Weekend before last, giddy with thinking, I stopped in at Comix Revolution (looking for Scott McCloud’s forthcoming book) and wandered home with Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home and Steve Ross’s Marked. I was at one point thinking about writing on both of them in one entry, but I fear that would take up too much room, and would short-change each, so instead I’ll accord each one a separate entry. (I’m impressed that Alison B. keeps her website with blog software — cheers to her for that very insightful, practical decision!)
Fun Home rehearses Bechdel’s growing-up and coming-out, with particular reference to her father, and to their relationship. The story is grim — her childhood was not cheery, and her father dies while she’s in college — but Bechdel will not permit the story to descend into [self-]pity or facile denunciation of her father’s remoteness. When the story’s tensions and tragedy lurch toward despair, she foregrounds moments of relief, of delight. She studies her family’s fissures with the candor of detachment and the intimacy of involvement, and invites her readers to see past the deceptions on which her family’s identities were grounded. But she goes further, to teach her reader to reckon with the possibility that every conclusion is premature, that neither she nor we can escape building identities from fictive elements that we may at any moment betray, that may at any moment betray us.
Bechdel’s insight and patience mark the book as an impressive memoir; even more remarkable, though, are her gift for communicating the memoir in comic panels that constitute a complex mosaic of motifs, echoes, recapitulations, and cadences. She reproduces pages from her childhood diaries, from the books that illuminate her father’s life, from postcards and letters — her depictions representing both the original source and the extent to which she has appropriated the material for her story’s purpose. She illustrates several scenes multiple times, using different emphases as she urges her readers to see the scene differently, this time. She bares to her readers a soul clothed in dire beauty.
I would not recommend this book to everyone; it is too harrowing for many, and may stir painful memories to the surface for some. The sexual dimensions of her narrative will offend some with their explicitness, some with their affirmative homosexuality. Many, many readers, though will find here a remembrance that touches their memories and imagination with images, insights, and rhythms from a hauntingly subtle narrative artist.