Have you heard of The Bechdel Test? It comes from a comic written by Alison Bechdel called Dykes to Watch Out For. In its original form it wasn’t a proscriptive or restrictive — it was a personal choice spoken by a specific character at a specific moment. Dykes to Watch Out For was a comic strip about “fractious lives and loves of an articulate group of lesbians in a city that resembles Minneapolis.” Here’s the original strip:
Thankfully Alison Bechdel’s getting a great deal of press lately for something else entirely: the Tony winning musical based on her autobiographical graphic novel Fun Home. While all her work is brainy, funny, intimate, endearing, politically charged, and brave, it is in her closely observed graphic novels that Bechdel’s craft and talent really sing. She’s been dazzling comics readers and literary critics alike with her graphic novels, proving the point that comics aren’t just about men writing about supermen. Are Your My Mother? is my favorite.
If you’re the sort of person we who finds memoirs compelling, just go buy the book right now. But if you don’t tend to dig memoirs, it may be that Bechdel’s innovative use of the comic medium cracks open memoir for you in a beautiful, unique, and pleasantly jarring way. Bechdel uses graphic design, varied lettering styles, reference material, multiple timelines, psychoanalytic theory, the lives of other authors, and intimate analysis of her own life all at the same time, orchestrating the various styles into a compelling symphony of emotions and ideas.
But even with all of this fancy intertextuality and whatnot, Are You My Mother? is always clear, always relatable, and often very funny. If you’ve ever had a mother, this is a book that will remain with you for quite some time.