May 28th, 2008 | Uncategorized


As part of my debilitating self-archiving disorder, I made a little documentary while I was working on the last DTWOF strip, the final one before my sabbatical. I boiled two full days of work down to twelve minutes, but that’s still too big for YouTube, so I split it into two sections. Here’s Part One. And here’s Part Two.

Do I really expect anyone to give up twelve minutes of their life to watch me fret about my work? Don’t I have a therapist for that? Yes, I do. And perhaps you could do something useful while you watch it, like pet the cat or clip your toenails.

48 Responses to “self-documentary”

  1. Julie says:

    I’ll be cooking a tasteful chocolate-apple cake while watching your documentary, you can tell your shrink! 😛
    Thanx for all your hard work, you’re doing it marvelously.
    Cheers from Belgium

  2. Feminista says:

    A fascinating bird’s eye (cat’s eye?)look into the creative process.

    Have a productive sabbatical,and thanks for keeping us informed and entertained all these years.

  3. Molly Hein says:

    Totally riveting. The photographing of poses, the progression from handmade to digital, the paintbucket frustrations, the fire-proof safe– these are all things that aspiring artists want to know about. I can’t tell you how many times in the process of creating Classified I stopped to wonder, “How the hell does Alison Bechdel do this?” I mean, wouldn’t you love a window into the creative process of any artist you look up to?

    So– thank you.

  4. laura says:

    This is a wonderful treat, thank you!!!

    I could not help noticing how you avoided saying that it is your last dtwof strip (also how beautiful your hands are, sorry for the personal compliment, but they really look like how I imagined the hands that have been giving us all that beautiful art all along; plus that reminds me the first “date” between Mo and Sidney). One thing that also strikes me is that the deadline must have really given structure to your life. Must be unsettling (but also very healthy) to give it up.

    Thanks a lot again

  5. Frida says:

    I really enjoyed watching the documentary. Thank you for making it!

  6. Christine says:

    Thanks for doing the mini doc Alison. I am really going to miss DTWOF. It was the best thing about working at the GPC. Getting a chance to be one of the first to read your strip each episode.


  7. Randee says:

    oohh I’m so pleased that was worth the 12 minutes.. I’m such a super fan.

  8. Birka says:

    Oh my, that was amazing!!!
    Where do you take the strength and the willpower?
    Thanks for your dedication.
    Have a wonderful time off and I am looking forward to the essentials and the new book coming…

  9. Robin B. says:

    Loved the documentary, Alison. Absolutely fascinating. And I’m so glad you’re keeping the scripts in a fireproof safe! I know we share a fetish for the archive.

    Coincidentally, I’m in day two of my first sabbatical, too. I was freaked out yesterday, but today I’m loving it.

    –Robin B.

  10. Cate says:

    I loved it, Alison. Was wondering if, now that you’ve cycled through a DTWOF-free two weeks, what feels like it’s missing?

  11. Leda says:

    Hey, we come here to give up minutes of our lives so bring on the 12 minute videos! Have fun exploring new ways and working and living, a change was clearly needed and I can’t wait to see what it produces…

  12. shadocat says:

    are you still sure you wanto give it up?

  13. Eva says:

    Oh Alison, thanks for the doc.

    Your mixed feelings and vulnerability about giving up the strip (even temporarily) is so touching. It’s a priviledge to get to see how you feel about giving up the strip…it’s clearly very important to you…but also a burden you need to unload.
    Also, I could have watched you ink the strip all day. That was so cool! And getting to see the strip when it was in pencil stage, yes, I like that stage a lot…so messy and fuzzy and kind of growing before your eyes…fab.

    Thanks again

  14. Liza Cowan says:

    Thanks for the documentary. Very interesting to watch your process.

    Also, Being John Malkovitch and The 39 Steps (the first version) are two of my favorite movies. Spike Jonze (directed BJM) is my cousin and you couldn’t ask for a nicer guy. Or more brilliant. He’s doing Where The Wild Things Are now, and i can’t wait to see it.

  15. KarenE says:

    Laura…I also noticed how beautiful Allison’s hands are…I’ve had old-lady hands since I was in my twenties and envy such lovely and talented hands! great video…thank you~

  16. MikeSTL says:

    Re: Molly Hein’s reference to “paintbucket frustrations,” it appears we know the reason why Mo’s phone changed colo(u)r in the Dr. Seuss strip. 🙂

    Thanks for the strip, Allison, and thanks for the inside look into how DTWOF gets from your fertile imagination to our eager eyes. Be sure to let us know if Elisabeth Kuebler-Ross was right, please? {Allison}

  17. Leslie says:

    you are funny and sweet.
    Being Alison Bechdel!
    i want a portal.

  18. Chris says:

    I think I understand “painstaking” better now.

  19. Sonya says:

    Oh, Alison, you look so tired! I knew that a lot of work went into each strip, but I didn’t realize it was *that much*. And I imagine the amount of work has only increased exponentially over the years as your drawing style got tighter and computers made near-perfect increasingly possible. No wonder you’re tired.

    I think it’s good for you to take a break, if you’re not feelin’ the passion right now–nobody wants DTWOF to become a burden or grim obligation! I would rather that you be a happy and productive artist, and if that means putting out a full-length book (like Fun Home and your upcoming one) every few years, instead of a two-page strip every other week, then so be it.

    As an aside, what kind of pen were you using to ink the strip in at the end? I was never much of a drawer (more of oil painter, really), but even I was lusting after those pen strokes–very yummy.

    (Also, my non-artistic-but-still-devoted-to-her-writing-utensils girlfriend wants to know what pencil you were using, because it looks like “her” pencil, which I think is a Pilot G2.)

  20. Josiah says:

    Bechdel Bechdel? Bechdel Bechdel Bechdel Bechdel. Bechdel, Bechdel Bechdel. Bechdel Bechdel! Bechdel.

  21. ready2agitate says:

    My favorite part is Alison saying, “good enough.” I thought, I could never do that – I’d be potchke’ing and potchke’ing (fussing/redoing/futzing) till I ruined whatever it was I was doing.

    Reminds me of my friend once telling me, “don’t let perfect get in the way of good enough!”

    Despite how exacting and perfectionist you come across, Alison, you do know when to say basta/”finito!” ~ both in drawing and in, well, sabbatical-taking. Good for you!!! And bon voyage!

  22. Dr. Empirical says:

    I actually liked the Tintin part best. Stopping your work to make a mini-Tintin documentary is a classic procrastination bid!

  23. Hey, Dr. E! Thanks for noticing my procrastination expertise. The Tintin interpolations took forever! I had to go rootling through all the books to find those scenes, then shoot footage of them.

    Sonya, that’s a Hunt Artist’s Nib #100. And yes, indeed! That’s a Pilot G2 pencil. Though to tell you the truth I bought it by mistake and rather prefer the Pentel P205.

  24. --MC says:

    I’m going to have to get a Hunt 100 .. if there isn’t one in this big jar of nibs I got at a yard sale for ten bucks .. the new nibs I’ve been getting are so stiff and intractable, and hold big blobs of ink in wait for the perfect spot to download them onto the paper .. the older ones are more flexible and have renewed my faith in smaller nibs ..

  25. Virginia Burton says:

    Gosh, the video was so bittersweet; I’m all teary-eyed I’ll miss the strip more than I can say, but certainly you must follow your artistic heart. I know the new book will be wonderful and worth the sacrifices (yours and ours) and the angst. I feel as if I were saying goodbye to an old friend who swears we’ll keep in touch, but we both know better. I’ll check the blog from time to time, but the strip was what brought me here.

    It was a great couple of decades. Thank you for all you’ve given us.

  26. Kate L says:

    Thanks for the documentary on your creative process! 🙂 You mentioned the anachronistic white out, but a light table is almost as quaint, these days. I can remember slaving away over a light table as big as a desk, back when I was hand-drawing geologic maps for back in the 80’s. But that was long ago, when oil was $30 a barrel. Those were the days!

  27. marthe says:

    Oh. I got to see the whole dtwof drawing process. I’m happy now 🙂

  28. The Cat Pimp says:

    AB, I have a few questions. Seeing you take photos of yourself tells me why your characters have been so anatomically correct. (That was what drew me toward your work in the late 80s – it was the one with the woman waving a tennis racket at a bat.) What did you do before digital cameras? Did you have a big photo archive or ask friends to pose?

    Also, I am pondering chucking my whole computer setup and starting fresh. What do you use? Is that an Apple? What kind of software, digitizer and scanner do you have? I hope you don’t mind taking the time to answer that. Looks like you’re using a Canon powershot, which is what I have, btw. Very handy little camera.

    I am looking foward to your next book and do hope that you revisit the characters once in a while.

  29. Hey Cat Pimp.
    Before digital cameras, I looked at myself in the mirror, or got friends to pose for me, then made sketches. Eventually I got a Polaroid. But I’d only use that for particularly complicated poses, since the film was so expensive.

    My computer is a MacBook Pro, a laptop which I essentially use as a desktop computer. I’ve got it jacked up on a stand so I’m not cranking my neck to look down at it. Then I’ve got a wireless keyboard and mouse on an adjustable tray, so my hands are at the right height. For good measure I’ve got a second monitor plugged into the laptop, to give me more screen space.

    Yeah, that’s a Canon PowerShot, but it’s 5 years old. Compared to the new, tiny, zillion megapixel ones, it feels like this:

    Big cameras

    I just have a basic Epson scanner, which I use with its own clunky software. I used to scan through Photoshop, but with the latest version of Photoshop I can’t do that for some @$&#ing reason.

  30. Suzanonymous says:

    It was um.. somehow nourishing .. to watch a seasoned professional at work. Thanks so much for the video with all of its variety of elements. Way more than I expected/hoped for.

    All the best for duration of the sabbatical (though I’ll be checking in, in the meantime).

  31. Ian says:

    Watching an artist at work is always incredibly absorbing and fascinating. I was going to go on and say about how watching the video revealed something profound about the creative process, but I can’t. My creativity comes in short bursts and is intuitive.

    I think the thing I loved most was the matter-of-fact way you posed for a character studying their diary on the bed. Very practiced and perfunctory.

    One thing that’s occurred to me is that other strips appear to have become more stylized and abstracted over time (typical example Peanuts or Andy Capp, etc), whereas your strip has become more realistic as the artwork and writing improved exponentially.

  32. j.b.t. says:

    Hi Alison,

    Thank you for the movies. And for the many years of amazing, soul-nourishing, beautiful and smart work.

    I fear that your “sabbatical” will be like when people have a “trial separation” when they’re having marital problems – they hope it will be temporary, but it usually ends in divorce. 🙁 I know I sound desperate, but can you offer us any reassurance that DTWOF will come back again someday?

    Thank you,

  33. Ovidia says:

    Thank you for the mini-documentary
    Thank you for the wonderful years of DTWOF

    & Have a great sabbatical–yes, the world’s in a weird state but one of the great things about DTWOF over the years was how it made Americans real people to us far away.
    As an alternative to other exports like glossy commercial movies & make up ads (everyone in the States is straight, thin but buxom, wears impeccable make-up?) or fundamentalist Christian visiting preachers (God ‘allows’ natural disasters here because we worship other gods?) you were putting our lives on your panels–just in a different place.

    Thank you.

  34. Pam I. says:

    @ Ovidia, we don’t need to import mad fundies – one of “our” bishops in UK – Durham I think – blamed the floods that devastated Hull and the West Country last year, on same-sex marriage. Yes really. Somewhere in AB’s archive is the link I posted at the time.

    @ AB, I’d love to see what you produce with a 10″x8″ Deardoff. Look up the landscape work of Joel Meyerowitz, who makes me spit for opposite reasons to the Bish of Durham.

  35. Ian says:

    Oh, we’ve got our own fundies and Falwell types. Pam I, did you see the wonderful Julie Walters in that drama about Mary Whitehouse the other day? (Total obscure Brit reference for which I apologise).

    Especially appreciated was the sign that read Clean Up National Television sitting right behind her. Apologies to those who are offended by words like that, but Whitehouse wanted to censor all ‘unpleasant’ things from TV and radio and print, so the joke was fully appreciated from those of us who fought back.

  36. S330 says:

    I thought I recognized that “eer-eep” lens-uncovering noise, sez another proud owner of an outdated little Canon Powershot. The thing has really hung in there, ever since it was handed down to me circa 2002.

    I weep a little for the unwanted G2 pencils.

    And also for Post-menopausal Dykes To Watch Out For and sequels, though I’ll be happy to retract those tears should the time come.

  37. The Cat Pimp says:

    Thanks for the complete answer, AB. I appreciate it. Keep the powershot till it dies, I say. It does the job.

    Also, I am wondering if you, or anyone else who cares to, can tell me what software is good for simple video editing. I have little clips of things and are dreadful, because airplanes always seem to be roaring overhead (the zoo I volunteer at seems to be a destination for Cessna pilots to get free peeks at the elephants) or I have bits that can get cropped off.

    BTW – I hope you share the process in writing your book. I’m a big fan of videos showing other people working. 🙂

  38. Ian says:

    Most new Windoze PCs and laptops seem to have Microsoft Movie Maker, which is basic enough to start with though I’ve never used it. I’d love a digital video camera though.

  39. kris dresen says:

    Watching you ink really fulfilled my inner process junkie. I don’t know why the crowquill surprised me, though, since your line work clearly reflects that quality.

    Still, fascinating to see!

  40. The Cat Pimp says:

    Thanks, Ian. I figured it was something that came default with more current laptops and OSes. Mine is run by steam, bugs and coal.

  41. Ydnic says:

    I could watch you ink for hours.

  42. Pam I. says:

    @ Ian, not only did I see Julie Walters’ version of Mary Whitehouse, I met the woman herself several times when working at party conferences. She was utterly charming, as the TV programme showed.

    There have been a spate of “was she right?” articles published lately. I always did agree with her re questioning the selling of sex, but it came across as objecting to sex per se, and she couldn’t get past her homophobia. So the argument was lost, and now we have five-year-olds wearing Porn Queen T-shirts. I guess those kids’ parents are too young to have caught any of the discourse.

    To bemused/bored non-UK readers, Mrs Whitehouse created a powerful lobby group, the Viewers and Listeners Association, which aimed to Clean UP TV. It became a classic clash-of-values Sixties struggle which is still not over. But she would haved hated GodHatesFags.

  43. Susan Stinson says:

    Okay, it’s a little heavy for a sabbatical, but when’s not a good time for a poem by John Donne? Here’s a link to “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning,” which ends:

    Such wilt thou be to me, who must,
    Like the other foot, obliquely run;
    Thy firmness makes my circle just,
    And makes me end where I begun

  44. a lurker says:

    wow. this is like those parts of books I don’t like to think about, when things end…but I hope you have a great sabbatical, AB!
    I love it that you watch TV while working-I do that too. I wrote my dissertation to reruns of The Office.

  45. Noominal says:

    I did wonder what the heck u did before digital cameras. Polaroids make sense. Must have been a huge expense in film and bad shots and extra time… Did you ever use a “Lucigraph?”

    I see you have made the leap to Wacom for time-saving clean ups. Not that u need to run out and buy this, but the latest VERY COOL thing if you get a chance to play with one somewhere is the Wacom Cintiq.

    Draw directly on the screen. It costs as much as a Mac laptop, but it’s worth it for some.

    While us pre-digital diehards will never lose the love of crisp lines by india ink on paper, I have seen a lot of converts… No scanning if you can get the hang of it! For me, I doubt I can ever get past leaning heavily on one elbow while the other hand inks as I turn the paper. Plus, I’d miss the smell. 😉

  46. jude says:

    so grateful for a chance to see your process sketching/drawing/inking. amen to the woman who could just watch you ink. ( and how happy the fly on the wall of yourSelf when you are writing. sigh)

    for so many years you HAVE been the voice that synthesized the political scene for me – i could trust you to find the skeleton on which the doublespeak obscenities were draped, and always the beating heart of laughter.

    you are so relentlessly encompassing – and i am so glad you knew when to quit.
    it is no surprise – and something of a delight – to begin to take in the compulsiveness. you have done so well by your demons, alison, and by all of us.

  47. Ellen O. says:

    I could benefit from watching my own work habits as closely as this. A fantastic way to sort the clear requirements of my work and the intangible, necessary extras from the time-wasting, non-socially redeeming (as my 8th grade English teacher used to say) pure procrastination.

    Maybe I could bring in a film crew. Or just keep a time journal….

  48. L says:

    Alison, any chance your debilitating self-archiving disorder extends to the point where you would have done or would want to do a transcript for this documentary? Thought I’d check before trying to hunt down an interpreter for this YouTube video.

    –a deaf fan, who has been reading your strip for years