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Drawn to the

Drawn to the


Superstar queer cartoonist Alison Bechdel takes time out from chronicling the lesbian world to pen a moody, haunting memoir about growing up, coming out, and discovering that her dad was also gay.

"It was a weird time," cartoonist Alison Bechdel reflects. "In a six-month period, I realized I was a lesbian, learned that my dad was gay, got involved in my first relationship, and then my dad got hit by a truck."

Bechdel's quirky wit has long drawn fans to her ongoing comic strip "Dykes to Watch Out For." Now, in her first graphic memoir, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, Bechdel explains where her sensibilities come from. Her father, Bruce Bechdel, considered himself disappointed in life. He wanted to be a big-city writer, but instead, after military service in Europe, he returned with his wife to his sleepy hometown in Pennsylvania, where he divided his time between running the family funeral home--the "fun home" of the title--teaching high school English, and endlessly restoring the massive Victorian house where Alison and her brother were brought up.

He also mentored a succession of good-looking teenage boys--and was eventually arrested when one complained. Soon after 19-year-old Alison learned her father's secret, he was hit by a truck on the side of a road--a death that Bechdel and her family chose to believe was suicide.

If that seems an unusual reaction, it's also typical for the Bechdels. Like a version of Six Feet Under set in the '70s, Fun Home is full of gothic details, muted emotions, and the unexpected.

Most gay people struggle to come out to their families, but Bechdel's revelation was quickly upstaged by her mother's announcement about her father.

"It might seem like terrible timing, but in a way it wasn't," she says. "There was so much mental and physical exhilaration going on in that early stage of coming out and having sex for the first time--it was an excellent refuge from my pain."

Sorting through her father's belongings shortly after his death, she found a photo of a male youth--the family's babysitter--wearing just a pair of briefs. This intimate glimpse of her father's secret life didn't disturb Bechdel: "I was still in the throes of my own coming-out process at that point and feeling very revolutionary and subversive, like I was part of something that would upend the established order. And then I found this evidence that that order had already been upended, by my own father, in my own family. I felt a curious kind of complicity with him. Like we were comrades."

In fact, finding the photo made Bechdel want to tell the story that became Fun Home. She couldn't do so at the time, partly because she lacked the emotional and creative skills the project would demand, partly because she didn't have the nerve to reveal a family secret. Also, she adds, "it wasn't possible in 1981 to address homosexuality in the matter-of-fact way that my story entailed."

But the biggest inhibiting factor was Bechdel's relationship with her father. "He really wanted me to be an artist," she explains. "When he was alive he was way too involved in my life, sort of living vicariously through me, from coloring in my coloring books when I was 6 to telling me what classes I should take in college." This was part of the reason Bechdel became a cartoonist: "It's such a lowbrow art form. My father had no aesthetic criteria for it, so he couldn't judge it."

When she finally sat down to write the book, she was almost 40. And "because this project would have to be more intimate and complex, more literary, than what I'd been doing in my comic strip, it meant confronting my father's artist fixation head-on," Bechdel says. Only through writing the book could she overcome his inhibiting critical presence. "I realized eventually that what the book was really about was not his suicide or our shared homosexuality or the books we read. It was about my creative apprenticeship to my father; it was about becoming an artist."

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