Alison Bechdel was born on September 10, 1960 to a Catholic family in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania. Both her parents, Helen and Bruce, were teachers who also owned a funeral home. Bechdel came out as a lesbian at age 19, and her sexuality and gender are central to her voice and her work.
In addition to being a cartoonist, Bechdel is best-known for creating what is known as the "Bechdel Test." To pass the Bechdel Test, a film must first have at least two female characters. Those characters must talk to each other about something other than a man. Bechdel introduced the idea in a 1985 comic strip, but it wasn't until her work became more widespread that the Bechdel Test became a popular term.
Bechdel attended Simon's Rock College and graduated from Oberlin College in 1981 with a double major in studio art and art history. She also studied German, Greek, French, and semiotics. After college, she moved to Manhattan, where she worked as a word processor in an accounting firm. That job gave her time to practice drawing. Unfortunately, she was rejected from all the art schools to which she applied. However, in June 1983, the feminist newspaper WomanNews published Bechdel's single-panel comic drawing, entitled "Marianne, dissatisfied with the morning brew: Dykes to Watch Out For, plate no. 27."
This idea developed into "Dykes to Watch Out For," a multi-panel comic strip about a group of lesbians named Mo, Lois, Sydney, Sparrow, Ginger, and Clarice. It was published by Firebrand Books in 1986, and Bechdel continued to write about the main characters. By 1990, she was a full-time cartoonist. "Dykes to Watch Out For" was syndicated in many publications around the country. Bechdel continued drawing it until 2008.
In February 2004, Bechdel married Amy Rubin, whom she had been dating since 1994. The pair separated in 2006. Fun Home is Alison Bechdel's first graphic memoir, published in 2006. In 2012, Bechdel published her second graphic memoir, Are You My Mother? Later that year, she received a Guggenheim Fellowship.
Over the course of her career, Bechdel's work has appeared in Slate, McSweeney’s, Entertainment Weekly, The New York Times Book Review, and Granta. She currently lives in Bolton, Vermont with her partner, painter Holly Rae Taylor and their cat, Donald.