October 31, 2008

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Fun Home

Written by Alison Bechdel
Drawn by Alison Bechdel
Houghton Mifflin

I just found a copy of the hardcover edition in great shape, so I figured I'd dig out this old review from almost two years ago. This was one of the books that triggered my now-love of autobiographical comics. It remains my favorite, and one that I think all comics fans should read, unless they are a raging conservative.

A graphic novel in the truest sense, this drawn autobiography by Bechdel relies heavily on the journal she started keeping from an early age. We learn the story of her very dysfunctional family, where an effeminate father's deeper secrets are locked away until they destroy him.

In Bechdel's hands, we see her try to come to terms with that fact that she is a lesbian and her father was a repressed gay man who sadly had affairs with underage boys. Literary allusions from Joyce to Wilde to Fitzgerald appear with great style and good timing; Bechdel crafts her story in a way that I guess is referred to in prose as literary non-fiction.

The artwork is simple and borrows some ideas from manga (for instance labeling things not immediately apparent to the reader) to good effect. I admire Bechdel's ability to face the truth head-on; there's nothing hidden from the reader, no matter how much it might hurt to remember. (There's a note of thanks to her brothers and mother for allowing her to be that frank.) All in all, this makes for fascinating reading, looking at a real-life dysfunctional family from the inside out.

This will be one of those books that people are talking about for the next fifty years, and with good reason. Read it now while you still can pretend to be cool about it later!