Alison Bechdel – Are You My Mother?
What a weird-ass comic book.
At the time, back in oh-seven, I thought Fun Home was an aggressively and compellingly off-balance and anxious and self-distrusting memoir, with its weird epicyclic structure and infinite combinations of artifice and rawness. I had not seen nothin yet. This second book of Bechdel’s diptych about her parents kicks off and wastes ZERO SECONDS in crawling into its own navel.
In case this gets obscured as I try to talk about it, I loved this book. Bechdel is trying to honestly write about how baffling and frustrating her relationship with her mother was, and her way to do that is to baffle and frustrate the reader, and it’s kind of brilliant. She spends or nearly spends more time talking about the history of psychoanalysis and her transference-fraught relationships with her therapists than she does about her mother. It’s peppered with dream recollections that share with Freud’s case studies a certain implausible vividness and coherence and on-the-nose obviousness that makes them immediately and wholly suspect. At every step of the way, the book does its damnedest to rebuff any attempt to sink into a narrative — it rejects emotional readings and demands intellectual ones. But she’s not just trolling, and there’s some really vulnerable and uncomfortable shit in here; it’s just that she’s pushing you to experience it the way she does. It’s super engaging, although it kind of felt like someone had dropped a Mento (The Fresh-Maker™) into the Diet Coke of my brain. Plus she made psychoanalysis interesting to me, and that is no mean damn feat.
This had actually been sitting on my to-read shelf for years, at this point; I’d bought it when it was new and left it for Future Nick. What prompted this reading was that I found a nearly mint (bar unremovable orange sticker) $1.50 copy of it at the Title Wave and figured I would definitely find somebody to give it to. The very next day (I think, he wrote, Bechdelishly), I was having coffee with a close friend who had just gotten back from a really frustrating visit with her mother, and I suggested blah blah etc. you get the pic, and I was immediately curious about what I’d gotten her into and started reading along. We both found it enlightening. (“Existentially useful if your mother is difficult” is a million-seller of a pitch, I dunno why that wasn’t right there in 72pt on the front cover.)
This is the part at the end where I say these two books were so fascinating at least in part because they’re so opposite what I experienced with my own parents, whom I realize more and more as I age just how thoroughly I lucked out on (esp. given the generational shit they were dealing with). Hi Mom!
Hmm, and I just now realize I’ve said nothing about the cartooning. Well, it’s excellent and calmly bizarre. (Get a load of the freehand reproductions of page after page of printed text, Jesus H.) Bechdel’s art is what it always is, and I happen to always like it a lot. Bonus points this outing for Young Alison’s perpetual intense creepy stare. There we go, I think we’ve finally covered this one.
Pierre Souvestre and Marcel Allain – Fantômas: The Exploits of Juve
(public domain link, although the PDF is bizarrely huge and you’ll want to run it through a shrinker of some kind if you’re thinking of putting it on your phone or tablet.)
Fantômas! You know, like the Mike Patton band?
OBVIOUSLY THIS WAS WEIRD AS HELL. I’m not convinced I didn’t dream the whole thing. It’s certainly dream-logic that drives it. Disguises come on and off, names change, houses have duplicate rooms, Fantômas is always lurking around the next corner. SNAKES. The thing this most reminded me of was The Man Who Was Thursday, though it drives the same effect toward an opposite destination.
Kind of curious to read more of these. This was the second out of god only knows how many, and it gives the impression that it constitutes a brief period of becoming before Fantômas and Juve ascend to some permanent apotheosis of unreality, becoming a sort of murderous Krazy and Ignatz on whom the changes can be rung ad infinitum. I don’t know if that’s actually what happens with the later books, but I hope it is.