Archive for the ‘literature’ Category

Not Very Fun at All

Friday, May 20th, 2011

Alison Bechdel is arguably the most famous lesbian in the comics industry, as the creator of the seminal comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For, but for all the criticism and commentary she included in the strip over its twenty-five-year history, it wasn’t as personal as her graphic memoir Fun Home, which chronicled her own childhood, sexual orientation, and her complex relationship with her father.

That relationship certainly was complex; as we’re told early on, shortly before his death but after Alison had come out to her parents, she found out that her father had had relationships with other men. With so little time to talk to him before she died, Alison is left to figure out his sexuality on her own, examining old memories and re-contextualizing them with this new information.

The whole book is about context and subtext, looking at incidents and bits of dialog and asking, “What does this mean?” It’s almost similar to the kind of literary analysis that takes place in classrooms and book clubs, which makes it appropriate that the book is heavy in literary references. Bruce Bechdel was an English teacher and a voracious reader, so Alison is constantly comparing his life to the books he loved, from the works of Fitzgerald and Camus to James Joyce’s Ulysses and Homer’s Odyssey. But while an English student will be asked how the events of an author’s life will influence their work, Alison is asking how their work influenced her father’s life.

The memoir is very dense in allusions and references, but not to the point of incomprehensibility to the average reader. I still found myself looking up the occasional word or fact, more out of curiosity than confusion. Fun Home is definitely a book that could benefit from an annotated edition.

As a narrative the book is not straightforward or chronological. Instead, it takes the format of human memory, Alison remembering certain incidents and laying out the circumstances surrounding them, then taking the future knowledge of his queer identity and his death and factoring that into each situation. This happens almost every chapter, with memories repeated and reiterated to the point where it feels like Bruce Bechdel dies not once, but again and again, brought back to life at the start of every chapter so a new incident can be re-examined. Knowing what will happen just feels like we’re circling a drain, going around and around until we finally fall in.

Fun Home is full of detail and heart, and it’s never boring. Alison Bechdel has a good mind for detail (as we learn, she’s been keeping a daily diary since she was 10) and each scene is loaded with nostalgia, inspiring me to think back on the shadows of my own childhood. But at the same time, her childhood is much darker and enigmatic, an emotional drain mitigated only by the choice of making the last chapter more positive. This is where Alison talks about those few incidents where her and her father found common ground, most notably through literature. While drawing on facts presented earlier in the book, it still feels off-kilter as we reach the conclusion, a hurried attempt to find meaning before the last page is turned. Perhaps this is how we should feel, to better reflect real life: unsatisfied and confused, but hopeful.

Fun Home
by Alison Bechdel
published by Mariner Books (New York, 2007)
ISBN 978-0-618-87171-1

Out and About: September 11-12, 2010

Friday, September 10th, 2010

Tomorrow begins Small Press Expo 2010 in Bethesda, Maryland. Guests include Dean Haspiel (Billy Dogma) and Raina Telgemeier (Smile). In addition to shopping the floor, events of interest on the schedule:

Sunday, September 12

Autobiography in Pieces

3:00 | Brookside Conference Room

How do you tell the story of a life that’s still in progress? Is “story” even the right way to think about it? How do you winnow down the manifold details and data of your life? Cartoonists Sarah BecanGabrielle BellVanessa Davis, and Jesse Reklaw will discuss alternatives to the memoir with moderator Isaac Cates.

R. Sikoryak: Adaptation and Parody

3:30 | White Flint Amphitheater

Comics chameleon R. Sikoryak inventively adapts canonical Western literature using the visual styles and characters of historical American comic books and comic strips. These works have been collected in his 2009 book Masterpiece Comics (Drawn and Quarterly). Sikoryak will reveal his intensive working process and will discuss the history of parody and adaptation in comics in a discussion with Bill Kartalopoulos, curator of the recent exhibit  “R. Sikoryak: How Classics and Cartoons Collide.”

The show is open from 11am to 7pm on Saturday, and from 12 noon to 6pm on Sunday at the Bethesda North Marriott Hotel & Conference Center.

On a more local scale, the Brooklyn Book Festival takes place this Sunday from 10am to 6pm at Brooklyn Borough Hall. Vendors include Drawn & QuarterlyNot For Tourists, PictureBox, and For Beginners. Events of interest include:

2:00 P.M.

The International Graphic Novel: Drawing from Life. Three acclaimed cartoonists, whose work takes on social and political themes, talk about the on-the-ground research and background work they have all done in preparation for creating their books. Featuring author Nick Abadzis (Laika), Josh Neufeld (A.D.), and Jessica Abel (La Perdida). Moderated by Matt Madden (Drawing Words and Writing Pictures).


Youth Workshops at the Workshop Tent
(next to the Youth Stoop)
Workshops are first come, first served and limited to 12 participants

3:00 P.M.

The Comic Book Project presents When Commas Meet Kryptonite with Michael Bitz, Director of the Center for Educational Pathways. Join us to dream, design, and draft an original comic book. Transform ideas to ink and star in your own superhero story! (Ages 8-16).

Sam Anderson (New York Magazine) and David Rees (Get Your War On) are also doing a “comic” presentation as part of “Cabaret BBF Style” at 4pm but it is unclear whether they mean comic as in funny, or comic as in the medium. (With David Rees involved, hopefully it’s both.)

Sutton on Books

Sunday, May 17th, 2009

Starting in February the Barnes & Noble Review has been featuring reviews written and illustrated by Ward Sutton, a cartoonist who has done work for the New York Times, the New Yorker, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, The Onion, and TV Guide, as well as the weekly political cartoon in the Village Voice until 2007.

The monthly reviews have mostly spotlighted non-fiction titles (and one fiction “biography”), which gives Sutton the luxury of not having to figure out what a particular character looks like, and in fact allows him to indulge in caricature from time-to-time.

Bill German and Mick Jagger

He sets up each book well, giving you an idea of what the story of the book is, then outlining the strengths and weaknesses of each book, as a good book review should.

German on VH1

Four titles have been featured so far in book reviews, check them out at the Barnes & Noble website:

  • The Women by  T. C. Boyle
  • Under Their Thumb: How a Nice Boy from Brooklyn Got Mixed Up with the Rolling Stones (and Lived to Tell About It) by Bill German
  • The Sound of Freedom: Marian Anderson, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Concert That Awakened America by Ray Arsenault
  • Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life by Winifred Gallagher

Saturday Lit Review

Wednesday, October 1st, 2008

While they don’t comprise complete reviews in themselves, it should be noted that the letters page of Guardian Saturday Review often features an illustration by Tom Gauld, relating to some point about literature or the arts brought up in one of the letters printed. The illustrations aren’t just illustrating exactly what the letters say, nor are they poking fun—each illustration is a story unto itself, a short comic with a touch of Edward Gorey but not as morbid.

An extensive selection can be found at Mr. Gauld’s website, here and here. You can also check out other examples of his work at Cabanon Press, which includes book covers (check out his comic-styled cover for The Three Musketeers) and a frontpiece for Disney Adventures.

Book Clubbing

Friday, April 11th, 2008

Unshelved is an amusing webcomic detailing the trials and travails of a group of librarians at the Mallville Public Library. Anyone who’s ever worked in a library will sympathize with the scores of irrational library patrons, and for the rest of us who haven’t… well, maybe we’ll think twice next time we’re at a library.

Like many traditional newspaper strips, Unshelved runs black-and-white serial strips Monday-Saturday, and Sundays are reserved for a full-color standalone strip. Except of simply presenting an expanded gag, though, Unshelved does what they call the “Unshelved Book Club,” where the characters will discuss a book that the creators have chosen to spotlight.

Sometimes it’s just Dewey (the main character) selling a particular book to library patrons, or to his co-workers, while at other times it’s incorporated directly into the story.

The Book Club strips have even been posted in libraries and bookstores, hopefully to encourage customers to check out the book featured. It’s a good selection of books, and the comic format is a novel way to get people interested. Check out the list of titles on their site.

(A strip talking about the Owly books, which often use pictures and symbols in lieu of words for the dialogue.)