The Free Press, Mankato, MN


October 4, 2012

Visit for yourself: Graphic artist next up in Good Thunder

MANKATO — If you’ve never read a graphic novel, I can guess why.

Cartoons are childish, immature, the lowest common denominator in literary entertainment. Political cartoons and comic strips can be consumed sensibly by consenting adults, but entire books full of cartoons? C’mon.

That’s what I thought, too. At least until I read “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic” by Alison Bechdel, who is Thursday’s guest in the Good Thunder Reading Series.

Even as a kid, I was never a big cartoon fan. Why should I care about that idiot Coyote anyway when I could go hang out with the neighbor girl who liked to play doctor, or fill the woodchuck hole in the backyard with small explosives?

To this day, I’m somewhat ashamed to admit I rarely read the comics page in my own newspaper. Honestly, I get more laughs by transposing the text from Phillip Alder’s bridge column with the answers for Dear Abby.

(Q: Dear Abby, there is this girl I like. How can I get her attention? A: The logical-looking line is to play a diamond to hand, then take the heart finesse.)

But in college at Minnesota State University, I was forced to read a graphic novel for a world literature course. I rolled my eyes and reluctantly read “Persepolis” by Marjane Satrapi.

I was blown away. I read the novel -- twice -- in five hours.

Then I read “Maus” by Art Spiegelman, the Pulitzer-winning graphic memoir about Holocaust survival.

Then I found Will Eisner, Kyle Baker and, of course, Bechdel.

In “Fun Home,” Bechdel’s style is cuttingly honest, sometimes disturbing, and filled with a sort of dispassionate humor. Her images are confident and witty, adding volume to the book’s subject matter that Bechdel once summarized thus: “How my closeted gay dad killed himself a few months after I came out to my parents as a lesbian.”

To be sure, graphic novels aren’t for everyone. But they are an experience, like seeing paintings at an art gallery or a live concert.

Even if you don’t enjoy the art, it’s worth checking out.

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