Last night I went to a reading by Alison Bechdel from her new graphic memoir Fun Home at A Different Light here in Los Angeles. There was a pretty good crowd for the venue – maybe 20 or 30 people — and it was a pretty engaging reading, despite an air-conditioning system that at times made it difficult to hear what was being said. I’d never been to a comics reading before, and was curious how it was going to work. Since much of Fun Home is written in voice-over narration, Bechdel simply cropped out most of the text from her panels, and projected them behind her in sequence while reading the accompanying narration, which turned out to be pretty effective.
She held the floor for a good long while afterwards, fielding questions and talking about her process. I asked her a couple of questions about both the size of her originals and the constraints of working in a strip vs a graphic novel format, which immediately caused her to flag me as a cartoonist. We chatted a bit after the show, and it turns out that not only was she was familar with STICKY, but had actually bought a copy, which was a pleasent surprise.
One of the interesting things about the evening was hearing her talk about her drawing process, which is really similar to mine. We both construct panels as composites — roughly sketching out and identifying the panel composition, doing visual research to identify authentic details that match the scene being drawn, photographing ourselves in a variety of positions with a digital camera and a tripod to get the body language of the characters right, then pulling all these disparate sources together into a composite final image. Maybe everyone works this way, I dunno — since I work pretty much in isolation I don’t know too much about other cartoonists’ processes. So it was eye-opening to see that someone else works in a similar way, and gets such superb results.
I haven’t finished Fun Home yet, since I just picked it up last night, but I AM two chapters in, and loving it so far. Her drawing in this is amazing — its recognizably her, but she’s taken advantage of the open space to open up and luxuriate in detail. The drawings are added by a lovely blue-green wash that is wonderfully effective — if she’d used a simple flat color the way most cartoonists do (including myself), the results wouldn’t have been nearly so good — the variation in the tone gives the drawing a lovely, added texture, and adds to the period feel of the drawings. All in all, Fun Home is a real leap forward, and I hope she continues with this kind of long format work.