06 April 2009

Alison Bechdel’s Em Dashes

The New York Times Book Review touched up its credentials as a leading voice in criticism a bit last month by having memoirist Alison Bechdel review a prose book in comics form.

In the magazine's little "Up Front" meta-feature, Bechdel talked about the challenges of that approach. One detail caught my eye:

“Comics take a little more space to cover the same ground,” she said. “They also take more time — I’m pretty sure this took me much, much longer than a written review would have. By the second round of copy editing, as I was adding em dashes and changing word breaks by hand like a printer’s devil, I started to curse the whole undertaking.”
And indeed Bechdel’s review includes em dashes--one in a quotation from the book and one in Bechdel’s commentary on that quotation in the same panel.
As Oz and Ends has discussed before, standard American comics style eschews the em dash in favor of the double hyphen. I wondered if Bechdel was adapting to the NYTBR style in this review, but I managed to find one of her Dykes to Watch Out For strips with an em dash. (It took a while. Perhaps her characters are more apt to speak in complete sentences than other folks in comics, or for some reason less prone to interrupt each other.)

I'm convinced Bechdel made a conscious choice to go against the standard on this little point. She's a dictionary fan who even coined the joke, "Does 'anal-retentive' have a hyphen?" back in 1990.

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