Click here to read reviewer Sarah Meador's take on Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic.
Whatís harder than the death of a parent? How about dealing with the fact that your father may have intentionally killed himself because he suffered a life of sexual repression? Alison Bechdel, the well-known artist of the comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For, delivers a biographical graphic novel that reads like a heartfelt feature piece in any first-class newspaper. Her subtitle, ďA Family Tragicomic,Ē fully encompasses the full range of experience of her family as she grapples with understanding her fatherís position.
As Bechdel recounts the various memories and clues that lead her to understand what really may have happened to her father, she takes readers on relevant tangents that manage to effectively bring you back to the story at hand and color in details of her family dynamics. Her coming of age story parallels the tragedy of her father, often not directly correlating but still relevant.
Bechdel uses many different devices in her piece that fill this graphic novel with elements to keep readerís attention. It also widens the range of audience because everyone can find something of interest. In many chapters, she invokes literary references and often incorporates them into the theme of that particular chapter in how she relates her tale. Whether using Oscar Wilde, James Joyce or F. Scott Fitzgerald, she brings them into the story as they waere relevant but manages to always make them larger than just a title passing in the text. Like a running commentary, Bechdel inserts various arrowed text boxes explaining random facts and information that readers donít necessarily need but can still appreciate.
Bechdel proves that comic books cannot only prove to be an inroad to reading text-only books, but that comic book themselves can be challenging. Coming in at over two hundred and thirty pages, Bechdel covers her pages with texts, whether exposition boxes inside panels or moderate-sized paragraphs between panels. Her pages overflow with words, including several dictionary excerpts, thereby negating the argument of lack of literary or education value against comic books.
Stylistically, no one can deny Bechdelís trademark drawings, but within these grayscale drawings she does some interesting things. As mentioned before, she uses a lot of text, craftily placing it into and around the panels to smoothe the flow from panel to panel. But her crowning achievement stems from her ability to create awkward tension in many panels in which she as a younger Bechdel and her father stand within the same panel.
Bechdel has delivered a gem of story filled with anecdotes and tangents that make one reconsider what family is all about and how one person in a family touches an other. She delivers this tale in a graphic novel that challenges the boundaries of what graphic novels can be. Readers will be hard pressed to find a more engaging story in this medium.