Alison Bechdel has played a major role in bringing graphic novels into the mainstream, with her 2006 graphic memoir, Fun Home, becoming a commercial and critical hit that spawned a Tony Award-winning musical adaptation a decade later. It’s been eight years since the release of Bechdel’s Fun Home follow-up, Are You My Mother?, but she returns with a new full-length graphic memoir next year: The Secret To Superhuman Strength, shifting focus away from her family to explore the intersection between exercise and creativity in her personal life. The A.V. Club has an exclusive first look at the cover of Bechdel’s new book from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, showing the cartoonist stretching in front of the exercise equipment that helps her unlock her artistic mind.
“I knew I wanted to write a book about my lifelong relationship with exercise,” says Bechdel. “But what I kept finding myself actually writing about was my relationship to my creativity, in particular my struggle to be more spontaneous in my work. Pursuing a bodily discipline like yoga or biking is a way of shutting your yammering mind up, which of course is helpful for one’s creativity. But everyone knows that. What I try to do in the book is go in and look at exactly how these two strands intertwine over the course of my whole life, six decades so far, and it’s a long, strange trip.”
Bechdel’s personal journey has aligned with the rise of fitness culture in the latter half of the 20th century, and she’s seen a lot of ridiculous trends in that time. “The most outlandish exercise fad I’ve tried is ‘Insanity,’ Sean T’s maniacal jumping-up-and-down-till-you-can’t-any-more workout,” says Bechdel. “I guess it’s not so outlandish for young people, but if you’re over 50, it’s definitely beyond the pale.”
The subject matter is very different from Bechdel’s previous memoirs, but like those books, The Secret To Superhuman Strength is enriched by the works of philosophers and literary figures. Jack Kerouac’s writing plays an especially integral role as Bechdel similarly seeks self-transcendence in the great outdoors. Readers can preorder the hardcover now and join Bechdel on this quest to enlightenment when The Secret To Superhuman Strength goes on sale May 4, 2021.