Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdale is memoir, of sorts, represented in a comic form. The telling of her life’s story with a comic book as opposed to prose, poetry, or other forms of writing allows her to get across so much information without having to rely on choppy rhetorical devices, excessive amounts of adjectives, or metaphors and similes that may be lost on the viewer.
With prose, time is expected to be linear (in western writing, at least). When a writer wants to jump to another point in time, he or she must state that the time has changed. This can be done by outright stating so (Ex. “Three years later…”) or by showing something taking place (Ex. “As she smokes the day’s last cigarette…”).
In poetry, time does not necessarily matter. In lyrical poems, time is completely irrelevant, allowing the author to switch tense at whim. All that matters is the emotion. In narrative poetry, time matters a little more, but switching tense is still not unheard of.
With comics, a shift in time can be shown. For instance in Fun Home, the way the characters look can signify at what stage in their lives the panels happen to take place. The panels themselves show change a scenery in time and space. To dig a little deeper, let us delve deeper into pages 74 and 75 of the 2007 First Mariner Books edition.
These two pages cover Bechdale’s self realization that she was, in fact, a homosexual. In the first panel, written in a text box overlaid on a book shelf is, “My realization at nineteen that I was a lesbian came about in a manner consistent with my bookish upbringing.” The placement of this text makes the bond between literature and her sexual awakening tighter, by physically placing the words on top of books. The next panel down shows a thirteen-year-old Alison noticing the word “lesbian” in a dictionary. Cut to the panel right and we see the “camera” zoom in on the definition, letting us see what she saw in a way that simply cannot be done with prose alone.
On the next page we see her exploring books about homosexuals and homosexuality. In the top right of page 75, she is purchasing a book called Lesbian Woman, and the bookstore salesman is an elderly man who is looking at the back of the book inquisitively while our protagonist is standing awkwardly with her hands crossed in front of her.
We then see her grabbing for another book and digging through a card catalogue, representing passing of time and a continued dedication to the research of the subject in a way that is very reminiscent of a montage in a film.
In the bottom right corner on the same page, we see her checking out a book called Homosexualities by Masters and Johnson. The librarian is perched high above, looking down on the nervous Bechdale. This symbolizes the fear and shame she was feeling at the time. It reminds me of when I was researching homosexuality amidst my self realization. I used to put my browser in “Private” mode when reading gay blogs or web magazines because I did not want anybody to even know I was reading about it.