Stay 'Tooned: How the Shift From Comic Strip to Comic Book Affected the Reception of Alison Bechdel's "Dykes to Watch Out For"

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It is well documented that Alison Bechdel’s Dykes to Watch Out For (1983 – 2008) originated as a syndicated comic strip. Despite this, the majority of research on this work focuses only on its later publication as a collection of comic books and fails to consider either Dykes’ reception by newspaper readers or how the format change affected how the strips were perceived. In this paper, I analyze how this shift from newspaper comic strips to comic books affected Dykes’ reception.
I show how consuming the strips within the comic book, where readers could read multiple episodes concurrently, and where the strips were removed from their newspaper paratext, affected how the content was interpreted. I argue that reader interaction increased when they read the strip as comic books – a genre with a strong history of fan letter writing. I further show how the types of interaction changed depending on how readers consumed the material: when it was consumed in book form compared to reading a new installment every other week, reader responses changed from participatory storytelling (suggesting new story arcs, etc.) to offering only reactions to the published material. To analyze these trends, I rely on my archival research from the Alison Bechdel Archives in the Sophia Smith Collection held at Smith University, particularly the fan mail Bechdel received in response to her strip.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 9 Nov 2023

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