Alison Bechdel: An Introduction
By Elayne Drury
Alison Bechdel (b. September 10, 1960) is a contemporary comic artist and graphic novelist, most known for her long-running comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For (which ran from 1983 until it's indefinite hiatus in 2008) and her graphic memoirs Fun Home (which was recently turned into a Broadway musical that received the Tony award for Best Musical in 2015) and Are You My Mother?. Bechdel describes her work as being “preoccupied with the overlap of the political and the personal spheres, the relationship of the self to the world outside”. A lot of the overlap of the political and personal spheres manifests as issues pertaining to being a lesbian.
Her first major work was a comic strip called Dykes to Watch Out For. The name originates from a drawing Bechdel did in the margin of a letter to a friend depicting a naked woman holding a coffee pot with the caption “Marianne, dissatisfied with the breakfast brew. Dykes to Watch Out For, Plate no. 27”. Eventually, Bechdel submitted the single-panel drawings to a feminist magazine for which she worked. The strip continued as single-panel drawings with a caption before eventually expanding into a multi-panel strip with story arcs and a cast of mostly lesbian recurring characters.
Dykes to Watch Out For is also the originator of the Bechdel-Wallace test (also known simply as the Bechdel test). In one 1985 strip of the comic, two unnamed characters consider seeing a movie. One of the characters states that she does not see a movie unless it meets three requirements; that there are at least two women (one) who talk to each other (two), and that what they talk about is something other than a man (three). The test originated from Bechdel's friend, Liz Wallace, and has since been adapted in many feminist circles as a judgment of media's depiction of women.
Besides Dykes to Watch Out For, Bechdel is also known for her “tragicomic” memoirs. Fun Home, published in 2006, is an autobiographical memoir about Bechdel's relationship with her father and deals with themes relating to sexuality, both his and her own. Bechdel's second autobiographical memoir, titled Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama (published in 2012), is a companion piece to Fun Home, and focuses on her relationship with her mother. It is described by Bechdel as being about “the self, subjectivity, desire, the nature of reality, that sort of thing”. Both Fun Home and Are You My Mother? offer an emotional insight into relationships and the self through smart, witty, and heartbreaking commentary.
Bechdel's work has been a source of inspiration for my own. I remember first picking up Fun Home in high school, both being disgusted by it due to homophobia from being a closeted lesbian myself, and intrigued, as I hadn't read anything written by a lesbian before. A few months later, I found out that she had come up with the Bechdel-Wallace test. I had heard of the Bechdel test from some article or another, but it took a while for me to find out the test had originated from a lesbian, and for some reason that really effected me. Something that wide-spread and influential having been created by a lesbian was almost unimaginable to me at the time. As a both a lesbian and an aspiring graphic novelist, Bechdel's work has been monumentally influential, from a little comic strip that blew up into a test that academics use to judge media's treatment of women, to emotional labyrinths depicting the relationship between the people we are and the people others want us to be.
Bechdel, Alison. Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012. Print.
Bechdel, Alison. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006. Print.