All this month we’re posting up articles about LGBT culture in comics as part of LGBT History Month. Today’s article is examining Fun Home, the graphic memoir by Alison Bechdel.
Fun Home (2006) is a graphic memoir by cartoonist Alison Bechdel. It follows the author across different periods in her life, told out of sequence, as she attempts to locate her own understanding of her sexuality as a young adult within the context of the strict household she was brought up in. Central to the book is Bechdel’s father – an extremely strict school teacher and funeral director who was also a closeted gay man, and whether or how her own acceptance of her sexuality played a part in the eventual suicide of her father. It is not an easy book to read by any means but it is a powerful account touching on themes of sexual identity discovery, abusive relationships, deaths, and gender roles.
The book was a critical and commercial success and continues to be a much-read text today; it is seen as one of the books that popularised that Graphic Memoir as a medium in queer feminist literature.
Bechdel was born in 1960 to parents who were in an extremely strained marriage due to her father’s closeted homosexuality. Her relationship to both her parents was fraught and in Fun Home she theorises that her coming out at 19 contributed to her fathers death in a road accident in 1980 that, while officially ruled as an accident Bechdel suspects was suicide. She has a degree in Studio Art and Art History from Oberland College and along with her comic strips has written several graphic memoirs. She currently works as a cartoonist on several newspapers and is on the board of the American Heritage Dictionary.
Bechdel initially rose to prominence through her comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For that ran from 1983-2008 and is where the famous Bechdel Test originated.
- Authors’ website: Dykes to Watch Out For
The Bechdel Test
As well as her books, Bechdel is equally famous for coming up with the Bechdel Test in 1985. The test measures the level of representation of women in fiction; it requires that in a piece of fiction there are:
- at least two women in it
- who talk to each other
- about something other than a man
It does not comment on the quality of a work, just the representation of women within the piece; therefore a monologue by a male character would fail the test but nevertheless still be considered an excellent piece of fiction. The point of the test is that in a generalised work with a large cast then women should get sufficient “screen time” that does not revolve solely around the male characters. See for instance Avengers: Endgame, there is a significant female cast to that film and many of the most power heroes are women, but outside of battle scenes they barely interact with each other and almost all of the emotional weight of the movie and the dialogue is carried by Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor. Black Widow does have a significant presence but she only really speaks to other men. Nebula and Gamora do talk to each other a lot in the film, but their dialogue is either about Thanos or Starlord.
Other works by the Author