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01May

Yoga, karate, skiing … Alison Bechdel on her lifelong obsession with exercise

Ever since she was a child, the Fun Home cartoonist has been fascinated by fitness. The cartoonist talks about the ‘salvation’ of running, polyamory and being seduced by a fan

The first obsession, for Alison Bechdel, was with karate. In her early 20s and fresh out of college, the artist and writer turned up on a whim to an all-women’s karate class (this was the early 80s in New York), became swiftly addicted, and a year later, after training five nights a week, popped out the other end with a black belt. After that, in swift succession, came fanatical attachments to skiing, cycling, yoga, running, climbing, aerobics and weight training. “Due to space constraints,” she writes in The Secret to Superhuman Strength, her graphic memoir about these obsessions and the quest for enlightenment that drove them, “I have not touched on my passion for in-line skating.”

This is Bechdel’s third graphic memoir, her breakthrough first book, 2006 blockbuster Fun Home, was rapturously received by critics and readers. With painstaking detail and mordant humour, Bechdel detailed growing up in rural Pennsylvania in a family that, if it didn’t turn her into a writer exactly, certainly bequeathed her a life-long wealth of material. (In short: Bechdel’s parents, who were teachers, ran a part-time funeral home, and just as Bechdel was starting to come out as a lesbian, her closeted gay father died in a presumed suicide.) A few years later, an obscure reference she’d made in a cartoon strip to misogyny in movies was re-discovered and the Bechdel Test, as it became widely known – the requirement that a movie should include at least one scene in which two women talked to each other about something other than men – made her a household name.

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