  13. ^ "Alison Bechdel". Richard and Mary L. Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry – The University of Chicago. Retrieved May 15, 2020.
  14. ^ Hallenbeck, Brent (March 28, 2016). "Alison Bechdel named Vermont Cartoonist Laureate". Burlington Free Press. Retrieved April 4, 2018.
  15. ^ Bechdel, Alison. "Fun Home! The Musical!". Seven Days. Retrieved December 3, 2018.
  16. ^ Bechdel, Alison (November 23, 2016). "Dykes to Watch Out For: Pièce de Résistance". Seven Days. Retrieved December 3, 2018.
  17. ^ Bechdel, Alison (March 14, 2017). "New 'Dykes to Watch Out For' Tackles the Ides of Trump". Seven Days. Retrieved December 3, 2018.
  18. ^ Bechdel, Alison (July 5, 2017). "'Dykes to Watch Out For' Ponders How to Unify a Divided Country". Seven Days. Retrieved December 3, 2018.
  19. ^ "Alison Bechdel". Seven Days. Retrieved January 10, 2023.
  20. ^ Killacky, John R. "Alison Bechdel: graphic alchemist." The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide 19.5 (2012): 44+. Literature Resource Center. Web. March 8, 2016.
  21. ^ Wilsey, Sean (June 18, 2006). "The Things They Buried". The New York Times.
  22. ^ "July 9, 2006 Hardcover Nonfiction Best Sellers". The New York Times. July 9, 2006. Retrieved December 18, 2006.
  23. ^ "July 16, 2006 Hardcover Nonfiction Best Sellers". The New York Times. July 16, 2006. Retrieved December 18, 2006.
  24. ^ "100 Notable Books of the Year". The New York Times. Sunday Book Review. December 3, 2006. Retrieved December 12, 2006.
  25. ^ "Best Books of 2006: Editors' Top 50". Amazon. Retrieved June 19, 2014.
  26. ^ "Best of 2006 Top 10 Editors' Picks: Memoirs". Amazon. Retrieved June 19, 2014.
  27. ^ Gatti, Tom (December 16, 2006). "The 10 best books of 2006: number 10—Fun Home". The Times. London. Retrieved December 18, 2006.
  28. ^ "The First Annual PW Comics Week Critic's Poll". Publishers Weekly Online. Publishers Weekly. December 19, 2006. Archived from the original on January 23, 2007. Retrieved December 19, 2006.
  29. ^ Laura Miller; Hillary Frey (December 12, 2006). "Best debuts of 2006". salon.com. Archived from the original on May 12, 2008. Retrieved December 12, 2006.
  30. ^ a b Christopher Bonanos; Logan Hill; Jim Holt; et al. (December 18, 2006). "The Year in Books". New York. Archived from the original on December 13, 2006. Retrieved December 12, 2006.
  31. ^ Grossman, Lev; Richard Lacayo (December 17, 2006). "10 Best Books". Time. Archived from the original on January 9, 2007. Retrieved December 18, 2006.
  32. ^ Getlin, Josh (January 21, 2007). "Book Critics Circle nominees declared". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 19, 2014.
  33. ^ "NBCC Awards Finalists". National Book Critics Circle. Archived from the original on October 2, 2006. Retrieved January 22, 2007.
  34. ^ "The 2007 Eisner Awards: Winners List". San Diego Comic-Con. Archived from the original on June 26, 2010. Retrieved July 31, 2007.
  35. ^ "The 2007 Eisner Awards: 2007 Master Nominations List". San Diego Comic-Con. Archived from the original on August 8, 2007. Retrieved July 31, 2007.
  36. ^ 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.
  37. ^ 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.
  38. ^ Tracy Mumford (September 1, 2015). "College students object to reading bestselling, 'pornographic' memoir". Minnesota Public Radio News. Retrieved January 13, 2017.
  39. ^ "The Verdict: Critics Review Jeanine Tesori-Lisa Kron Musical Fun Home at the Public Theater". Playbill. October 23, 2013. Retrieved January 13, 2017.
  40. ^ Ben Btantley (January 12, 2014). "'Fun Home,' a New Musical at the Public Theater". The New York Times. Retrieved January 13, 2017.
  41. ^ Purcell, Carey (June 7, 2015). "Fun Home Duo Make History as First All-Female Writing Team to Win the Tony". Playbill. Retrieved January 13, 2017.
  42. ^ "Fun Home | IBDB: The official source for Broadway Information". October 12, 2014. Archived from the original on October 12, 2014. Retrieved November 27, 2019.
  43. ^ Pedersen, Erik (June 8, 2015). "Tony Award Winners 2015 – Full List: 'Fun Home,' 'Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time' Lead The Way". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved April 15, 2017.
  44. ^ "Jake Gyllenhaal to Produce & Star in Movie Musical Adaptation of Fun Home". Broadway.com.
  45. ^ "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.
  46. ^ Garner, Dwight (July 20, 2007). "Stray Questions for: Alison Bechdel". ArtsBeat (blog). The New York Times. Retrieved August 14, 2007.
  47. ^ Samer, Roxane (February 23, 2010). "A Conversation with Alison Bechdel". Genderacrossborders.wordpress.com. Retrieved November 22, 2017.
  48. ^ 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 September 21, 2015. (pg. 11 missing)
  49. ^ Burkeman, Oliver (October 16, 2006). "A life stripped bare" (free registration required). The Guardian. Retrieved January 22, 2007.
  50. ^ Tim Teeman (April 29, 2015). "Lesbian Desire, a Father's Suicide and 12 Tony Noms: Alison Bechdel on 'Fun Home'". Thedailybeast.com.
  51. ^ Sollberger, Eva (director) (May 6, 2021). Stuck in Vermont: Alison Bechdel Shares 'The Secret to Superhuman Strength'. Seven Days. Event occurs at 10:31. Retrieved May 6, 2021.
  52. ^ Anderson, Hephzibah (July 2, 2023). "Alison Bechdel: 'The Bechdel test was a joke... I didn't intend for it to become a real gauge'". The Observer. ISSN 0029-7712. Retrieved March 17, 2024.
  53. ^ 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 978-1-4968-1592-7. OCLC 993601764.
  54. ^ "ALA | Stonewall Book Awards". www.ala.org. Retrieved March 8, 2016.
  55. ^ "Lulu Award". Comic Book Awards Almanac. Archived from the original on January 26, 2013.
  56. ^ "Inkpot Award". Comic-Con International: San Diego. December 6, 2012.
  57. ^ "Winners of the 26th Annual Lambda Literary Awards Announced". Lambda Literary. June 3, 2014. Retrieved March 8, 2016.
  58. ^ "Erikson Institute Prize for Excellence in Mental Health Media". Austen Riggs Center. Archived from the original on July 20, 2018. Retrieved April 4, 2018.
  59. ^ Gustines, George Gene (September 25, 2019). "Harvey Awards Hall of Fame to Induct New Members". The New York Times. Retrieved November 27, 2019.
  60. ^ "12 Women in Comics Who Deserve Lifetime Achievement Recognition". Comicsalliance.com. Archived from the original on August 1, 2016. Retrieved January 13, 2017.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]