Noted cartoonist Alison Bechdel spoke to University of Wisconsin-Madison students Wednesday in an event co-sponsored by the Wisconsin Union Directorate’s Distinguished Lecture Series, the UW-Madison LGBT campus center and the New Harvest Foundation.
Bechdel is the creator of “Dykes to Watch Out For,” an acclaimed syndicated lesbian feminist comic strip that ran for 25 years until 2008. She is also the author of “Are You My Mother?” and “Fun Home,” graphic memoirs about her life that focus on her relationships with her mother and father, respectively.
During the talk, Bechdel read passages and showed slides from her work, as well as described her childhood and pursuing cartooning as a way to rebel against her parents’ wishes that she become a serious writer or artist.
She said she felt a connection with the cartooning medium from an early age, when she was inspired by Charles Addams’ comics because they represented a bridge between symbolism and reality that helped her understand her own life.
“If language is unreliable and if appearances are deceiving, then maybe you can draw on both of those things and triangulate between them to get a little closer to the actual truth,” Bechdel said.
Recording her life has been a compulsion of Bechdel’s since childhood, when she kept carefully detailed diaries of her daily activities—she said she believes that is when she truly became a memoirist. Her need to record her life became a bonding point in her otherwise strained relationship with her mother, which developed the subject of “Are You My Mother?”
Bechdel, a lesbian and a prominent figure in the queer community, also talked about her relationship with her sexuality and her identity, themes that are heavily featured in “Dykes to Watch Out For.”
“One of my preoccupations in the comic strip was always the tension between being an outsider and being a citizen,” Bechdel said. “I always liked being an outsider as a lesbian. I felt like that was a really privileged perspective that enabled me to see things that I wouldn’t if I were inside the system, if I were normal, and I also yearned on some deep level to be normal, or for my queerness to be seen as normal. So the strip became a way of normalizing my own difference.”