Comic Book: Fun Home

Caption: My dad and I both grew up in the same, small Pennsylvania town. And he was gay, and I was gay. And he killed himself. And I... became a lesbian cartoonist.
Welcome to Our House on Maple Avenue

Fun Home is a 2006 comic memoir by Alison Bechdel, creator of Dykes to Watch Out For. The story focuses on her growing up in rural Pennsylvania, living under her oppressive father, Bruce, a high-school teacher and funeral home director. It also focuses on his history, how he came to be, and his lifelong project of restoring a dilapidated Victorian-era mansion. As she asserts her independence and comes to accept her orientation as a lesbian, she discovers that her father is gay and closeted. Soon after Alison comes out, he is hit by a truck, which she believes to have been suicide.

The book took seven years to make. The art was painstakingly reconstructed from family photographs, alongside the panels Alison herself posed for. Upon its release, Fun Home was well received critically, and is held up as an exemplary work of both its medium and its genre.

The book was followed up by Are You My Mother? which deals with Alison's relationship with her mother.

Fun Home was adapted into a highly acclaimed Broadway musical which was released on April 2015 and received numerous Tony Awards nominations, and snagged Best Book, Best Score, and Best Musical. It notably is the very first mainstream musical to feature a lesbian protagonist.

This work contains examples of:

Book Only

  • A-Cup Angst: Averted, as Alison doesn't even want her breasts to develop in the first place. And then when they do, she's unpleasantly surprised to learn they're very tender and can be quite painful to the touch.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Alison thinks this about herself for quite a while, wondering if she can really say she's a lesbian before she's even had sex.
  • Art Shift: For the close-ups of the photographs, Alison puts much more detail into them, making them appear more lifelike.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Alison does this via letter after her mother's angry response to the former coming out of the closer. She addresses the angry response point by point in typed words, saying in a nutshell, "I have no idea what you're talking about. WHAT tragedy?"
  • Coming-of-Age Story
  • Continuity Nod: Dykes to Watch Out For fans should be able to spot Ginger, Lois, and Harriet at the college LGBT group.
  • Corpsing: Alison finds herself unable to grieve normally when hearing of her father's death. She laughs when telling her librarian boss that her father died, unable to believe that Bruce can suddenly be dead, and at the funeral she and her brothers share eerie grins.
  • A Date with Rosie Palms: Alison begins masturbating shortly after getting her period at 13.
  • Doing It for the Art: In-universe and out of universe examples:
    • Helen sewing all of her costumes for various plays, refusing to use the same one twice, and recording every line in the play so as to memorize hers perfectly.
    • Bruce hand-paints Easter eggs to match flower colors. Not to mention how he treats the house.
    • Out of universe, Alison spending several years working on the graphic novel, mainly working from photographs of herself in the characters' poses.
  • Icarus Allusion: The first chapter and then the last two pages have Alison discuss the parallel between Icarus/Daedalus and herself/her father. It's one of the major recurring themes of the book.
  • Imagine Spot: Alison has a brief imaginary outburst at her father's funeral of yelling at the minister. The next panel cuts back to reality, where she is quiet and polite.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: Helen makes the move to divorce Bruce after Alison comes out of the closet. Alison wholeheartedly supports her mother's decision when it's mentioned.
  • No Periods, Period: Averted; Alison gets her first period at 13, but doesn't tell anyone for several months. She also notes a fair amount of distaste for the experience, since her first few cycles look like "a slight brown secretion".note 
  • "Not Making This Up" Disclaimer: Several little asides stress this, like "Yes, it really was a Sunbeam Bread truck" and "Honest to God, we had a painting of a cockatoo in the library."
  • Self-Deprecation: Bruce demonstrates this in his letters to Alison after she comes out, and earlier when he got caught with an underage boy and had to anger to the charge of "serving him beer". He says, "I'm not good."
  • Shotacon: During the Bicentennial in New York, Alison's brother, John, is stalked by a pedophile. He gets away safely.
  • Shout-Out: Over the course of the book Alison compares her life and its contents with most of the major literary canon, starting with Greek Mythology and ending with Ulysses. Books and plays come up a lot in this story.
  • Super OCD: Alison develops this as a young teenager; it gets so bad that her mother notices, first reading to her in the bathtub and then writing her diary for her.
  • Unreliable Narrator: To go with the Super OCD, Alison starts adding "I think" to her diary, even adding a shorthand symbol that makes her handwriting illegible.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Helen calls out Bruce multiple times, though for Alison they register as nasty fights. Case in point, when Helen reminds Bruce that John is waiting to be picked up.

Musical Only

  • Adaptation Expansion: Alison's family gets more screen-time, mainly her brothers and mother, so that we see more Character Development.
  • BSOD Song: "Edges of the World" for Bruce in the musical, which depicts his last thoughts before his suicide.
  • Dark Reprise: Helen Bechdel's "Days and Days" in the musical is a dark reprisal of "Welcome to Our House in Maple Avenue."
  • Distant Duet: In the musical, there are moments where Alison finds herself singing across time with her late father.
  • Hope Spot:
    • There are a few moments when it seems like Bruce and Alison might be getting along, before something (usually Bruce himself) messes it up. One notable instance is Bruce trying to help Alison with her map project for school. He encourages her to practice more, and says she has the potential to be a real artist when she grows up... before going all Control Freak and trying to make her do it his way, which understandably upsets her. Bruce then gets upset about Alison getting upset, and the whole thing ends with Bruce storming off, and Alison hurt and confused.
    • In the musical, the scene just before "Telephone Wire" counts. Bruce is glad to see Alison, and seems to be getting along well with her new girlfriend Joan, Joan even helping him clean. He and Alison play a duet together on the piano and go for a drive together. The whole thing is painful for adult Alison to watch, since she knows it's the last time she saw her father before he killed himself, and they never fully bridged the gap between them.
  • Imagine Spot: "Raincoat of Love" in the musical is Small Alison fantasizing about what she wishes her family was like.
  • Ironic Echo: "I might still break a heart or two..."
  • It's All About Me: It's very telling that two of the most prominent lyrics associated with Bruce in the musical are "He wants" and "I want."
  • "I Want" Song: In the musical, "Welcome to Our House on Maple Avenue" is a "He [Bruce] wants" song. Then a more subtle straight example in "Ring of Keys," when young Alison, while having trouble articulating it, realizes she wants to dress similarly to the butch delivery woman.
  • Pensieve Flashback: In the musical, Alison watches the show's events with the audience, often walking through the scene and commenting on it, sometimes even speaking directly to the people in them. However, no one from the past can see or hear her.
  • Plot-Relevant Age-Up: The events of the play are slightly timeshifted; one particular example is that Alison seeing the Butch Lesbian delivery woman during "Ring of Keys" is played and sung by (at the time) eleven-year old Sydney Lucas; in real life, this happened when Alison was four or five.
  • "Shut Up" Kiss: Joan delivers one to Alison in the middle of Alison's worried ramblings, which leads to their first sexual encounter.
  • Stepford Smiler: Helen is this in spades. When she breaks down during her Dark Reprise, it's quite heart-breaking when she tells Alison not to repeat her mistakes.
  • Take That: A flair for the dramatic While not a song, has Allison calling out her dad to Joan after receiving a reply to her coming out letter believing that he doesn't know anything about what she's going through. Except it's before she finds out that her Dad is gay.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Retroactively, Alison does this to Bruce in the musical when looking back on her childhood and realizing how awful he was at times.

Both the Book and Musical

  • Abusive Parents: Downplayed. Bruce didn't physically abuse Alison, but he was still an awful person to her at various points in her childhood.
  • Alternative Character Interpretation:
    • In-universe. Alison and her girlfriend were fond of doing this to classic childhood literature- "God, Christopher Robin was a total imperialist!"
    • Also of her father. She admits freely that suicide is only her interpretation of his death, and she can never know for sure whether it is correct(the truck driver who hit him said that Bruce had made it to the side of the road, but then suddenly jumped backwards "as if he saw a snake"). When telling of things he did, she offers several different versions of what could have been the motivations behind them.
  • Anachronic Order
  • Audience Surrogate: Alison's first girlfriend Joan when she sees the Bechdel family home for the first time. "You described it, but I had no idea."
  • The Beard: It's never stated explicitly, but Bruce is hinted to have married Helen for this reason, though the follow-up Are You My Mother does briefly acknowledge he could have been bisexual.
  • Black Comedy: The Bechdel kids playing in the coffins in the family funeral home.
  • Bland-Name Product: Averted. All the products shown are real brands (Sunbeam bread, Beech-Nut tobacco).
  • Book Ends:
    • Both the beginning and end of the book refer to Icarus Allusions and the imagery of flight.
    • Likewise, the musical adaptation ends on the memory of Bruce playing airplane with her.
  • Bookworm: One of the few things Alison and Bruce appear to have in common. Alison loves to read, to the point where what finally made her realize she was a lesbian was reading a book of interviews with LGBT people. Bruce, likewise, has a huge collection of books. At one point, they bond over their completely incredulous reaction when Alison's English professor interprets a book in a way they adamantly disagree with.
  • Boyish Short Hair: Alison as an adult and teen wears her hair this way. Lampshaded by Small Alison in the book and musical.
    Bruce: Where's your barrette? Put it back in. It keeps the hair out of your eyes.
    Small Alison: So would a crew cut.
    Bruce: (Death Glare) If I see you without it again, I'll wale you.
  • Butch Lesbian:
    • Alison.
    • Even more so, the delivery driver that young Alison sees in a diner, which is a turning point for her, seeing that a "butch" woman can be a valid lifestyle. (Her father thinks otherwise.) Turned into a memorable song in The Musical, "Ring of Keys," which stole the show at the Tony Awards.
  • Cool Clear Water: Pollution makes rivers nice and sparkly.
  • Coming-Out Story: For Alison. Bruce, however, never attains one.
  • Control Freak: Bruce. From how the house looks to his daughter's drawing assignments, "he wants," "he wants." In the book Alison depicts him choosing her clothes for her, even complaining how "she looks like a missionary."
  • Daddy's Girl: Downplayed. Alison appears to be closer to Bruce than her brothers, but their relationship was so rocky, it's literally the basis of the comic and musical.
  • The Dandy: Bruce is played straight, he is obsessed with his appearance, as well as the rest of his family.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Alison. Helen too, at times.
  • Driven to Suicide: Bruce kills himself by stepping in front of a truck. As if this wasn't tragic enough, there's the strong implication that Alison herself is the one who inadvertently did the driving. Though, see Alternative Character Interpretation.
  • Dysfunctional Family: They all have their own issues, but Bruce takes the cake. Hell, most of Alison and Helen's issues were caused by Bruce, accidentally or otherwise.
  • Fan Disservice: The naked, open-stomached corpse.
  • Flyover Country: Beech Creek, Pennsylvania.
  • Foil: Bruce and Alison, especially in the musical. Both grew up in the same small town, both turned out to be gay. Alison handled it considerably better than Bruce did, at least partially due to going to college in a time period that was rather more accepting of the LGBT community. Consequentially, Alison grows up to be a happy, well-adjusted, openly gay adult, while her father remains closeted his entire life, carries out several affairs in his marriage, and kills himself. To drive the point home in the musical, the two sing many of the same lyrics, with different contexts and meanings.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Alison is gay. So is Bruce. Bruce kills himself four months after Alison comes out of the closet. The whole story is one big How We Got Here for all three of these conclusions.
  • Gallows Humor: The kids really enjoy displaying this; heck, they even name the funeral home the "Fun Home".
  • Happily Married: Bruce and Helen. At first. By the time the show starts, however...
  • Hot for Student: Bruce had, at one point, slept with two of his students. The event was swept under the rug.
  • Never Trust a Title: It's short for Funeral Home, which is the family business. The home itself is rarely fun.
  • No Periods, Period: Averted
  • N-Word Privileges: Alison and Joan call themselves "dykes" multiple times. (Truth in Television - in real life, most lesbians have a "we can say it, you can't" attitude towards the word, and will understandably take offense if someone outside the community says it.)
  • Parents as People: Bruce is a lousy excuse for a parent most of the time, but it's clear that he loves his kids, and sincerely thinks he's doing the right thing. Helen seems to have been a good mother for the most part, but raising three kids, dealing with Bruce, and trying to keep her own sanity intact is a near-impossible task, and it shows.
  • Pet the Dog: While it's downplayed, Bruce does show a capacity to be affectionate or cordial to his children, such as playing airplane with Alison or reading a bedtime story. Alison argues that this just even made the family tension more unpredictable.
  • Real Is Greenish-Gray
  • They're Called Personal Issues For A Reason: Bechdel's family was upset about her talking about family secrets.
  • Tomboy: Alison during her childhood. Her cousins even call her "Butch".
  • Tomboyish Nickname: Alison, aka, Al.
  • Turn Out Like His Father: Bechdel spends much of the book looking back on her childhood with a new perspective after she learns her dad is gay.
  • What Do You Mean, It's Not Didactic?:
    • Demonstrated in-universe during Alison's literature class.
    • Arguably invoked by the way she tells her own story, giving away all the key elements of the story very early on, and then spending the bulk of the book analysing and re-assessing every memory of her father she has.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: When Alison comes out of the closet, she considers herself some sort of dramatic heroine. When her mother reveals that her father is also gay and closeted, she realizes she's actually only the comic relief in her father's tragedy.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Much of Helen's anguish is dealing with Bruce's numerous affairs. It's no picnic for Alison, either, once she finds out.