Since everyone from the New Yorker to Wall Street Journal has reviewed Alison Bechdel’s Are You My Mother, I’m instead going to discuss Dykes to Watch Out For, my beloved and covert thrill for most of its 25-year history.
It’s hard to get the news from Bechdel. But, what delightful fun I had doing just that for many years. Bechdel’s comic strip soap opera of housemates, lovers, ex-lovers, and bookstore clerks-- ran from 1983 to 2008 in the LGBT and alternative press even as those mediums dwindled away. I caught up with the strip upon arriving in the city and to political consciousness, in 1986.
Bechdel seemed aware of every timely issue across our patchwork of gay ghettos-- outing, the March on Washington, gender politics-- from her Burlington, Vermont home, which she slyly displayed on the shelves of the strip's Madwimin Bookstore-- books like “My Lover Used to be a Woman," “Susie Bright Explains it all For You,” and "Heather's Mommy is Now Heather's Daddy." That is, until a Bounders and Buns and Noodle Books moves in and Jezanna, the manager is forced to close Madwimmin). Like a lesbian Gary Trudeau, Bechdel’s headlines in the town’s Daily Distress bleated news of invasions and zenophobia from the dark Bush years, and book industry consolidation-- “Despite Losses Medusa.com Stock Up 1000%” for example.
DTWOF’s cast of characters included Alison’s doppelganger-- library science student Mo; her first girlfriend, mechanic Harriet, second girlfriend Sydney, a Women’s Studies professor and breast cancer survivor; activist and drag king Lois, who dates Jasmine, her daughter, trans-teen Janis; English professor Ginger, her student (and CIA intern) Cynthia; bisexual Sparrow who heads the local NARAL office, her partner, Stuart, and their son Jiao; environmental lawyer Clarice, accountant Toni and her son Raffi; and Thea who has multiple sclerosis.
Here’s hoping that Bechdel reintroduces DTWOF and that the crossover success of her last two memoirs draws a whole new audience. Even better, how about an animated TV series? In the meantime, check out Dykes to Watch Out For at the Green Apple annex’s stupendously deep graphic novel selection, and adore Bechdel’s sapphic sisters as much as I do.