For a little over three decades Alison Bechdel has been gradually building a reputation as one of the most important talents in sequential storytelling. Beginning with her comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For, she has been a creator of insightful, trailblazing work. Dykes was originally serialized in the feminist Womannews before being syndicated in alternative papers around the country. As her readership grew, the strips were collected in a series of books. At first, Bechdel simply made new installments without any concern for tying them together. Eventually, though, she began employing recurring characters and ongoing storylines. She also used humor to investigate a wide range of social issues relevant to both lesbian culture in particular and the boarder concerns of women in general. Most famously, her strip “The Rule” introduced the Bechdel Test, which has become a staple of discussions about representations of women across all media (it was originally used in reference to movies). Dykes made her a prominent voice for her generation, and yet she was only beginning to tap her potential audience.
In 2006, Bechdel published Fun Home, a graphic novel memoir. Bechdel had previously experimented with some narrative forms longer than a comic strip, but this was her first full-length book. No matter how complicated its creation may have been (Bechdel’s follow-up Are You My Mother? details just how difficult writing Fun Home was), the final project flows effortlessly. Easily juggling chronology and tone, Bechdel tells the story of her childhood and college years. The thread running throughout is Bechdel’s relationship with her father, Bruce, a closeted homosexual who dies in a presumed suicide. Continue reading Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home→
Peter Milligan’s new Image series opens on a disorienting note which announces its genre blending. Artist Leandro Fernandez lays out the first two pages as a set of thin, rectangular panels, each of which offer a constricted view of the action. Fernandez also sticks with close-ups, providing only details of what is occurring. Cris Peter’s colors highlight the occasional feature, such as the yellow glow of skyscrapers at night or a bright green cat-like iris. Such an approach draws the reader deeper into the page, trying to sort out what exactly is happening. The bodies involved are unconventional (monstrous to use a less polite term), while their behavior appears to be more conventionally sexual in the nature. Next Fernandez pulls back for a full page view of the aftermath. The angle remains skewed, the atmosphere menacing, though the figures are now human. Scattered (and shredded) clothes litter the foreground. Milligan’s intentions to mix sex and horror are immediately clear. For those familiar with Milligan’s sizable body of work this should come as little surprise.
From the beginning Sex Criminals has been many different things at once: goofy, raunchy comedy; a somber exploration of relationship dynamics; a narrative constantly second-guessing what “normal” might be. #12 knits all of these strands together in a seamless, powerful manner.
#11 ended with the revelation of Douglas D Douglas’ secret sex power: his climax creates a, ahem, “cum angel.” Drawn in the manner of Japanese anime, this creature fits in with the general fan-boy decorations of Douglas’ bedroom. (Hey, it’s an Asskira poster—what you mean that’s not an actual thing?). In #12, Fraction and Zdarsky build on the joke by turning the creature into a further parody of all those weird Japanese animated fetish clips you have heard about but will never admit to having actually watched. Jon and Suzie are in the room to try recruiting Douglas to their fight against the Sex Police, but the creature immediately perceives the couple as a threat. She lifts her skirts to reveal “the erotic demon that lives in my panties.” Suddenly huge tentacles lash forth, slashing menacingly after Jon and Suzie. It is the perfect scenario for Fraction and Zdarsky to go full-tilt crazy. Fraction’s dialogue for the creature, coupled with Zdarsky’s imaginative design work is hilarious. Continue reading Review of Sex Criminals #12→