Bechdel's "Fun Home" Is Time Magazine's Book Of The Year

The top spot on Time Magazine’s “books of the year” list:

The unlikeliest literary success of 2006 is 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. Oh, and it’s a comic book: 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.

I’m thrilled that Fun Home has been a huge success; not only is it a great book, but Alison Bechdel has been an obscure great cartoonist for too many years. I highly, highly recommend buying this book.

Two panels from Alison Bechdel's "Fun Home."

Above: a couple of panels from Fun Home. Picking out a sample of art from Fun Home isn’t easy, because Bechdel isn’t a show-offy cartoonist; she’s all about communicating the story and the moment, and usually she does it in the least obtrusive way possible. I love the two-panel sequence above for how well it communicates the emotional undercurrents; the body language and expressions of two people trying not to have any reaction to what they’re saying are perfect.

In 1999, when The Comics Journal put out a list of the “Top 100 English-Language Comics of the 20th Century,” based on voting by a group of critics, I argued on their message boards that two cartoonists whose works belonged on the list were missing. One was Dave Sim, whose omission was objected to by many, and who was left off the list because voters were split among several different works.

The other was Alison Bechdel, and as far as I know I was the only person to object to her omission. With Fun House, it has hopefully become more obvious to people that Bechdel is a major comics creator.

One reason Bechdel wasn’t on the top 100 list, in my opinion, is sexism. Not sexism as in “the Comics Journal critics hate women.” Rather, I think the critical culture in comics tends to dismiss female-dominated genres as fluff, while male-dominated genres — even extremely fluffy ones, like adventure comic strip and superhero comics — are taken more seriously (and were well-represented on the top 100 list). Before Fun Home, Bechdel’s major work was a soap opera comic strip; the fact that it was soap opera meant that few critics read it seriously (or at all).1

I’ve spent today rereading the short stories that Bechdel publishes at the end of each “Dykes To Watch Out For” collection. Pre-Fun Home, these short stories were where Bechdel experimented with long-form comics, and she did a lot of great work with characterization, pacing, and tying together multiple narratives. I hope Bechdel is considering publishing a collection of her “Dykes” short stories; they stand on their own quite well, and publishing them as a group could help make more visible some of Bechdel’s best and least-read works.

Curtsy: Quirkybird.

[Crossposted at Creative Destruction. If your comments aren’t being approved here, try there.]

  1. There are a few comic strips with soap elements on the top 100 list – Little Orphan Annie, Thimble Theatre (aka Popeye) and Lil’ Abner. All three are certified classics with male creators and a lot of “adventure” elements. []
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9 Responses to Bechdel's "Fun Home" Is Time Magazine's Book Of The Year

  1. Pingback: Pandagon

  2. 2
    Frowner says:

    Fun Home deserves all its accolades. Alison Bechdel is, to my mind, one of the very finest comix artists working now, and DTWOF is the best comic strip in the entire world (er, according to me). I do think it’s amusing that Time has to include the “forget genre and sexual orientation” line, which should translate as “don’t worry about marginal genres or people; this thing is a real work of art which we can appropriate without having any concern for or being polluted by marginal genres or people.”

    None the less, it’s a good thing politically that this novel is getting so much press.

  3. 3
    anacas says:

    Wow! My copy’s in the mail, and I am only getting more massively excited for it by the day (bonus points for my fairly queer-phobic mom getting it for me for Chanukah… sign of acceptance, or sign of not having read the press very carefully? Time will tell). DTWOF is incredibly well done, and Fun Home must be quite something to get people who ignored Dykes to take notice like this.

  4. 4
    Sara no H. says:

    She’s got something called Unnatural Dykes to Watch Out For (and a sequel) — think that’s the same thing?

  5. 5
    BadTux says:

    I went out and bought a copy based on this review. All I have to say is… wow. Just wow. Doesn’t matter whether you’re gay or straight, male or female, an admirer of graphic novels or a hater of them. This is one fine work of art.


  6. 6
    William Burns says:

    What we really need, and what I hope we get, is a reprinting of all of the Dykes strips and related material in a hardcover edition with good paper. While I agree that sexism greatly influenced Bechdel’s omission there was also the fact that her stuff wasn’t that easy to find–it ran in alternative papers, and the collections have tended to go in and out of print erratically.

  7. 7
    little light says:

    I just finished “Fun Home.” It utterly blew me away. It was incredible.
    I am pretty much recommending it to everyone I know, in that breathless tone I get about things that knock me over and leave me feeling like a different person afterward.
    Seriously. Other people might not identify as much as I did, but it’s an amazing work, and an amazingly human project.
    Get ahold of it if you can.

  8. 8
    Stephen Frug says:

    Following up on Bean’s reply…

    If you’re going to start reading DTWOF — and you really should, it’s just wonderful — I would suggest not starting with the first book, which are her pre-“soap opera” cartoons. The Soap Opera proper begins halfway through the second book (More DTWOF) — but the early stories & drawings are *very* simple, not at all as complex as they would become (or are in Fun Home). If you want to start from near the beginning anyway, I’d suggest beginning with New, Improved DTWOF, since the few soap-opera strips in More DTWOF are easily caught up on (a relationship begins, and that’s about it). If you think that simple drawing/stories might turn you off, skip a few books — she includes a summary at the beginning of each so you can catch up.

    There is a brief short story in More DTWOF, and a non-soap opera story in book for, DTWOF: The Sequel, but the first longer DTWOF story is in the fifth book, Spawn of DTWOF. Might be a good place to start.

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