Beginning in the mid-'80s, long before creating the pivotal work Fun Home, Alison Bechdel began chronicling the lives and loves of a group of lesbians in a groundbreaking comic strip. Distributed mostly to gay newspapers around the country, Dykes to Watch Out For became a sensation. It can be described as a soap opera, but it's more reality-based than that. In fact, it's about as true to life as a comic can get, although it's decidedly fiction.
Dykes to Watch Out For centers around Mo, a delightfully funny and painfully observant witness of the human condition. Her group of friends includes Lois, Sydney, Sparrow, Ginger, Stuart, and Clarice. That cast changed and evolved throughout the series' two and a half decades, much as the landscape did. Therein lies the most compelling strength of The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For. Read through it and see an epic documentary of gay life in the United States unfold. Some things have changed greatly over the years, and some not so much. But watching the characters live and age in real time is both fascinating and perplexing.
Like many comic strips, Dykes to Watch Out For is interesting to read in its entirety, especially considering how it lends itself to sporadic reading, which is essentially what this collection entails. This volume culls some of the best moments and storylines from the strip's entire history. Watching the characters go through so many commonplace events, sometimes as banal as switching jobs, is fascinating in Bechdel's hands. She's got a masterly touch, which she demonstrated in Fun Home. Her talent lies in her rich subtlety, sometimes so understated it's heartbreaking. (To be sure, there's plenty of over-the-top fun in Dykes to Watch Out For as well, and it can be bawdy and raunchy with the best of 'em.)
Mo and Co. are a delightful group to get to know and spend a lot of time with. They didn't stick around for 25 years for nothing.
Reviewed by John Hogan on November 12, 2008
The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For