Saturday, April 24, 2010

Alison Bechdel and I are BFF!!

Well, not really. But I did get to spend quite a bit of time in her presence, attending a workshop she led in the morning and a talk she gave with Harvey Pekar as part of UCLA Live. What? You're not sure who Alison Bechdel is? Have you heard of "Dykes to Watch Out For"? That's her. For those who haven't frequented Lesbian/Womyn bookstores in the past 20 years, or read any alternative press for about that long, she's also the author of an amazing graphic memoir, Fun Home. It was on a slew of "Best Books of 2006" lists. If you haven't gotten into graphic novels yet, I'd say this would be a good book to start with. It's an account of her childhood, growing up with a father who was a closeted gay man, English teacher, part-time mortician, and probable suicide. Her discovery of her father's secret life, plus her own coming out as a lesbian, makes for really poignant, and hilarious, reading. The graphic elements give her memoir an artfulness, but also a touching vulnerability. I highly recommend it. It's only $10 bucks, for god's sake. Well worth it.

In person, Ms. Bechdel is slim, self-deprecating and very endearing. Plus a snappy dresser. She was giving a workshop for a UCLA communications class, and my good friend Meryl, a Grand Pooba at UCLA live, offered me a chance to attend. Though my drawing skills fall somewhat between those of a two-year-old's and drunken chickens scratching in the dirt,  my novel has several graphic novel interludes in it so I thought I would be foolish not to jump at such a golden opportunity.

The workshop was quite inspiring. She read a chapter of her memoir while displaying the artwork on an overhead projector, then gave a rundown on how she approaches creating her panels. It's a combination of adobe illustrator for the layout, pencil sketches, inking, and a special digital font for the lettering (made from her own handwriting). Then she gave us all a chance to make our own graphic story. We took a piece of paper, folded it in half, and divided it into panels. She wanted us to tell a story of family conflict.

Where to begin.

I ended up recounting the the summer my mother moved out of the house while my father was away on business. She took all the furniture and my 2 younger sisters, leaving my oldest sister and I alone in the empty home. Best summer ever. Working on the art panels and listening to Alison's own stories of family made me realize what a lot of material I'd have if I wanted to go spelunking into my own family history. Maybe my next project...

That night I attended the "Titans of the Graphic Novel" talk. Harvey Pekar was kinda a fascinating train wreck (as only Harvey can be)—

-but Alison was prepared, thoughtful, and quite fond of Harvey, I think. In the Q&A that followed someone asked her who would play her in a movie of her book (like Paul Giamatti did for Harvey in "American Splendor"). She couldn't think of a female actress, and offered up David Schwimmer as a male counterpart. I've got my own opinion about that.

I think Alison Bechdel—

—is the secret love child of Dan Savage and the THIN Tony Kushner.

Am I right or am I right? Discuss.

Monday, April 19, 2010

I Touch the Big O

I thought the very first post on my new blog would be about my novel, the trials and tribulations of getting an agent, my work on "Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness," but no, this blog has been preempted by a Presidential address:

I saw Barack Obama today!

Doug and I attended a rally/fundraiser at the California Science Center for Barbara Boxer, our Senator. The Prez was scheduled to appear. We decided to buy, not the general admission, not the VIP seats, but the admission in between, the preferred seating, because we figured, if you're going to shell out some bucks (for a great Senator), you might as well see an ACTUAL PRESIDENT, especially one that you actually like, as close as you can.
We arrive at 4 in the afternoon, stand in line (very diverse crowd) for almost an hour, watch the obligatory protesters with their giant "Obama with a Hitler mustache" banner, and finally make our way up to the registering tables, where you get your hand stamped and various color-coded bracelets slapped on indicating where they'll let you stand. We get yellow preferred seating paper bracelets wrapped around our wrist and then the woman behind the table peels off two more bracelets, red ones with the words "Party Time!" printed on them. "These will get you into the --" she whispers, but I have no idea what it's getting me into because we're whisked away to the metal detectors.

The bracelets will get us into— what? The after party? A reception with Sasha & Malia? Free popcorn at the Imax movie next door?

We go down the side aisle to the front of the room, beyond the barricade where the general admission folk are standing. Seems the preferred guests can sit in chairs to the side of the stage. But wait... we're being told that, since we have the "Party Time!" bracelets, we have the option of standing in front of the stage! I'm talking about THE FRONT. Where they park all the folks with the wheelchairs.

"We're wheelchair adjacent!" Doug whispers to me.

I have no idea how they've chosen us to be there. Maybe they needed their "gay supporter" quota filled. We're right against the railing, in shoe-throwing distance from the POTUS. I'm talking maybe 20 feet away, tops. I expect moats, or machine gun nests, or snarling dogs, but there's nothing between us and the podium but a metal rail and a couple of burly Secret Service men. Wow.

Doesn't it look like there's no one in the room
but me and an aging Joni Mitchell impersonator?

It finally begins. India.Arie (is that punctuation right?) gets on stage first and does a few songs. Very lovely. Next up is Tom Kaine, head of the DNC, and then it's the surprisingly diminutive Barbara Boxer in a purple suit! Really, she's teeny. She pumps the crowd up, and then... it's O time!

I have to admit, I don't remember what I did or hooped at that time, because I was so blown away that THE PRESIDENT IS RIGHT OVER THERE! I do remember thinking "Wow, he's so tall!" Especially next to our quasi-munchkin Senator from California. Mr. Obama is lanky, thin, and though he's still got that megawatt smile he looks drawn and tired. The man has been through a lot this year.

The crowd loves him, of course, except for a group of hecklers who interrupt him twice to demand he repeal "Don't Ask Don't Tell" immediately. Now, I'm obviously in favor of the repeal, but the heckling during his speech seemed, well, disrespectful. Which I guess is the point. But it went on even when he tried to address the issue, telling the hecklers that they were on the same side, that he agreed DADT should be repealed, but that he also had some other things to also take care of, namely, the economy. Huffington Post has a good video on the interchange:

You might hear me hooting if you listen carefully, and if you look at the slide show and see the heckler with the beard and a woman protecting her baby's head from the diatribe, well, I'm one wheelchair away from the baby.

I liked that Obama tried to engage on the issue instead of ignoring it, even though he inevitably steered it back to Barbara Boxer (who, by the way, didn't vote for DADT in the first place), since that's why he was there. Yeah, he's not been very proactive about the repeal, but for me personally, I think he's had a lot on his plate in the year and four months he's been in office, so I'm willing to give him a little slack. You know, saving the economy from financial ruin, working out an arms treaty with Russia, granting visitation rights to all couples at hospitals, capturing those scurvy pirates in Somalia... Check with me after year 3.

He took a few good shots at the Republicans, looked meaningfully into Doug's eyes (that's Doug's story and he's sticking to it) and after about 10 minutes, he was done. That's when the craziness set in. He was making his way along the rail for some handshakes and everyone made a run for a prime position. It was like being at a Who concert. Luckily I was buttressed on either side by wheelchairs so I couldn't be budged, but there was a woman behind me who was so distraught by the idea of not even getting to touch him that I gave her my spot. It wasn't that big a deal for me. Well, maybe it was, cause I did get my hand in there and kinda shook his wrist. You know, a kind of "Good job!" wrist grasp. Miraculously, my sight is now 20/20 and my torn meniscus has healed completely!

If only I were a baby, I'd get ALL of his lovin'...

And then it was over. Sigh. We shuffled out next to Hal Linden and stood outside next to the men selling sequined Obama T-shirts, blinking in the sunlight. It was almost too bright.