Tracing Pages Essay

“Stitches,” by David Small and “Fun Home,” by Alison Bechdel are two renowned graphic memoirs that tell the story of each author’s own traumatic childhood. Both memoirs delve into themes of loss, betrayal, and confusion, but out of all the pages in either book, two stand out. The two pages are the reveal of one of the author’s parents being a closeted homosexual. Each page is similar and different to the other in regard to the artistic and literary choices made by the authors, but the greater message that Small and Bechdel wish to convey lies in a unique combination of the two.

Analyzing both pages reveals an interesting similarity. Both authors have little to no build up to the reveal and catch the readers completely by surprise. For Small, it is his mother who is suddenly caught in bed with the wife of his father’s friend, while for Bechdel it is the unexpected dialogue in the first panel of the page which states, “But would an ideal husband and father have sex with teenage boys?”

Aside from this similarity, there are some differences to note as well. There is a stark contrast in art style. Bechdel’s artwork is neat, intricate, and aims to give the reader every single detail from her memory. On the other hand, Small’s semi-minimalist and relatively crude art style paints a duller setting. This dreary aura is not just felt on this page, but every other page as well.

By studying both pages in great depth, a pattern begins to form. Bechdel’s reveal catches readers off guard as they are enamored by the many items and details in each panel and suddenly slapped with a jaw dropping text box that reveals her father’s homosexuality. Small’s dreary and monotonous art style lulls the reader before, again, hitting them with the shocking imagery of his mother in bed with another woman. Both authors’ artistic/literary choices paired perfectly with their reveals to greatly add to the suddenness and shock that readers experience.

The beauty of portraying these events in the form of a graphic memoir is that readers are allowed to spend as much time as they wish on any one panel. Unlike other mediums, I readers have the liberty to comprehend and take in every emotion during each author’s reveal. This aspect of comics is best put by Hilary Chute in her book “Graphic Women,” when she says “comics is not a form that is experienced in time, as film ultimately is […] it cedes the pace of consumption to the reader, and begs rereading through its spatial form[.]” (Chute, 8). This characteristic of comics enables Small and Bechdel to give readers and unprecedented amount of freedom to engage and internalize the shocking twist. Therefore, it can be surmised that by pairing the similarities in the suddenness of the reveal with each author’s unique way of presenting it, along with the use of comics as a medium for their work, both authors can share with the readers a slice of the shock they experienced when their parents’ homosexuality was revealed to them. And this, the sharing of emotions with readers so that someone else can know the pain and shock that came with learning of their parents’ secret homosexuality, is what Small and Bechdel likely aimed to do with these two pages.

Both David Small and Alison Bechdel reveal the homosexual nature of their mother and father respectively in a sudden manner and do so through different artistic and literary means, but utilizing these two aspects of their pages, and pairing it with the medium of comics allows for both authors to convey their greater message; therefore, it can be surmised that Small and Bechdel do all of this to share with readers the shock and subsequent trauma that both authors experienced with the reveal of their parents’ secret homosexuality.