Spiers, Miriam Brown: "Daddy’s little girl. Multigenerational queer relationships in Bechdel’s Fun Home." In: Studies in Comics 1.2 (2010), S. 315–335.
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|Resource type: Journal Article
BibTeX citation key: Spiers2010
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Keywords: "Fun Home", Autobiography, Bechdel. Alison, Gender, Sexuality, USA
Collection: Studies in Comics
In this article I will examine an unusual queer relationship, as represented by comics artist Alison Bechdel, best known for her strip Dykes to Watch Out For. While the father-daughter relationship is a common literary theme, it becomes more complicated in Bechdel’s graphic memoir Fun Home, which depicts two generations simultaneously struggling with issues of gender identity. Alison’s ability to lead a queer lifestyle exists in sharp contrast to the way that her father, Bruce, has handled his homosexuality. Rather than reacting to her father’s example, either positively or negatively, Alison must create her own narrative, relying primarily on literature to guide the way. Yet, by identifying as queer, Alison opens the door for her father to discuss his sexuality, leading Alison to wonder, Which of us was the father? (Bechdel 2006: 221). Because of the history of queerness across generations in America, it is Alison who is in a position to set a positive, open example in a queer fatherdaughter relationship.
Adding to the intricate ways in which Alison and Bruce explore their identities and relationship is the fascinating style in which Bechdel draws both herself and her father. As characters on the page, they look remarkably similar to one another, a coincidence that is reinforced by Bechdel’s use of the pose method to draw her memoir that is, she dresses up as the character, takes photos and bases her drawings on those photos. However, there is more than that at stake: in some panels, Bechdel draws an explicit physical comparison between Alison and Bruce at various stages in their lives. As a comics artist, Bechdel is able to make use of a variety of visual cues that play an important role in her representation of queer identity.
These visual cues extend to include visual adaptations of texts, from love letters between her parents to excerpts from her father’s noted and underlined novels. Using these real documents as evidence, she describes her parents as literary figures rather than people. This is most noticeable in her extended comparison of herself and her father to Stephen Dedalus and Leo Bloom in Joyce’s Ulysses. Such a comparison simultaneously distances the reader and reaffirms the legitimacy of the relationship. The presence of those references serves to remind us that Alison’s relationship to her father is part of a larger literary pattern, something that can be comfortably understood and examined. Not only is Bechdel able to naturalize and familiarize that relationship, the comparison even canonizes it. Bechdel combines familiar, cartoonish characters with careful textual detail in both her narration and her frequent use of literary citation. Using her own relationship to literature as a way of exploring her relationship with her father, Bechdel is able to tackle the complexity of a multigenerational narrative that is simultaneously empowering and disempowering, that requires that she both embrace and fear her own queer identity.
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