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Alison Bechdel papers

 Collection
Identifier: SSC-MS-00633

Scope and Contents

The Alison Bechdel papers document the illustrative and written works created by Alison Bechdel. It includes extensive drafts, drawings, and notes (referred to by Bechdel as sketches) that formed the basis for her comics from the mid-1980s onwards. Other material includes business correspondence, character and topic development files, manuscript edits, fan mail, interviews, reviews, publicity materials, and merchandise.

The development of Bechdel's art, including Dykes to Watch Out For, can be traced through the chronological set of sketches in Series 1 and the project files in Series 2. In addition to Dykes to Watch Out For, the collection contains substantial material on her books Fun Home and Are You My Mother? Servants to the Cause and numerous small projects are also well documented.

Dates of Materials

  • 1975 - 2021

Creator

Language of Materials

The collection is primarily in English, with a few items in French, Spanish, and Japanese.

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research use without restriction beyond the standard terms and conditions of Smith College Special Collections.

Conditions Governing Use

Alison Bechdel has retained copyright in her artwork donated to Smith College. To the extent that she owns it, Alison Bechdel has assigned the copyright in all other materials in this collection to Smith College; however, copyright in other items in this collection may be held by their respective creators.

For reproductions of materials that are governed by fair use as defined under U. S. Copyright Law, no permission to cite or publish is required. For instances which may regard materials in the collection not created by Alison Bechdel, researchers are responsible for determining who may hold materials' copyrights and obtaining approval from them. Researchers do not need anything further from Smith College Special Collections to move forward with their use.

Biographical / Historical

Alison Bechdel was born in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania to Bruce Allen Bechdel--high school English teacher, antiques dealer, and funeral director--and Helen Fontana Bechdel--high school English teacher and amateur actress. Her family also owned and operated a funeral home, dubbed the Fun Home by Bechdel and her two brothers.

Bechdel earned her A.A. in 1979 from Simon's Rock Early College (now Simon's Rock of Bard College) and her B.A. from Oberlin College in 1981. She applied to many art schools but was rejected. She worked in various publishing industry office jobs in New York City from 1981 to 1985, and as a production writer for Equal Time in Minneapolis, MN from 1986 to 1990. According to the autobiographical The Indelible Alison Bechdel, she began "Dykes to Watch Out For" (DTWOF) as a single drawing labeled: "Marianne, dissatisfied with the morning brew: Dykes to Watch Out For, plate no. 27." An acquaintance recommended she send her work to Womannews newspaper, which began publishing the strip regularly beginning with the July-August 1983 issue. After a year, other outlets began running the strip, and it was syndicated in 1985.

In 1988, Bechdel began a short-lived, page-length strip about the staff of a queer newspaper, titled Servants to the Cause, for The Advocate newspaper. The success of DTWOF allowed Bechdel to quit her day job in 1990 to work on the strip full-time. Bechdel has written and drawn autobiographical strips, has done illustrations for magazines and websites, and has written numerous books, including Dykes to Watch Out For (1986), More Dykes to Watch Out For (1988), New Improved! Dykes to Watch Out For (1990), Unnatural Dykes to Watch Out For (1995), Hot, Throbbing Dykes to Watch Out For (1997), The Indelible Alison Bechdel: Confessions, Comix and Miscellaneous Dykes to Watch Out For (1998), Dykes and Sundry Other Carbon-based Life-Forms to Watch Out For (2003), Invasion of the Dykes to Watch Out For (2005), Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic (2006), The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For (2008), and Are You My Mother? (2012). Four of Bechdel's books have won Lamba Literary Awards for humor, and The Indelible Alison Bechdel won a Lambda Literary Award in the biography/autobiography category. In February 2004, Bechdel married her partner since 1992, Amy Rubin, in a civil ceremony in San Francisco; they separated in 2006. In 2015, she married Holly Rae Taylor.

Extent

61.376 linear feet (78 containers)

0.001 Gigabytes (4 files)

Abstract

Alison Bechdel is a lesbian cartoonist best known for her comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For. The collection documents her illustrative and written works. It includes extensive drafts, drawings, and notes (referred to by Bechdel as sketches) that formed the basis for her comics from the mid-1980s onwards. Other material includes business correspondence, character and topic development files, manuscript edits, fan mail, interviews, reviews, publicity materials, and merchandise.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

This collection contains material received from the donor in digital form that is not currently available online. Please consult with Special Collections staff or email specialcollections@smith.edu to request access to this digital content.

Computer media and audiovisual material created by others and sent to Bechdel may be used in the Reading Room, assuming that Special Collections has the equipment to play them. Contact specialcollections@smith.edu for information about what types of equipment is available

Appraisal

Two linear feet of financial records were returned to the donor in November 2021.

During processing in February-April 2022, an additional 0.25 linear feet of financial records, 0.25 linear feet of personnel (intern) records, 0.5 linear feet of clippings and other ephemera collected by Bechdel's aunt and uncle, 0.5 linear feet of duplicate papers, 1 linear foot of duplicate merchandise, and two unreadable floppy disks were separated and are pending return to the donor.

Computer media and audiovisual material created by others and sent to Bechdel were retained as evidence of response to her work, but assessed as not requiring migration or digitization to preservation storage prior to use.

Accruals

Periodic additions to collection are expected.

Processing Information

Initial processing of the collection was undertaken soon after the first donation arrived in 2008. Bechdel's sketches, which arrived in large plastic tubs, were rehoused in boxes while maintaining their original chronological order. About half of the sketches were foldered and described during this process (boxes 7-10B).

From February to April 2022, the collection was processed by Collections Archivist Dan Michelson and student assistants Vivian DeRosa, Beata Knecht, and Grace Hartley. Processing was based on a plan written by former Processing Archivist Madison White in 2019. The remaining sketches were foldered and described (still maintaining original intellectual order, with minor adjustments to the physical order for preservation) and the rest of the collection was physically and intellectually arranged into six series based largely on how Bechdel grouped them and described.

One floppy disk was copied to networked storage for preservation; the original directory and file structure was retained. Two floppy disks (labeled as containing mailing lists) were unable to be copied.

Creator

Source

Title
Finding Aid to the Alison Bechdel papers
Status
Legacy Finding Aid (Updated)
Author
Dan Michelson, Vivian DeRosa, Grace Hartley, and Beata Knecht
Date
April 2022
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
English
Script of description
Latin

Revision Statements

  • 07/26/2017: This resource was modified by the ArchivesSpace Preprocessor developed by the Harvard Library (https://github.com/harvard-library/archivesspace-preprocessor)
  • 2017-07-26T17:48:23-04:00: This record was migrated from InMagic DB Textworks to ArchivesSpace.
  • 2019/02/01: Edited to reflect additional materials
  • 2022-05-02: Updated to reflect processing

Repository Details

Part of the Sophia Smith Collection of Women's History Repository

Contact:
Neilson Library
7 Neilson Drive
Northampton MA 01063