MOME Interview 2: Gabrielle Bell

gg: How do you construct a story? Do you write the entire story out first?

gb: Yeah. I do.

gg: So you know pretty much what’s going to happen before you start drawing it?

gb: Yeah. Except for my really autobiographical stuff and my diary stuff.

gg: That would be the material in Lucky?

gb: Yes.

gg: How do you construct that differently?

gb: Well, with Lucky there’re three issues. In the fi rst issue there’s lots of diary, where I try to take each day and turn it into a story. And the second issue I take a few days and try to develop the diary more into a story more purposefully. I would take one day or something and it would become a sevenpage story. But it was still very diary-like. And the third one was really more… It was actually very planned out and thought out from the beginning to the end.

gg: I haven’t seen the third one. I’ve only seen the first two.

{mosimage}gb: The third one’s the best, for sure.

gg: Did Jeff [Mason] publish that?

gb: No. It’s all minicomics. But he’s going to put out a book which should come out in April.

gg: Lucky #1 was 8 1/2 by 11 inches… So it wasn’t a mini.

gb: Well, I guess I just call them minicomics out of habit. I call them minicomics because there wasn’t a very big print run.

gg: Oh, OK. Mini print runs.

gb: Xeroxed.

gg: I noticed that the stories in your fi rst collection When I’m Old ranges from what I assume is earlier work where the drawing is far more detailed with more cross-hatching to what I assume is later work where you’re using the more minimalist approach you use today. Could you describe the process where you refi ned your approach to drawing comics into what it is today.

gb: Well, I think I wanted to draw really perfectly, like certain heroes of mine in comics. But I never really could.

gg: Who would these heroes be?

gb: For example, Jaime Hernandez, which I shouldn’t even say, because I’m nothing close to the way he draws, but I would study his work. I think he’s like the ultimate for perfect lines. But I really wanted to be able to draw perfectly, but it’s so hard to do and it takes so long. You spend so much time just trying to get that perfect line and it still ends up looking clumsy. So it’s not so much the economy or cutting out the details. I’m spending so much time trying to get that perfect line, which never happens. I think it’s probably a problem that a lot of cartoonists get into, trying so hard to make it perfect.

gg: I’m sure Jaime says the same thing.

gb: Yeah, but I put out a lot less stuff because of it. I wish I could just stop caring so much and just draw more.

gg: It looked to me like with the title story, “When I’m Old,” you might have been under the spell of Julie Doucet. Do you like her work?

gb: She was a huge hero of mine. I was so moved by her work. It was so beautiful, so original, and so different from all of the other comics.

gg: And so revealing.

gb: Yeah. I like that, too.


gg: To go back to how you put a story together… You write the entire story out first. You actually write all of the dialogue and captions?

gb: Yeah, but it changes as I draw it. I get ideas or I’ll take things out.

gg: So you leave room for spontaneity and…

gb: I don’t leave room for it. I try to actually leave no room for spontaneity. I mean, if I had my druthers there’d be no spontaneity. I’d have it all planned out and I wouldn’t have to worry. Spontaneity is the hardest thing.

gg: Yeah, well it takes a lot of careful planning. Don’t you find though that it gives you some latitude to play with the characters?

gb: I mean, it’s kind of like comics are so unspontaneous when you’re working on them. It seems like… I mean, the best comics are very spontaneous and look very easy, like they just poured out of somebody’s pen. They’re so labor intensive they never feel spontaneous when you’re working on them. You feel like you’re building a house brick by brick or something.

gg: The trick is to make it look spontaneous when you can’t be spontaneous.

gb: That’s the trick. Yeah. It’s all tricks. Sometimes I get great ideas midway through the comics and something spontaneous comes up. But then it doesn’t even feel spontaneous. It just feels more hard and harsh.