Thursday, 14 March 2013

Authors/Artists: Alison Bechdel


Alison Bechdel
Born: September 10, 1960
Pennsylvania, United States

You ever hear of the Bechdel test ("A work of fiction passes the test if it features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man")? Well (in case you couldn't guess) Alison Bechdel is the person who it's named after.

I mean - yeah: that's impressive enough but - in comics terms - looking from the outside in as if it were: with only (so far at least) three books to her name Alison Bechdel doesn't seem like someone who deserves (?) a whole author/artist profile (I know - lucky her - right?). But don't be deceived by the slimness of her back catalogue: I mean - just because Fiona Apple has only released four albums in the space of about (what?) 15 years (?) it doesn't mean she's not in the - like: a fully paid up member of the artistic canon (or whatever) with their own exclusive area cordoned off behind a velvet rope: having established themselves to such a degree that if they wanted to live out the rest of their days quaffing champagne and stuffing themselves with caviar - well - no one could really blame them: it's not really as if they need to prove themselves or anything like that. Bechdel's comic career began all the way back in 1987 when she launched the seminal comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For. Running for over twenty years it's success was two-fold: the first: yes - as one of the "earliest ongoing representations of lesbians in popular culture" it gave a voice to those who needed it and highlighted the simple truth that it doesn't matter what your sexuality is: all humans everywhere are the same and each one of us - it seems - is capable of making all sorts of messes with our lives: but you know - in a good way (mostly). But apart from the cultural studies reasons the second success was just how damn good Dykes to Watch Out For worked as - you know - comics. Because - yeah: while admittedly it did start off kinda shambolic and rudimentary (hell: it was carried in a newspaper called the Funny Times - so what did you expect?): slowly - over the years - it developed (with it's characters) into something capable of some truly remarkable emotional moments: you know how sit-coms generally start off really well: and all the characters seem fully human and then eventually it all just turns into a cartoon of it's former self? Well - Dykes to Watch Out For is like the exact opposite of that.

Now - for most people that would be enough. Charles M. Schulz was content just giving the world Peanuts, Bill Watterson did Calvin and Hobbes and then seemingly melted into the air but Bechdel (whose comic strip  was admittedly a lot more adult than those two) made the decision to move out of her comfort zone and strike out into unexplored terrain resulting in the two comics that are a must-have for any self-respecting "serious" comic book fan (you know what I mean - the type of person who doesn't have a copy of Watchmen because it's got people in funny costumes) that is Fun Home (published in 2006) and Are You My Mother? (2012). Basically - if you're looking for comics to show people who normally wouldn't think to take comics seriously: these are the ones you should go for. With lots of literary references, a sophisticated mannerism and a clear and simple style that even the most inexperienced comics reader can easily get to grips with Bechdel: she's basically the acceptable face of the medium: producing the kind of comics that you can bring home and share with the whole family and not worry about getting any funny looks. I mean: comics has had it's fair share of trailblazer and iconoclasts: Bechdel is one of the first creators to gain mainstream acceptance and point forward to how comics could work as they settle into middle-age.

Links: The Comics Reporter Interview.

Selected works: The Essential Dykes To Watch Out ForFun Home, Are You My Mother?.

All comments welcome.

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