Allison Bechdel’s illustrated autobiography Fun Home not only reinforces the idea that the graphic novel can be regarded as a serious literary medium for artistic expression but it brings the queer experience to the attention of the media and heteronormative culture as well. For readers struggling to come to terms with their queerness and their identify formation in relation to the social spheres of family, school, and society, this book is a revelation. Simultaneously, it delineates the author’s complicated relationship with her father, as they both connect and distance themselves from one another, an experience with which many readers will identify. A sense of the macabre is likewise offered though Bechdel’s depiction of the funeral home in which she grew up and the dead bodies her father worked to beatify for their final presentation to the world.
In terms of the technical artistic aspects (sequential storytelling) of the book, Bechdel employs a cartoonish style. However, you will also notice that she includes more realistic portraits and sketches for each chapter’s frontispiece and for the reproduction of photographs within the chapters. Moreover, she predominately uses a five-panel grid for the layout of the book, which is dramatically contrasted on pages 220-21, where she utilizes a twelve-panel grid to relay the brief but beautiful car conversation with her father on the subject of their shared queerness. Regarding the coloring, she uses a one-tone grayish blue over black ink drawings. My opinion is that this somber coloration works as a marker of the nostalgic, hazy edges of memory, to convey the sense that the past is a lost country, and to cast a poignant tone over the story.
Fun Home employs a sense of post-modernism in that Bechdel constantly references her father’s death, leaving it as a looming fact over her storytelling as she, across the seven chapters of the works, fills in the narrative blanks of the circumstances and events leading up to his demise, which she believes was a suicide. She also layers in a sense of intertextuality by frequently referencing the works of Proust, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Wilde, and Joyce to reflect her and her family’s experiences, particularly to parallel how her gay awakening relates to her father’s open yet shrouded homosexuality. Additionally, in terms of incorporating her own texts, she reproduces passages from her diaries and her father’s letters to both her mother and her.
Some of the pages that are crucial to our discussions of queer identity occur on page 98 when Bechdel’s and her father’s clothing reflects their “closeted” and “out” bodies; panel five of page 170 and 171, as she draws her idealized masculine body while rocking herself to orgasm; page 183 as she briefly indulges in her fantasy of wearing male clothing; page 197 as she visualizes herself at a 1985 gay pride parade; and pages 80-81 and 214-15 as she presents intimate moments with her partner.
- What connections can we establish between the deceased and queer bodies presented in Fun Home?
- How does Bechdel’s art reinforce or resist her words?
- Does this memoir change anyone’s opinion of the intellectual value of the graphic novel (i.e., comic books) as an object of study?
Thanks for the commentary on the form of the comic book; with crossover texts like this, I think it can be easy to slip into analyzing them as literature and forget the medium specificity and history. I wonder whether you think there are elements of Bechdel’s formal decisions that relate to the question of place and anti/urbanism within the text… I think of the lovingly drawn recurrent maps of Beech Creek first, of course, but perhaps there is more.