Comics ‘n Things: An interview with Gabrielle Bell

Ariel Schrag is the author of the graphic novels “Awkward,” “Definition,” “Potential,” and “Likewise.” She is currently a writer for the HBO series “How To Make It In America” and was a writer for the Showtime series “The L Word.”

I first met Gabrielle Bell when I was 15 and she was 19 at a free life drawing class held at UC Berkeley on the weekends. We had both just started drawing comics and over the next couple years continued to run into each other at California comic book conventions; Alternative Press Expo, WonderCon and San Diego Comic Con. We were soon drawing together regularly at Gabrielle’s apartment in San Francisco, and eventually both moved to New York where our friendship grew closer and our drawing routine continued.

Comics is a lonely profession. First there is the writing and then there are the hours and hours and hours of drawing to make your story come to life. Listening to music or audio books while drawing is great, but even that can make you go stir crazy, and having another cartoonist to sit and talk with while you both draw is a great comfort. It’s also inspiring.

Watching Gabrielle’s work evolve, right there, as she does it, over the past 15 years has been amazing. Her wide range of storytelling — from novelistic fiction, to autobiography, to literary adaptations, to science fiction and fantasy — as well as her knack for always-unique-but-never-precious dialogue and uncanny visual details make Bell one of my favorite cartoonists working today. Her characters stumble about, bewildered and big-hearted, contending with crazed roommates, selfish parents, neurotic bosses, egomaniacal lovers and most often their own existential angst. But humor or the still beauty of an emotional moment always prevails, along with Bell’s most consistent theme an intense devotion to art.

“How I Make My Comics” from “Lucky” 2010

Bell started out self-publishing her own mini-comics such as Book of Sleep, Book of Black and Book of Ordinary Things. In 2003, Alternative Comics (now defunct) published highlights from these mini-comics as the graphic novel When I’m Old. Bell then started an autobiographical series titled Lucky, which was collected into a graphic novel published by Drawn & Quarterly in 2006. Bell’s latest book (also with D&Q) is the short comics collection Cecil and Jordan in New York.

Director Michel Gondry turned the title story of “Cecil and Jordan” into the short film Interior Design as part of the trilogy Tokyo! Bell co-wrote the screenplay.

Bell is currently continuing the autobiographical Lucky as a webcomic and is also working on Freddy and the Gang, a fictional full-length graphic novel about childhood in the mountains of Northern California.

From “Freddy and the Gang” 2010