Alison Bechdel

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Alison Bechdel
Alison Bechdel at Politics and Prose.jpg
Alison Bechdel at Politics and Prose for a book signing in May 2012.
Born (1960-09-10) September 10, 1960 (age 58)
Beech Creek, Pennsylvania, United States
Occupation Cartoonist, author
Nationality American
Genre Autobiography, social commentary
Literary movement Underground
Notable works Dykes to Watch Out For, Fun Home, Are You My Mother?

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 which won a Tony Award for Best Musical in 2015.[2] She is a 2014 recipient of the MacArthur "Genius" Award.[3] She is also known for the Bechdel test, an indicator of gender bias in film.

Early life

Alison J Bechdel was born in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, the daughter of Helen Augusta (née Fontana; 1933–2013)[4] and Bruce Allen Bechdel (1936–1980).[5][6] Her family was Roman Catholic. Her father, an army veteran who was stationed in West Germany, was a high school English teacher full-time and operated a funeral home part-time. Her mother was an actress and teacher. 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. She attended Simon's Rock College and then Oberlin College, graduating in 1981.


Alison Bechdel at a London signing for Fun Home in 2006

Bechdel moved to Manhattan and applied to many art schools but was rejected and worked in a number of office jobs in the publishing industry.

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".[7] An acquaintance recommended she send her work to Womannews, a feminist newspaper, which published her first work in its June 1983 issue. Bechdel gradually moved from her early single-panel drawings to multi-paneled strips.[8] 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.[8] 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. She became a full-time cartoonist in 1990 and later moved near Burlington, Vermont. She currently resides in Bolton, Vermont. 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.

In November 2006 Bechdel was invited to sit on the Usage Panel of the American Heritage Dictionary.[9]

She received the Bill Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement from Publishing Triangle in 2012.

She was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 2014.[3]

She was awarded the Erikson Institute Prize for Excellence in Mental Health Media in 2015.[10]

Fun Home

In 2006, Bechdel published Fun Home, an autobiographical "tragicomic" chronicling her childhood and the years before and after her father's suicide. 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.[11] Fun Home spent two weeks on the New York Times Hardcover Nonfiction bestseller list.[12][13]

Fun Home was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by numerous sources, including The New York Times,[14],[15][16] The Times of London,[17] Publishers Weekly,[18],[19] New York magazine,[20] and Entertainment Weekly.[20]

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."[21]

Fun Home was a finalist for the 2006 National Book Critics Circle Award in the memoir/autobiography category.[22][23] It also won the 2007 Eisner Award for Best Reality-Based Work.[24] Fun Home was also nominated for the Best Graphic Album award, and Bechdel was nominated for Best Writer/Artist.[25]

In 2014, the Republican-led South Carolina House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee cut the College of Charleston's funding by $52,000, the cost of the summer reading program for selecting Fun Home for a reading program.[26][27]

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.[28][29] Kron and Tesori made history as the first all-woman team to win a Tony Award for best score.[30] 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.[31] The musical has been playing at Broadway's Circle in the Square Theatre, with previews from March 27, 2015, and an official opening on April 19, 2015, running to at least June 5, 2016. Sam Gold, who directed the Public Theater production, also directs 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.

Are You My Mother?

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?, which was released in May 2012.[32] 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,"[33] 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, but also 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

Bechdel came out as a lesbian at age 19.[34] Bechdel's sexuality and gender non-conformity are a large part of the core message of her work. "The secret subversive goal of my work is to show that women, not just lesbians, are regular human beings."[35] In February 2004, Bechdel married her girlfriend since 1992, Amy Rubin, 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.[36] Bechdel lived with her partner Holly Rae Taylor, a painter,[37] for seven and a half years before their marriage in July 2015.[38] She lives in Bolton, Vermont.

Selected works

See also


  1. "Alison Bechdel Audio Name Pronunciation". Retrieved 2014-08-11.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 Lee, Felicia R. (September 17, 2014). "MacArthur Awards Go to 21 Diverse Fellows". The New York Times.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Helen Bechdel obituary accessed 5/1/2015
  5. Bechdel, Leanne Keefer (July 2, 1980). "Bruce Allen Bechdel". Find a Grave. Retrieved June 19, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "Alison Bechdel". Gale Biography in Context. Retrieved July 19, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. The Indelible Alison Bechdel: Confessions, Comix, and Miscellaneous Dykes to Watch Out For (Firebrand Books, 1998), p. ??
  8. 8.0 8.1 Bechdel, Alison. "Frivolous, Aimless Queries". Retrieved February 22, 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. "Dictionary". November 30, 2006.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Erikson Institute Prize for Excellence in Mental Health Media.
  11. Wilsey, Sean (June 18, 2006). "The Things They Buried". The New York Times.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. "July 9, 2006 Hardcover Nonfiction Best Sellers". New York Times. July 9, 2006. Retrieved 2006-12-18.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. "July 16, 2006 Hardcover Nonfiction Best Sellers". New York Times. July 16, 2006. Retrieved 2006-12-18.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. "100 Notable Books of the Year". Sunday Book Review. New York Times. December 3, 2006. Retrieved December 12, 2006.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. "Best Books of 2006: Editors' Top 50". Retrieved June 19, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. "Best of 2006 Top 10 Editors' Picks: Memoirs". Retrieved June 19, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. Gatti, Tom (2006-12-16). "The 10 best books of 2006: number 10—Fun Home". The Times. London. Retrieved 2006-12-18.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. "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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. Miller, Laura; Hillary Frey (2006-12-12). "Best debuts of 2006". Retrieved 2006-12-12.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. 20.0 20.1 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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. Grossman, Lev; Richard Lacayo (December 17, 2006). "10 Best Books". Time. Archived from the original on January 9, 2007. Retrieved 2006-12-18.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. Getlin, Josh (2007-01-21). "Book Critics Circle nominees declared". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2014-06-19.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. "NBCC Awards Finalists". National Book Critics Circle website. Archived from the original on 2006-10-02. Retrieved 2007-01-22.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. "The 2007 Eisner Awards: Winners List". San Diego Comic-Con website. Retrieved 2007-07-31.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  25. "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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  26. Seanna, Adcox (February 19, 2014). "SC lawmakers vote to punish colleges' book choices". San Francisco Chronicle. Associated Press. Retrieved February 21, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  27. Borden, Jeremy (February 20, 2014). "Palmetto Sunrise: College of Charleston dollars cut for 'promotion of lesbians'". The Post and Courier. Charleston, SC. Retrieved February 21, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  32. "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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  33. Garner, Dwight (2007-07-20). "Stray Questions for: Alison Bechdel" (blog). Paper Cuts. New York Times. Retrieved 2007-08-14.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  34. "A Conversation with Alison Bechdel".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  35. "Sing Lesbian Cat, Fly Lesbian Seagull: Interview with Alison Bechdel" (PDF). Goblin Magazine, reprinted in The Guardsman. Retrieved 21 September 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  36. Burkeman, Oliver (2006-10-16). "A life stripped bare" (free registration required). The Guardian. Retrieved 2007-01-22.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  37. "Drawn From Life" The New Yorker, April 23, 2012
  38. Teeman, Tim. "Lesbian Desire, a Father’s Suicide and 12 Tony Noms: Alison Bechdel on ‘Fun Home'", April 29, 2015

Further reading

External links