Alison Bechdel on Fun Home the Musical, Teaching, and Her Next Book

The New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences at ASU West will host comic strip creator and graphic novelist Alison Bechdel at 7 p.m. Tuesday, September 17. At the free event, Bechdel will give a talk, take questions from the audience, and sign books.

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Bechdel, whose groundbreaking and award-winning strip, "Dykes to Watch Out For" had a 25-year run, became a New York Times bestselling author and National Book Critics Circle Award finalist with her first graphic memoir, Fun Home. She edited Best American Comics 2011 and published her second memoir, Are You My Mother?, in 2012. Bechdel is the recipient of a 2012-2013 Guggenheim Fellowship and last year was a Mellon Residential Fellow for Arts and Practice at the University of Chicago.

In other words, Alison Bechdel's got game.

We had the distinct pleasure of speaking with Bechdel via phone recently.

Your talk here is sponsored by the College of Interdisciplinary Studies, which is apt because your work is so interdisciplinary, especially Are You My Mother? What will you be speaking about? Fun Home, because that's the book the freshmen are reading. That and my career and process in general. There'll be some kind of PowerPoint. It has to be a visual talk because of my crazy process, taking all those pictures and everything.

I've watched the video of you describing how you drew Fun Home more than once. Speaking of Fun Home, what about Fun Home, the musical? It's so strange and amazing. It just started in rehearsal and will be opening in October. It's been in process for several years and has gone through a lot of changes. I saw a workshop of it last year.

Your mother was an actress. Did she get to see any of it performed? Was she interested? She did not get to see it; she didn't want to. The creative team didn't want her to see it; they felt it was too raw. She died this spring, so she didn't get to see it, and she won't ever see it, but that's probably just as well. It would have killed her. But, you know, she read the NY Times every day, so she followed it that way, and one day she called and asked if I'd read the piece about the actress who was playing me and I said, "No, Mom, that's the actor playing you." So she had that thrill of reading about it.

What's it like for you to see your work interpreted in yet another medium? Is it a delight? Well, it is a delight but also very strange. The stage set looks just like my home office; there's this green floor the same color as in my office. It's not like I wrote a piece of fiction and then it was adapted -- it's my life there on the stage.

Will we eventually get to hear a soundtrack? I read your blog post from about a month ago about a song in the show that is directly from a particular page of the book. It's got a great soundtrack! I'm so lacking in knowledge of the theater world; I have no idea where it will go from there, how any of that happens. That song, that's from when I was maybe 5 years old and saw this very butch woman. They made that moment in a beautiful song for small Alison. They've got three Alisons, small, medium, and just regular Alison, me. That song is sung by the child.

It seems that's adding layers to the onion instead of peeling them away. Yeah, exactly. But it also turns it into a very emotional experience. I don't have any critical response to it. It's just emotional for me.

While you were in residence at the University of Chicago last year, you taught a comics course. Was it practice or theory or both? Do you teach much? Do you enjoy it? I've taught workshops here and there, but that was my first time teaching a university quarter. It was both theory and practice. I taught a week-long class making a minicomic this summer in Provincetown; that was all practice. Teaching is a lot of work. I'd rather be making comics than teaching about them.

You're nearing the end of your Guggenheim and you had originally spoken about doing another family memoir, tying in theories of family systems and the lives of Alice, Henry, and William James. Is this still your next planned book? No, I've put the family memoir aside. About a year ago, Mom said, "Stop making stories about family." As for the next book -- I'm not trying to be mysterious -- I'm trying to write a proposal for the next book right now and I'm not ready to give the soundbite version.

As I said, I follow your blog, so I know you've been going through a lot of your mom's stuff since her death. Does that make you want to revisit the things you wrote about in Are You My Mother? Learn still more about her? I brought home all of my mother's files: her poetry, newspaper clippings, articles she wrote. I'm not sure how much I'll delve into that. My mother was a very private person. There are still things about her that I don't know and, therefore, don't know about myself. Everybody goes through this. It's funny: Nobody sits you down when you are 7 and says, "Your aunt was this, your uncle did that." Every family has mysteries to unravel.

An Evening with Alison Bechdel takes place at 7 p.m. Tuesday, September 17, at Arizona State University's West Campus, 4701 W. Thunderbird Road. The free event will be held in La Sala Ballroom. Visitor parking costs $2 per hour. For more information, call 602-543-2787 or visit http://campus.asu.edu/west/events.

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