Cartoonist Alison Bechdel was named a MacArthur Fellow on Wednesday and will receive a $625,000 no-strings-attached grant to advance her idiosyncratic art.
Bechdel makes comics, but not in the cape and cowl variety — her work digs into small-town American childhood, parental relationships, and gender identity.
Bechdel cut her teeth penning "Dykes to Watch Out For," a gender-studies-and-current-events comic strip that gained a cult following through its 1983 to 2008 run.
In 2006 she published her first book, "Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic." It's about her growing up in a small town in Pennsylvania and her increasingly complex relationship with her father, who she didn't know had sexual relationships with men until she came out to her parents.
The book is heartfelt, honest, and deals in the ambiguities of family life. Bechdel leaves the reader wondering if her father killed himself on the day he was hit by a truck and died — or if it was an accident.
Her second book arrived in 2012. Called "Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama," the graphic memoir uses a psychoanalytic lens to better understand her relationship with her mom.
Bechdel's work is a union of image and text, expanding the form established by comic legends Will Eisner, Art Spiegelman, and Alan Moore.
"What I love about cartooning is the way you have access to these two different kinds of communication," she tells the MacArthur Foundation.
"I love putting sentences together, but language remains symbolic, it still has to get filtered through our brains," she says. "Whereas drawing, it's right there, immediate, and you just assimilate it without having to think about it. I love having access to both kinds of communication when I tell my stories."
Bechdel is one of 21 MacArthur fellows for 2014. Her peers include community organizers, mathematicians, and musicians.
She says the grant validates her career.
"Getting this kind of recognition from the MacArthur Foundation, I can feel it already changing my life," she says. "I'm having to adjust to the fact that this has happened, therefore I must be doing something worthwhile. And to have that kind of confidence put into my work is a huge gift, and I'm going to work very, very hard to live up to those expectations."
Check out her full bio here, and watch the full MacArthur Foundation interview with her below.
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