Sunday, 30 October 2011

Genre: Alison's approach to Memoir writing

Like I mentioned in my previous post, memoir is also a genre. Unlike an autobiography there are no concrete rules concerning the chronology, and also there are no set rules regarding structure, form or technique when constructing a memoir. Fun Home is non-linear memoir and the relationships in the story were built gradually and in pieces. The non-linear form, allowed Bechdel to revisit events that have already been told and in addition she would often revisit these memories over and over again. What I found fascinating was how new details and revelations would be presented through these revisited memories. With this technique Bechdel is able to mimic how one would feel searching through old memories in search for a greater significance (which a relatable experience).

It is undeniable that Alison Bechdel much like her father was well read. She nourishes her readers with insightful allusions, adding depth to personas and circumstances. She most commonly alluded to literature and Greek mythology, including the Tragedy The Odyssey. Unfortunately, I only caught a fraction of her allusions, but for the one’s I understood (references to the Great Gatsby) it added to the experience and reinforced her point. I see her allusions as a nice luxury to have in her memoir, the general idea or point was always clearly explained, but her allusions just again added to the experience.

I am still amazed by her incredible attention to detail! I found a blog (which is quite interesting) written by Ken Foster, one of the children from the Foster family that the Bechdel siblings would play with. This is a quote from his blog, which confirms how accurate some parts of her memoir actually are.

But Alison's memoir, serious as it is, is also a whole lot of fun. Despite the dark secrets, it mostly celebrates the strange and wonderful house and family that I remember visiting. We visited often. The three Bechdel kids went to school with the Foster kids through the sixth grade. Alison was in my sister's class; Christian in my brother's; John in mine. So it was more or less decided that the six of us would be friends, because it was convenient for our parents. (We also spent a lot of time with the other trio of kids, the "Gryglewicz" kids, according to the book.) And those are the details that really knock me over in the book: Helen Bechdel preparing for her role in "The Importance of Being Ernest" (we were staying at their house that week, and she would play scenes for us and ask advice); the huge, artifical granduer of their house, which made it seem like another world, everything bigger and more dramatic; the oddness (to me anyway) of the fact that they had no TV room, but rather a small TV that was housed on a bookshelf, with a chaise lounge positioned in front of it.” - Ken Foster

This is a quote clipping from an article written on by Margot Harrison, just to give a little insight on how Alison approached recalling her memories with as much accuracy as possible.  

“In the wake of the James Frey debacle, there's been speculation about whether it's possible to write a compelling memoir without making things up. Bechdel admits that she filled in a few gaps with her imagination, sometimes inadvertently. Still, she says that "what I found was that [the evidence] was often much more interesting than anything I could possibly fabricate.” To recreate the past, she relied on "documentary evidence" -- her father's letters, her childhood diaries and family photo albums she ‘commandeered.’ …I had all these memories…but when I looked in my diary, I found that all these things had happened in a two-month period” she says “if you were making that up, it would be really bad writing”

Post by: Leanne Lau

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

Foster, Ken. "Encountering my Childhood in Alison Bechdel's Fun Home." Ken Foster., 06 JUN 2006. Web. 30 Oct. 2011. <>.

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

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Alison's Process; the interesting, humorous and downright fun! S.S

Alison is an American cartoonist first and foremost best known for her ongoing comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For, which explains her perfectly; she's a "dyke" to watch out for. With critical acclaim and two published works under her belt, she's someone to look up to, mostly because she makes money doing what she loves to do.

So let me ask you; would you like to know her secret? Well ladies and gentlemen, now you can! Well, kind-of.

Fascinated by her, I found the above YouTube video on our friend Alison Bechdel speaking about how she created the graphic novel, and her process which she calls "precious".

I found it an interesting watch- despite the poor video quality, hehe-, especially from an artists point of view, mostly because I was intrigued by how she layed out her panels, adding the text first and figuring out the image layout later. I personally find this bizarre, because for me, everything is image first, and then I try and fit everything else in as best as I can, making sure to stay true to the composition. (I should note that I'm enrolled in a Visual Narrative class and so this is completely relevant to me as I'm doing similar things!- very cool!)

In the end, where she talks about posing for her own drawings for reference, I couldn't help but chuckle; not only do I do the same, but there's an entire Tumblr dedicated to artists who use PhotoBooth to reference themselves for drawings. It's a laugh and a half. Worth a look-through!

As I'm sure you guys can see, I've edited the blog to include an illustration I made of Alison as the header. I tried to actually stay true to a simple line style like she uses to help make a link between the graphicness of the novel and this blog all the more! Feel free to comment and tell me what you think the "speech bubble" should read or have any other comments!

Posted by Sabrina

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Genre: Memoir, Revelation and Disclosure

Last post focused on the life of Bruce Bechdel and his tragic story. For this post I want to draw focus on Alison’s relationship with her father, which is the basis of her memoir. The other tragedy in Alison’s story is her failure to identify and connect with her father when he was alive. It was only after his death and through the process of writing her memoir that began to understand thank and forgive her father. Throughout the memoir she stresses their boundless differences “I was Spartan to my fathers Athenian, Modern to his Victorian, Butch to his Nelly, utilitarian to his aesthete” (Bechdel 15). 

(Image: Page 15)

The memoir progressively reveals how much Alison and Bruce are alike. Both Alison and Bruce demonstrate their great passion for literature to each other, and Alison would later be able to credit her developed taste to her father and his mentoring. Alison’s intuitive ability to conjure allusions between her life in reality and the lives of characters in stories can be compared to her father’s own ability to do the same. With excitement he would coach her in literature, but he passed away before Alison could coach him in “coming out”, not just as a homosexual but to come out of his imaginary escape (living through the lives of characters in literature). In a letter he sent to Alison where “he does and doesn’t come out” (230) he implies how he wished that he could do what she did, comparing himself once again to a character in James Joyce’s Ulysses.

 (Image: Page 230)

Alison at the time was still unsure what his message exactly meant, but she couldn’t help feeling guilty when he died soon after she came out to her parents. She felt that her ‘coming out’ was the catalyst to his suicide. Her memoir reveals her appreciation for him in the end, which offers the readers as well as the author with a little bit of closure. In the memoir her domineering father was her constant coach. He coached her with literature and discreetly, and perhaps unknowingly coached her towards discovering her own sexual identity. 

(Image 1: Page 84), (Image 2: Page 201), (Image 3: Page 205) 

Memoir is also genre. A memoir highlights a moment, or experience in one’s life for the purpose of further discovery and understanding. Through Fun Home I believe that the author achieved further understanding and appreciation for her father. The author sees her relationship with her father as a tragic one.
(Image: Page 225)

Post by: Leanne Lau

Work Cited

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

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Genre: The Family Tragedy

In Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, the author unearths her experience of growing with her family in her meticulously constructed gothic revival home, in Pennsylvania and coming out as a lesbian in college. Bechdel aptly subtitles her graphic memoir as a “tragicomic”, which effectively refers to both the genre and the format in which the memoir is presented.

First, I want to clarify what the definition of genre is, in case you are unclear with it, much like myself (of course before doing the research for this post).

The New Oxford American Dictionary defines “Genre” as “a category of artistic composition, as in music or literature, characterized by similarities in form, style, or subject matter” and it is not to be confused with format or category which the piece of literature presents itself such as graphic novel, or children’s book.

Her memoir truly fits under the tragedy genre. The memoir centers around her relationship with her authoritative and emotionally distant father who just happened to be a closeted gay. This revelation was only made present to her when she decided to come out as a lesbian to her family in college. Her father, a perfectionist, had died at the tragically at the young age of forty four. The true nature of his death is still a big question. In with Ginia Bellafante’s article in The New York Times titled Twenty Years Later, The Walls Still Talk, Bechdel stated that “another piece of evidence in support of the theory that my dad killed himself was the fact that he’d pretty much completed restoring the house at the time he died. As if perhaps, now that he was finished with this project, he was finished, period” (Bellefante). So perhaps, Bruce Bechdel’s ending was not the true tragedy. Perhaps the true tragedy was how Bruce saw his life through the lenses of other writers or fictional characters to make up for not being able to live the life he wanted to live. For instance, in the letters he wrote to Alison’s mother during his time in the army, he obsessively referenced and compared his life to Scott Fitzgerald’s

(Image 1: Page 63) (Image 2: Page 65)

Bruce, who was heavily engrossed with literature, carried a grand repertoire of life stories that he admired and preferred to his own, in his head. In speculation that her father’s death was planned she realized that his lifespan almost matched that of one of his hero Scott Fizgerald, with the difference only being three days. To Bruce Bechdel, maybe his death was planned, perfectly. But in Alison’s perspective, who perfectly understood her well-read father and his refusal to live in his own reality was a tragedy. 

(image page 85)

Here's an interesting link to Bruce Bechdel's online memorial, where one can learn more about him aside from what was presented in the memoir. 

Post by: Leanne Lau

Works Cited

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>.