Last night I had the huge pleasure of attending a book signing and reading for Alison Bechdel’s book Fun Home. For those of you unfamiliar with her work, Alison is the author of the superb comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For . The comic strip has been a favorite of mine for years and it beautifully chronicles the personal and political trials and tribulations of a core group of lesbians. It is funny; it is poignant, and frighteningly true to life (especially the political details). Fun Home is her first venture into the autobiographical graphic novel genre and it has been getting rave reviews from not only the gay press but also the big league of reviewers (New York Times Book Review, Entertainment Weekly, Time Magazine to name a few).
The event was held at the Free Library of Philadelphia as part of their author series. I’d never been to the library and it is an old, beautiful, and cavernous building near the art museum. What I liked most about the crowd that attended was the wide diversity of people which just proves that quality writing and art can be equally compelling to women and men across a wide demographic spectrum. (I just looked at that last phrase “wide demographic spectrum” and realized that an evening of listening to Alison’s well crafted story with impressive vocabulary has just trickled into my stream of consciousness.)
The jam packed hour was filled with Alison reading from her book while displaying a slide show of the corresponding graphic frames. In between the two chapters she read, she took time to give us a peek behind the scenes and into her creative process for drawing. It is more than clear that she is a serious artist who works her ass off conceptualizing, researching, designing, and actually drawing the frames. I couldn’t recount all the steps if you put a gun to my head. As a writer, I certainly understand my creative process and the sometimes painstaking process of editing and getting the message “just so”. However, since my drawing abilities are limited to stick people (and pretty ugly stick people at that) and tracing Garfield and Ziggy cartoons as a kid, it always blows me away to learn about the different methods artists adopt to create their signature work. Alison commented last night that she doesn’t consider herself a natural artist. She just works very hard at drawing. Well, I don’t know what you’d define “natural” as, but she most certainly is authentic, original, and produces top notch drawings that convey many layers of a message simultaneously. After listening and watching Alison last night describe just one frame from her new novel, I had the same reaction as when I first watched a fine winemaker walk me through the process of his hand crafted wines and champagnes — “my god this stuff should sell for $100 each at a minimum for all that talent and effort!”.
(You can catch a snippet of one stage of the creative process via video on her blog here ) .
The evening wrapped up with a nice stretch of Q&A from the audience. I just love when intelligent women fill a room and get free reign with a Q&A. The questions were thought-provoking and compelling. As a whole the audience expressed a lot of gratitude and reverence while cheering on the success of one of our own. What I love most about the recent mainstream media attention to Fun Home is that it is not a prefabricated “gay news event” but a literary story about a substantive graphic novel by an author who happens to be a lesbian and whose autobiography explores the gay themes inherent in her family (her father was also gay).
To me the lessons I took away from getting to see Alison in person as well as my years of reading her work are:
- Be authentic
- Follow your creative muse because you must
- Speak your truth because silence really does equal death
- Trust in the process, methods, and mediums that work for you
I haven’t gotten to read the book yet (after all I just bought it last night so she could sign it), but intend to sink my teeth into it starting this weekend. I’ll share what pops up for me after I finish it. I also hope to publish a photo from last night here, but first want to get permission from her…so stay tuned.
You can check out her upcoming tour dates here. If you can’t make it to a signing, or you missed her visit to a city near you, she has chronicled her tour thus far on her blog in a down to earth, authentic, behind-the-scenes way.
And, by all means…buy the book and experience it for yourself!
lesbian , LGBT ,Fun Home,Alison Bechdel
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