After reading No Straight Lines: Four Decades of Queer Comics, I knew I had to revisit Alison Bechdel’s work. I’ve previously talked about her autobiographical graphic memoirs Fun Home and Are You My Mother?, but the last time I read any of the “Dykes to Watch Out For” I wasn’t blogging yet. I must’ve read one of the earlier compilations because I was in undergrad and Houghton Mifflin published this one after I graduated. This was a collection of most of the strips from the 25 year run of the comic strip.
Reading this was like visiting with old friends you haven’t seen in a long time. I remembered a lot of things, not necessarily the details, but the overarching good things and bad things that happened to the characters throughout Bechdel’s run. I wish there was a full compendium, but honestly I didn’t feel like there was too much missing. I’m not sure if it’s a good comparison, but reading this again reminded me a lot of reading the various Tales of the Cities books. Because they are both serialized they both deal with current events as they are happening from the AIDS crisis, to 9/11, to the Gore/Bush fiasco, the Lewinski scandal, and the momentary high of marriage equality in San Francisco and the aftermath of it being stripped away.
What I notice the most on this re-read, especially with our current administration in the US is how cyclical things are and how rapidly the cycles seem to be coming around. Seriously, the number of times I wanted to take a photo of the page because it was talking about LGBT discrimination, refugees, unwarranted wars, administrations lying to the public, and so many more things really started to get to me by the end of the series. It was exhausting to see this reading it so quickly and I can only imagine how the more politically active characters would feel now 10 years later with the same shit happening just under a different ruse.
If there was one thing that felt a little stilted about the book, it was the idealized diversity of the comic strip. I know there are enclaves like this that exist, but this felt a little too perfect. The multi-race couple, the disabled woman, the larger women, the white academic, the trans* car mechanic, the young super conservative, etc. It wasn’t BAD, it just felt a little too cookie cutter perfect even with the trials and tribulations they had and I hate that it bothered me, but if I complain about the crazy privileged white self-help women, I feel like I have to also make a comment about the cookie cutter multi-racial utopia.
Recommendation: Definitely worth checking out. This is A LOT of the comics so you could probably check out some of the smaller anthologies, but this is a great snapshot of a subculture’s response to many of the biggest events over 25 years from the 1980s-2000s. Bechdel has published only randomly since the last strip in 2008 with the most recent being a response to Trump’s election in 2016, which crashed her website, and another in 2017 in response to his horrid policies. I’m not sure what Bechdel is working on now, but I most definitely want to read it whenever it’s released.
Opening Line: “I’m tired of being celibate, Lo! I haven’t had sex in…8 months!”
Closing Line: “Can I get a sabbatical from my girlfriend?” (Whited out to avoid spoilers, highlight to read.)