From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. This ongoing comic strip chronicles the lives of a tight-knit group of lesbian friends over an astounding 21 years of life, work, love, boredom, political activism and countless reversals of fortune. At its heart are six women: the promiscuous Lois, a feminist bookstore clerk with a penchant for gender-bending; her two roommates, the overworked academic Ginger and self-identified bisexual lesbian Sparrow; their domestically partnered friends Clarice and Toni; and Mo, who despite (or perhaps because of) her frequent politically charged outbursts of neurosis is the hub of her circle. These characters, flawed but endearing, are brought to life by Bechdels quirky artistic sensibility. Facial expressions are carefully nuanced, and she seems to take great joy in using small details to differentiate emotions. Late in the collection, when a character receives treatment for cancer, a tiny caret in her cheek is enough to transform her from a fresh-faced mischief-maker into a sallow and frightened chemo patient. What cannot be overemphasized is the sheer scope of the collection, which follows these women from idealistic young adulthood to contentedly disillusioned middle age and, for some, parenthood. All eventually end up a little more haggard than they began, but there isnt one whose Bechdel-illustrated bags under her eyes were not hard fought for and hard won. (Nov.)
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*Starred Review* The greatest lesbian soap opera—527 episodes and, though suspended at the moment, counting—is Bechdel’s miraculously well-sustained chronicling of a circle of friends over the course of 20 years, Dykes to Watch Out For. Like its only possible peer among current comic strips, Lynn Johnston’s For Better or Worse, and its great forebear, Frank King’s GasolineAlley, Dykes plays out in real time. Characters age, change, see their parents die, and have children. Basically, everything revolves around erstwhile radical lesbian Mo, whose worries for the future persist as she and her friends realize their dreams. Life does get better for gay people, though struggles continue, as the determined-to-be-transgender preteen son of a newer cast member and the dissolution of two long-lived lesbian marriages remind them and us. Mo’s kvetching centrality is complemented by the chorus of skewed radio and TV commentary and headlines that strikingly often intones a satirical leitmotiv under the characters’ conversation, which is always pitch-perfect for the highly intelligent, well-educated, earnestly committed, and witty bunch they are. Bechdel’s comics autobiography Fun Home (2006) has brought her much greater general attention than Dykes ever did, but make no mistake—the strip is her masterpiece. --Ray Olson
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