Tucked away in a tiny booth with a constantly-replenishing queue of fans, Alison Bechdel sits signing and sketching the new French edition of “Fun Home,” just out from Denoël Graphic in France and available in the States from Houghton Mifflin. The memoir, subtitled “A Family Tragicomedy” for its persistence of humor in the midst of catastrophic loss, illustrates Bechdel’s complex relationship with her father, learning of his homosexuality just weeks before his death. It’s a beautiful book, and likely the most resounding success story in comics this year-“Fun Home” counts among its awards “Time” magazine’s Book of the Year, breaking out of the graphic novels category to win top honors. Through all the rush and hectic pace of France’s Angouleme Comics Festival last week, I managed to sit down with Bechdel for a short chat to discuss “Fun Home,” her inspirations and methods, and what comes next.
Alison Bechdel: Thank you.
CBR: Is Angouleme your first comics convention, or comics-type event you’ve done?
AB: Yes! The only other comics-related thing I’ve been to was back in the States, a very small alternative comix expo in the States. Never anything this big.
CBR: But you’ve done other types of appearances, book tours?
AB: Yeah, I’ve done literary conferences and things like that.
AB: Much more manageable. The biggest one I went to was Book Expo America, which was sort of like this.
CBR: Let’s talk about the book a bit — made you want to do a graphic memoir?
AB: The story about my father is a story I always wanted to tell. He died when I was twenty. I wasn’t even a cartoonist then, I wasn’t a writer, I was just a kid. I couldn’t do it then because I didn’t have the emotional perspective. It took me a long time to be able to do it. I didn’t just decide to do something different with this, I’ve been building up to doing it all along.
AB: Yeah, I did. The inspiration to use the photos came from a book I read a long time ago, Michael Lesy’s “Time Frames: The Meaning of Family Pictures,” where he took people’s family photos and psychoanalysed them. Looking at photos that way gives you a whole other level of understanding. These are actual family photographs at the start of each chapter [of “Fun Home”] – here are my mother and father sitting as far from each other as possible. It’s very revealing.
CBR: With all the attention “Fun Home” has received, the biggest has to be “Time” magazine’s Book of the Year award. Of course, there have been other great works in comics, in illustrated books, but it’s – I think this is the first time a graphic novel has won an overall book prize from such a large publication. There’s been a bit of controversy over that. With the variety of graphic books coming out now, do you think it’s still useful to distinguish between illustrated books and books without pictures?
AB: Very good question. Yes, in the same way it’s useful to have gay and lesbian awards apart. But I think it’s good to transcend those boundaries. That “Fun Home” won for best book, not just best graphic book – it’s astonishing.
CBR: I’ve read elsewhere that you write out your stories before drawing them. What is that process like?
AB: I do the writing first, but it’s never just… it’s still very visual. I’m always thinking of what it will look like on the page. I write in Adobe Illustrator, I’m marking panels, moving things around on the page. Even though I’m not drawing at that stage, I know what’s going where.
CBR: Has all the attention from “Fun Home” brought new readers to your strip, “Dykes to Watch Out For?”
CBR: So what are you working on now? More of the strip, another book project…?
AB: It’s a new memoir project. I like memoir things. It’s been hard to find time, though, with the crazy travel.
CBR: What’s the topic, or I guess the focus, of the new memoir?
AB: Self and other. Which, as I then go on to explain, means relationships.
CBR: Thanks, Alison. Your line is getting longer here, so we’ll let you get back to your readers.