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Of Dykes, Blankets, and Blockheads

October 23rd, 2007 · 2 Comments · Books, Comics, Culture, Fiction, Journal, LGBT, Lit

Via Roz, which Dyke to Watch Out for am I?

Which Dyke to Watch Out For Are You?
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You scored as Mo

You are Mo, a guilt-ridden, kindhearted liberal who doesn’t relax enough. You are ordered to buy a pint of non-organic, dairy ice cream and watch Comedy Central for a week. PBS will still be there when you get back.















But then, I already knew that. I’ve been a devoted Alison Bechdel fanboy since I moved to Chicago in the late 80s and started reading Dykes to Watch Out For in Outlines. I bought all the early book collections as they came out, and at some point in the early 90s when one of the local queer bookstores got in a series of buttons of the individual characters, I bought the Mo button, which I used to wear on my jacket for Too Much Light performances. That was during the period in which, based on my music collection and my politics, I decided I’d make a pretty good lesbian myself, it it weren’t for a) being phenotypically male and b) liking dudes so much.

Of course, Bechdel’s recent graphic novel Fun Home takes her work to a whole new level, and if by chance you haven’t read it, you owe yourself the pleasure. I’d been meaning to read it for a while, then last fall Jorjet lent me her copy, and I wound up giving my sister a copy for Christmas.

Fun Home is one of those books that crosses all sorts of boundaries in its appeal, and taps into something larger than the very personal story it tells. This is the mark of a superb writer: Although nearly all of the specifics of Bechdel’s childhood were different from mine, on some hard-to-define level I felt like I was reading about my own childhood. A matter of mood, tone, and perspective, I think. The wonderfully realized characters and the brilliant little nuances of Bechdel’s drawings are the main course; the well-turned allusions to Joyce and classical mythology are icing.

As a bonus, I was reading it on the train one morning last fall, and the young woman in the seat next to me asked what I was reading. She hadn’t heard of it, but the drawings caught her eye and she wrote down the title. We had a nice conversation about graphic novels in general, and she recommended Craig Thompson’s Blankets, which I hadn’t heard of but wound up loving. It tells the story of the author’s fundamentalist upbringing and eventual liberation from the literalistic, inerrantist approach to religion. And as a memoir of a post-1960s Midwestern childhood, it makes a very nice companion read to Fun Home.

Speaking of Dykes to Watch Out For, over at the DTWOF blog, Alison Bechdel has a meditative post about the new biography of Charles Schulz (titled Schulz and Peanuts). She links to Laura Miller’s characteristically thorough review in Salon and a piece in the NY Times about Schulz and “the cult of the suffering artist,” with an accompanying illustration of Charlie Brown as Van Gogh.

All of which have me thinking not only about Schulz himself, but how well any artist comes out of it when subjected to such exhaustive scrutiny — and, as the Times piece notes, the biographer’s need for a strong framing device. Trying to force a person’s entire life into a narrative framework, as any biographer must do, is inevitably going to cause some warping to either the life, the framework, or most likely both. Best to remember that a portrait is never more than a subjective interpretation of its subject, a necessarily flawed if useful lens through which to view someone who’s no longer around.

And if, when we examine the remnants and the record of an artist’s life, the artist seems substantially different from his art, it seems to me that the bridge between the two lies somewhere in the hidden places of the artist’s inner life — an essential but private location we can’t visit ourselves, but can only read about in the guidebook the artist left behind.


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