Alison Bechdel at Politics & Prose

While you were off seeing Avengers (or I guess recovering from seeing it at a midnight showing the night before), the rest of us were doing what could be considered the exact opposite: Seeing Alison Bechdel at Politics & Prose. And if the large crowd was any indication, enough of us did care about this more than a superhero movie.

Promoting her new book, Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama, Bechdel’s presentation was delightful but much too short. She said this was not a sequel to Fun Home, even thought that was about her father and this is about her mother. Still, she said it’s about quite a bit more than just her mother — it’s also about her experiences with psychotherapy and psychology.

She gave a quick glimpse into her process of creating comics. She does a lot of sketches before drawing the final page, experimenting with angles and layouts. She also works quite a bit from reference photographs, most of which she takes of herself. She also said she’d “not be able to do what I do without Google Image Search” since she also looks up places and brands for reference. She showed several of these with the final comic image for comparison and it was really fascinating how much work she does before she even starts drawing.

She laughed about all the scenes in the book that take place in her therapist’s office — she said the abundance of these images was “inexcusable” and finding a way to make these images dynamic was “problematic” but they were necessary to the story she was telling.

After reading two segments from the book, she took questions from the audience. One asked, in reference to a Virginia Woolf quote that appears in the book, if Bechdel felt she’d “put her mother to rest.” Bechdel said she doesn’t know yet — yes, the book was an attempt to do that, but it’s still too soon to say if it worked.

Going back to her process, another question asked how much she plans her layouts before drawing. Bechdel said she writes in Illustrator and while she doesn’t draw there (except for maybe rough sketches or a few placeholder images), it helps her figure out the pacing and the rhythm of her book first. I wanted to hear her talk more about this and I hope I get to one day.

A few questions concerned her family’s reactions. She said her mother isn’t exactly pleased with the book, but can separate the content from its existence. She’s happy to support and defend Bechdel even if she’s not delighted that her daughter wrote a book about her. Bechdel did remark that her mom said “Please, I hope you’re done now.”

Bechdel said she hasn’t heard from her other family members and it’s likely they haven’t read it yet and implied that they mostly know it’s just kind of what she does at this point — tell stories about her family.

In conclusion, she did joke there’s one reaction she’s worried about. “The big thing is, I’m waiting to hear from my therapist.”

(I know that’s not a great photo of Bechdel, but it’s the best one I was able to take — I was far enough away and there were too many heads in the way. But it was a good thing it was crowded. Bechdel absolutely deserves that.)

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