Well, not really. But I did get to spend quite a bit of time in her presence, attending a workshop she led in the morning and a talk she gave with Harvey Pekar as part of UCLA Live. What? You’re not sure who Alison Bechdel is? Have you heard of “Dykes to Watch Out For”? That’s her. For those who haven’t frequented Lesbian/Womyn bookstores in the past 20 years, or read any alternative press for about that long, she’s also the author of an amazing graphic memoir, Fun Home. It was on a slew of “Best Books of 2006” lists. If you haven’t gotten into graphic novels yet, I’d say this would be a good book to start with. It’s an account of her childhood, growing up with a father who was a closeted gay man, English teacher, part-time mortician, and probable suicide. Her discovery of her father’s secret life, plus her own coming out as a lesbian, makes for really poignant, and hilarious, reading. The graphic elements give her memoir an artfulness, but also a touching vulnerability. I highly recommend it. It’s only $10 bucks, for god’s sake. Well worth it.
In person, Ms. Bechdel is slim, self-deprecating and very endearing. Plus a snappy dresser. She was giving a workshop for a UCLA communications class, and my good friend Meryl, a Grand Pooba at UCLA live, offered me a chance to attend. Though my drawing skills fall somewhat between those of a two-year-old’s and drunken chickens scratching in the dirt, my novel has several graphic novel interludes in it so I thought I would be foolish not to jump at such a golden opportunity.
The workshop was quite inspiring. She read a chapter of her memoir while displaying the artwork on an overhead projector, then gave a rundown on how she approaches creating her panels. It’s a combination of adobe illustrator for the layout, pencil sketches, inking, and a special digital font for the lettering (made from her own handwriting). Then she gave us all a chance to make our own graphic story. We took a piece of paper, folded it in half, and divided it into panels. She wanted us to tell a story of family conflict.
Where to begin.
I ended up recounting the the summer my mother moved out of the house while my father was away on business. She took all the furniture and my 2 younger sisters, leaving my oldest sister and I alone in the empty home. Best summer ever. Working on the art panels and listening to Alison’s own stories of family made me realize what a lot of material I’d have if I wanted to go spelunking into my own family history. Maybe my next project…
That night I attended the “Titans of the Graphic Novel” talk. Harvey Pekar was kinda a fascinating train wreck (as only Harvey can be)—
-but Alison was prepared, thoughtful, and quite fond of Harvey, I think. In the Q&A that followed someone asked her who would play her in a movie of her book (like Paul Giamatti did for Harvey in “American Splendor”). She couldn’t think of a female actress, and offered up David Schwimmer as a male counterpart. I’ve got my own opinion about that.