One of my favourite things about working in a comic store is when someone comes in with a look of complete fear and confusion. Usually these are the people who have never read a comic before, or haven’t read a comic in decades or who just found out that comics aren’t always about Superman.
Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home is one of my favourite books to recommend to a non-comic reader (or I should say, new comic reader). It’s literary, intelligent and complex. It’s been recognized in mainstream press and was on the New York Times best seller list. Also, the art is real purty.
Alison Bechdel created Dykes to Watch Out For, a long-running comic strip that appeared in queer newspapers. Fun Home is her autobiographical story about growing up queer, in a funeral home, with a closeted gay dad.
The real meat of the story deals with Bechdel’s relationship with her father — their constant clashes, his obsessive, controlling tendencies, his secret gay affairs with his high school students, his suicide, and Bechdel’s reflections about how she was not so different from him.
Fun Home is a memoir about memory. Bechdel tells us about an incident in her past, and then revisits it with new information and a new perspective, revealing how hindsight can bring new light to a childhood memory. The way the story loops around itself reflects the complexity of telling your own life story.
This work is literary to the point of being dense. Bechdel uses literary allusions and complex language that can be challenging. It can teeter on the brink of being pretentious or inaccessible. But Bechdel’s art — clean lines, really expressive faces, and visual jokes — keeps Fun Home grounded.
The book is moving, funny, and a generally compelling read. But I think it’s especially great for nerdy, English major types who think that comics are all fluff. When people tell me that comics are for kids, I throw Fun Home at them and yell, “Allusions to Proust! Words like ‘cartilaginous’ and ‘bunburyist’! Suicide! Queer sex! This is complex stuff! In a comic book! Deal with it!!!”