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Bechdel Named Cartoonist Laureate (Video)

  • Artist and activist Alison Bechdel, center, is presented with an honorary degree Sunday during the 138th commencement ceremony at Smith College Quadrangle in Northampton in 2016. (Daily Hampshire Gazette - Sarah Crosby)



Valley News Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Vermont’s next cartoonist laureate will be Alison Bechdel, according to a Tuesday news release from the White River Junction-based Center for Cartoon Studies.

Bechdel, a Bolton, Vt., resident in her mid-50s, is best known for her long-running comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For and her 2006 graphic memoir Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic.

The center, which helped select Bechdel as the state’s third cartoonist laureate, announced in the release that the state Legislature will appoint her to the post next Thursday.

“Alison Bechdel has done so much for the state of Vermont,” the center’s co-founder and president Michelle Ollie said in an interview on Wednesday.

Bechdel’s success, which includes Guggenheim and MacArthur fellowships and Tony Awards for a Broadway musical based on Fun Home, has helped foster an awareness of comics and makes hers “kind of an obvious appointment,” Ollie said.

As cartoonist laureate, Bechdel will continue to promote comics, Ollie said. Bechdel is a visiting artist at the cartoon school this spring. She has been involved with the school since it opened in 2005, something Ollie expects to continue.

“She’s here in Vermont,” Ollie said. “She’s been great. She’s just accessible.”

Bechdel will take over for Brookfield resident Ed Koren, who became the state’s second cartoonist laureate in 2014. Burlington’s James Kochalka preceded him. The term of the cartoonist laureate is three years.

“Despite its small size, Vermont has had a disproportionately large impact on contemporary cartooning,” the release said. The state is the only one to regularly appoint a cartoonist laureate, Ollie said.

Vermont’s congressional delegation reacted to Bechdel’s appointment in a joint statement, “We applaud The Center for Cartoon Studies’ choice of Alison Bechdel to serve as Vermont’s next cartoonist laureate,” in the release. “For three decades, Ms. Bechdel’s talents have been well known to Vermonters, and we have proudly watched her achieve the national acclaim she deserves. Her scope of work — from books to Broadway — has added to our national discourse.”

Bechdel’s self-syndicated Dykes to Watch Out For ran from 1983 to 2008. She has recently revived it to give the comic strip’s popular characters a chance to discuss current events, including Donald Trump’s election and presidency. The two recent strips — one from November and another published earlier this month — are available online through the Burlington-based alternative weekly Seven Days, sevendaysvt.com.

Time magazine named Bechdel’s Fun Home the best book of 2006. The tragicomic explores Bechdel’s relationship with her father, a closeted bisexual who committed suicide shortly after Bechdel came out as a lesbian to her parents. The book was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and was adapted into a musical by playwright Lisa Kron and composer Jeanine Tesori. It opened on Broadway in April 2015 and won five Tony awards.

Bechdel’s second book, the comic drama Are You My Mother? about her relationship with her mother, was published in 2012.

In addition to Seven Days, Bechdel’s comics have appeared in The New Yorker, Slate, McSweeney’s, The New York Times Book Review and Granta.

Perhaps her most famous contribution to modern culture is the Bechdel test, a method to determine whether a work of fiction is gender-biased that she featured in a 1985 Dykes to Watch Out For strip. To pass the test, a work must include two female characters who talk to each other about something other than men.

Bechdel’s formal appointment will take place at the State House in Montpelier next Thursday at 1 p.m.

Then, the Center for Cartoon Studies will host a presentation of laurels in White River Junction at 4 p.m. The presentation is free and open to the public, but seating is limited. Reservations can be made online at cartoonstudies.org.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.