Monday, May 01, 2006
Gabrielle Bell is a prolific New York-based comic artist. She published When I'm Old and Other Stories with Alternative Comic Press in 2003, and her award-winning minicomic Lucky will be compiled and published by Drawn and Quartlerly in October of 2006. (Her artist page at the D&Q website offers an eleven page PDF preview of Lucky.) In addition, Bell will be featured in the upcoming Drawn and Quarterly Showcase volume 4.
I first became aware of Bell's work when I read "Cecil and Jordan in New York" in Kramer's Ergot #5. This story, fantastic and realistic at the same time, centers upon a young woman who, we learn in the midst of the story, is able to transform herself into a chair at will. Cecil is unhappy as Jordan's girlfriend, and fashions a more fulfilling and rewarding existence for herself as a chair/woman chimera occupying another man's living space. (Bell nicely conveys Cecil's sense of serenity and repose in that penultimate panel.)
The story closes with some witty and concise narration:
Bell's thoughtful work has recently been appearing in the Fantagraphics anthology Mome. "I Feel Nothing," published in #1, provided the book's cover image. This story contains a particularly well-wrought single page in which Bell shows us how the central character foresees the possible future that might flow from her answering "yes" to a crucial question that's been posed to her.
"Mike's Cafe," in Mome #3, is a playful story-within-a-story: we learn the details of one strand of the narrative as it's fitfully described during a much-interrupted telephone conversation.
Mome #2 has an interview with the artist (conducted by Gary Groth).
Here are some choice quotes:
GG: You never had any ambition to just draw your average, entertaining, mass-market comic book, it sounds like ...
Bell: But I do.
GG: You do?
Bell: Ultimately, I ...
GG: Do you want to draw Catwoman or something?
Bell: What I want is to draw a story that people are interested in and they want to know what's going to happen next. Which I think is the sort of same thing. So I guess I don't want to draw mainstream comics, if that's what you mean. But I think mainstream comics and alternative comics ... Their goal is to tell a story. If it's about fighting crime or if it's about inner demons it's kind of ... That's just the subject matter in a way.
GG: True, but they can have that in commom, but it's how the story is being told that differentiates the two, between literary work and mass-market crap, between a Philip Roth and a Tom Clancy, say. And you seem to have the ambition for the one rather than the other, is that true?
Bell: True, but I think I would ... I mean, it's true but ... The most important thing is to tell a compelling and engaging story. And if it's really obscure and like some kind of art film or very difficult art film, I mean ... I'm just sort of in the middle in a way. Ultimately I think the point of doing comics and of telling stories is to -- I don't want to say entertain -- but it is kind of entertainment. It's to tell a story, which Tom Clancy is doing as well as [Marcel] Proust. They're all telling a story, it's just how much meaning or ... But ultimately I'm into the plot and character change and character development, that kind of thing.
GG: You're more traditional; as distinct from experimental?
Bell: It's all experimental for me because I didn't study formally. So everything I do is an experiment. But the main goal is not just to be experimental but to learn how to tell a good story. I mean, I want to write things that people will like and enjoy reading.
I admire Bell's stand, here. Even though the interviewer has given her the perfect opportunity to take a stand for literature, and provided a platform from which she can denounce mass-market crap, Bell absolutely refuses to rise to the bait. What's more, she even goes so far as to equate Marcel Proust and Tom Clancy, and explain very effectively why and how she's doing it.
Man, I would love to see Gabrielle Bell working on Catwoman.
You are going to make me get more and more comics until I have long boxes again! *grumble* damn long boxes...
Bell consistently produces nice visual "one liners" like that in her stories.