The Written Image: Are You My Mother?

From the May/June 2012 issue of
Poets & Writers Magazine

This month, artist and author Alison Bechdel follows up her best-selling, National Book Critics Circle Award–nominated graphic memoir, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006), a coming-of-age story centered on Bechdel’s relationship with her late father, with a memoir focused on the other half of her parentage, Are You My Mother? In her new “metabook,” also published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Bechdel investigates her mother’s life—and the aspirations and wounds the two women share—from every accessible angle, using recorded conversations, recollected therapy sessions, photographs and documents, and renderings of dreams and memories as the connective tissue of the narrative. The author weaves literary allusions into the memoir

as well: The panels above, which are preceded in the book by a flashback into the imagined world of Virginia Woolf, capture a slice of phone conversation that begins when Bechdel’s mother mentions she’s been reading Sylvia Plath’s diaries. While the most immediate aspect of Bechdel’s work is indeed visual, the dual processes of her storytelling—writing and drawing—are inextricably intertwined. “I’m conceiving of the page in terms of images and design at the same time that I’m writing the narration and the dialogue,” she writes in a note on her artistic process that accompanied prepublication copies of Are You My Mother? For a more detailed look at Bechdel’s graphic and textual oeuvre, visit the author’s website,