• Bechdel-lead

    Alison Bechdel: Fun Home (detail)

Illustration

An interview with the brilliant cartoonist and graphic memoirist Alison Bechdel

Posted by Anna Trench,

For over 20 years the American cartoonist Alison Bechdel drew the cult comic strip, Dykes to Watch Out For. Beautifully drawn, ambitiously plotted and wittily subversive, it garnered an extremely loyal (if relatively niche) fan base and was syndicated across the alternative press.

Then, in 2006, her graphic memoir Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic was published to huge acclaim. Weaving together her childhood in the family funeral home, her closeted father’s death and her coming out, it was a New York Times bestseller and hailed a comics game-changer. Bechdel’s mother, therapists, girlfriends, Virginia Woolf and child psychologist Donald Winnicott are the subjects of her second book, Are You My Mother?

We caught up with Alison on a recent trip to London to discuss comics, self-flagellation and dreams.

How did it feel to meet with relatively sudden and massive success?

I’ve had a bit of a struggle with the success I’ve experienced. I spent so much of my career in the sub-cultural shadows, and sort of pushing and banging on the door to be let into the room with everyone else. All of a sudden that door opened and I went head over heels through it. I feel like I haven’t quite sorted myself out yet, like I’m still dusting myself off and picking up the things I dropped on the floor.

Why do you think comics are so attracted to autobiography?

I don’t understand it really. I think it has something to do with the hand drawn line that comes out of our bodies, but I haven’t been able to articulate to myself what makes the medium so amenable. When I started reading comics in my twenties it was all underground comics by R Crumb, Aline Kominsky-Crumb and Harvey Pekar and I didn’t think of them as being autobiographical cartoons – it was just like, these are cartoons! That’s what I gravitated towards and what I started doing myself.

Would you say there’s a cathartic element to these comics?

I think so. I used to feel defensive when people would say “Oh is your work therapeutic?” and I would say “No! My work is art, its not therapy!” But I don’t mind about that anymore. It is therapeutic or why would I do it? You know? It’s cathartic. I do it because I’m trying to make up for something that I lack. Which is, I think, why anyone creates anything.

Sometimes it looks like there’s a bit of self-flagellation going on…

Yes, well, I feel like one of my struggles with this most recent book about my mother was to keep it from being too self-flagellating. It was a painful book to write and to some extent since I was writing about the process of creation it was also about that pain… but there’s only so much a reader can take of how much creative suffering the author’s going through, so I had to be careful about that.

How has drawing yourself in Fun Home and Are You My Mother? changed the way you view yourself?

I’ve grown to resemble my drawings in a way – I feel like I modify my own appearance to make myself easier to draw.

Would you ever return to Dykes To Watch Out For?

I do feel I need to revisit these characters and add some coda or resolution to the story because I’ve just left everyone hanging. I’m personally happy not to write about them any more but I feel a sort of aesthetic responsibility to the people who followed it for so long to give them some sense of closure.

Each chapter of Are You My Mother? begins with a dream. What’s your most recent?

I had a very interesting dream night before last that someone had given me a little baby boy to take care of. It was clear it was a boy because it had a little blue suit on. I had to take care of this kid and I felt very confident that I could do it. I could feed this child and keep him from getting killed. It was a good feeling. I don’t know what it means, but it was auspicious, I think.

  • Bechdel-funhome-p.3-i

    Alison Bechdel: Fun Home

  • Bechdel-funhome-p.19-i

    Alison Bechdel: Fun Home

  • Bechdel-funhome-p.59-i

    Alison Bechdel: Fun Home

  • Bechdel-areyoumymother-p

    Alison Bechdel: Are You My Mother?

  • Are-you-my-mother

    Alison Bechdel: Are You My Mother?

  • Are-you-my-mother2

    Alison Bechdel: Are You My Mother?

  • Bechdel-holiday-on-ice

    Alison Bechdel: Dykes to Watch Out For

Portrait16

Posted by Anna Trench

Anna is a writer and illustrator who joined us as an editorial intern after studying at Cambridge University and Falmouth university. She wrote for the site between January and March 2013.

Most Recent: Illustration View Archive

  1. Stationary

    Hotel branding can so often be a dowdy affair, as if the design nods to the temporary nature of the building’s inhabitants – something to move on from, rather than to dwell on. So it’s wonderful to see a brave, opulent new identity for the Connaught in London’s Mayfair, designed by The Partners around a stunning new artwork by Kristjana S Williams which now hangs in the hotel.

  2. List

    June 2013: We introduce you to illustrator and recent Berlin resident Jay Wright. We love his work, you enjoy it massively too, and thereafter he takes on a whole heap of freelance work. Fast forward 16 months and Jay’s new portfolio website shows he’s been one heck of a busy guy, not only commercially but personally too. Alongside magazine covers for The Loop and Das Magazine there’s a glut of witty spot illustrations, brand new zines and some lovely personal work that explores the theme of superstition. It’s definitely worth having a proper rummage around on his site, and when you do be sure to have a look at the ladder. You won’t regret it.

  3. List

    Michael Parkin’s portfolio is a wonderful mix of commissioned work interspersed with personal projects, which is exactly what you want when looking through a creative’s website. His style is simple but well observed and whether he’s creating a poster for Little White Lies or a series of prints relating to a trip to Denmark, Michael’s work is wonderful at telling a story.

  4. List

    I love that moment when big brands start to recognise the immense talents of illustrators who had previously been making work primarily for themselves, and duly commission them to do exactly what they do best. Linda Linko is a prime example; since being signed to Agent Pekka the Finnish illustrator has been gathering speed as well as commissions, creating her characteristically bold artwork for a number of huge posters and magazine covers.

  5. List

    Lawrence Zeegen has never been one to mince his words. The illustrator, writer and dean of design at London College of Communication has recently launched his new book Fifty Years Of Illustration which he co-wrote with Grafik editor Caroline Roberts. It’s an impressively ambitious undertaking with the duo condensing five decades into 1,000 images by 240 illustrators from 30 countries. Lawrence admits it’s a “pretty personal selection” but one that aims to “represent the movers and shakers across each decade according to the work I believe was instrumental in shaping the discipline.”

  6. List

    Growing up in a family of doctors, Swedish illustrator and paper-cut artist Petra Börner secured her first commission (illustrating medical journals) through her surgeon mother, which might go some way to explaining why her work is so reminiscent of botanical diagrams in biology textbooks. Petra’s principle subject is the flora and fauna of the natural world, which she creates using paper cut techniques so intricate and painstakingly-detailed that they scarcely look like they could be real.

  7. List

    Alright, we admit it – Peter Judson has made a lot of work we’ve been really into this year, and he’s had the props on the site to prove it. But why should we be made to contain ourselves when he keeps producing illustration of this calibre? Why, we ask you?

  8. List

    If, like me, you spent many an hour in your teenage years gazing absentmindedly at Larry Carlson’s experimental website Medijate, you’ll no doubt be similarly transfixed by The Landfill from the very talented Santtu Mustonen. Stitching together a “collection of unused sketches, leftover drawings and rejected ideas from forgotten projects” to a mesmerising soundtrack by Tuomas Alatalo, Santtu created a hypnotic animation that’s a work of art in its own right.

  9. List

    As the man who gave form to the twisted genius of Hunter S. Thompson, British illustrator’s Ralph Steadman’s latest project seems like a perfect fit. Ralph has worked with Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan to illustrate some limited-edition Blu-Ray covers for a special boxset of the series due out early next year.

  10. List

    Having just re-read Sammy Harkham’s 2012 anthology of short stories Everything Together I was stupidly excited to find out he’s just got himself on Tumblr and uploaded a small but growing archive of work both old and new. Included in among old covers of Kramers Ergot, book jackets for Kafka anthologies, Bonnie Prince Billy album covers and bits and pieces of rejected work are original drawings from his ongoing graphic novel (and surely future masterpiece) Blood of the Virgin, which he’s also selling to fund further work on the project. I for one cannot wait to see this project massive volume finally realised. Keep at it Sammy!

  11. List

    This top image by New York-based illustrator Karan Singh caught my eye on purely aesthetic grounds; it was only when I delved a little deeper that I discovered the interesting story behind the work. Karan was one of several artists commissioned by Ogilvy New York to work on the IBM US Open Sessions, whereby LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy created a series of tracks based on data gathered at the tennis tournament.

  12. Main2

    I came across the work of Matthias Geisler over on Booooooom the other day and was reminded that we hadn’t posted something like this in a while. Matthias’ work is a swirling blend of spirits and creatures that are created with meticulous use of pencil crayons and water-colours. Is it me or are watercolours real in at the moment? All the cool kids seem to be using them.

  13. List

    If you’re feeling a bit bleary eyed this morning, grab a cup of coffee and take a look at Goncalo Viana’s beautiful illustrations to wake yourself up. Rich with colour and charming detail his work has a wonderful texture to it, as though you could reach out and actually feel the deep pigments he’s used.