Test 2

Please select your preferred language.





Remember Me

New to Fridae?

Fridae Mobile


More About Us

13 Nov 2008

Dyke to watch out for: Alison Bechdel

Just this month, award-winning lesbian cartoonist Alison Bechdel has published The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For, a bumper collection of 25 years of her work. Fridae chats with her about her life, her views, and her recent bout with censorship.

I met Alison Bechdel in the flesh on a cold autumn evening in late 2003. I was an undergrad in New York City, hurrying over to a presentation she was giving at a women's bookstore in Brooklyn, and I had the good fortune to spot her on the subway - mentally matched her up with her book cover photo: a distinctive thin, sharp face, buzzcut hairdo and black-rimmed, geek-pride glasses.

Famed for Dykes to Watch Out For series, Alison Bechdel's first graphic novel Fun Home spent two weeks in the New York Times best-seller list and garnered a string of awards.
I had the balls to go up to her and introduce myself. She was pretty surprised - seems that not a lot of people have recognised her in the street. She was, after all, one of those marginal heroes: famous only in the American gay comic book community for her long-running lesbian soap opera comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For (which, by the way, is EXCELLENT).

I told her that I had all her books, told her how much I worshipped her strips, told her told her I wanted to have her baby (yeah, I get carried away sometimes). She laughed and gave me an autograph, which I proudly showed off to straight friends who hadn't a clue how great a cartoonist she was.

Fast forward to 2006, when Alison published her first graphic novel, Fun Home. It's an autobiographical account of her relationship with her father, a funeral home director and English teacher who was a closeted gay man.

Suddenly her fan base exploded - her blog entries, which used to get comments in the teens, now occasionally received comments in the hundreds. Her book spent two weeks in the New York Times best-seller list, was named by Entertainment Weekly as the best non-fiction book of the year (and by Time magazine as THE best book of the year), received two Eisners and a Stonewall Book Award and a Lambda Literary and a GLAAD Media and a well, you get the picture.

This is all the more amazing when you consider what an intelligent book it is: it makes references to the great authors of Western civilisation from Oscar Wilde to Colette to Homer to Roald Dahl, and screws around with time and sequencing in a way that defies all those how-to-write-a-bestseller manuals.

Also remember that this is a book that's unabashedly gay - there are drawings of cocks and breasts and vulvas on the pages, which did actually get the book temporarily banned in a Missouri public library. (Last I checked, it's still available in the Singapore public library as well as several bookstores.)

For the past two years, I've been waiting for an excuse to do an interview with Ms Bechdel on Fridae - and while there's no news of an Asian book signing tour, the author's recently announced Fun Home is getting translated into Mandarin, with speech balloons inserted to tastefully censor the offensive genitalia.

I interrupted the cartoonist's beach holiday to ask her a few trivial questions:

æ: Age, sex, location?

Alison: I'm 47. I like sex. At the moment I'm on the tip of Cape Cod.

æ: How's the vacation going? How's your partner Holly?

Alison: My vacation is going extremely well, I'm happy to say. Holly and I have both been working for a couple hours in the morning, then we go to the beach. It's a nice routine.

æ: Tell us a bit about how you started out as a cartoonist - the early days of Dykes to Watch Out For.

Alison: One day soon after I graduated from college I was writing a letter to a friend. I put a silly drawing of a lesbian in the margin, a crazy naked woman about to throw a pot of coffee. I don't know where it came from, or why I titled Dykes To Watch Out For, Plate No. 27. But it seemed to beg for at least 26 more dykes, so I set about drawing the rest of them and never stopped.

Soon after I'd collected a small sheaf of them, friends suggested that I submit them to the feminist paper where we all volunteered. I did, and eventually started syndicating them to other papers.

æ: I'm really impressed by how Dykes to Watch Out For has kept up with the times - the inclusion of Samia, an Arab lesbian character, was particularly interesting. Want to comment on that?

Alison: Samia emerged in the strip gradually. Her first appearance was in 2002, at an antiwar rally during the buildup to the invasion of Iraq. My character Ginger pets her dog. Then months later, Samia and Ginger meet again when Samia's dog escapes as she's walking her. That's when they started dating. After 9/11, I just got more educated and aware of Arab-American culture, and felt like my strip was obviously missing an Arab character.

æ: Tell us about Fun Home.

Alison: I was really lucky with Fun Home to catch the graphic novel wave at a very good time. The book was pretty successful, which was an immensely gratifying experience after 25 years of being fairly culturally invisible.

æ: Could you tell us a little about the Mandarin translation of Fun Home?

Alison: A private publisher called Beijing Zito, which is starting a graphic book series, is going to be co-publishing the book with Shaanxi Normal Universal Press, an official government publisher. It's kind of amazing that it's happening - apparently Houghton Mifflin's Chinese subagent worked really hard to make the deal. I don't know who's doing the work of translation - I don't really get consulted about that.

æ: And what's your take on the fact that they're censoring the nudity in the book?

Alison: I'm not thrilled about it, but it feels like a compromise worth making, to get the book to a Chinese audience. I have no idea how it came about - it's kind of funny comparing the offending drawings, before and after they've been censored. In a way, the censored ones look more obscene.

[Note: Fun Home also experienced a brush with censorship back in 2006, when the book was removed from a public library in Marshall, Missouri after complaints from a resident of the town. Fortunately, the library committee voted to restore the book to circulation. Bechdel has described the attempted ban as "a great honor part of the whole evolution of the graphic novel form."]

æ: What other languages have you been translated into?

Alison: There've been quite a few translations. I haven't even kept track of them. French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Korean, German, the traditional Chinese one. I think there's a Swedish one coming out, and a Hungarian one.

æ: Did you ever imagine you - and the queer community in general - would be where we are today?

Alison: No! It's mind blowing.

æ: What do you think the queer community should be fighting for right now?

Alison: The movement has definitely drifted a bit too far toward mainstream values like marriage for my taste. If it were up to me, we'd still be fighting for the things that conservatives fear we actually are fighting for - the abolition of marriage, for example. But liberation movements work in mysterious ways. Maybe gay marriage is the most radical thing to hit the planet.

æ: Do you still see yourself as an activist in any way?

Alison: I've never seen myself as an activist. I don't have the temperament.

æ: What other comic book artists - especially queer comic book artists - should we be looking out for now?

Alison: Ariel Schrag, Tim Fish, Victor Hodge I was sorry to hear recently that Robert Kirby has stopped doing his strip "Curbside". But I hope he'll keep editing "Boy Trouble".

æ: What's your proudest achievement?

Alison: Cranking out Dykes To Watch Out For regularly for 25 years.

You can read archived strips of Dykes to Watch Out For at Alison Bechdel's blog dykestowatchoutfor.com. Fun Home is on sale at major bookstores and at Amazon.com. The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For is available at Amazon.com.


This article was recently read by

Select News Edition

Featured Profiles

Now ALL members can view unlimited profiles!


View this page in a different language:

Like Us on Facebook


 ILGA Asia - Fridae partner for LGBT rights in Asia IGLHRC - Fridae Partner for LGBT rights in Asia