Well, you liked chatting with Katha Pollitt so much last week that we’re bringing you another amazing conversation right away. Oh, yes, as of right now you can chat with the inimitable ALISON BECHDEL, creator of Dykes to Watch Out For, as we prepare for her live event and slideshow celebrating the release of her mindblowing memoir, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic.
Today and tomorrow only, Alison will answer your questions & chat on the topics that interest you — all you’ve got to do is register for the Boards and post your questions & comments for her right here. We’ve even posted a little q&a of our own to get us started, which you can read after the jump:
CNW: You’ve been working on this book for years — what inspired you to start? Did it take longer than you expected?
ALISON: I’d been wanting to tell this story for a very long time, since soon after it happened. But I was only 20 then, and didn’t have the vaguest idea how to go about it. Also, I didn’t think I could tell it, because it involved revealing this big family secret. But after 15 or 16 years of drawing Dykes To Watch Out For, and almost that many of therapy, and after watching cultural attitudes about homosexuality shift so radically , I found myself at age 38 prepared to undertake the project.
CNW: You’re not known to be the most extroverted person, and yet the story is so frank and revealing. I especially was struck by how matter-of-factly you’ve drawn yourself in these exposed positions, not just masturbating/having sex but receiving the news of your father’s death, trying, as a small child, to kiss him goodnight, coming in contact with a cadaver for the first time, etc. Was there anything that was particularly hard to draw, or that you couldn’t bring yourself to
ALISON: Man, the masturbation scenes were tough. That was uncomfortable, but somehow I felt like I had to include it. Maybe that’s the influence of all the autobiographical underground comics I read in my youth—they always included an obligatory masturbation scene. It’s funny, because in the book, I use a lot of material from the journals I kept growing up. As a kid I was always terrified that one of my brothers or someone was going to read them. I’d keep them locked with the little key, and hidden, and I’d write things in code. And now I’m publishing the very details that I most wanted to hide.
I don’t know what it is. Some deep, lurking exhibitionism? I’m not sure. I think that in a way, I didn’t expect many people to read the book. I figured my DTWOF audience would read it, and I don’t really mind them seeing this intimate stuff for some reason. But it is a little weird to think of my extended family looking at pictures of the first time I went down on a woman. I mean, what the hell was I thinking?
CNW: I have to say, you drew your college roommate to look a whole lot like Mo’s ex-lover Harriet. Anything we should take from that?
ALISON: Hmm. I hadn’t noticed. But Harriet does look rather like another woman I was involved with years ago.
CNW: I was just telling a friend how beautiful the art is in the book. Did you deliberately draw it more lyrically than you do DTWOF, or is it just an evolution of your style?
ALISON: In Fun Home, I had a lot more space to stretch out and actually DO some drawing. In DTWOF, there’s so little space, it’s all I can do just to fit the characters in. I don’t think the quality of the line drawing itself is much different. But the ink wash shading technique I used in Fun Home gives the art an emotionality and depth that’s kind of a departure for me.
CNW: A hardcover edition from a more commercial publisher, reviews in USAToday & Entertainment Weekly, glowing quotes from Dorothy Allison & Harvey Pekar, comparisons to Jeanette Winterson — everyone is buzzing about how this is your “breakout book.” How does that feel when you’ve been creating brilliant books & strips for decades?
ALISON: Well, of course all the attention is great. I’m not complaining. But I’m having this very curious experience of being envious of myself. I mean, I always thought my Dykes stuff was pretty good. But over the years I gradually had to let go of my youthful fantasy that it would really cross over. I’ve gotten pretty discouraged, at times. But I kept plugging along. And now Fun Home comes out and frickin’ People Magazine is at the door. It’s very confusing. Is Fun Home better than I thought? Is Dykes worse? I don’t know. I’m just trying to enjoy it all before it stops.
CNW: Who do you hope reads the book? What is your hope in telling it?
ALISON: You know, I honestly didn’t have an audience in mind when I wrote the book. It was pretty much just something I had to do. I’m loathe to admit to an agenda, but I guess I do think of the book as anecdotal evidence of the real damage homophobia can inflict on peoples’ lives.
CNW: What/who are you reading right now?
ALISON: I just finished a great book by my friend Judith Levine (I’m not just making a plug, it’s really excellent) called Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping. It’s a very funny and radical book about our depraved consumerism. Now I’m reading a book of short stories by Alice Munro, Runaway. I never read anything by her before and I’m totally slackjawed at every sentence. She’s amazing.
Now it’s your turn: what do you want to tell Alison? What do you want her to know?