*Fun Home — Best of 2006

Alison Bechdel has been writing and drawing the lesbian soap opera Dykes to Watch Out For for decades. Her comic strip characters are true to life, with one in particular resembling her and her attitudes closely. In her new book, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, she sets aside the fictionalization to present a memoir of her childhood.

The book revolves around her relationship with her father. As she describes him, he was an obsessive redecorater, consumed with the 18-year historical restoration of their house. He was demanding of his family, more interested in his projects than their feelings or interests. They learned early to leave him alone, not expressing affection or even commenting much.

From an early age, she formed her tastes in opposition to his. His love of the decorative and elaborate created in her a desire for the simple and functional. However, they had something significant in common, although again their expression differed greatly. Bechdel has created art from her lesbianism, while her father kept his homosexuality hidden behind the facades he carefully created.

From the beginning, she uses classical allusions for comparisons. It seems as though she’s using poetic description to distance herself from still-painful material. Bechdel handles her emotions in a way we today consider much more healthy, but both she and her father have a remoteness to their presence. Growing up, Bechdel was a tomboy, rejecting anything feminine in an attempt to balance her father’s lack of masculinity, apparent through contrast with the other men in their small farm town.

They both also have a love of literature, of naturally using references to books and myths to explain themselves. Sometimes, it’s the only way they can communicate, through lending each other reading material. Bechdel seeks explanation of her parents’ relationship through a variety of literary models, including Proust, Fitzgerald, Henry James, Wilde, and Camus.

It’s not a surprise to learn that, while her father made a living as an English teacher, the family profession was running a funeral home. The way that occupation looks back at life, serving as guardians of etiquette while remaining unaffected by the lives they touch, is a perfect match for the story Bechdel tells. In a similar way, she’s examining her father’s life and death, seeking to find meaning and closure so she can live on. There’s also a certain perverse curiosity to tales involving embalming fluid and corpses, as so much television entertainment attests.

Bechdel’s style is straightforward. Her detailed drawings strive to present what she remembers accurately and with detail. The book is black-and-white with a blue-grey watercolor wash that provides depth and adds to the feeling of memory. Her characters are solid and realistic, only they rarely smile, and when they do, it’s a struggle. Maybe that’s also true to life.

One of her lessons from his life is that pretense lived thoroughly becomes real. I don’t know whether creating this brilliant book helped her finally experience the emotions she says are so remote to her and settle her suspicions about whether his death was a suicide; I’m just glad that I got the chance to read such an insightful, powerful exploration of life, death, and family relations.

Sample images are available at the publisher’s website. Bechdel was interviewed at AfterEllen and discusses her mother’s reaction at Slate.


24 Responses to “*Fun Home — Best of 2006”

  1. Book Nominations and Awards » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] I do love manga, but I think that choice demonstrates the problem with popular voting: it beat both Fun Home and Mom’s Cancer to [...]

  2. Bill Burns Says:

    Now if someone would only collect DTWOF in hardcover.

  3. Anun Says:

    I’ve been a fan of DTOWF for years and years and yet, Fun Home still blew me away. I always knew she was good, but I didn’t know just how good. It’s so great to see a book on one of those end of the year lists that truly deserves all its honors and then some.

  4. Journalista » Blog Archive » Dec. 21, 2006: Tohru beats Naruto Says:

    [...] Johanna Draper Carlson reviews Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home. [...]

  5. one diverse comic book nation » THE SHORT STACK: Diversity On The ‘Net - December 21, 2006 Says:

    [...] Fun Home – Best of 2006 – Johanna from Comics Worth Reading spotlights creator Alison Bechdel, best known for her long running strip Dykes To Watch Out For, and her new book Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic which was recently named one of Time magazine’s Ten Best Books of 2006 (from Comics Worth Reading) [...]

  6. Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] Thanks to Dirk Deppey for pointing me towards the link. Dirk’s written a wonderful essay about the kind of cultural groupings that apply pressure on best-ofs and similar recognition at that link — start where he mentions Fun Home’s recognition. [...]

  7. Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] Speaking of homosexual portrayals, Loren posts the lengthy GLAAD 2006 LGBT in Comics rundown. It mainly focuses on DC and Marvel books because GLAAD is concerned about visibility, and that’s what they think are best known in comics. Dirk Deppey (under the Comics Culture section) then rips apart this outdated assertion very entertainingly. Here’s just a small excerpt: Buried in the back list: Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, an “other label” (i.e. real-world major publisher Houghton-Mifflin) graphic novel that’s been named book of the year by Time Magazine, the best graphic novel of 2006 by any number of recognized national magazines, and given prominent display space in major chain bookstores. Oh, and sold a bunch of copies and was created by an actual, authentic lesbian. But that’s not as mainstream as the Justice Society of America! [...]

  8. NewsBit LinkBlogging » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] This is the first mention I’ve seen of a planned sequel to Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home to be called Love Life: A Case Study. [...]

  9. I’m Back! » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] also geeked out at the show — I was thrilled to have Alison Bechdel sign my copy of Fun Home and even add a sketch [...]

  10. Cool Events Coming Up » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] community-wide Reading Together Series. The focus is on three autobiographical works: Persepolis, Fun Home, and Cuckoo. Paul sends along the following information: You don’t have to have read the [...]

  11. Sizer Guests at Unshelved » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] tradition of book reviews in comic form. Today, Paul Sizer provides a guest recommendation of Fun Home. Check it out! [...]

  12. A Detailed Harvey Awards Ceremony Writeup » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] Lex Luthor’s Silver Age origin. In an unexpected result, the award went to Civil War #1 over Fun Home, Ganges #1, Mom’s Cancer, Pride of Baghdad, Schizo #4, and Solo #11 (featuring Sergio [...]

  13. Happy Holidays! Best of 2006 » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] Fun Home: A Family TragicomicAs excellent as everyone says it is, this graphic memoir is all the more powerful for what it doesn’t show about Alison Bechdel’s father’s hidden life. [...]

  14. A “Documentary Graphic Novel” — Photo Reference as Art? » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] about leaving home.” They’re aiming for readers of books like Mom’s Cancer or Fun Home. (Ambitious, since both of those garnered major awards when they came out two years [...]

  15. End of an Era: The Last Scholastic Bone » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] The superhero publishers tried their typical “glut” strategy, pumping out works unsuited for the audience and flooding the shelves, which resulted in projects that would be better for those readers (noted author names, for example) getting lost. Several book publishers set up ambitious graphic novel lines, only to find that the best-praised books don’t necessarily sell in accordance with expectations. A desire for more content quickly meant some works didn’t get the polish they needed. And yet, no one can dispute the successes, like Fun Home. [...]

  16. Radiator Days » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] I’m reminded of Craig Thompson or Hope Larson. Pen? More Jen Sorensen. Occasionally a little Alison Bechdel. There’s probably many more I’m missing — the point is, these are accomplished [...]

  17. *The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For — Best of 2008 » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] the popularity of Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, many readers wanted to see more work by her. Her earlier series, Dykes to Watch Out For (DTWOF), [...]

  18. Spurgeon and I on Fun Home » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] covering significant books from the last decade — he and I talk about Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home. [...]

  19. The Bechdel Test Becomes a Bigger Deal » DVDs Worth Watching Says:

    [...] fail the Bechdel Test. In this simple evaluation, first formulated by cartoonist Alison Bechdel (Fun Home, Dykes to Watch Out For) in this comic 25 (!) years ago, a film passes if it shows two women [...]

  20. January 2012 Previews: Recommendations, Reminders, and Ramblings » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] JAN12 1143, $10.99, March 21), Magic Trixie (Harper Collins, JAN12 1145, $8.99, March 21), and Fun Home (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, JAN12 1158, $13.95, March [...]

  21. February 2012 Previews: Yes, It’s Late, But the Books Are Still Good » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] prediction for book of the year is Bechdel’s followup to Fun Home. That book explored her father’s secrets; this one examines her distant relationship with her [...]

  22. Not My Bag » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] closest to being targeted in her direction these days is the graphic memoir, such as the best-known Fun Home or Persepolis or those combined with advice, such as The Big Skinny. Not My [...]

  23. January 2013 Previews » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] the immense critical and commercial success of Fun Home, Bechdel’s investigation into her father’s secret life, expectations were high for her [...]

  24. Bechdel Test Becomes an Official Rating in Sweden » DVDs Worth Watching Says:

    […] the long-running Dykes to Watch Out For and the modern classic autobiographical graphic novel Fun Home, also lent her name to the Bechdel Test. That simple check evaluates a film on whether 1. it has at […]




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