Panels, pages, and balloons book club: a few notes on Fun Home

This afternoon, we’ll be hosting a live book club meeting on Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel.

Our plan is to talk a little bit and show some slides at the beginning and show and then open up the floor for all of you to share your thoughts, questions and observations about Fun Home and reading comics in general.

The slides we show are going to be about the use of words and the interaction between text and image in comics. Fun Home is obviously a text-heavy book, but you’re not going to appreciate the full richness of the work if you ignore the visual aspects of the book.

Of course, we are also posting this here for the use of anyone who wants to host a book club about Fun Home.

Pay attention to how Bechdel uses words in this page (153) from Fun Home; also observe the parallel visual narrative.

Here are a few general questions/topics that will likely come up in today’s conversation:

  • The structure of Fun Home is not chronological or linear. How would you describe it?
  • One theme of the book is ellipses—things left out. How does Bechdel express this concept using the language of comics?
  • What are the different roles played by houses and homes?
  • What are the different uses of silhouettes in this comic?
  • Is this comic too wordy? How important is the visual storytelling to this work?
  • Notice the number of instances of hand-copied documents: letters, pages from books, maps, etc.
  • How does Bechdel use images to reinforce the parallels between her father and various literary characters and how does this persistent attempt to understand her father through fiction relate to the theme of self-creation and being closeted?

And here are references to a few specific pages, sequences, and panels that struck us for one reason or another:

  • The It’s a Wonderful Life sequence on pp. 10-12 is an example of Bechdel’s layered effect: narration, TV dialogue, and visual action all interact and comment on each other.
  • p 13: last two panels are a nice example of comic-comics timing.
  • p. 31, panel three: the mother is hemmed in in the house—the floral curtain hook is prominent; she is partially covered by the word balloon and text box. The metronome seems to represent an attempt to impose her own order on the home (see also bottom of p. 131).
  • p 61: “The library was a fantasy, but a fully operational one.”
  • pp 67-68: Bechdel uses cinematic, widescreen panels to ironically emphasize the claustrophobia of a family living “alone together” (see also pp 134, 139, for example).
  • p 96-97: follow the barrette.
  • p. 185: in young Alison’s imagining of her dad seducing his shrink, she pictures the New Yorker psychiatrist she had conjured in a thought balloon on page 153 (see above).


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