Bechdel, Alison 1960–

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Bechdel, Alison 1960–

PERSONAL: Born September 10, 1960, in Lock Haven, PA; daughter of Bruce Allen (a high school English teacher, antiques dealer, and funeral director) and Helen (a high school English teacher and actress) Bechdel. Education: Simon's Rock Early College (now Simon's Rock of Bard College), A.A., 1979; Oberlin College, B.A., 1981. Politics: "Correct." Religion: "Unaffiliated."

ADDRESSES: Home—VT. Office—P.O. Box 215, Jonesville, VT 05466. Agent—Trudi Roth, Roth Talent Associates, 16027 Ventura Blvd., Ste. 205, Encino, CA 91436. E-mail[email protected]

CAREER: Writer, comic artist, and creator of syndicated cartoon Dykes to Watch Out For, 1983–. Word processor in New York, NY, 1981–85; worker at a food bank warehouse in Hadley, MA, 1985–86; Equal Time (gay/lesbian newspaper), Minneapolis, MN, production manager, 1986–90.

AWARDS, HONORS: Lambda Book Award for gay and lesbian humor, 1990, for New, Improved! Dykes to Watch Out For, 1992, for Dykes to Watch Out For: The Sequel, 1993, for Spawn of Dykes to Watch Out For, 1993, for lesbian biography/autobiography, and 1998, for The Indelible Alison Bechdel: Confessions, Comix, and Miscellaneous Dykes to Watch Out For; two Vice Versa Awards for excellence from the Gay and Lesbian Press.

WRITINGS:

CARTOON COLLECTIONS

Dykes to Watch Out For, Firebrand Books (Ithaca, NY), 1986.

More Dykes to Watch Out For, Firebrand Books (Ithaca, NY), 1988.

New, Improved! Dykes to Watch Out For, Firebrand Books (Ithaca, NY), 1990.

Dykes to Watch Out For: The Sequel, Firebrand Books (Ithaca, NY), 1992.

Spawn of Dykes to Watch Out For, Firebrand Books (Ithaca, NY), 1993.

Unnatural Dykes to Watch Out For, Firebrand Books (Ithaca, NY), 1995.

Hot, Throbbing Dykes to Watch Out For, Firebrand Books (Ithaca, NY), 1997.

Split-Level Dykes to Watch Out For, Firebrand Books (Ithaca, NY), 1998.

Post-Dykes to Watch Out For, Firebrand Books (Ithaca, NY), 2000.

Dykes and Sundry Other Carbon-based Life Forms to Watch Out For, Alyson Books (Los Angeles, CA), 2003.

Invasion of Dykes to Watch Out For, Alyson Books (Los Angeles, CA), 2005.

OTHER

The Indelible Alison Bechdel: Confessions, Comix, and Miscellaneous Dykes to Watch Out For (autobiography), Firebrand Books (Ithaca, NY), 1998.

(Illustrator) Louise Rafkin, What Do Dogs Dream? McMeel (Kansas City, MO), 1998.

(Illustrator) Louise Rafkin, What Do Cats Dream? McMeel (Kansas City, MO), 1999.

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic (graphic novel), Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2006.

Work represented in anthologies, including American Splendor, edited by Harvey Pekar. Contributor to periodicals, including Gay Comix, Wimmen's Comix, Village Voice, Strip AIDS USA, Womanews, and Choices.

SIDELIGHTS: Alison Bechdel once told CA: "I grew up in rural Pennsylvania and attended Oberlin College, where I came out in 1979. I moved to New York City after graduating, and it was there that the first 'Dykes to Watch Out For' cartoon was published in the 1983 'Lesbian Pride' issue of Womanews.

"Since then I have published … collections and an annual calendar, and I have self-syndicated my comic strip. 'Dykes to Watch Out For' runs in nearly seventy gay/lesbian, progressive, and feminist publications in North America. Readers from all over the world can follow the affairs and tribulations of Mo, Harriet, and the gang at Madwimmin Books.

"I make my home in Vermont, where I draw my comic strip, as well as freelance cartoons and illustrations for various community organizations. I also enjoy making periodic forays into 'Lesbian Nation' with a slide show about my work."

Bechdel's work has become more widely available—and more widely appreciated—than it was when she started out in 1983. Among her publications is The Indelible Alison Bechdel: Confessions, Comix, and Miscellaneous Dykes to Watch Out For, a book that includes information on the artist's influences as well as her own critique of her work. The bimonthly "Dykes to Watch Out For" comic has become one of the most popular comic strips in the gay mass media. Comic-con International, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing comics as an art form, called her comic strip "a cultural institution for lesbians and discerning non-lesbians all over the world."

"Dykes to Watch Out For" centers around Mo, a clerk at Madwimmin Books, and her friends, lovers, and exlovers who congregate at the store. When the strip was first published, it contained a feminist/activist bent, but in later years—as society's attitudes toward gays changed—it began to embrace a broader spectrum of personal issues within the lesbian and bisexual communities. In an interview released online by the Goblin Archives, Bechdel commented: "The secret subversive goal of my work is to show that women, not just lesbians, are regular human beings. I want to create women who get to be 'universal' the way, historically, men have gotten to be universal." She added: "My goal is to create women characters who are regular, generic people. I want men to read my strip and identify with Mo the same way women and people of color make a leap of identity to watch a Woody Allen movie or read Garfield."

Critical response to Bechdel's comic collections has been warm. In Booklist, Ray Olson reviewed Split-Level Dykes to Watch Out For, writing that it "crackles with intelligence, insight, and a humane wit." Evaluating Bechdel's Post-Dykes to Watch Out For, a Publishers Weekly reviewer stated: "Funny, irreverent and fearless, Bechdel delivers the thinking woman's funny papers." According to Chris Hampton in Liberty Press Online, the comic "provides Bechdel with a unique platform to explore loads of issues of interest to the queer community. In recent years, she has delved into such topics as commitment ceremonies, gay adoption, psychotherapy, bisexuality, coming out, and cybersex." Hampton asserted that reading the strip "is a compelling, touching, and highly addictive experience."

More recently, Bechdel took a hard look at her own childhood in the graphic novel Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. The title comes from the fact that the Bechdel family ran a funeral home, and Bechdel's parents were also teachers. The artist addresses many of the personal struggles her family faced in her youth, including the fact that her father was a closeted bisexual who later died after being hit by a truck—an "accident" that, according to Bechdel, may or may not have actually been a suicide. It was not until after Bechdel confessed to her parents that she was a lesbian that her mother told her that her father was gay as well. This revelation made much of her father's behavior more understandable to her, and the graphic novel focuses on the father-daughter story and her working out these issues. On the After Ellen Web site, a biographer reported: "In Fun Home, Bechdel examines the hard time she has accessing her anger at her father. She notes that she is able to forgive him for his flaws partly because 'the bar is lower for fathers than for mothers.' But she also says that through working on the book she gained respect for her mother, 'really understanding some of what she was dealing with.' 'My perspective has changed since being a kid in that household,' Bechdel says, noting that she came to be more sympathetic toward both of her parents in the process of producing Fun Home."

Many critics considered Fun Home an exemplary graphic novel, with Ray Olson asserting in Booklist that Bechdel's comic creation "is arguably the best comic strip going, and Fun Home is one of the very best graphic novels ever." A Publishers Weekly contributor called the novel "quiet, dignified and not easy to put down," and in the Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide Diane Ellen Hamer remarked that Fun Home "serves as a tribute to both of her parents and their contribution to her development as an artist."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

Bechdel, Alison, The Indelible Alison Bechdel: Confessions, Comix, and Miscellaneous Dykes to Watch Out For, Firebrand Books (Ithaca, NY), 1998.

Bechdel, Alison, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2006.

PERIODICALS

Advocate, July 18, 2000, Etelka Lehoczky, "Still a Dyke to Watch," p. 46; November 8, 2005, review of An Invasion of Dykes to Watch Out For, p. 66.

Booklist, July, 1997, Ray Olson, review of Hot, Throbbing Dykes to Watch Out For, p. 1788; June 1, 1998, Ray Olson, review of Hot, Throbbing Dykes to Watch Out For, p. 1681; November 15, 1998, Ray Olson, review of Split-Level Dykes to Watch Out For, p. 557; September 15, 2003, Ray Olson, review of Dykes and Sundry Other Carbon-based Life Forms to Watch Out For, p. 219; March 15, 2006, Ray Olson, review of Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, p. 37.

Editor & Publisher, December 8, 2003, Dave Astor, "Readers Watch Out for 'Dykes' Feature: The Self-Syndicated Comic Turns 20 and Appears in Its 10th Book," p. 21.

Feminist Collections, winter, 2004, Briana Smith, "Watch Out! Alison Bechdel's Comics as Cultural Commentary," p. 1.

Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide, May-June, 2006, Diane Ellen Hamer, "My Father, My Self," review of Fun Home, p. 37.

Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 2006, review of Fun Home, p. 216.

Lambda Book Report, January-February, 1994, Nedhera Landers, review of Spawn of Dykes to Watch Out For, p. 42; September, 1997, Jeannine DeLombard, review of Hot, Throbbing Dykes to Watch Out For, p. 26; July, 1998, Sarah Van Arsdale, "Drawing on Life: Alison Bechdel Shows and Tells," p. 1; February, 1999, Julia Willis, review of Split-Level Dykes to Watch Out For, p. 32; October-November, 2003, Marissa Pareles, "Role Models: Dykes and Sundry Other Carbon-based Life Forms to Watch Out For," p. 37.

People Weekly, June 12, 2006, Bob Meadows, "Books," review of Fun Home, p. 51.

Publishers Weekly, March 16, 1992, review of Dykes to Look Out For: The Sequel, p. 75; November 1, 1993, review of Spawn of Dykes to Watch Out For, p. 73; November 9, 1998, review of Split-Level Dykes to Watch Out For, p. 59; July 10, 2000, review of Post-Dykes to Watch Out For, p. 44; November 17, 2003, review of Dykes and Sundry Other Carbon-based Life Forms to Watch Out For, p. 46; February 27, 2006, review of Fun Home, p. 40.

Women's Review of Books, November, 1997, Harriet Malinowitz, review of Hot, Throbbing Dykes to Watch Out For, p. 6; December, 2003, Lisa London, review of Dykes and Sundry Other Carbon-based Life Forms to Watch Out For, p. 10.

ONLINE

After Ellen, http://www.afterellen.com/ (October 4, 2006), Shauna Swartz, portrait of Alison Bechdel and discussion of Fun Home.

Comic-con International, http://www.comic-con.org/ (October 16, 2006).

Dykes to Watch Out For, http://www.dykestowatchoutfor.com (October 4, 2006).

Goblin Archives, http://www.sonic.net/∼goblin/ (October 16, 2006), "Sing Lesbian Cat, Fly Lesbian Seagull: Interview with Alison Bechdel."

iComics.com, http://www.icomics.com/ (September 20, 2000), Greg McElhatton, review of Split-Level Dykes to Watch Out For.

Liberty Press Online, http://www.libertypress.net/ (February, 2000), Chris Hampton, "Alison Bechdel: A Cartoonist to Watch Out For."

Roth Talent Associates Web site, http://www.rothtalent.com/ (October 4, 2006), brief biography of Alison Bechdel.