Brief Biography of Alison Bechdel
Alison Bechdel was born in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania and grew up in the small town of Beech Creek, Pennsylvania. She lived in an old Gothic Revival house with her father Bruce, her mother Helen, and her two younger brothers Christian and John. Bechdel’s family was Roman Catholic. Her mother was a teacher and community theater actress, and her father, an army veteran, was an 11th grade English teacher who also worked part-time running a funeral home that he inherited from his father. As a kid, Bechdel and her brothers helped out at the funeral home, which they called the “Fun Home.” After leaving high school a year early, Bechdel attended Simon’s Rock College from 1977 to 1979, at which time she transferred to Oberlin College and subsequently graduated with a degree in art history and studio arts in 1981. At college, Bechdel also met her first girlfriend and, at the age of 19, Bechdel came out of the closet to her parents as a lesbian. That same year, Alison’s father Bruce died, likely from a suicide. After graduating from college, Bechdel moved to Manhattan, applied to art schools, got rejected, and ended up working many office jobs in the publishing industry. In June of 1983, a friend sent one of Bechdel’s drawings to a magazine called WomaNews, and Bechdel’s long-running comic strip Dykes To Watch Out For was born. During this time, Bechdel moved to St. Paul, Minnesota, and the strip evolved into a series of stories centering on a group of lesbian characters. In 1990 Bechdel became a full-time cartoonist and later moved to a house near Burlington, Vermont. In February of 2004 Bechdel married Amy Rubin, her longtime partner, in San Francisco, but the California Supreme Court later vacated their marriage. They separated in 2006, the same year that Bechdel’s best-selling graphic memoir about her relationship with her father, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, was released. In 2008 Bechdel suspended working on her comic strip Dykes To Watch Out For to work on a graphic memoir about her mother, which was released in 2012 with the title Are You My Mother? In 2014 Bechdel was granted a MacArthur “Genius” Award. Bechdel married Holly Rae Taylor in 2015.
Historical Context of Fun Home
Homosexuality in the United States wasn’t formally studied or academically discussed until the 1948 publication of Alfred Kinsey’s Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, which claimed that about 10% of men and about 5% of women exhibited homosexual tendencies at some point in their lives. Even after that, homosexual relations remained illegal in most states in the United States, and gay rights didn’t become a prominent public issue until the civil rights movement of the late 1960’s, when the Gay Liberation movement developed after the Stonewall Riots, a protest of police brutality toward the LGBT community in the summer of 1969. In Funhome, Alison visits New York with Bruce a few weeks after this incident. In the 1970’s, many gay people moved to cities like San Francisco. There, Harvey Milk became the first openly gay man to be elected to a public office, but in 1978 he was assassinated. In the 1980’s through the 1990’s, the LGBT community was devastated by the AIDS crisis, which was largely ignored by the Reagan administration. In 2008 California became the first state to deem gay marriages constitutional, and in the landmark Supreme Court decision Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015, gay marriage became nationally recognized as lawful in the United States.
Other Books Related to Fun Home
Like Fun Home
, a number of graphic memoirs have achieved widespread success in the 21st century. Persepolis
, written by Marjane Satrapi and published in 2000, is a coming-of-age graphic memoir set in Iran during and after the Islamic Revolution. Smile
by Raina Telgemeir is a graphic memoir based on her childhood and adolescence. Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?
by Roz Chast, Blankets
by Craig Thompson, and Stitches
by David Small are all popular graphic memoirs, and Bechdel’s own follow-up to Fun Home
, Are You My Mother?,
is also in this genre. Maus
by Art Spiegelman, while not a strict memoir, is inspired by Spiegelman’s interviews with his father about his father’s experiences as a Holocaust survivor, and given the complicated relationship between Spiegelman and his father in Maus, that book can be seen as a possible influence on Fun Home
. Throughout Fun Home
, Bechdel also alludes to and quotes from many, many literary works, including A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man
by James Joyce, A Happy Death
and The Myth of Sisyphus
by Albert Camus, The Portrait of a Lady
by Henry James, Flying
by Kate Millett, Earthly Paradise
by Colette, Remembrance of Things Past
(or In Search of Lost Time
) by Marcel Proust, The Taming of the Shrew
by Shakespeare, The Importance of Being Earnest
and The Picture of Dorian Gray
by Oscar Wilde, The Great Gatsby
by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Far Side of Paradise
by Arthur Mizener, The Catcher in the Rye
by J.D. Salinger, The Wind in the Willows
by Kenneth Grahame, The Nude: A Study In Ideal Form
by Kenneth Clark, Baby and Child Care
by Dr. Benjamin Spock, and the poem “Sunday Morning” by Wallace Stevens.
Key Facts about Fun Home
Full Title: Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic
When Written: From 1998-2005
When Published: June 8th, 2006
Literary Period: Contemporary
Genre: Graphic Memoir
Setting: Beech Creek, Pennsylvania; Oberlin, Ohio; Greenwich Village, Manhattan; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania;
Climax: Alison and Bruce have their one and only somewhat frank conversation about both of their sexualities, shortly before Bruce’s death.
Antagonist: Bruce Bechdel
Point of View: Alison Bechdel, looking back on her memories.
Extra Credit for Fun Home