Alright, I wasn't really sure to where to post this, so I thought, "why not here?"Dykes to Watch Our For
by Alison Bechdel
So Alison is most famous on the internet for creating the Bechdel test, but she's also a comic book creator who has done a bunch of stuff. I've read Are You My Mother?
and Fun Home
, which are biographical comics about her mother and her father. And I found myself rolling my eyes at them while I read them. They're very heavy with literary and philosophical references and Are You My Mother?
in particular weaves them into the story. And some people like that sort of thing, I think it's probably a big part of why they are so well received by critics. But, I find it pretentious and ridiculous. The local library had these two books and it also had The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For
, which is a collection of her newspaper comic that she has done for a few decades now. I'd avoided reading it because, well, newspaper comics.
But... I have to say, having read it, The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For
is really good. The EDtWOF is like the 'greatest hits' of the comic's run. Other volumes in the series just collect the comics in order, this one cuts out the fat and leaves you with the important bits. That's not to say that the book is entirely plot, Alison knows how to edit her material and she keeps a balance between plot, comedy and 'important' comic strips. Although, they are always a mix of the three elements, it's a rare strip that doesn't have a joke or is disconnected from the overall story.
So what is the story? It's a slice of life story of the eponymous Dykes to Watch Out For
, a group of women (and later some dudes) who mostly live in the same flat and work at a feminist bookstore.
Why's it so good? It's format as a newspaper comic allows to cover a long period of time, it's messier than if Alison had simply set out to create a graphic novel about a group of women. Cultural events happen, plots and characters develop over the years (something that was probably quite frustrating for her readers at the time) and it never feels like the story is set in stone. The real world intrudes on the plot and it's really interesting to read the book and see the characters act with no knowledge of the future, to know that a big event like 9/11 is around the corner and to see the characters' troubles that they had yesterday get dropped in an instant.
But the biggest surprise for me was that it's a fun book. Her other stuff I read was pretentious and dour (imo) but DtWOF is full of irony and clever jokes. Although, if I'm honest it's the dumb jokes that hooked me, from the second page when I read the list of previous DtWOF volumes:
Dykes to Watch Out For (1986)
More Dykes to Watch Out For (1988)
New, Improved! Dykes to Watch Out For (1990)
Dykes to Watch Out For: The Sequel (1992)
Spawn of Dykes to Watch Out For (1993)
Unnatural Dykes to Watch Out For (1995)
Hot, Throbbing Dykes to Watch Out For (1997)
Split-Level Dykes to Watch Out For (1998)
Post-Dykes to Watch Out For (2000)
Dykes and Other Carbon-Based Life-Forms to Watch Out For (2003)
Invasion of the Dykes to Watch Out For (2005)
The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For (2008)
How could I not instantly fall in love with the book?
Ok. So I've covered plot, characters fall in and out of love experience challenges etc etc, comedy, dumb, ironic and clever sometimes all three, but what about the "important" strips?
Well, to focus on one thing, it's pretty great when it comes to depicting trans people and their gradual acceptance into LG (then later also
community. While the characters might complain about 'men wanting to be women' and work at the MadWimmin Bookstore or attend Womyn's events, the strip itself is firmly 'on the right side of history'. Which is pretty cool. The one strip that stands out is when a character is revealed to be bisexual. Her lesbian friends feel betrayed and don't think highly of 'B' being included in the LG community, but after a discussion they move forwards. Not in a heavy handed way, there's still tension and they all still have their separate opinions but it's a touching moment. And it ends with one of the negative characters saying (paraphrasing) "yeah well, who else
are we going to let in" while the 'camera' focuses on the new poster advertising a "LG and bi!" community event. And just below it, a separate poster advertising a support group for trans people. It's a nice touch that foreshadows the future inclusion of T in LGB, which is impressive considering that Alison is foreshadowing real life. Anyway, I don't want to speak too much about the LGBT history stuff as I am not that knowledgeable about it. But the 'important' strips are the "half op-ed column" part of Bechdel's description of DtWOF "half op-ed column and half endless, serialized Victorian novel."
It's a good read, especially strong in the beginning and middle, but it weakens near the end, where the most recent 60 strips have been published. While the earlier strips are very much 'greatest hits' material, with the weaker strips edited out, the ending is not edited and is not an ending. The downside of serialised fiction. But also the upside. These characters feel real, and if that means that they don't get their happily ever after tied-in-a-bow ending, well, so be it.
So, The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For.
Pretty good! You ought to read it.