Born c. 1975, in London, England. Education: Attended San Francisco Community College.
Addresses: Contact —Drawn & Quarterly, P.O. Box 48056, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, H2V 4S8. Home —Brooklyn, New York.
Self-published her own mini-comics; acquired a deal with an indie comic press, early 2000s.
Awards: Ignatz Award for "Most Outstanding Mini-Comic" for the self-published Lucky #3, 2004.
Gabrielle Bell spent her twenties laboring in relative obscurity as she tried to pencil her way into the comic-art world. She hit her stride in 2006 with the publication of Lucky , a hardcover collection of pseudo-autobiographical slice-of-life strips. This book of bio-comics—peppered with tart dialogue, dry humor, and odd anecdotes—generated a buzz among comic devotees, earning Bell a new crop of devoted readers. "Bell's comics aren't necessarily groundbreaking, but they're a sterling refinement of the form," critic Rob Clough noted on Sequart.com. "It's hard to imagine autobiographical comics more appealing than these."
Born in London in the mid-1970s, Bell spent the first two years of her life in England, where her British father lived. After her parents separated, Bell's American mother took Bell and her brother to live with their grandparents in Detroit. In time, Bell's mother married and the family relocated to California. In an interview with Inkstuds , a Canadian radio show dedicated to comics, Bell discussed her childhood. Speaking to host Robin McConnell, Bell talked about the isolation of growing up on a Mendocino County mountainside. Cut off from the world, Bell spent her time reading, drawing, wandering the woods and fabricating stories. "We didn't have a phone most of the time … you know, we'd have a generator. Sometimes we'd have a solar panel. We were kind of trying to be self-sufficient."
Bell's parents were mildly interested in cartoons, so there were comics around the house. As a youngster, Bell read The Fabulous Freak Brothers , a comic about a trio of hippies, and Tintin , a comic, first popular in the 1930s, about a Belgian reporter and his dog companion. Bell also perused the pages of MAD , which originally started as a comic before it turned into a magazine. She also especially liked Charles M. Schulz's "Peanuts."
In school, Bell enjoyed English, drama, and art but did not care for math and science. As a teen, she found comics a natural way to express herself. For one high school history class, she turned some Greek myths into comics. For a class on Shakespeare, Bell created a comic based on A Midsummer Night's Dream . She also won a local newspaper contest by drawing a comic about her vegetarianism.
As a teenager, Bell attended Northern California's Camp Winnarainbow, a circus and performing arts camp where children learn play production and songwriting, as well as tightrope walking, juggling, and clowning. She also took classes as part of Humboldt State University's Project Upward Bound, a pre-college program aimed at motivating low-income and at-risk students to attend college. Through Upward Bound, Bell took courses in Shakespeare and composition and thought she might become a writer.
Bell took enough independent study courses to graduate from high school early and at 17 headed to England to meet her British relatives. In time, Bell returned to California and took art classes at San Francisco Community College, supporting herself with retail jobs. In college, Bell developed her famed "Book of" comic series, which includes Book of Insomnia, Book of Sleep, Book of Lies, Book of Ordinary Things and Book of Black . She put out new editions of the series nearly every year through self-publication. In 2003, when Bell was in her late 20s, she moved to New York City to live with her boyfriend.
Driven to share her stories, Bell photocopied panels of her work, stapled them together and passed them out at small-press conventions. Speaking to Newsarama's Daniel Robert Epstein, Bell recalled her self-publishing days. "It was fun and satisfying a lot because it was arduous. It was miserable a lot, too. I got a lot of good feedback and encouragement so I could keep on doing it."
Eventually, Alternative Comics publisher Jeff Mason took note of Bell's work and in 2003, the indie comics press published a collection of her work titled When I'm Old And Other Stories . This book includes autobiographical shorts like "I Got Soooo Drunk Last Night." There are also tales with a fantastical bent, like "Graveyard Shift." In this one, Bell rides her bike to the top of a mountain and begins to feel extra tall as she looks down on the tiny town below. Then she realizes she has transformed into a giant but must still get to her waitressing shift at a local diner.
In 2004, Bell won the Ignatz Award for "Most Outstanding Mini-Comic." The award is given for outstanding work in comics and cartooning. Over the next two years, Bell's work appeared in numerous collections and anthologies, including Bogus Dead, Stereoscomic, Sheherezade , and Mome . Many of these comics were fictional or fantastical in nature.
Lucky followed in 2006. This collection of pseudo-autobiographical short comic stories follows Bell through her days in Brooklyn as she tries to answer the questions with which many twentysomethings get bogged down: What should I do with my life? How should I make money? Where should I live? The comics cover Bell's days as a struggling artist in the big city. Many panels show her hunkered over a desk, floundering in her attempts to write dialogue for a comic. There are also stories about yoga class, spats with her boyfriend, and despair having to work as a nude model to make ends meet. Other stories cover Bell's exploits as a jewelry factory worker and as a tutor teaching some precocious French teenage boys all about cartooning. The stark black-and-white comics that appear in this book were originally part of her comic journal. Before the stories were culled for this collection, she sold them online at www.serializer.net and at shows.
Though autobiographical comics might seem mundane, Bell has a knack for capturing human moments in ways to which a broad audience can relate. Her comics tend to focus on dialogue over action and characterizations over events. In an interview with Tom Spurgeon of the Comics Reporter , Bell discussed the types of stories she feels compelled to tell. "What interests me is stories about human relationships on all levels, but I am paradoxically afflicted with a terrible shyness and also maybe a sort of disdain for most people. It is an inspiring thing for me when I am forced by the circumstances of life to deal with the world around me. I generally don't draw comics that don't have some sort of human interaction. It's a sort of compelling struggle for me."
After Lucky was released, Bell spent part of 2006 on tour. That same year, her work was featured in the Drawn & Quarterly Showcase Book Four . Bell's fans will be happy to know that at the start of 2007, she was busy creating another edition of Lucky .
When I'm Old And Other Stories , Alternative Comics, 2003.
Lucky , Drawn & Quarterly, 2006.
Boston Globe , November 25, 2006, p. D5.
Jane , October 2006, p. 127.
Publisher's Weekly , August 14, 2006, p. 186.
"A Short Interview With Gabrielle Bell," Comics Reporter , http://www.comicsreporter.com/index.php/resources/interviews/6581/ (April 23, 2007).
"Deadpan: Gabrielle Bell's Lucky," Sequart Research & Literacy Organization, http://www.sequart.com/columns/index.php?col=9&column=1658 (May 20, 2007).
"Gabrielle Bell: Biography," Drawn & Quarterly, http://www.drawnandquarterly.com/artBio.php?artist=a43ccf74f415ab (April 23, 2007).
"Interview: Gabrielle Bell, Author of Lucky," Smith Magazine , http://smithmag.net/memoirville/2007/01/08/an-interview-with-gabrielle-b ll-author-of-lucky/ (April 23, 2007).
"Not Old Yet—Gabrielle Bell," Newsarama, http://forum.newsarama.com/showthread.php?thread id=5868&highlight=gabrielle+and+bell (April 23, 2007).
"Gabrielle Bell," Inkstuds, March 15, 2007. Podcast available at www.inkstuds.com/?p=98 .