In the year Alison Bechdel was born, Random House published a children’s book by P. D. Eastman, titled Are You My Mother? The book documents one baby bird’s search for his mother (she had left an egg on the brink of hatching in the nest and flown away in search of food). The hatchling embarks on a quest, asking the representatives of all species met along the way (including a power shovel) the simple but fundamental question of the title and going through much distress before the eventual happy reunion.
At face value, this is not what Alison Bechdel is dealing with in her comic drama Are You My Mother?, published in May 2012. Bechdel spent her childhood and teenage years in rural Pennsylvania with both of her parents – until her father’s death when she was 19. As it closely followed her coming out to her parents and the associated revelation of her father’s own closeted homosexuality, Bechdel believed it to be suicide. Growing up in a spooky Victorian house haunted by her at times tense relationship with her father was the subject of Bechdel’s first graphic novel, the critically acclaimed Fun Home (2006). Are You My Mother? is in turn a “memoir about her mother”: a close and psychoanalytically loaded look at her relationship with her other, still living, parent, which took years to complete.