a real superhero

July 30th, 2007 | Uncategorized

It never ceases to amaze me that I can wake up on one side of this continent and go to bed on the other. I left palmy San Diego this morning, and just got home to the moonlit Vermont woods a little while ago. But I wanted to post a few more things about the Comic Con before I crash.

I was on a panel Saturday called Reality-Based Graphic Novels. It was an interesting mix of people. Guy Delisle, who’s done travelog/reportage type graphic novels about his trips to China and North Korea. Rick Geary, who I first discovered in National Lampoon in the late seventies. Joe Matt, of Peepshow and Spent–my masturbation idol. And Miriam Katin, whose memoir We Are On Our Own came out last year. It’s a riveting and beautifully drawn book about her early childhood spent eluding the Nazis after the invasion of Budapest. Miriam’s mother saved her own life and Miriam’s by faking their deaths, getting false documents, and escaping to the countryside. It’s a terrible, moving, wonderfully told story. But the coolest thing was, Miriam’s mom was at San Diego with her! She’s like 91 or something. Here’s a picture of the two of them–with me for scale–in the Drawn & Quarterly booth.

real superhero

Miriam’s mom is an actual superhero. Unlike this person, who is merely dressed as one.

not an actual superhero

Oh. One more thing. My suitcase provoked some concern during the security screening at the SD airport this morning. I couldn’t imagine what the problem was…I’d done all the proper stuff with my liquids, I didn’t even have my computer projector with me. Finally, as the guy is opening up my bag, I remembered–my Eisner trophy (see photo), which I had very carefully padded with all my dirty underwear.


64 Responses to “a real superhero”

  1. Sir Real says:

    Hearty, hearty congratulations on the award – the latest award, to be specific!

    Gee, Alison, you often look dour or expressionless in photos of you – book jacket ones included. I’m not attempting to be one of those horrible people who tell women and girls to “smile!” cause they feel that female persons are supposed to keep everyone happy. Urgh. They generally get a view of my bared canines.

    But – wondering why? Perhaps, like me, wanting to emulate the challenging cool stare of record cover rock stars – yep, that “Rubber Sole” album, which I recall reading was the first to feature pop stars _without_ ingratiating grins, left its psychic mark!

    Other people I know think they look excessively goofy when they smile for the camera, and some are just not happy.

    But if you _do_ wish to project cheer, I recommend what I call the `muppet(tm) principle’ – many of their fabric and foam faces are too stiff for a puppeteer to bend to a smile, so you may notice that they open their mouths to evoke a grin. Works for many a drag queen, too!

  2. Ydnic says:

    Both Miriam Katin and her mother look warm, sweet, and fascinating. Now I must read Katin’s book, and meet her–at least in the literary realm.

    I think the airport security folks have things that detect pointy objects. And I guess that the poles on the little globe there would qualify. When you explained it, did anyone congratulate you? I certainly hope so!

  3. Ydnic says:

    Wait a minute… The award picture is backwards…

  4. Vanessa says:

    I am simultaneously envious of and (rather more) excited for you that you got to be on a panel with such an amazing group. What a mixed bag of reality!

    It’s wonderful that Miriam’s mother is a) still alive and b) coming along to, I assume, give her side of such a story.

    I love living in the future, where the doors are gradually opening to tell more stories like theirs and yours.

  5. Jaibe says:

    One of my friends was worried his Emmy would get blocked in US customs because of the pointy wings, but apparently security guards know what those look like! (He got it for special effects — I only know computer geeks!)

    Thanks for the lead on more reality-based stuff to read!

  6. kate says:

    wow–i’ll have to read katin’s book. i was recently in budapest as well as northern hungary and found it was a very difficult place to make some sort of emotional connection. people there seem untrusting. maybe katin’s book will help me understand the place better. her drawings are beautiful.

  7. Kaptain Equinox says:

    Is that a TSA employee grasping your arm? I’ve never seen that particular uniform on one of them.

  8. So UN-pc says:

    As a TSA officer in Burlington, I can say….um…no. Clearly not a TSO grabbing her arm. Although the thought has crossed *my* mind on more than one occasion.

  9. Duncan says:

    I don’t think Alison looks dour in her photos, except when she wants to. (Remember the Stern Librarian photo, sometime last year I believe?)

    It isn’t only girls and women who are told to “smile!” I’ve been told that all my life. And I always refuse. I’ve noticed, though, that people who look serious and unsmiling most of the time really light up the room (or the earth) when they do smile. Alison’s one of them. Don’t let the smile cops get to you, Alison. Save those beautiful smiles for the times when you want to use them.

    Which reminds me, speaking of “appropriateness,” someone was dourly disapproving of Alison’s victory kiss at the Eisner’s. Something about how because two straight girls did it, lesbians shouldn’t? One of the stupidest things I’ve ever read, and alas, I’ve read plenty. My only complaint is that your confederate didn’t get a picture of the kiss. (I had the same trouble the last time I was in a band: I’d hand a friend my camera and encourage them to get down front. Of course they always hid in the back. So I have plenty of nice clear photos of people dancing, with the band murky and barely visible in the distance somewhere.)

  10. Alex the Bold says:

    No wonder they were suspicious! It’s in reverse! Obviously, you are from Bizarro-world, where am terrorists heroes and George W. Bush won the elections fairly and invaded the correct country.

  11. hetero genus says:

    91 years old? I saw no one who looked near that age in the photo. Mom has wonderful posture and presence. Obviously good forethought as well, to have considered what was going on and taken the steps she did for survival of herself and Miriam. So many didn’t fully accept that the country they called home for generations would round up and murder their Jewish, and non aryan Gypsy, and other so-called undesirable citizens and their children, or be complicit with the nazis in doing so until the ‘tsunami’ was upon them. I will have to read her book.

  12. Dr. Empirical says:

    On Bizarro World, us do opposite of silly Earth-humans!

    Bizarro Lois is a nun who preaches abstinence-only sex education, while Bizarro Stewart chases Bizarro Carlos around the house. Bizarro Mo cheats on Bizarro Sydney to express the depths of her love, and Bizarro Raffi punishes Bizarro Toni and Clarice by giving them time-outs in the bedroom!

  13. laura says:

    Allison, why are you so tough with the girl in a super-hero costume (“Miriam’s mom is an actual superhero. Unlike this person, who is merely dressed as one”)? Has she done anything to annoy you? She does look like she has the leisure of living in such exceptional circumstances (place/time/ family/social situation) that all she has to do to live is to work hard. And one hopes that this is the case, indeed. I would not want to live in such conditions that in order to survive you have to be a hero (or the contrary, as often happens). “Saddest is the land that needs heroes”

  14. The Wax Lion says:

    Just wanted to say I enjoyed your reading from Fun Home at the con, and am looking forward to reading the book in full. Congratulations on the Eisner!

    Thanks also for the tip here about Miriam’s book. I had the pleasure of interviewing a holocaust survivor a few weeks ago, as part of my job, and it was one of the most moving experiences of my life. Wish I’d caught that panel–too many good programs to choose from. Guess I’ll just have to read the book…

  15. shadocat says:

    I dont’t think that comment was meant as an actual criticism of the “Catwoman” woman, as much of a coment on our infatuation with “heros” that are fictional, vs the everyday people who do heroic things, and get little fanfare or adulation.

    Duncan, I sometimes compliment Alison on her smile, because I think she has a nice one. If she doesn’t want to smile, or she wants to growl like a grizzly bear in her pictures,it’s of no concern to me.

  16. Tera says:

    I’m so glad airport security is working hard, finding threats to our safety such as trophies. I feel so much safer flying knowing this type of meticulous searching is happening…..LOL

  17. So UN-pc says:

    How safe would you feel if someone slammed you upside the head with one of those? I am sick and tired of people complaining about airport security. It is a completely thankless job that pays you like shit, all for the pleasure of dealing with people that want to debate public policy and scream about toothpaste. We deal with irate people on a daily basis who do nothing but complain and throw things at you. So, you ask yourself, why the hell do you do it? Because practical particulars aside, I believe in the *mission* of it. And believe me, you have no idea how much stuff we *do* stop. So the next time someone had to go inside your bag because you have a few rolls of quarters, and you think about loudly proclaiming how ridiculous it is, think twice and understand that those rolls of quarters look like parts of a gun on the X-ray. And if I were to not give a shit, and let those “rolls of quarters” get on *your* plane…

  18. Jaibe says:

    I agree with shadocat — in fact, I took it as a favour from Alison to work that picture into the blog for us. Meow! I think catwoman in stilettos is hysterical. Can you really fight in those?

    I have been stuck on “I’m a heroine” by Juliana Hatfield all day because of this post…

  19. Chris (in Massachusetts) says:

    Jaibe, it’s not about fighing, it’s about looking good!

  20. Shelby says:

    I was on a standby flight from the dark Honolulu airport with my two friends, awaiting open seats all night, so I could find you and buy things and discuss and follow at Comic-Con, then two seats opened up and I felt gracious enough to let the other two go for me. I sulked, drank heavily that night, then woke up and purchased Fun Home from amazon right away. I’m still sad, but it’s good to see pictures!! Keep goin, girl.

  21. Deena in OR says:

    So UN-pc…

    From a frequent flier…thanks for all you do to keep us safe. I can’t begin to imagine the BS you have to put up with from people in an average day.


  22. van says:

    Re: the last pic– is that a death grip or what… lol

    Thanks for the Miriam Katin link. Just reading panel snippets posted there gave me goosebumps. Will definitely look for her book.

  23. Eva says:

    I think the pic with the award shows the hand of the awards presenter who kissed her on stage (and later skinny dipped in the pool).

    Thanks for posting pics of Miriam and her mom. They look like interesting people (that is, people I’d like to meet). How was the panel on reality-based graphic narratives?

  24. sk says:

    the miriam katin book, the story of her mother, the incredible tortures, starvation, deprivation, violence she survived all the while protecting and caring for her daughter in dire circumstances, yes a super hero in the real world.
    thanks for that Alison, I read her book some months back on your recommendation and am touched more than ever to see her in real life in the photo. mother and daughter. amazingly good to see them both and you there with them.

    and congratulations again on another award. what a year/s it has been. since seeing you read at Powell’s in portland 14 months ago, it’s just been celebration and award season, and much deserved.

    happy travels, safe returns. thanks for the blog

  25. So UN-pc says:

    Didn’t mean to leave quite such a rant for Tera (not Alison), but thanks Deena in OR. And in case anyone is wondering, AB is a wonderful, friendly and compliant passenger. 😉

  26. Ellen Orleans says:

    Hey Duncan,

    Maybe you are referring to a different post in regards straight women kissing for effect at awards shows, but if you are referencing mine from the “madding” section, you might want to read it again.

    Nothing in there about dour disappoving, just questions about the point of “shock value kissing.” It sounds as if Ellen F. and Alison put their kiss into an ironic context referencing Madonna and Brit, or at least one beyond “let’s play lesbian,” which celebrities seem to do these days. Have you heard Catie Curtis’ song, “Radical?”

    If my comment was the “stupidest thing” you’ve *ever* read, I suggest you read the Bush administration’s justification for the Iraq War, torture of “enemy combatants,” and the gay marriage ban. Just for perspective.

    Duncan wrote:
    Which reminds me, speaking of “appropriateness,” someone was dourly disapproving of Alison’s victory kiss at the Eisner’s. Something about how because two straight girls did it, lesbians shouldn’t? One of the stupidest things I’ve ever read, and alas, I’ve read plenty.

  27. The AstroDyke says:

    Thanks for recommending “We Are On Our Own”, Alison. I’ll pick it up at the library this evening.

    (Pretty cool, that libraries stock graphic novels.)

  28. mlk says:

    imagine Alison’s embarassment at having some airport person rummaging through her dirty underwear. guess that’s all in a day’s work for airport security.

    yes, thanks for all you do to keep us safe . . .

    I won’t speculate on whether going through a rock star’s underwear is a priviledge. y’all know what I mean!!

  29. So UN-pc says:

    We do see it all, that’s for sure. Personally, underwear is no big thingie, though I imagine it’s more than a little embarassing for the passenger to have us — quite literally — airing their dirty underwear. For me, it’s when people have things vibrating in their bags and we have to go inside and see what it is that the checkpoint gets interesting…;) (FYI – It’s usually a Sonicare. Usually.)

  30. Deena in OR says:

    I just watched an old episode of The “L” Word yesterday in which Alice and Dana were going through airport security with an assortment of “toys” in their carry-on. The x-ray signature of a battery operated item triggered a hand search of their bag, which also contained a strap-on and harness. Alice matter-of-factly modeled (clothed) its function, and they moved on. The (female) screener grinned and said “Have fun….”

  31. Deena in OR says:

    Re: Miriam and her mom-

    The youngest Holocaust survivors are now 62 at a minimum. The youngest WWII vets and adult survivors are in their late 70’s and up. Thank you, Miriam, Mom, and AB for continuing to make sure that their herstories aren’t forgotten or lost. Precious details and pieces of our collective past disappear undocumented each day.

    If I could get a grant to fund it, I’d spend the rest of my working life touring senior centers, assisted living facilities, and nursing homes taping and transcribing all the oral histories I could. We’re losing the wisdom and experience of a generation-to our peril.

    Deena…stepping off her soapbox.

  32. Feminista says:

    You’re so right,Deena,about the need to preserve the wonderful stories of our elders. My parents lived through the Depression,WW II,the McCarthy era,and the social movements of the 60s and 70s,among other things. I’m so glad they shared their lives with me and left me 3 volumes of family history photos and documents spanning 5 generations.

    My cousin Paul in Mpls.works at a wonderful retirement community,where one of his duties is to write for their newsletter. He’s done some great oral history interviews. One of the most interesting ones was about an African American woman,103,who still lives semi-independently; apparently she was the daughter of slaves who later came north.

  33. A Reader says:

    Alison’s presentation at Comic-con got a nice nod in an article in the NY Times today.


  34. pablito says:

    Hello. I live in Mallorca, a little island in the Mediterranean Sea. I just want to say is that your comics are great!

    We have only trhee books translate in spanish but I hope we will have more soon.

    Congratulations for your work!!

  35. Jo says:

    Wrapping a fantastic award in your dirty knickers?! Shame on you!

    Congratulations. The book is amazing.

  36. Deena in OR says:

    Minneapolis commenters…I hope I’m not presuming on Alison’s space, but it would be nice if y’all checked in.

  37. shadocat says:

    Yes Minneaoplis people-some of us worry. I’ve been told I worry too much, but still, I do. I have lots of family in that area, and haven’t connected with them yet—I’m hoping no new is good news.

    I just finished “We Are On Our Own”. There hasn’t been an adjective created yet to describe how good this book is. This is what war is really about, not governments, or who wins what battle. It’s about everyday people, and how they survive the terrible things that happen. Everybody should read this book. Thanks, Alison, for bringing it to my attention.

  38. judybusy says:

    This Twin Citian is safe, if shaken. Thanks for checking in!

  39. Maggie Jochild says:

    To Kat from Berserkely: The bickies are here! I just received a HUGE package of McVities (regular digestives, caramel-chocos, ginger nuts, Hobnobs) plus Maltesers, a mile-long strip of Penguins, and the Jaffa cakes (chocolate AND orange, how utterly radical). I’m eating the Jaffas as I type this.

    You are THE WOMAN! Myra and Ginny both thank you profusely, and Myra is insisting you go into the book, after all, so we’re working on that.

    Love to you, and to the East Bay!

  40. DeLandDeLakes says:

    Minneapolis commuter checking in here- I and everyone I know are okay, but thanks for the concern, Deena and Shadowcat. I will say that everyone is pretty badly shaken up here in the twin cities. Nothing like this has ever really happened before (this area is not prone to earthquakes), and speaking as an eyewitness to the immediate post-collapse situation, it was truly a horrible sight. It is looking now like there are not going to be nearly as many fatalities as we first feared, but the recovery and rebuilding process is going to be long, expensive, and traumatic, and it may be a year or more before we know exactly what caused it. Anyway, thanks again for all your concern, and if you want to do something to help, don’t forget to donate blood, and urge your congressional representative to support federal aid to Minneapolis!

  41. pd says:

    Rereading ‘Fun Home’ for the first time since last summer and just spotted the copy of “Anna Karenina” that Bruce was reading on page one. About as obvious as “Rosebud” in “Citizen Kane”. Great, now I have to read the whole thing again *upside down* to make sure I haven’t missed anything.

  42. pd says:

    Did I just compare “Fun Home” to “Citizen Kane”? 🙂

  43. clara_lemlich says:

    another minneapolis person checking in… while i agree with DeLandDeLakes that it will be years before we know exactly what caused the collapse, it’s clear that the no-taxes/no infrastructure coupled with $ to stadiums and war and such and not to bridge replacement– ideologically– is at the root of what happened.

    there’s lots of people writing about this– one great article is http://www.workdayminnesota.org/index.php?news_6_3206 so, if you’re reading this blog and think (as i might if i didn’t live here) that this whole bridge thing doesn’t have anything to do with me or my hometown, you might want to reconsider as the neoliberal agenda is everywhere…just ask grover norquist whose goal is still to have a govt that’s small enough to flush down the toilet.

  44. shadocat says:

    Will do Deland…I saw the video of the bridge coming down, and it was truly frightening. We have some of the worst bridges in the country right here in Missouri, and I, lapsed Catholic that I am, have been known to rattle off a quick “Act of Contrition” when going over some of the bridges in my town. If any good comes out of this at all, it will be that states will take a second look at their infrastructure, and realize how important it is to keep it in good repair.

  45. Maggie Jochild says:

    The southern stretch of I-35 runs one block west of me here in Austin. There’s no state in the union that can afford their share of the cost to rebuild our eroding infrastructure (dams, bridges, water supplies, electric grids). At least the MSM are, however tentatively, reporting the connection between Minnesota’s Pawlenty tax cuts for the rich and this consequence, as well as the likely cost of national infrastructure repair (in the trillions). Meanwhile, California’s system of homes for the disabled and elderly, plus basic food supplies to poor children, is about to go under (like, within a week) because the Republicans in California’s state government won’t pass a budget until the environmental protective measures responding to global warming are removed. And Bush wants to “modernize” the FISA rules.

    We are in deep trouble. ITMF NOW. Lives are at stake.

  46. DeLandDeLakes says:

    I too lived in Missouri for five years, Shadocat, and I well remember the generally despicable state of roads, bridges, and the whole bloody infrastructure. I hope that our example causes legislators in MO and elsewhere in the nation to get a clue and realize that you cannot run a state that is at once progressive, economically robust, and safe for its citizens without spending any fucking money on it.

  47. Robin B. says:

    On a totally different topic: did anyone else see today’s Zippy comic strip? There’s a reference to Alison in it. Enjoy:


  48. Kat says:

    neat, Robin, thanks.
    on a separate note, do all Caspar’s hot dog places look alike? Because that one resembles the building on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland (bay area)…

    To the Minneapolis folks: thanks for checking in. I’m glad to hear that you’re (physically) safe.

  49. Maggie Jochild says:

    Kat, my chocosupplier — Zippy the Pinhead I think first gained a public in the Bay Area. Certainly the artist makes a point of honoring real “roadside attractions” and unusual eating places around the country, but has many times focused on Bay Area joints, like the old Doggie Diners (I don’t think they have them any more in the Bay Area, do they?) And yeah, I know that Caspers, I’m sure it IS the one in Oakland. I used to eat there often. Also Biff’s — that still around? Oscars, Fat Apples, Mama Royal’s. But the best, of course, was the Brick.

  50. a different Emma says:

    Entirely unrelated to most of the above conversations, here’s a little bit of disheartening news from Canada, where same-sex couples can (sometimes) get married, but had better not try and fly the rainbow flag over certain town halls.


  51. pd says:

    For some good news from Canada, their gay cabinet minister is getting married.


  52. Alex K says:

    @pd: Yes. ANNA KARENINA.

    “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

    I saw that on my first reading of FUN HOME, and shivered. Yes, with gooseflesh and anticipation. I wasn’t disappointed.

  53. Robin B. says:

    I just realized that the link to the Zippy strip changed (it now links to TODAY’s strip, which doesn’t refer to Fun Home). Here’s the strip with the reference:


    It’s weird: I almost never read Zippy, but something told me to the other day… Maybe I saw the word “lesbian” out of the corner of my eye.

  54. --MC says:

    Nobody saw the article on the SD Con in the NYT on Sunday?
    You could also listen to Alison Bechdel confess that, following her acclaimed graphic memoir “Fun Home,” she feels “paralyzed” about what to do next. This unadorned, touchingly honest admission, voiced during a panel on gays in comics, is the kind of thing that Ms. Bechdel’s fans might read in an interview or perhaps on her blog (dykestowatchoutfor.com), but hearing it firsthand added to its poignancy. It made her human, accessible, one of us rather than one of them.

  55. pd says:

    Alex K, I was thinking more of the way she died rather than the general unhappiness.

  56. Ellen Orleans says:

    MC — regarding the NYT articles, yup, someone noted it about 22 comments back.

    I guess the good thing about huge conventions is that nearly anyone can find a subject to relate to.

    Denver is supposed to have an international comic thing in the Summer of 2008, right before the Democratic Convention. It will be interesting to see who is partaking in more of a fantasy- costumed comics fans or convention delegates.

  57. straight girl fan says:

    Hi pd,

    I never made it through Anna Karenina, because it was too sad. (Not the tragic love story – yawn – but the heart-breakingly realistic descriptions of what was happening to the land and the peasantry.) So spoil the ending for us: how is Anna Karenina like Fun Home?

  58. --MC says:

    Oh, yeah, thanks, Ellen. I saw it in the print edition, which was on Sunday. Damned out-of-touch print media ..

  59. pd says:

    straight girl fan: I didn’t read it either. 🙂 I looked it up in Wikipedia. Anna commits suicide by throwing herself in front of a train.

    I knew a train was involved because of a humorous parody song on Volume 3 of the “Forbidden Broadway” CD series. Their version of the tune “On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe” has the title “On the Ashkebad, Tblisi and Kiev Express”. It was a spoof of the musical version of Anna Karenina.

  60. Alex K says:

    @pd: Oh, OK. That “All happy families…” line is one of the generally acknowledged Famous First Lines (“I dreamt last night I went to Manderley again”, REBECCA – choose your own favourites) and so I saw the book title as parallelism / foreshadowing.

    But hey, under a train, under a truck. 8^)

  61. miriam katin says:

    I love Allison’s face smiling or not.
    So touched to be on line with her and my mother who by the way is only 89.
    She loved the Comic-Con and made sure she got all the marvelous shopping bags, (sometimes elbowed her way into the wild crowd) slap bracelets etc.
    On the Drawn&Quarterly Blog, you can see us too wearing the CAT masks I came
    accross. So, we too sometimes want to be Cat Women.
    Thanks for the interest,

    Miriam katin

  62. Ginjoint says:

    Miriam, I bought & read your book last night. I finished it around midnight. The bravery of your mother (and you, even though -especially because?- you were so small) astounds and humbles me. Thank you.

    I’ve often wondered where God is too. Well, okay, I do that on a daily basis.

    I’ve also read both Guy Delisle’s books in English. _Pyongyang_ also gave me a glimpse of life under crushing control and a maniacal drive for some perverted ideal.

  63. sheila markin says:

    Hi Alison. I was reading Manohla Dargis’s article in the New York times about Comics-con convention in San Diego (I check out all superhero stuff because of my 12 year-old grandson, Sam, who is obsessed with them).There was a lovely paragraph about you. Not bad! It’s always wonderful to be selected for a New York Times comment. I wonder if Linda saw the article. I will send her a copy of it. sheila

  64. PhillyH says:

    I’m not sure why anyone would remark on Alison’s smile/lack thereof when she looks so damn good in this photo!

    Alison-your arms look amazing…you are an inspiration to all of us other ’70’s girls’ (when we became sexual…not when we were born!) to keep using our free weights and walking and eating well.