Cartoonist Laureate Alison Bechdel in WRJ

Center for Cartoon Studies hosted Bechdel's laurels ceremony.

MacArthur Genius Award winner Alison Bechdel is Vermont's new Cartoonist Laureate. On April 6, after an official ceremony at the State House in Montpelier, Bechdel was celebrated at the Center for Cartoon Studies (CCS) in White River Junction VT. As is the custom, the previous Cartoonist Laureate Ed Koren "presented the laurels" to Bechdel.

Center for Cartoon Studies, White River Junction, Vermont (photos by Abe Olson)

Alison Bechdel is a noted cartoonist and author who lives in Bolton VT. In 1983, she launched her comic strip Dykes To Watch Out For; it ran for a famed 25 years until 2008. More recently, Bechdel authored Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, a graphic novel which was named as a Best Book of 2006 (New York Times), and the first of 10 Best Books of the Year (Time Magazine). It was also a National Book Award finalist. Fun Home was adapted for the stage and in 2015 won 5 Tony Awards, including Best Musical. In response to the November 2016 presidential election, Bechdel resurrected her Dykes characters, older and just a little more weathered-looking, for a handful of cartoons commenting on the looming political change of the contemplated Trump presidency. 

Alison Bechdel speaks to her audience at the Center for Cartoon Studies.

After being presented with an "application waiver" by CCS, Bechdel spoke about her work to an audience of spectators and student cartoonists. Her theme was spontaneity versus control, illustrated by presentations of her cartoons from childhood, when her drawing was freer and she "couldn't wait to get to the next page." The cartoon strip and the graphic novels that followed required more structure. She commented on her early work in the 1980s, when the world was much more hostile to gay and lesbian individuals and to the subject matter of her cartoons, and how much change has occurred over the past few decades, including the rights of same-sex people to marry. Bechdel is currently working on her third book, The Secret to Superhuman Strength, inspired in part by old Charles Atlas advertisements of her childhood. 

Center for Cartoon Studies student Dan Nott preparing to take notes and sketch while awaiting Alison Bechdel's arrival

Film aficionados know Bechdel for "the Bechdel test." (Bechdel confessed that she "stole the idea" from an astute friend, but is happy to have her name associated with its popularization.) It assesses the active presence of women in works of fiction by asking 3 questions about a film: 1) Are there more than two women in it? 2) Are they having a conversation, and 3) If so, is the conversation about something other than a man? Only 48% of movies pass the test. "What is the Bechdel test?" was an answer to the final question on Jeopardy last week. 

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Vermont is the only state that appoints a Cartoonist Laureate. Bechdel is Vermont's third, following James Kolchalka and Ed Koren. She will serve a three-year term. As Koren removed the ceremonial laurel wreath from his own head and placed it on Bechdel's, ending his own reign, he declared Bechdel a "laureate to watch out for."

---The pen is mightier than the sword, folks.--How about the poleax? Is it mightier than the poleax? (dialogue between two characters in a Bechdel cartoon)

(Photo of Alison Bechdel courtesy of wikicommons. Abe Olson photos can be found at


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Susan B. Apel, writer, ArtfulEdge


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