Why a Graphic Novel? An Examination of Alison Bechdel’s, Fun Home

Dublin Bound

I didn’t understand why we couldn’t just read books without forcing contorted interpretations on them?”  -Fun Home

While Reading Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel, Fun Home, I found myself engaging with the text in a manner I’m not used to.  The last (and only other) graphic novel I read is Maus by Art Spiegleman-and that was three years ago.  I am guilty of equating “graphic novel” with “comic,” thinking that this genre only held superheros and my dear childhood friend, Calvin. As I read-no, as I engaged with the novel I found myself wondering why a queer author would choose to portray their experience in a graphic novel versus a novel.

I would argue that the relationship between the viewer/reader and the creator of a graphic novel is completely different than in a text-only work.  In a text-only work, it is much easier for a reader to scan through descriptive paragraphs, and skip ahead to the dialogue.  In contrast, a graphic novel demands that the reader engage in the details of the scene (the actual graphics) and read a character’s dialogue.  Due to the detail in Fun Home’s panels, it is easy for a viewer to get lost in the novel’s setting.  Bechdel was meticulous in the creation of Fun Home, taking over seven years to create it.  (One could read about Bechdel’s artistic process here under “Artwork”.)  In the Quarterly Conversation, Derik Badman writes that the, “layouts of panels on the page are similarly simple and effective, rarely less than four or more than five panels on each page. When Bechdel breaks from this convention, it adds a certain power and attention to those pages.”  (Source)

Unlike the other authors we have studied, Bechdel is still alive to ask questions to.  In an interview with The Comics Journal, Bechdel explained her choice to create a graphic novel stating,

“It’s very important for me that people be able to read the images in the same kind of gradually unfolding way as they’re reading the text. I don’t like pictures that don’t have information in them. I want pictures that you have to read, that you have to decode, that take time, that you can get lost in. Otherwise what’s the point?”  (Emmert, 2007)

Readers do get lost in Bechdel’s work.  Her use of images allows the viewer to be present in her struggle with her gender identity, coming out and father’s suicide.  Because graphic novels are a (relatively) new form of literature, Bechdel is able to reach a younger audience-people who may be experiencing experiences to hers.  Bechdel’s work is powerful because she is able to communicate with the reader through text and art.

Note: If you are also interested in the creative process of other graphic novelists, here are some great resources:



Filed under Week 9: Cherrie Moraga and Alison Bechdel

2 responses to “Why a Graphic Novel? An Examination of Alison Bechdel’s, Fun Home

  1. Awesome post! I liked how you brought attention to the fact that by forcing readers to slowly decode each panel, Bechdel immersed and engaged readers in ways that a novel couldn’t have. On the flip side, there are techniques unique to the graphic novel genre in which the cartoonist’s message is instantly decoded by the reader – sort of like a visceral reaction to the panel. It’s interesting that Bechdel prefers the kinds of images where the search for meaning is slower and perhaps more “intellectual”. There are so many things that images can achieve that words cannot and vice versa – a subject that cartoonist Scott McCloud’s book “Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art”.

    – HSK

  2. I really liked your post, especially since I was thinking the same thing when I read the graphic novel. Of all the great things you mentioned I think maybe (at least for me) the one that i found most prominent was looking at all the little details that the panels had. Looking for similarities and reoccurring themes throughout the book was the most fun part about the novel! Also to add to your ideas, having a graphic novel allows for the reader to be able to gain more body language/facial cues that just an all text book would allow for. Overall very engaging post!

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