November 2012 Laydeez do comics in association with Comica

Alison Bechdel at Laydeez Do Comics
Monday 12 November 2012
My name is Eve Lacey, this month’s guest blogger and I am a writer. You can read my feature on LDC for For Books’ Sake here and see my own blog here.
This month, Laydeez  Do Comics welcomed Alison Bechdel  to the Gallery at Foyles on Charing Cross Road, whose scaffold was doodled with black, white and red – a fitting backdrop for the sanguine shades of Bechdel’s most recent publication, Are You My Mother?  The meeting began with an introduction to upcoming Comica events, an invite to the Queer Zine Fest London, and a call for British comic artists to read and contribute to The Strumpet, a new transatlantic periodical edited by Ellen Lindner. 

Bechdel’s presentation, Q&A and signing were then followed by Charissa King-O’Brien’s short film The Paper Mirror, an artistic collaboration between Bechdel and queer/crip artist Riva Lehrer in which the graphic novelist sat for her own portrait and provided a sketch of her mother for Riva to lay over Bechdel’s own shadow.
Bechdel began with an explanation her of methods –  from grey sketches to blue pencil to black ink, scanned, shaded, coloured and digitally aligned with the text. Bechdel’s work displays an obsessive record of her own life and, using Alice Miller’s The Drama of the Gifted Child, she interprets her precocious emotional intuition as a burden that turns daughters and sons into proto-analysts of their parents.
In Are You My Mother? Bechdel records Virginia Woolf’s musing on To the Lighthouse: ‘I did for myself what psychoanalysts do for their patients’ – writing had enabled Woolf to put her mother and father to rest once and for all. Except she does not describe this development in calm, cathartic terms, rather her creative process is violent, murderous. Similarly, Bechdel’s regurgitation of her family’s life is not without malice. Her mother, Helen Bechdel, was reluctant to support the publication of family secrets, but in response, Alison half-jokingly explains the irony of the situation: she may never have developed a compulsion to retrace her formative years in such impeccable detail had her family not been so cold and distant.
Despite, or possibly as a result of, her mother’s disapproval, Bechdel has become a professional diarist and an expert in memoir, and unearthed the graphic novel’s natural affinity with psychoanalysis.  Marvel and DC comics often seem all ego and Id, all BOOM! and KAPOWW!, and it is perhaps in a direct mockery of this parodic superficiality and lack of psychic nuance that Bechdel carves out a space for the unconscious, somewhere between the image and the text. With at least two layers of meaning in every glance, Bechdel has found her own therapy – the drawing cure, contained within moveable frames, tackling the brevity of text and space by allowing the two to speak louder than the sum of their parts. 

During a Q&A with the audience, Bechdel addressed the differing mainstream popularity of DTWOF and her graphic novels; the extent of the autobiographical content in her comic strips; with the discomfort of writing about family members; change in space and format and the many fruitless attempts at animating series of her work. The most revealing and comical moment of Bechdel’s presentation was the series of snapshots of herself in costume, dressed as her mother and D.W. Winnicott, which she used to accurately illustrate postures and scenes in comic format.
Though Helen Bechdel, in the end, was a closed book, she could not help but collaborate with her own novelisation, and so mould the infinitely meta-textual Are You My Mother? And in the process of sketching her enigmatic mother, Bechdel found herself committing more and more of her own psyche to the page, paradoxically gaining perspective through two dimensions rather than three, until she was bound to confess, as she did at the end of her presentation, ‘I think I am a drawing.

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