Gutter Space #10 by Leslie Salas
Narration in Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home
Many of the graphic novels that I’ve talked about so far on Gutter Space are missing something that Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, excels in: narration. And not just normal narration in captions—heavy narration. Narration that accompanies nearly every single panel.
Bechdel’s choice makes sense with her storytelling style. Since her graphic novels (plural because I’m including Are You My Mother? in this, even though I haven’t reviewed it yet) are memoirs, the juxtaposition of the narration and the images in the panels allows for an interesting visual presentation of what many non-fiction writers refer to as the “double-I”—the writer behind the desk thinking retrospectively while also striving to be true to his or herself at the time of the event.
Most simply put, Fun Home is the story of Bechdel’s coming-of-age as a young lesbian along with her discovery that her father was also queer. Combine this journey of self-discovery with the news of her father’s sudden death, and there’s a lot of room for Bechdel to think and reminisce and try to make sense of that particular time in her life.
This need to stop, think, and reevaluate lends itself well to the comics format—especially one with a great deal of narration. One can focus on a particular image or scene while exploring multiple narrative threads. The image itself keeps the musing together, while the captioning of the words allows the thoughts to exist as their own discrete entities. By playing with the placement of the captions on the page, one can affect the pacing of the story and the speed in which one’s readers traverse through the text.
Fun Home reads like literary nonfiction, but offers what prose alone cannot: the ability to engage a reader subconsciously not only through the power and meaning behind words, but by conveying the reality of the writer/artist through her sequential art—her own artistic representation of her life.
We live in an increasingly visually-saturated world, and the graphic memoir feeds into our innate abilities to make sense of pictures put together. Bechdel goes one step further with her overarching narrative, guiding us through her thoughts, but also showing us what she saw and letting us judge her situations on our own.
Leslie Salas writes fiction, nonfiction, screenplays, and comics. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Central Florida and attended the University of Denver Publishing Institute. In addition to being an Associate Course Director at Full Sail University, Leslie also serves as an assistant editor for The Florida Review, a graphic nonfiction editorial assistant for Sweet: A Literary Confection, and a regular contributing artist for SmokeLong Quarterly.