Category Archives: Alison Bechdel

Discussion: Alison Bechdel’s The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For 


Veronika wrote: 

I really like the comics I dipped into. The way she captures every day politicising in the slice of life format is compelling for busy adults… I like the sustained way she did comic too! It’s not easy to create an appealing comic strip that panders exclusively to adult tastes. I mean, I usually associate comic strips to anthropomorphic animals or hyperbolic characters so at first flip it took a while for me to get used to reading unusually dense language for comic strips. I kinda see why XKCD strips the artwork to stick figures now, cause the dialogue is the focal point. For this, there were times when I felt a little too overwhelmed at the cramped drawings and dense text in the comics. Aaron did point me to a rather poignantly done comic strip in 2004 following the 9/11 event, and it was nice to see the art carry the weight of the message for once. I agreed with Aaron’s point that he finds the depiction of the fat or non-standard beautiful characters interesting. It adds to the raw, Real feel of the comics. Aaron thinks it is problematic that the text itself while promoting diversity, fails the inverse Bechdel test. However, I personally don’t think it’s problematic.


Aaron wrote: 

These are some of the discussion questions that I have prepared: 

1. In our discussion on Fun Home, we didn’t like the narcissistic nature of the graphic novel. In the introduction of DTWOF, Bechdel confided that she submitted a manuscript of a novel to Adrienne Rich. Rich rejected to publish  the novel because she, like us, found the storytelling narcissistic. But DTWOF comes in episodes, not a whole coherent narrative. Do you think DTWOF is narcissistic too? Or does the episodic form make the comics more inclusive and universal? 

2. The Bechdel Test originated from DTWOF. Think of your favorite movie and apply it to the test. Do you think the test is accurate or reliable? 

Now apply the inverse to DTWOF. Are there more than 2 male characters interacting with each other, talking about nonsexual topics? How are men generally portrayed in DTWOF?

3. In this interview, why did Bechdel feel uncomfortable about her characters being role models? 

4. In the same interview, she stated that she stopped DTWOF after more than a decade because it was no longer profitable. Does this affect the artistic integrity or the advocacy element of the comics for you? 

Also you may want to relate it to the characters in the comics who stick to their principles and those who don’t. 

5. In the interview, what is the “homosexual agenda” according to Bechdel? How is it reflected in her comics? 

6. Bechdel is constantly worrying about the homogenization of the world because big corporations are taking over the world. How does she negotiate that in her comics? 

7. What are some of the things that shock you in the comics? If you’re a gay man, what is the difference between the lesbian scene and the gay? 

8. Bechdel prides herself for being a feminist, which to her also means being antiestablishment. Is there a contradiction publishing things to make money?

9. Fat studies / disabled lesbians. Discuss. 

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Our Favorite Books in 2013

This year, the book club read 4 gay books, 4 lesbian books, and 4 queer books. We voted for our favorite book of the year. 

Alaa Al Aswany's The Yacoubian BuildingGay Books

Alaa Al Aswany’s Yacoubian Building – WINNER
Mercedes Lackey’s Magic’s Price
Mario Vargas Llosa’s The Dream of the Celt
Sonya Sones’s One of those Hideous Books where the Mother Dies

Lesbian Books

Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home – WINNER (tie)
Libba Bray’s
Beauty Queens – WINNER (tie)
Mia Farlane’s Footnotes to Sex
Monique Truong’s The Book of Salt

Queer Books

never mind i - edward st aubynMark Gatiss’s The Vesuvius Club
Edward St Aubyn’s
Never Mind – WINNER (tie)
Tan Twan Eng’s The Gift of Rain
Kathleen Winter’s
Annabel – WINNER (tie)

OVERALL WINNER
Alaa Al Aswany’s Yacoubian Building

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44th Discussion: Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home

fun-homeTimmy moderated the discussion at a place provided by Isaac’s company.

Our Initial Reactions to the Book

Aaron and Isaac liked the book for its literary value and complexity in negotiating binaries of fiction/autobiography, public/private and father/daughter; and Luke liked it for its MRT-friendliness; while Raj and Timmy found the book exhausting with no likable characters and its confusing  narrative technique, something that Javin brought up as an authorial intention; further negative criticism both Aaron and Timmy had was that the author-narrator was egoistic and self-centred.

Themes

1. Suicide?

Timmy asked if the father’s death was a suicide. Raj said Alison thought that the father died to steal her thunder for coming out four months before his death, showing how narcissistic she was. Everything had to go back to her: “He died to steal MY thunder.” Perhaps the fact that she tried so hard to convince the readers that it was a suicide shows the kind of person she was.

2. Effeminate Gay Men

The portrayal of the dad, Aaron felt, was effeminate and negative. Perhaps Alison’s hatred for effeminate gay men was as what Melissa said on facebook, that it was a form of victim-blaming.

3. House/Home

Aaron saw the tinseled house as Alison’s metaphor of her dad, living a lie, while both Raj and Timmy read it as the dad directing his sexual frustrations into useful work.

Timmy followed up with another question on the funeral home, linking the real home and funeral home together, signifying how two houses were funereal and showing a metaphoric death of the traditional family unit. Timmy also suggested that the term “fun home” is ironic because the real home was not fun and the term also breaks down the binary of “funeral/fun” or “death/fun.”

Timmy also brought up that house was a labyrinth, with people getting lost, and is a symbol of the characters losing their way.

4. Her Sexuality

Raj and Timmy brought up that while looking at a fashion mag, both her father and she admired the men for various reasons. Aaron questioned if she was blaming her father for her sexuality as in the comics, the author has suggested that she wanted to be a man so that the father could be interested in her. Aaron also questioned if she was a transgender, rather than a lesbian.

Literary Techniques

1. Doubling

Timmy and Raj noted how similar the father and daughter were and Javin conjectured perhaps it was the reason of her dislike for him.

2. Drawing

Raj didn’t think much of the drawing, saying the characters had little or no expressions, while Aaron thought the drawings depicted their emotions well by the body movements and eyes.

3. Symbol

Timmy said the symbol of “I think” from Alison’s epistemological crisis is obviously a symbol of a vagina.

4. Unreliable Narrator & Autobiography

Using the episode on Alison’s grandmother telling her the story of how her dad was lost in the fields, Aaron questioned the reliability of Alison. For instance, the postman was changed into a milkman, and the story was overdetermined that it became mythical and unrealistic. Aaron suggested that perhaps we should read the author as wanting us to have an epistemological crisis as she was having in the book, to question everything.

Luke said that the point of the lost father was to show Alison and the readers a different side of the father.

Can we trust the book as an autobiography? Isaac claimed that the author didn’t mention this was an autobiography and we can see this as a work of art to question the notion of what autobiography is.

5. Literary Allusions

Timmy thought the literary allusions were the author showing off while Isaac thought it was her way of making sense of the world.

6. Scene: Brother Lost at Christopher Street

What is the point of the scene? Raj said it was to show the father’s concern. Aaron thought throughout the memoir, she talked about her perspective and her dad, why shift the focus to her brother? Very strange.

7. Ending

We liked the ending of the book as Luke succinctly put it, it was very simple, she trusted him therefore she loved him. Isaac questioned, he was there to catch her fall but who was there to catch him?

Characters

1. Alison

We didn’t like her much except Isaac. We all thought she was full of herself, self-indulgent (Timmy), and smarmy (Timmy) but Isaac thought her brave to write an autobiography and she shows how fragile people can be, she was screwed-up because of her dad.

2. Dad

Luke found the dad ambiguously portrayed. Timmy said Dad was stoic  and demonized. Raj agreed with Timmy, saying that at least the father stuck around and his decoration of the house involving the children was his way of interaction and showing love for them.

3. Mother

Aaron saw the mother as the villain of this drama. The father was fighting his own demons and had an excuse but she had none. She could have stopped the beating of the children. She could have walked out of the marriage and supported herself, being the strong independent woman who flew to Paris to marry a man. She was nonchalant to the children’s well being.

Conclusion

Despite disliking the memoir, Raj, being masochistic, wanted to read her book on her mother Are You My Mother? before condemning Bechdel completely. Raj called this book a gay Persepolis. Isaac reiterated that the autobiography is self-reflexive and has universal themes of coming out that LGBT can identity with and the characters, neither fully good nor bad, perplex and frustrate the reader. Timmy was convinced by Isaac and appreciated the book more while Aaron stood by his love-hate relationship that it was a good literary book but detested the narcissistic narrator-author as he believes that values, even narcissism, are transmitted through books subliminally.

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