Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic
by Alison Bechdel
Houghton Mifflin, $19.95
As a general rule I don't care much for autobiographical comics. Actually that's not exactly true, as I really enjoy a well-done autobio comic. But while I can to a certain extent enjoy a mediocre super-hero comic, a mediocre autobio comics leave me cold.
So it was with a bit of trepidation that I approached Alison's Bechdel's lauded graphic novel Fun Home. I have on occasion enjoyed Bechdel's regular Dykes to Watch Out For comic (which, to be honest, is borderline fictional autobiography itself), but would she be able to pull off a long-form graphic novel about her family?
Thankfully, the answer is yes, most definitely.
In Fun Home, Bechdel shows a true command of the comics form. There is nothing demonstrably innovative or flashy; yet she expertly weaves together a non-linear narrative that gives insights into facets of her life and that of her family's, and in total is greater than the sum of its parts.
The Fun Home of the title is a funeral home, the family business. But since they live in a small community, Bechdel's father--a distant, seemingly loveless, slightly effeminate man--works his main job as a high school English teacher. While the narrative is about the relations of the entire family, it focuses mainly on Bechdel's relationship with her father, and how she learned in bits and pieces his background and what he really was like.
'Fun Home' is also an ironic title, as life in the Bechdel house was--while not normally abusive--certainly lacking in familial love. There's a telling scene midway through the book when Bechdel is relating the events of her 'year of obsessive-compulsion': A ten-year-old Alison ends every night before going to bed by giving each of her stuffed animals a goodnight kiss, affections she points out that she never remembers receiving from her parents.
What impresses me the most about Fun Home is that Bechdel is able to make me relate to her situation and empathize with her family, even though her circumstance and upbringing were quite far apart from mine.
I think that there's a good deal of 'depth' to the narrative in Fun Home, which at some point I'd like to take apart and examine to see how it ticks. But for now after a first read-through I'll just settle for calling it one of the best comics of 2006.
Rating: 4.5 (of 5).