Lower the Speculator Boom

13 July, 2006 at 2:15 pm (comics)

Just a brief couple notes to wrap up the Fun Home experience.

I waited a while to read the book because I wanted Ms. Bechdel’s live presentation of the material to stay with me as long and as clearly as possible. It was a performance, in the classic theatrical connotation of the word, and despite the fact that she performed the same slide show and the same narration at bookstores and colleges around the country, it was a live reading that had its own foibles and tremors and delicacies. And it was an affecting experience. And I knew that when I read the book on my own, the stillness and the solidity of the images in my hand would quickly begin to overwrite my memories of momentary experience of having the graphic novel read to me. Just as my memories of watching Suzanne Cryer as Tracy Lord have been blurred and conflated with repeated viewings of Katherine Hepburn as just as the mystic glory of hearing Natalie Merchant perform “Verdi Cries” as a duet with piano and violin has almost totally been supplanted by the oft-spun recording, I know that my memories of the event will soon be overwhelmed by my re-reading of the graphic memoir. And so I tried to solidify and preserve the live memories of Ms. Bechdel’s reading before I read the book for myself. Time will tell whether that will be successful.

FUN HOME by Alison BechdelIt’s an interesting read. Meticulously structural in places and with an elevated literary scaffolding, the essential technique of the interwoven visual and captioned narratives works well throughout the book. There’s a scrapbook quality to many of the reminiscences that provides a particular blank honesty to the storytelling and which helps offset (and highlight) the acknowledged distance that creeps into the narrative voice. A stupendous vocabulary and the regular occurrence of introspective, borderline epistemological queries occasionally make the narrative musings feel as if they could fly off into abstraction, and the connection to the curious domesticities over which they hang seems as if it could snap. The book never spirals off on such a zephyr, and the juggling of tone, perspective, and timeline make the overall work feel like quite an accomplished act of dexterity… but not, overall, an effortlessly masterful one. Affecting and effective, but not yet with the fine grace that belies the effort that went into it. But that’s only in terms of the overarching written structure of the work; visually, it is indeed a meisterwerk that is deceptively simple and elegantly complex. And that is almost certainly due to the meticulous prep and reference that Ms. Bechdel used in order to capture a natural, casual line in the figure work, particularly, but also in the scenery and layouts.

GHOST RIDER (Vol. 2) #50However, to be ridiculous for a moment, I must say that one of my favourite parts of the volume is the dust jacket. During the early nineteen nineties, comic books were plagued with an overabundance of gimmickry in their selling points, and a frequent offering were covers that were die-cut (like a classic V.C. Andrews paperback) or embossed with a metallic or fluorescent inks, foils, holograms, and prismatic papers to give the cover image that extra glimmer of collectible value. Fun Home is, in concept, scope, and execution, about as far from Ghost Rider #50 as it is from an eggplant, but the covers for both have shiny foil paper and die-cut hollows revealing pieces of the sub-cover beneath. Many people have looked askance at the current resurgence in ’90s-esque marketing techniques in the world of superhero comics, but I don’t think that anyone would have guessed that Alison Bechdel would have presaged a parallel collector’s movement within the autobiographical and literary graphic novel community.

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1 Comment

  1. Chris McLaren said,

    Is this your fancy bibliotechie way of saying I should put the GN in a bag with a board, and seal it up?. Heh.

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