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Alison Bechdel: a Primer

Yes, she is an actual person. No, she is not an academic. She is a cartoonist. But not a political cartoonist, although her politics come into her art, as they do for many artists. Lately, she's been writing memoirs, but for nearly thirty years, I've known her as the artist and writer of one of the best lesbian soap operas ever. Two decades before the L Word, there was

Dykes to Watch Out For

Even her website is named after her real claim to fame:


The strip appeared initially in gay community newspapers, and then was made into a series of books. It follows the adventures of the neurotic Mo, a clerk at Madwimmin Books*, her best friend Lois, and their buddies Clarice, Toni, Ginger, and Sparrow. Over the years, the cast of characters expanded as their relationships evolved and as Bechdel explored the cultural signposts, trends, and cliches of lesbian life.

Before the serial drama following the lives of these characters began, the Dykes to Watch Out For strip was a series of comic vignettes featuring one-off characters. One of the cartoons that appeared in 1985 was this one:

Quote it out of context if you want to, my pretties, but just remember the source.

* The fact that the initial community gathering spot for the DTWOF characters was a feminist/lesbian bookstore tells you how old this strip is. Buns and Noodle Barnes and Noble put Madwimmin out of business years ago, and we all know what happened to monster chains like B&N when a bigger fish came along.


( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 10th, 2012 10:25 pm (UTC)
Oh, the famous Bechdel test! I'd forgotten about that when I read Are You My Mother?--that's great.

And there is still what seems to be a feminist/lesbian bookstore in Chicago: Women and Children First, in Lincoln Square.
Jun. 10th, 2012 10:27 pm (UTC)
Indies continue to hang on in this day and age, but the golden age of the lesbian feminist bookstore was the late 70's-early 80's.

Just when I need them.
(Deleted comment)
Jun. 11th, 2012 12:58 am (UTC)
There are still a good number of "GBLT" bookstores in major cities, like San Francisco and San Diego, etc.

But lesbian-feminist? They are an outgrowth of the 70's feminist movement and always had a dash of New Age wicca stuff as well.
Jun. 11th, 2012 01:23 am (UTC)
Aw, man, I used to read DTWOF religiously. It was totally alien to my own experience (almost all my friends were straight, and I'm shy enough in real life that the idea of going out and making a bunch of New Gay Friends when I came out was super intimidating). I gave up on it after Mo hooked up with the annoying chick whose name I can't remember...
Jun. 11th, 2012 01:28 am (UTC)
Harriet? Or the one after that?
Jun. 11th, 2012 02:47 am (UTC)
Sydney. I liked Harriet.
Jun. 11th, 2012 02:58 am (UTC)
Right, Sydney. I bailed around that time, too, since I couldn't remember her name, either.
Jun. 11th, 2012 03:43 am (UTC)
This is very interesting. I'm going to be doing some LGBT blog posts over on jana_denardo this week. Do you mind if I link to this?
Jun. 11th, 2012 03:45 am (UTC)
Do it.
Jun. 11th, 2012 05:01 am (UTC)
Jun. 11th, 2012 02:28 pm (UTC)
Oh, very cool to see where that comes from! Thanks for posting about this.
Jun. 11th, 2012 02:58 pm (UTC)
I'm still astounded her "Test" gets referenced right and left on LJ, but no one seems to know the source of it, or much about Bechdel.
Jun. 11th, 2012 03:03 pm (UTC)
Yeah, that's where I'd heard it from. I just assumed that it was something written in a paper by an academic named Bechdel. Go figure, huh?
Jun. 11th, 2012 04:01 pm (UTC)
Given the authority with which it is used, one would figure.
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )