Comic-strip wonder and graphic-novel darling Alison Bechdel has distilled her signature collection of comic strips into one hearty package just in time for Christmas. With The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For, Bechdel has taken her impressive 527 comic strips and managed to edit them down into a seamless read. This collection is sure to satisfy both hard-core fans and those newbies inspired by Bechdel’s lauded 2007 graphic memoir Fun Home.
Maybe you started reading the strip in Toronto back in 1992 when Xtra started to run it, or maybe you followed Dykes to Watch Out For (DTWOF) in one of the other 50-plus newspapers that gave the series a home over its epic 25-year run. Those who have followed the series will be happy to know that you don’t notice the few strips that have been dropped in order to make this collection book-friendly. You will surely enjoy the earlier work that dates as far back as ’87, and there is the added bonus of an amusing graphic-ly rendered intro where Bechdel explains the origins of the series and how she “forgot to get a job.”
For those who are new to Dykes it’s a perfect way to get acquainted. Bechdel’s strip is literary, politically astute, wonderfully lefty and insightfully topical. Yet it also manages to be entertaining, laugh-out-lout funny and above all human.
Bechdel’s characters are flawed but ultimately endearing. You care about them. You worry that Mo worries too much; you hope Clarice and Toni stay together. You can’t help but vicariously live a little through Lois’s sexual escapades and you really do hope that Ginger finishes that dissertation.
Bechdel writes and draws with equal talent and grace; what evolves is an incredibly nuanced exploration of a relatable group of lesbian and bi friends. Fans have welcomed this cast of characters into their lives. Readers are able to navigate familiar terrain and can cheer, wince, laugh and cry along with the DTWOF gang as they take on the best and worst of what real life has to offer.
Essential is such a brilliant snapshot of the past two decades, refreshingly filtered through a queer archivist lens. DTWOF reminds us that lesbians cared about the environment long before Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth made it trendy; it reminds us of how trans identities helped to expand the queer landscape; and that arguments for and against same-sex marriage have played out in similar ways for a generation.
It’s no surprise DTWOF has a cult-like following of devoted queer readers. It’s still pretty rare to see ourselves, our communities and our lives reflected back to us as candidly and with the kind of care Bechdel has put into every frame. It was important in the 1980s and it’s still important now.
The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For is essential indeed and it’s the perfect way to find solace during Bechdel’s bittersweet sabbatical from the series.