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Friday, February 27, 2009

Fun Home

Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home is a classic graphic novel that marries memoir to the comic book. It’s a complex story told simply. Behind the simplicity is the evident hard work. The drawings are seemingly functional, but extremely nuanced. The script is simple, too, except for a few stumbling words that require a dictionary. Together, the words and the pictures create a world of characters and places that is at once warm yet distant, especially the characters.  

The book is about the difficult relationship between the writer and her father. She grows up in a family home that is a relic of a past that never was. It’s the father’s obsession. He spends most of his time decorating their home with Victorian furniture and knick-knacks. 

He runs a funeral service – which gives the book its title Fun Home. But there’s no fun at home. If all post-modern families are afflicted with the disease of being dysfunctional, the Bechdel household is more acutely dysfunctional than most. She explains: “We ate together, but otherwise were absorbed in our separate pursuits.”

Unfortunately, her father dies in a hit and run accident soon after she confesses to her parents about her sexual preference. The writer thinks he’s committed suicide because of her confession of sharing his sexual orientation. There isn’t much about the mother, but that’s because she’s the strong one. She knows of her husband’s predilection, and decides she won’t let it affect her failed marriage.

The book’s drawings are in all blue-tinged and create some sort of gloom, which may perhaps not be intended. The writer’s erudition and the keen attention to detail in the drawings are really the hallmark of the book. Some of the drawings are almost pornographic but are not out of place. I found the book deeply unsettling and disturbing.

If you haven’t yet read a graphic novel, this is the one to start with. It’s brilliant. Published in 2006, it created major waves in the publishing world and was Time’s book of the year in 2006. Lev Grossman and Richard Lacayo, writing about the book in Time, opined, “The unlikeliest literary success of 2006 is a stunning memoir about a girl growing up in a small town with her cryptic, perfectionist dad and slowly realizing that a) she is gay and b) he is too.”

They continue, “Oh, and it’s a comic book: Bechdel’s breathtakingly smart commentary duets with eloquent line drawings. Forget about genre and sexual orientation: this is a masterpiece about two people who live in the same house but different worlds, and their mysterious debts to each other.”   

Alison Bechdel’s self-portrait is from: http://www.entrecomics.com/?p=18368

Fun Home panel drawing is from http://creativedestruction.wordpress.com/2006/12/20/bechdels-fun-home-is-time-magazines-book-of-the-year/

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