Alison Bechdel


by Hillary Chute

In 2006, I read an interview with Alison Bechdel in a magazine titled Bitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture, about her new book Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. I immediately emailed my editor, Ed Park, at New York City’s Village Voice, to see if he would run a piece on it. I hadn’t read the book yet, but I was fascinated by the panels and pages from it that ran with the interview.

Fun Home is one of the most important graphic narratives that exists. It is both biography and autobiography. On the one hand, it’s about Bechdel’s father, who was an obsessive restorer of their Victorian Gothic house in rural Pennsylvania, an English teacher, and a funeral home director. But it’s also a story about Bechdel and about how she became an artist—and the ways her father both inhibited and enabled her. Fun Home has an intricate structure based on the books that Bruce Bechdel was obsessed with—each chapter is keyed to a specific literary text or figure, such as F. Scott Fitzgerald or James Joyce. The aesthetic control Bechdel exhibits in Fun Home—in its language, its pictures, and its narrative structure—is staggering.

I was just blown away when I read Fun Home. And then I met Bechdel, and interviewed her, and was even more blown away after talking with her about her process and her research over the seven years she worked on Fun Home. Scanning her blog,, the evening after meeting her, I came across the following entry:

June 22, 2006:
It’s a good thing I’ve been blogging this [book] tour because otherwise I’m not sure I’d remember it. Today I had a podcast, two signings, and a long, intense newspaper interview with a woman who did her doctoral dissertation on autobiographical comics.

That’s me. And while I apologize to her for turning our one hour interview into three, working on that piece about Fun Home for the Village Voice was one of the most gratifying experiences I’ve ever had writing about anything.

When Fun Home came out in 2006—it was the first graphic narrative published by Houghton Mifflin—it was met with immediate, unanimous, and conspicuous critical acclaim. In one of two rave reviews published by the New York Times, for instance, Sean Wilsey wrote: “If the theoretical value of a picture is still holding steady at a thousand words, then Alison Bechdel’s slim yet Proustian graphic memoir, Fun Home, must be the most ingeniously compact, hyper-verbose example of autobiography to have been produced.” Fun Home made the New York Times bestseller list—a rarity for graphic narrative— and became an enormous crossover success, meaning it is not only beloved by venues like the Times, but also by venues like People magazine—which selected it as one of the top ten books of 2006—and Entertainment Weekly, which voted it the number-one non-fiction book of the year. Perhaps the most extraordinary barometer of Fun Home’s impact and wide appeal, though, is that it was named Time magazine’s all-around, best book of the year, in any category, in 2006.

Bechdel was born in 1960 in Pennsylvania, graduated from Oberlin College (also my alma mater) in 1981, and started drawing the comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For in 1983, for the feminist paper Womanews. Today, Dykes to Watch Out For is nationally syndicated, and has been collected in 11 volumes, with titles such as Hot, Throbbing Dykes to Watch Out For, Post Dykes to Watch Out For, and Dykes and Sundry Other Carbon-Based Life Forms to Watch Out For. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the strip, and in October Houghton Mifflin is publishing The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For.