February 13, 2019
One in a weekly series of enthusiastic posts, contributed by HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the topic of our favorite comic books, comic strips, and graphic novels.
Fun Home was my life. With a few small substitutions, Alison Bechdel‘s childhood was remarkably similar to my own.
- Obsessive grumpy maybe-gay dad with the odd job who is forever fixing the house and yard, moving flagstones in his cutoff shorts with teenaged boys
- Distant overly-analytical intellectual swarthy mother who only saw her childrens’ accomplishments as reflections of her
- Siblings close in age but not really part of the picture until later
- Everyone rattling around in an old unusual house that is too big for them, pursuing individual interests as if they are all at a creative retreat, for life
- I was the spooky, tomboy daughter who moved to Vermont, where I write
There the similarity ended. No big reveal for me in terms of my sexuality, though I did get married to a near-stranger at 26. My father moved out instead of dying, thought he did predecease my mother by six years. I think about that ten-year period — the only time I lived in a house with a nuclear family — through a hazy lens. That was me?
I remember feeling isolated, the only weird family in the rural area by the suburbs. The only Volvo drivers. We weren’t farmers, but we had a tractor, and my mom made my clothes. What were we? What was I? The concentric isolation was something I couldn’t make sense of at the time, or even see.
By the time Fun Home came out in 2006 I was nearly 40, post-married, and living pretty happily alone. My sister and I would occasionally get together and scratch our heads at our “raised by wolves” upbringing as if it had been a bad movie or something that happened to other people we distantly knew.
I read Fun Home; it hit me like a lightning bolt and my whole childhood snapped back around me.
My usual graphic novel experience was that stories about growing up were either “weird kid, normal parents” or “weird parents, normal kid.” Bechdel managed to make something that was both… or neither? It wasn’t the alienation parade of Tomine or Clowes or Ware, but it also wasn’t a story of summer friendship, or a family that works it out, like Tamaki or Telgemeier.
Fun Home is a story about the kid, the weird kid, with the weird parents, a kid who turns out okay. Until it came out, I hadn’t had a way of talking about my own childhood in a way that made sense to me. With Bechdel’s detailed descriptions and matter-of-fact illustrations, I could point to something that felt honest, both in literal terms but also in atmospheric ones. It helped me see my own deeply personal story as one that could just be… anyone’s story. That was me, and it was a lot of people. And that kid turns out okay.
SERIOCOMIC: Mimi Lipson on LITTLE LULU | Sara Ryan on AMPHIGOREY | Gary Panter on THE NUT BROS./THE SQUIRREL CAGE | Gordon Dahlquist on POGO | Robert Wringham on VIZ | Matthew De Abaitua on CAPTAIN BRITAIN | Jessamyn West on FUN HOME | Bradley Peterson on HELLBOY | Stephanie Burt on KITTY PRYDE RETURNS | Jenny Davidson on OOR WULLIE | Luc Sante on MARSUPILAMI | Susan Roe on BLOOM COUNTY | Marilyn Berlin Snell on CHARLES ADDAMS | Deb Chachra on ARKHAM ASYLUM | Judith Zissman on ERNIE POOK’S COMEEK | Alexandra Lange on BETTY (ARCHIE) | Catherine Newman on VERONICA (ARCHIE) | Josh Glenn on SPIRE CHRISTIAN COMICS | Adam McGovern on THE CREW | William Nericcio on ERRATA STIGMATA | Chelsey Johnson on DYKES TO WATCH OUT FOR | Sherri Wasserman on TANK GIRL | Tom Nealon on MEGATON MAN | Erin M. Routson on THE WEDDING OF SCOTT SUMMERS & JEAN GREY | Douglas Wolk on FRANK IN THE RIVER | Annie Nocenti on DICK TRACY | James Parker on 2000 AD | Adrienne Crew on NUTS | Vanessa Berry on MEAT CAKE | John Holbo on WITZEND | Michael Campochiaro on SPIDER-WOMAN | Miranda Mellis on RED SONJA & BÊLIT | Michael Grasso on THE NEW MUTANTS | Ty Burr on BINKY BROWN | Bishakh Som on AMAR CHITRA KATHA | Mark Kingwell on CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED | Brian Berger on JIMBO | Kenya (Robinson) on AGENT 355 | Seth on THE ETERNALS ANNUAL | Susannah Breslin on SLASHER | Lisa Kahlden on JACK CHICK TRACTS | Mandy Keifetz on KRAZY KAT | Tom Devlin on DUM-DUM POSSE READER | Eric Reynolds on ACTION COMICS #460 | Rick Pinchera on EIGHTBALL #16 | Juan Recondo on DAYTRIPPER | Elizabeth Foy Larsen on ROZ CHAST | J.E. Anckorn on HALO JONES | Deborah Wassertzug on GREAT POP THINGS | Peggy Nelson on MAD MOVIE SATIRES | Holly Interlandi on ANGEL SANCTUARY | Karen Green on THE SMITHSONIAN COLLECTION OF NEWSPAPER COMICS.
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