The Illustrated Book Review

We’ve written before about comics as a vehicle for memoir. Now comes Alison Bechdel to show how comics can be applied to memoir criticism. Bechdel’s illustrated review of Jane Vandenburgh’s A Pocket History of Sex In the Twentieth Century: A Memoir in the March 29 New York Times Book Review contains all the components of thoughtful criticism: a decent summary of the book, our relationship to its subject matter, where it suceeds and where it fails. To be sure, Bechdel’s own Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic bares certain resemblances to Vandenburgh’s story, specifically a closeted father. And Bechdel’s skills at telling her own story, applied to her examination of Vandenburgh’s, make her review so rewarding. The pacing and architecture of her panels, the innocence and madenss of her character depictions and her ability to seek out the most appropriate image are all on display here. Who knows? Bechdel may have just launched a new form of illustrated criticism. If so, let’s hope that all its practitioners are as gifted at it as she.–Cabbage Rabbit

UPDATE, March 30: We’ve heard back from Alison Bechdel after alerting her to our post (something akin to getting a smile from Miles Davis after applauding a solo) and she points out that the great Milt Gross did some “wordless” book reviews which can be seen at “The Fabuleous Fifties” blogspot. They were done for the late ’30s magazine (previously unknown to me)  Ken and included illustrated accounts of Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath and Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep. Certainly worth the work to view.–CR

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