The 2014 MacArthur Fellows were announced today, and among the pack of very impressive (and impressively diverse; nice work, MacArthur people!) brainiacs is ThinkProgress favorite Alison Bechdel. The brilliant cartoonist and graphic memoirist has explored the everyday lives of lesbians in her comic strip, Dykes To Watch Out For, which ran from 1983 to 2008. Her other works include Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, based on Bechdel’s discovery, after her father’s death, that he was gay but never came out, and Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama, in which Bechdel turns the focus on her mother and their distant, fractured relationship.
But Bechdel is perhaps most widely known for her contribution to the pop culture lexicon in the feminist metric that bears her name, The Bechdel Test. For the uninitiated, a movie passes the Bechdel Test if (1) there are at least two women in it (2) who talk to each other (3) about something other than a man. She introduced the idea in a 1985 “Dykes To Watch Out For” strip called “The Rule.” She wrote that strip when she was only 25 years old, in case you wanted to feel like an underachiever this morning.
Bechdel, who sounds like she is already living the dream — she is in Italy right now, at an artist residency — will receive a stipend of $625,000 over five years. She can spend it however she likes. She can exchange it for change and swim around in it like Scrooge McDuck. But Bechdel told The L.A. Times that she had other plans for her cash: “It will give me a lot of security that I don’t have. Pay off some debts, save for retirement — really boring stuff,” she said, adding later that the prize will free her to “take some risks, do something new — to really plunge into my work. It’s an incredible gift.”
To this I say: HOORAY. Hooray for grants that exist solely to reward stunning intellectual achievements and possibility, for the use of the word “genius” to mean something genuinely impressive and not just “guy who works at the Apple store,” and for the recognition of comics and graphic novels as serious works of literary and artistic merit. (Before Bechdel, the only graphic novelist to win the prestigious fellowship was Ben Katchor in 2000.) Check out the rest of this year’s class of Geniuses here.