Fun Home has been both a popular and critical success, and spent two weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list. In The New York Times Sunday Book Review, Sean Wilsey called it "a pioneering work, pushing two genres (comics and memoir) in multiple new directions." Several publications named Fun Home as one of the best books of 2006; it was also nominated for several awards, including the National Book Critics Circle Award and three Eisner Awards (one of which it won). A French translation of Fun Home was serialized in the newspaper Libération; the book was an official selection of the Angoulême International Comics Festival and has been the subject of an academic conference in France.
Fun Home also generated controversy: a public library in Missouri removed Fun Home from its shelves for five months after local residents objected to its contents.
The narrative of Fun Home is non-linear and recursive. Incidents are told and re-told in the light of new information or themes. Bechdel describes the structure of Fun Home as a labyrinth, "going over the same material, but starting from the outside and spiraling in to the center of the story." In an essay on memoirs and truth in the academic journal PMLA, Nancy K. Miller explains that as Bechdel revisits scenes and themes "she re-creates memories in which the force of attachment generates the structure of the memoir itself." Additionally, the memoir derives its structure from allusions to various works of literature, Greek myth and visual arts; the events of Bechdel's family life during her childhood and adolescence are presented through this allusive lens. Miller notes that the narratives of the referenced literary texts "provide clues, both true and false, to the mysteries of family relations."
The memoir centers on Alison Bechdel's family but gives particular attention to her relationship with her father, Bruce. Bruce Bechdel was a funeral director and high school English teacher in Beech Creek, where Alison and her siblings grew up. The book's title comes from the family nickname for the funeral home, the family business in which Bruce Bechdel grew up and later worked. His two occupations are reflected in Fun Home's focus on death and literature.
On one level, the memoir traces Bruce Bechdel's obsession with restoring the family's Victorian home. His concentrated pursuit of this long-term aesthetic quest is connected to his emotional distance from his family, which he expressed in coldness and occasional bouts of abusive rage. This emotional distance, in turn, is connected with his closeted homosexual tendencies. Bruce Bechdel had homosexual relationships in the military and with his high school students; some of those students were also family friends and babysitters. At the age of 44, two weeks after his wife requested a divorce, he stepped into the path of an oncoming Sunbeam Bread truck and was killed. Although the evidence is equivocal, Alison Bechdel concludes that her father committed suicide.
The story also deals with Alison Bechdel's own struggle with her sexual identity, culminating in the realization that she is a lesbian and her coming out to her parents. The memoir frankly examines her sexual development, including transcripts from her childhood diary, anecdotes about masturbation, and tales of her first sexual experiences. In addition to their common homosexuality, Alison and Bruce Bechdel share obsessive-compulsive tendencies and artistic leanings, albeit with opposing aesthetic senses: "I was Spartan to my father's Athenian. Modern to his Victorian. Butch to his nelly. Utilitarian to his aesthete. This opposition was a source of tension in their relationship, as both tried to express their dissatisfaction with their given gender roles: "Not only were we inverts, we were inversions of each other. While I was trying to compensate for something unmanly in him, he was attempting to express something feminine through me. It was a war of cross-purposes, and so doomed to perpetual escalation. However, shortly before Bruce Bechdel's death, he and his daughter have a conversation which is presented as a partial resolution to this conflict.
At several points in the book, Bechdel questions whether her decision to come out as a lesbian was one of the triggers for her father's suicide. This question is never answered definitively, but Bechdel closely examines the connection between her father's closeted sexuality and her own open lesbianism, revealing her debt to her father in both positive and negative lights.
In addition to the literary allusions which are explicitly acknowledged in the text, Bechdel incorporates visual allusions to television programs and other items of pop culture into her artwork, often as images on a television in the background of a panel. These visual references include the film It's a Wonderful Life, Bert and Ernie of Sesame Street, the Smiley Face, Yogi Bear, Batman, the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote, the resignation of Richard Nixon and The Flying Nun.
Bechdel wrote and illustrated Fun Home over the course of seven years. Her laborious artistic process made the task of illustration slow. She began each page by creating a framework in Adobe Illustrator, on which she placed the text and drew rough figures. She used extensive photo reference and, for many panels, posed for each human figure herself, using a digital camera to record her poses. Bechdel also used photo reference for background elements. For example, to illustrate a panel depicting fireworks seen from a Greenwich Village rooftop on July 4, 1976, she used Google Images to find a photograph of the New York skyline taken from that particular building in that period. She also painstakingly copied by hand many family photographs, letters, local maps and excerpts from her own childhood journal, incorporating these images into her narrative. After using the reference material to draw a tight framework for the page, Bechdel copied the line art illustration onto plate finish Bristol board for the final inked page, which she then scanned into her computer. The gray-green ink wash for each page was drawn on a separate page of watercolor paper, and combined with the inked image using Photoshop. Bechdel chose the greenish wash color for its flexibility, and because it had "a bleak, elegiac quality" which suited the subject matter. Bechdel attributes this detailed creative process to her "barely controlled obsessive-compulsive disorder".
In the summer of 2006, a French translation of Fun Home was serialized in the Paris newspaper Libération (which had previously serialized Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi). This translation, by Corinne Julve and Lili Sztajn, was subsequently published by Éditions Denoël on October 26, 2006. In January 2007, Fun Home was an official selection of the Angoulême International Comics Festival. In the same month, the Anglophone Studies department of the Université François Rabelais, Tours sponsored an academic conference on Bechdel's work, with presentations in Paris and Tours. At this conference, papers were presented examining Fun Home from several perspectives: as containing "trajectories" filled with paradoxical tension; as a text interacting with images as a paratext; and as a search for meaning using drag as a metaphor. These papers and others on Bechdel and her work were later published in the peer-reviewed journal GRAAT (Groupe de Recherches Anglo-Américaines de Tours, or Tours Anglo-American Research Group).
A German translation was published by Kiepenheuer & Witsch in January 2008. The book has also been translated into Hungarian and Korean, and Chinese and Polish translations have been scheduled for publication.
In October 2006, a resident of Marshall, Missouri attempted to have Fun Home and Craig Thompson's Blankets, both graphic novels, removed from the city's public library. Supporters of the books' removal characterized them as "pornography" and expressed concern that they would be read by children. Marshall Public Library Director Amy Crump defended the books as having been well-reviewed in "reputable, professional book review journals," and characterized the removal attempt as a step towards "the slippery slope of censorship". On October 11, 2006, the library's board appointed a committee to create a materials selection policy, and removed Fun Home and Blankets from circulation until the new policy was approved. The committee "decided not to assign a prejudicial label or segregate [the books] by a prejudicial system", and presented a materials selection policy to the board. On March 14, 2007, the Marshall Public Library Board of Trustees voted to return both Fun Home and Blankets to the library's shelves. Bechdel described the attempted banning as "a great honor", and described the incident as "part of the whole evolution of the graphic-novel form."
In 2008, an instructor at the University of Utah placed Fun Home on the syllabus of a mid-level English course, "Critical Introduction to English Literary Forms". One student objected to the assignment, and was given an alternate reading in accordance with the university's religious accommodation policy. The student subsequently contacted a local organization called "No More Pornography", which started an online petition calling for the book to be removed from the syllabus. Vincent Pecora, the chair of the university's English department, defended Fun Home and the instructor. The university said that it had no plans to remove the book.
Fun Home was positively reviewed in many publications. The Times of London described Fun Home as "a profound and important book;" Salon.com called it "a beautiful, assured piece of work;" and The New York Times ran two separate reviews and a feature on the memoir. In one New York Times review, Sean Wilsey called Fun Home "a pioneering work, pushing two genres (comics and memoir) in multiple new directions" and "a comic book for lovers of words". Jill Soloway, writing in the Los Angeles Times, praised the work overall but commented that Bechdel's reference-heavy prose is at times "a little opaque". Similarly, a reviewer in The Tyee felt that "the narrator's insistence on linking her story to those of various Greek myths, American novels and classic plays" was "forced" and "heavy-handed". By contrast, the Seattle Times' reviewer wrote positively of the book's use of literary reference, calling it "staggeringly literate". The Village Voice said that Fun Home "shows how powerfully—and economically—the medium can portray autobiographical narrative. With two-part visual and verbal narration that isn't simply synchronous, comics presents a distinctive narrative idiom in which a wealth of information may be expressed in a highly condensed fashion."
Several publications listed Fun Home as one of the best books of 2006, including The New York Times, Amazon.com, The Times of London, New York magazine and Publishers Weekly, which ranked it as the best comic book of 2006. Salon.com named Fun Home the best nonfiction debut of 2006, admitting that they were fudging the definition of "debut" and saying, "Fun Home shimmers with regret, compassion, annoyance, frustration, pity and love—usually all at the same time and never without a pervasive, deeply literary irony about the near-impossible task of staying true to yourself, and to the people who made you who you are. Entertainment Weekly called it the best nonfiction book of the year, and Time named Fun Home the best book of 2006, describing it as "the unlikeliest literary success of 2006" and "a masterpiece about two people who live in the same house but different worlds, and their mysterious debts to each other."
Fun Home was a finalist for the 2006 National Book Critics Circle Award, in the memoir/autobiography category, and was nominated for a GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Comic Book. In 2007, Fun Home won the Stonewall Book Award for non-fiction, the Publishing Triangle-Judy Grahn Nonfiction Award, and the Lambda Literary Award in the "Lesbian Memoir and Biography" category. Fun Home was nominated for the 2007 Eisner Awards in two categories, Best Reality-Based Work and Best Graphic Album, and Bechdel was nominated as Best Writer/Artist. Fun Home won the Eisner for Best Reality-Based Work. In 2008, Entertainment Weekly placed Fun Home at #68 in its list of "New Classics" (defined as "the 100 best books from 1983 to 2008").