For 25 years now, Alison Bechdel has been cranking out her comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For. In that time she's earned numerous Lambda Awards for comedy and her strip has been published in dozens of papers and translated into several foreign languages. Her 2006 graphic memoir, Fun Home, tells the story of Bechdel's childhood in Pennsylvania, her father's death, and her process of coming out to her parents. Bechdel, a former St. Paul resident, will speak about her career this Thursday.
CP: In the PR I received for your upcoming talk, a friend of yours states that it's always funny when somebody at a party says something, then it shows up in one of your strips. How much of Dykes to Watch Out For comes from your daily life?
AB: You know, it's hard to say. In some ways, it totally doesn't come from my daily life. It's not at all autobiographical; I don't know these people, I make it all up. But the details of their lives, the texture of their lives, are just like my life. Their furniture, their computers, the co-op where they shop, the things they're reading; that stuff is all in a way autobiographical. I feel like I'm sort of writing fiction and nonfiction at the same time. It's very much about the real world as I know it and the progressive leftist culture that I live in. Yet it's also completely made up out of my head.
CP: The bookstore in your strip, Madwimmin Books, is based on the Amazon Book Co-op in Minneapolis, which is now for sale. In your strip, a popular national chain buys out Madwimmin. Do you see a similar fate for Amazon?
AB: Well, I mean, I did close down the bookstore in my comic strip because that was what was happening to dozens of these stores all over the country. Although it was a sad thing to do, I felt like I needed to reflect the reality of what was going on. Amazon is one of the last holdouts. It's tough. I hope they'll make it.
CP: Your graphic memoir, Fun Home, is very candid about your childhood, including your father's apparent suicide by stepping in front of a truck. Writing a memoir always involves confronting memories, but did you find it more difficult since you had to not only write about sad memories, but also draw them out?
AB: There were difficult moments, certainly. I was doing crazy things; I went to the very spot where my dad was hit on the highway. I thought I was just going there to take reference shots to see what it looked like, but it was a very emotionally intense experience. Also, I posed as all the characters to do reference shots because I'm just not that good of a drawer. At one point I was impersonating my dead father in the casket, and I put on a jacket and tie and crossed my hands over my chest just to get it exactly right. That's insane, you know? Like, oh, my god, I'm my dead father. There were two levels going on. One was this very workaday, practical level. There was a lot of physical labor just of drawing and sketching and doing all the production of the book, which was kind of distracting from the emotional intensity of it. The emotional intensity of it was there, but it was like two parallel tracks.
Come see Alison Bechdel speak tonight.
Thu., March 6, 7 p.m., 2008