The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For
With 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), is good reading, but hard to catch up on, with 11 books released over two decades, some of which are out of print. Thus, this omnibus edition.
In addition to 330 of the previously published strips (out of 457, or about 3/4 of them), The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For contains an additional 60 new ones (up through #527, at which point Bechdel put the strip on hiatus to work on a new memoir, Love Life: A Case Study), plus 12 pages of introduction in comic form by Bechdel. In it, she discusses how she’s “been drawing this comic strip for my entire adult life!” and reveals how it came about. Her aim was to make lesbians more visible and praise them as socially and ethically aware.
If you’ve never read DTWOF before, you’ll find a wide cast of diverse women. Stripe-shirted Mo, who seems the most like the author, is neurotic, conflicted, and politically strident. Lois, a drag king, enjoys sex unabashedly. Her housemate Ginger is working on her Ph.D. and a long-distance romance, while their other roommate Sparrow goes to therapy a lot (until later in the book, where she comes out as a bisexual lesbian with boyfriend Stuart).
Clarice and Toni are a professional couple with a long relationship who later raise a child together. Jezanna owns the women’s bookstore where Lois and Mo work along with Thea, a snappy woman in a wheelchair. Harriet, a human rights investigator, stays in touch with Mo after their relationship falls apart, and then Sydney, obnoxious university professor with too much debt, comes into the picture. Later, a young Republican lesbian joins the cast, bringing things full circle to where being gay is just one aspect of a character’s life.
In addition to capturing the daily life of all kinds of lesbians, the comic is also, due to the cast’s interaction with the issues of the day, a portrait of the various eras the characters live through. They debate politics and ethics and life decisions, including safe sex, monogamy, consumerism, corporate monopolies, gender transformations, and social responsibility. It’s a fascinating, addictive soap opera, especially as the reader grows to know all of these surprising women. Watching them move from starting their lives into becoming parents and worrying about careers is almost a generational saga; it’s distinctly the story of a community.