MOME Interview 2: Gabrielle Bell

This interview is reprinted in its entirety from MOME Vol. 2.

{mosimage}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?”


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 among others.


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 do?”

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 pretty organic.

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.{mosimage}

gg: How did you discover them?

gb: My friend had a big collection of Eightball and Hate and Dirty Plotte.

gg: The usual gang of suspects.

gb: Yes.

gg: Would this have been mid- ’90s?

gb: Well, I was 17 when I found those, so I guess it would be early ’90s.

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?


gb: Now or when I was a young person?

gg: Both.

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 constantly.

gg: Your reading skills, have they declined over the years?

gb: They go up and down, I guess.

gg: Do you smoke a lot of pot, or…?

gb: No.

gg: I’m just giving you shit.

gb: No. I don’t smoke pot.