Noah started the ball here. What was my personal discovery in comics for ’08? I could have done Steve Gerber’s all-text issue of Howard the Duck, but I’m beat and will settle for my experience reading A. Bechdel’s Essential Dykes to Watch Out For. In effect the experience means I read the series from start to finish, or almost. The book drops 137 strips, leaving 390 to take you from 1987 to last year. Good enough to get me from one end of the series to the other.
Bechdel is compulsive and methodical, and these traits aren’t a replacement for spent inspiration; they’re how she gets the job done. The figures line up in tight, shallow friezes, and it’s evident that Bechdel drew each one from a posed snapshot. But she knows how the characters should pose, and what they should be saying and doing. From about 1994 on, when you read a few of the strips you very quickly come to feel like you’re looking at a crowd of people you know doing what comes naturally to them, even if they all have Edward Gorey eyes and a tendency to hold themselves in profile. She’s a good caricaturist, which you wouldn’t expect from Fun Home. She pops out one bit player after another, and they have the good bit player’s ability to look and behave like no one else on earth without seeming like a stunt. Bechdel has also developed a fine touch for visual dynamics — her zero-depth friezes are a concession to storytelling needs, not signs of a skill deficit — and the way she draws a rainy morning is a pleasure to the eye.
I leave out my favorite aspects of the strip: the sociology, characterization and story. I don’t want to sound like a well-meaning dork liberal or a middlebrow lover of the lose-yourself-in-the-characters fictional experience. But I am both those things, and my two days of reading Essential Dykes were a pleasure in just the ways I could have wanted