[MoCCA] FESTIVAL AWARD HOMES IN ON BECHDEL
The ‘Fun Home’ creator discusses her drive to become a cartoonist and adds a MoCCA honor to a landmark year of acclaim
By Brian Warmoth
Posted June 25, 2007 4:25 PM
The Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art’s annual Festival Award covers as wide a spectrum as any honor, having gone in years past to creators as diverse as comic book legend Neal Adams, Maus creator Art Spiegelman and New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast. 2007’s recipient Alison Bechdel adds the accolade to a breakthrough year of recognitions for her graphic novel Fun Home, which garnered a National Book Critics Circle Award, in addition to top mention on the 2006 reviews lists of The New York Times, Entertainment Weekly and Publisher’s Weekly.
Bechdel received the Festival Award from MoCCA’s Kent Worcester following her one-woman panel about becoming a cartoonist and her personal history that shaped Fun Home, the autobiographical story of her family and her experiences as a lesbian.
“I wanted to see representations of people that looked like me,” Bechdel began, describing the lack of gay and lesbian characters she felt the need to counteract when she began making comics. She characterized her role as a cartoonist as more akin to that of a journalist than that of an artist. “It was very important to me not to compromise my particular point of view and my specific experience with the world as a lesbian,” Bechdel explained, looking back to the beginning of her comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For in 1983 and the lack of mainstream attention she had received for her work prior to Fun Home’s massive success.
“At a certain point I realized my big breakthrough wasn’t happening—this embrace by the mainstream that I had imagined,” Bechdel said. “I was getting more readers, and a wider range of readers, but it was still a quite precarious way to make a living. By the end of the ’90s, more and more gay newspapers were folding [and I was losing income]. My own publisher that published my books folded, and things started looking grim.”
Bechdel’s career had stretched for two decades before Fun Home found a publishing house.
“In 2003 I sold it to Houghton-Mifflin, who was a mainstream literary publisher, so that was very bolstering emotionally, and also really saved my ass financially,” she chuckled.
Fun Home was a long, involved process, however, as Bechdel explained. “It was a very personal, intimate project, and it took seven years to complete it. I found out when I came out to my parents as a lesbian when I was 19 that my dad was gay, and shortly after that he died under certain mysterious circumstances, and pretty likely committed suicide—he was hit by a truck.”
She described Fun Home as “a powerful and intense story that I felt like I needed to tell for a long time” that congealed into the long-form graphic novel now circulating.
Bechdel presented a series of photos and video of her creative process as well, demonstrating the sequence of steps she uses to combine color washes with her inked pages and text. She also showed examples of the original texts and dictionary illustrations she incorporated into her artwork.
“I copied a lot of different texts in Fun Home,” she said, presenting images of paragraphs, photographs taken by her father and drawings from other sources that she painstakingly studied and integrated into her own hand-rendered scenes.
“The real story of this book was about becoming an artist,” Bechdel stated, looking back on the photos taken by her father that she said ultimately made Fun Home a collaborative effort between the two of them, since she was using his comprehensive photographic records of their house for reference.
Before receiving the Festival Award at the panel’s conclusion, Bechdel fielded several questions from the audience, revealing the shock she experienced when she first saw the TV show “Six Feet Under” and noticed the many similarities between it and her memoirs, and the fact that the font used in Fun Home was based on her own lettering designs.