I first discovered cartoonist Alison Bechdel’s “Dykes to Watch Out For” in 1990, seven years after she started sharing the exploits of Mo, Lois, and a gang of women who — gadzooks! — were very much like me. Bechdel’s groundbreaking strip built up a huge following among the GLBT and progressive communities as it appeared over time in a growing number of GLBT and alternative papers. Then, in 2006, her touching and literate graphic novel Fun Home made her a mainstream critics’ darling — and deservedly so. Since then, Bechdel has put the comic strip on hiatus (hopefully temporarily) as she works on her next novel. In the interim, the masses can now get to know the sheroes and heroes of DTWOF: Bechdel has just released an anthology of all the strips so far: The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For. (Buy it! Read it! Beg for its return!)
The New York Times‘ Dwight Garner reviewed it — and wow, is it great to see a mainstreamer digging on the doings of dykes.
For more than 20 years she has been the creator of “Dykes to Watch Out For,” a weekly comic strip, printed mostly in college-town alternative newspapers, about the fractious lives and loves of an articulate group of lesbians in a city that resembles Minneapolis. The strip is sexy, sometimes in an R-rated way — imagine “Doonesbury” with regular references to sex toys — and it’s political, in a feisty, lefty, Greenpeace meets PETA meets MoveOn.org kind of way. Ms. Bechdel’s lesbians wanted to impeach the first George Bush.
Taken together, these comic strips don’t have the tightly coiled impact of “Fun Home,” but in some ways they offer greater consolations — they’re looser, more funny, and they offer the chance to watch a group of very appealing women grow and change (and struggle to have better sex) over the course of more than two decades. Ms. Bechdel calls her strips “half op-ed column and half endlessly serialized Victorian novel,” and that’s not far off. I suspect that, over the years, “Dykes to Watch Out For” has been as important to new generations of lesbians as landmark novels like Rita Mae Brown’s “Rubyfruit Jungle” (1973) and Lisa Alther’s “Kinflicks” (1976) were to an earlier one.
Way to go, NYT. If you don’t know Alison Bechdel’s work, listen to Garner — these dykes (and sundry other carbon-based life forms) are well worth watching. And read Fun Home too!