Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic

Sarah Leavitt

Alison Bechdel has been drawing and writing Dykes to Watch Out For, a widely syndicated strip, since 1983. Her characters are so vibrantly alive that some dykes I know have developed crushes on them. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic (Houghton Mifflin), her first graphic novel, takes place for the most part in a funeral home run by the Bechdel family and also known as the Fun Home. The drawings are full of the distinctive, expressive characters Bechdel’s readers have come to expect, surrounded by lush and detailed backgrounds. Inserted into the narrative are richly satisfying extras like maps, facsimiles of old letters and drawings of family photographs. Bechdel traces her relationship with her father from childhood to adulthood and chooses perfect small moments to tell the story of many years. As children, she and her siblings play lighthearted games in the funeral home, normalizing the morbid environment in a way that is reminiscent of the best of Six Feet Under. Her grandmother tells a vivid story of her father at the age of three wandering away from the house and getting stuck in the mud. The dialogue is spare and compelling, particularly between the young butch Bechdel and her father, an effeminate lover of antiques, interior décor, fine clothing and flowers. But the author can’t resist telling us what things mean, and the story is marred by her editorial asides (“In an act of prestidigitation typical of the way my father. . .”; “I employ these allusions to James and Fitzgerald not only . . . ,” and so on). Nevertheless, Fun Home is well worth reading. The terrific drawings and great writing make this a welcome addition to the queer canon and the world of graphica.

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Sarah Leavitt

Sarah Leavitt is the author of the graphic memoir Tangles: A Story About Alzheimer's, My mother, and Me, which was a finalist for the Writers' Trust Non-Fiction Prize in 2010 and is currently in development as a feature-length animation. Leavitt teaches comics classes at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Visit her at


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