Last night I went to a reading by Alison Bechdel, graphic novelist, creator of comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For, author of Fun Home (nominated for the National Book Critics Award), and her new memoir, Are You My Mother?
Readings by graphic artists are kind of challenging, since much is said with picture instead of text, and Bechdel’s style also draws on large passages of other people’s text (in this case, Virginia Woolf and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott). It’s particularly hard when there are mega pillars scattered throughout the space, requiring much craning of necks, and delayed ooohs and aahs as people read the satisfying end of a speech bubble.
I feel like the act of reading graphic novels is particularly personal, more so than the reading of an average book. Everyone has a methodology and order in which they approach the lay-out of text and images, lingering over one or the other, or jumping back and forth. Me, I read the text first, then take in the picture, then try to zoom out and sync them up as a story-telling unit in my brain.
My favorite part of Alison’s presentation was the detail she went into on her multi-step creative process. She takes pictures of herself in each posture to help herself illustrate. She meticulously researches background scenery (stores, landscapes, and the like). At one point, she showed us a close-up of an illustration of her mother, which turned out to be a short movie clip. If you watch closely, she told us, you’ll see my changes to the image. She was literally deleting pixels from her mother’s mouth, to make the expression exactly as she wanted it.
After the reading, she opened the Q&A with “Does anyone have anything they want to talk about?” No wonder the focus of her current book is psychoanalysis and introspection.
Unrelated Note: I have never been in a room with so many short-haired women before. Felt strange to look like everyone else.
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