What is your definition of a graphic novel so far?
In my mind, a graphic text is a piece of literature that employs visual aid (illustrations) as a primary vehicle for storytelling, on the same level, and occasionally even more, than the writing itself. This distinguishes graphic novels from both purely visual art (which tends to entirely employ visual aid as a means of conveying an idea) and a novel (which tends to entirely employ language and writing to convey a story, concept, or idea).
How do speech and narrative language
In the case of Fun Home, parallels and themes are drawn through use of both text and images, especially regarding the fantastical metaphors made when describing Alison Bechdel’s father [e.g the text describing him as “Daedalus”, foreshadowing his eventual proverbial “fall”, whilst the image of him carrying the pole paints him as a messianic figure, similar to Jesus carrying the cross].
Whose story is told here? How is identity represented?
Though Alison acts as the narrator of the work, I would argue that her father, is in fact the protagonist, as the events of the book aren’t dedicated to describing the life of Alison, but the impact her father has had on it, with the first pages establishing him as the central character of the book. Whereas her father’s identity is expressed in his fixation on decor, his pride in his work as a mortician (expressed in the letters he sends Alison), and his constant fixation on reading (painting him as an analytical, cold figure), Alison’s is expressed in her narration. Even when describing the events of the past, her identity shines through; her bitterness at the abuse and emotional distance her father subjected her to as a child, mixed with her dry admiration of her father’s conviction. Key quotations that emphasise this include her constant reference to him as both “Daedalus”, and his anger as “the Minotaur” (“My mother, my brother and I knew our way around well enough, but it was impossible to tell if the Minotaur lay beyond the next corner.” [pg. 21]), entailing both his great intelligence (in the trappings of the mythical inventor of Daedalus), and his unfounded, almost beastly anger (when he is alluded as the wrathful mythical creature of the Minotaur). However, this metaphor is most interesting in that it perfectly describes Alison’s father’s anger, especially when referring to the house as a “labyrinth”. The Minotaur of legend was held in a labyrinth constructed by Daedalus (metaphorically referring to how her father’s anger is expressed only at home [the proverbial “labyrinth”], instead putting on the external appearance of an “ideal husband and father”) [“He hid the Minotaur in the labyrinth–a maze of passages and rooms opening endlessly and into one another… And from which, as stray youths and maidens discovered to their peril… Escape was impossible.” [pg.12]].
This is a graphic memoir – how does this genre affect your reading of it?
I find that I’m less willing to “read into” characters, as these are not narrative devices, constructed by the author, but actual flesh-and-blood humans who actually lived within this story. I’m less willing to accept that a “character” (if you can call them that) is somehow a metaphor for an idea because of this; they are not created by the author, they are actual people.
What image and text do you find most striking, and why?
[See “What story is told here? How is identity represented?”]
What are your predictions for the rest of this book?
I think there may be a downwards spiral involved; now that the start [Alison’s childhood] and the end-point [her father’s death/suicide] have both been revealed, Bechdel has to explain not only the role her father played in her transition from child to adult, and how her father also changed.
The article linked on the OLP also connects strongly to the feelings of shame that Alison feels throughout the story, firstly in her own sexual awakening (to the point where she would scratch out the words “masturbating” and “menstruating” in her journal), then later in her father’s actions; despite have worked up the courage to finally come out as lesbian to her parents, she finds herself “upstaged” by the news of her father’s pedophilia.