Intimacy and Sentiment in the Graphic Memoir

A memoir is a written account of an author’s memories or personal experiences. Prior to taking the Graphic Novel course, I had only experienced traditional books, or even one or two film interpretations under this genre. I hadn’t considered a graphic novel to be a medium used to convey personal experiences, mostly because I hadn’t read many to begin with. It wasn’t until reading Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home that I realized a graphic memoir is, in fact, an incredibly effective medium for intimate (and accurate) artistic expression.

Readers interpret descriptions differently from a traditional book. While the events and details are described by the author, it is ultimately up to the reader’s imagination to determine the smaller aspects regarding the appearance of characters and the setting. In a graphic memoir, the setting and characters are drawn exactly how the author remembers them, or chooses to portray them. In Fun Home, Bechdel incorporates arrows that point to certain aspects of her artwork. This informs the audience of what she intended to depict, or even elaborates on her personal feelings toward that specific detail.

fun home
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

While video and film typically provide the same visual specifics as a graphic novel, the accuracy of an author’s recollection may be lost in translation. Many times, certain elements of an author’s personal experiences can be altered by the director or screenwriter. Like a game of telephone, we are no longer “hearing” the experience from the source, but through layers of interpretation.

It can also be difficult to incorporate the same sentimental value that a written, reflective work (memoir) can achieve in an audience through film. Emily Temple mentions in an article that film is a “third-person medium, not perfectly suited to portraying interior life”. We are often spectators when watching a movie. While the reader is still a spectator viewing Bechdel’s illustrations in Fun Home, the first-person perspective also manages to relate the experience to us intimately.

fun home 2
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

When an author chooses to express insight, the medium they work with has a huge impact on delivery and comprehension. After reading Fun Home, I’ve determined graphic memoirs to be most effective in showcasing an author’s experiences. Bechdel’s illustrative style supports and enhances her narration. The first-person perspective and original artwork provides the audience with an authentic and emotionally engaging record that differs from a traditional memoir or film.