MOME Interview 2: Gabrielle Bell

gg: I thought one of the best stories you did was in Scheherazade, “One Afternoon.”

gb: Yeah. That’s my favorite story.

gg: You said it was based on a story by Kate Chopin. Who is that?

gb: She wrote The Awakening, if you know The Awakening. I don’t know much about her. I think she… I don’t want to say anything about her because I really have no biographical knowledge about her. It was a very, very short story. It was maybe half a page long. It was a story about a woman whose… she has a very weak heart and she’s told that her husband has been killed in a train wreck. And of course she’s very despondent. But then she realizes that she’s free from her husband and she can live her own life now. I think her husband was very wealthy, so she’s liberated financially and she’s sort of liberated emotionally. But then she finds out that it was a mistake. Her husband didn’t die. And she was so sad by it that she died herself.

gg: So, loosely taken from that.

gb: Yeah. And then I threw in this adultery and this alienation to sort of… Anyway, she doesn’t die at the end. She has to just go on living in an unhappy marriage.

gg: Which is a kind of death.

gb: Yeah. I was pretty excited about that story. I just wish that I hadn’t stolen it from anyone.

gg: But it looks like you actually enhanced it quite a bit.

gb: Yeah. I think it was probably one of my first really serious stories.


gg: Well, you certainly upped the isolation quotient by having two isolated people instead of merely one. Is your story in Kramer’s Ergot the first color work you did?

gb: Yes.

gg: What medium was that?

gb: It was gouache. I did that as a short, one-page color comic for a Shout Magazine. But it got buried.

gg: How was it working in color from black and white?

gb: It was hard. It took me four or five months to do that comic. I was working full time at the time, saving up. I would come home and I would just do one panel and that was it. After I finished the whole comic it would take me just one panel a day of coloring. And I was constantly tweaking it. And then the color got really screwed up when I scanned it and it printed very badly.

gg: Oh, it did?

gb: Yeah. The originals are so much better. I mean, I spent so much time trying to get this perfect yellow for the walls. I had this yellow in mind. I would make the yellow and then I’d run out of the yellow and then I’d have to spend time making the yellow again. And then when it came out in the book it was all washed [out]. It was just like this ugly banana yellow that I didn’t really want. It didn’t work.

gg: Another thing that’s very important in your stories is the fantasy element, where your stories often start off realistically and then veer into a kind of magic realism, which can be somewhat jarring.

gb: Is it jarring? Really? When she turns into a chair, that’s pretty jarring.

gg: They’re jarring because your work is otherwise so naturalistic and mundane. Suddenly someone will turn into a chair.

gb: Well, that’s one of the strengths of comics.

gg: How important do you think fantasy is?

gb: It’s incidental for me. I’m more interested in real life, I think, and real stories. As far as fantasy goes, I mean they’re flights of fancy in a way. I know that, for example, the chair story was not really my story. My friend who was staying with me, who is the star of that story, had this idea that she wanted to turn into a chair and be taken home by somebody. So I stole her story. She gave it to me.

gg: I wonder if you didn’t enhance that, too, because it’s a really powerful metaphor for someone who considers herself invisible or receding into the background.

gb: Yeah. It was a really… I mean, I was definitely going for the metaphor of — well — feeling like a chair!