Thursday, March 01, 2007

So I went to that Alison Bechdel lecture

You know, the one that was at Franklin and Marshall College last evening. It turns out Bechdel's father was an F&M alumnus, as am I (woo hoo, class of 93!).

Anyway, the lecture hall was reasonably packed. Not sold out mind you, but there were lots of folks there. I was probably the only comics nerd in the whole crowd, which says something about a) Bechdel's audience and b) the mainstream penetration graphic novels like "Fun Home" have garnered. Of course, those two burly students in the back looked a bit out of place, so perhaps they were comic geeks too.

Bechdel began the lecture/slideshow with a discussion of her strip, "Dykes to Watch Out For." She talked about the characters that make up the strip and discussed how the focus of the strip has changed in the past 20+ years. There was a lot of frequent and knowing laughter from a lot of the folks in the audience.

Bechdel then read the first chapter of "Fun Home" aloud while the individual panels scrolled by on the projection screen. After that she broke down how she created the book. For me, this was the most fascinating and best part of the evening. Apparently she began by typing the words in panels using Adobe Illustrator (or some similar program). She had a special font made of her handwriting. Then she prints out the panels and draws directly on them. She then traces over that drawing, inks the final sketch and then scans it back into the computer, adding blacks (like a night sky or silhouette) in PhotoShop.

To achieve the watercolor look for "Fun Home," she did the washes on a separate piece of paper, scanned that in and added it onto the intial drawing as a PhotoShop layer. The green color was something the publisher, Houghton Mifflin, added after Bechdel turned in the book, and she commented that she didn't get to see the finished product until she got a copy of the printed book.

Considering the number of panels and pages in "Fun Home" this seems like a very intensive job. It's no wonder the book took her seven years to complete.

Anyway, after that Bechdel read another chapter from the book, took some questions, and then it was time for autographs. Most people lined up to buy a copy first, but since I already had mine, I sneaked ahead to the front of the autograph line.

Bechdel remembered me from NYCC, where I had initially introduced myself to her. We chatted very briefly about the con and she signed my book. I could have bent her ear back for awhile, but the line behind me was long and it was getting late, so I left, though not without getting a promise for an interview when her next book comes out.

All in all, it was a fun event and it's nice to see someone like Bechdel draw a crowd that isn't made up of .... well, folks like me. I hope other colleges in the area host similar comics-related events in the near future.

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