(this review follows no standard review format, but seeks to compare Lynda Barry and Alison Bechdel’s memoir works)
ONE HUNDRED DEMONS
Lynda Barry, Author . Sasquatch $24.95 (224p) ISBN 978-1-57061-337-1
Alison Bechdel, Author, Alison Bechdel, Illustrator . Houghton Mifflin $19.99 (232p) ISBN 978-0-618-47794-4
In a medium which had, until recently, few prominent female creators, and in a world where woman’s autobiography, whether text-based or image-based, is a genre often imagined to be suitable mainly for other women, both Lynda Barry and Alison Bechdel loom large as giants in the field of graphic novels. Both artists have consistently worked as comic artists since the 1980s, with Barry’s early work appearing in the Chicago Reader starting in the early 1980s and Bechdel’s lesbian lifestyle serial Dykes To Watch Out For appearing in 1987 and running regularly until 2008.
Within their respective memoir works, they reckon with childhood trauma, complex relationships with parents, and femininity.
One Hundred Demons (2002) and Fun Home (2006) have little in common stylistically, though DTWOF, Bechdel’s career-spanning epic, shared some visual similarities to Barry’s bulky blocks of text and talking heads.
Barry’s style incorporates wild collages, unsparing portraits, and luminous color, and while her chapters focus on important revelations and linger on painful topics and implied abuse, she keeps her dialogue punchy and full of jokes. Her stories are meticulously limited in scope, so that much of the imaginative work of finding overarching meaning is left to the reader.
Bechdel’s fanatically literary autobiography of homosexual adolescent awakening and paternal suicide is, in contrast, a vertigo-inducing plunge into Bechdel’s memory of her childhood, her psychoanalysis of her father, and references to the cultural and literary inspirations informing her father’s interests and her own life trajectory.
The work is meticulously researched and controlled in presentation, and unlike her documentary-style earlier work, features vistas, metaphors, and a level of considerate, reflective depth of feeling that has propelled her (albeit somewhat gradually) into a fame culminating most recently in a Fun Home Broadway musical and a MacArthur Genius Grant.
Barry and Bechdel share the honor of pulling the reader into the visceral, unsexy, onion-skin world of evaluating one’s own trauma, love and pain as a woman artist, and each has reached a different kind of elevation within the comics world after decades of labor, creation and reflection.