Sunday, 13 November 2011

Genre: Memoir writing, Visual Story Telling Techniques

I love that Alison created and controlled every aspect of her own memoir, we could possibly thank her OCD for that. After reading the first chapter, and after getting to know her personality through her narrative we as readers can begin to recognize that everything in that memoir has her touch. As an art lover and aspiring artist, I have to say I think she did a great job with her visual story telling, and I am so very glad that she chose to tell the story in the Graphic Novel format.
I know it’s a cliché phrase “A picture is worth a thousand words”… but its true! There are so many details especially towards the characterization of characters that could not have been expressed with just words. The images add an extra level of entertainment as well, making the memoir an all around enjoyable read.

Going back to the topic of genre… at first I did not see Fun Home as a tragicomedy. At least it didn’t fit into my definition of tragicomedy (maybe it was because my impression of tragicomedy derived from Shakespeare plays, where the comedy aspect to the play would be just as prevalent as the tragedy). Again viewing Fun Home through my definition… I didn’t remember any jokes or gags that would drag out, or lighten the seriousness of the underlying issues in the memoir. After my second read, which took place a month and a half later, I noticed her desolate humor more clearly. I also noticed that the humorous moments were all presented though the visuals!
The illustrations allowed us readers to see how one would act, react and interact. I found Bruce’s lack of expression to be pretty funny, and that effectively tells readers what type of person he was. The illustrations also showed Mrs. Bechdel’s tragedy, of being trapped in a marriage with Bruce. Expressions can be very telling.

I realized that tragicomedies do not have to be incredibly hilarious or funny in a very obvious way. The purpose of the comedy in tragicomedies is to lighten the mood, and the little things that Bechdel adds to the illustrations have the power to do so. I think that was Bechdel’s intent. As a comic strip writer, she is used to employing humor in her storytelling, but her memoir was a different story, it was her story and her story was much more serious.

Again I cannot get over her attention to detail! She often adds labels in her panels that note brands, names and other details. She even draws the movie posters that would be shown in a background and writes the titles of every book that would be read or shown in the memoir. Her tendencies to illustrate and visually describe such details can be seen as a demonstration of her obsessive-compulsive tendencies. However her use of colour, or lack there of, provides an excellent contrast to her meticulously detailed illustrations. The inclusion of both immense detail and colour could be painstaking both for the artist and the eyes. The simplicity of her one colour washes and tones adds much more clarity to her compositions. Her layouts are also well composed, the center of interest in each panel is always clear, with an exception to the panels where she is presenting the details of a location rather than a character. 

As I have discussed in my previous post, Alison was able to draw many connections between her father and herself though the process of creating her memoir. In Ginia Bellafante’s New York Times article, Bechdel said

“A number of people have pointed out to me that the compulsive attention I paid the house while I was doing the book was exactly what my dad had done,” Ms. Bechdel said. “It seems sort of obvious now, but it really never occurred to me at the time.”

In the article titled Life Drawing by Margot Harrison on Bechdel said

"When I was 20, there wasn't such a thing as a graphic novel," she says. Maus, Art Spiegelman's acclaimed graphic novel of the Holocaust, hadn't come out yet. "So that was part of the evolution, too," Bechdel says, "finding a form for the story to take. At some point it just became clear this was going to be a graphic narrative."

I’m pretty pleased that Bechdel found her medium, because it is difficult for me to imagine Fun Home presented any other way that would convey her story with the same amount of success that a graphic novel does.

This is a video of Alison demonstrating her rigorous drawing process. I really recommend that you check this video out, especially if you are into comics. The title of the video is “OCD”

Post by Leanne Lau

Bechdel, Alison. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. 1. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006. 232. Print.

Bellafante, Ginia. "Twenty Years Later, the Walls Still Talk." New York Times 03 AUG 2006. n. pag. Web. 27 Oct. 2011. < 1SNH8sRkuz5azY4XDISuQ>.

Harrison, Margot. "Life Drawing."Seven Days. N.p., 30 MAY 2006. Web. 30 Oct 2011. <>.

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