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This interview is reprinted in its entirety from MOME Vol. 2.
Gabrielle Bell was born in London, England in
1976, but was raised in Mendocino County, California,
with three siblings.
Many cartoonists, especially of the alternative stripe,
relate a stereotyped childhood of alienation and
anomie; Gabrielle had a leg up on most of them: She
was raised in an isolated, bohemian mountain enclave.
Her parents grew and sold pot for a living, as did many
of her friends' parents. It probably didn't help that
the community was split between pot entrepreneurs
and rednecks who worked at the local wood mill.
The hippies and the rednecks did not become close.
Since growing and selling pot was (and is) a criminal
activity, her childhood was somewhat isolated and the
social environment secretive. "We were told to say that
our father was a carpenter and built houses, which was
absurd because he didn't know anything about that.
Where could you go with that? Oh, he just built this
house…make up a story or something?"
Portrait of woman, from sketchbook
In a manner of speaking, that's exactly what she did.
She was reading Gilbert Shelton's Freak Brothers
and Fat Freddy's Cat at age 5 or 6, eventually read
Tintin and Peanuts, and loved Mad. She read a lot,
drew pictures and generally turned "inward," as she
puts it, which naturally led to her making her own
comics in high school. She started publishing her own
mini-comics in the '90s, printing them at Kinko's, and
shopping them around at small conventions and selling
them at Gary Arlington's famous San Francisco Comic
Book Company store.
She attended the San Diego comics convention in 2002
and stayed in the room of Alternative Comics publisher
Jeff Mason. Curiously, Alternative Comics published
her fi rst collection of stories, When I Grow Old, the
next year. This is not as unusual as it sounds. In fact,
it happens all the time. Cartoonist stays in publisher's
room at convention, publisher puts out a book of the
cartoonist's work the next year. To be fair, Gabrielle
pointed out that she slept on the
floor and Jeff slept on the bed
— and other bodies apparently
littered any unused surfaces of
bed and floor — which is also not
atypical. Even though this is an
ancient comics publisher ploy,
Jeff came through and put out a
handsome collection of Gabrielle's
short stories the next year for which
we should be grateful. Gabrielle
has also published three full-size
autobiographical comics called
Lucky, and has appeared all over
the place — in such anthologies as
Orchid, Bogus Dead, The Comics
Journal Special Editon, and Scheherazade
Mome Vol. 2 - Fall 2005
This interview was conducted
on the run — literally; Gabrielle
was running along the East River
and dodging tractor-trailer trucks
during part of it — in mid July.
gary groth: Do you remember a
time or a period when you made a
decision... "This is what I want to
gabrielle bell: Yes. I was
traveling at the time. I was in
Texas and I was just wandering
through a comic book store.
There were some instructions on
how to become a comic artist. It
was very simple — very, very easy.
But actually, it was before that I
decided to be a cartoonist, maybe
a couple of weeks before. It was
gg: You specifically remember this?
gb: Yes, because I had this idea
for a comic. I did the comic. It
probably wasn't very good, but
it was such an intense feeling to
create this thing... this sequential
art, that I just kept at it since then.
Oh, it was so bad, though. It was
this compulsive desire to draw
these comics that was so strong,
but at the time, they were terrible
comics. It was years before I did
anything that I was proud of.
gg: Now, were you reading comics
throughout high school?
gb: No, not too much. I was
reading more novels. I didn't
start reading alternative comics
or underground comics seriously
until I was also about 17-18.
gg: How did you discover them?
gb: My friend had a big collection
of Eightball and Hate and Dirty
gg: The usual gang of suspects.
gg: Would this have been mid-
gb: Well, I was 17 when I found
those, so I guess it would be early
gg: Did that start you on a path of
seeking out comics that you liked?
How obsessive were you about...?
gb: I'm not so obsessive about
comics, actually. I don't really
read that many comics as much
as I would like to. I've always
been more interested in novels
and movies. I've often been really
impatient with most comics.
gg: How interesting.
gb: I don't know. I guess I see more
of the potential of comics than the
actual... Well, I think what it is is
having grown up reading so many
books that the comics make me...
The stories, in most cases, even
if they're good, they're still not as
good as most books, most novels
are. So it's frustrating to read a
comic when I could be reading
some great literature.
gg: When you refer to novels,
which authors do you most admire
and like? What kinds of novels or
novelists are you talking about?
Cover detail from When I'm Old and Other Stories
gb: Now or when I was a young
gb: At the time, this is again cliché,
I liked to read stuff like Hermann
Hesse and [Fyodor] Dostoyevsky.
And Oscar Wilde. Those are such
wonderful storytellers. There
aren't that many cartoonists who
could captivate me like that.
gg: And currently?
gb: Currently I'm trying to read
more contemporary things.
Currently I don't read at all except
for listening to books on tape
while I'm working on my comics.
gg: And why is that?
gb: I can't concentrate any more
but I listen to books on tape
gg: Your reading skills, have they
declined over the years?
gb: They go up and down, I
gg: Do you smoke a lot of pot,
gg: I'm just giving you shit.
gb: No. I don't smoke pot.