Guttergeek review: Lucky: Season Two

Posted by on March 3rd, 2010 at 12:36 PM

Gabrielle Bell, Lucky (gbell.wordpress.com, 2009- ).

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It’s autobio comic week here at my wing of guttergeek, and what better place to start than by calling everyone’s attention to the recently launched “second season” of Gabrielle Bell’s magnificent online “blog” (is there an uglier word in the fake-English language?) of her ongoing diary comic, Lucky. For the past eight months, Bell has been sharing her journal comics at her WordPress site. Some of them have drawn on older pieces, but the most fun have been those that feel very raw and uncertain as to what they are finally about. My favorite from “season one” was her ongoing account of her trip to Richmond to participate in a panel on Crumb’s work. While ultimately far “lighter” than some of the more openly confessional comics she has been experimenting with lately (more on those below), I found this one strangely moving for the way in which it brought together the accidents and confusions of everyday life (a hastily read email invitation to a party for Crumb leads Bell and Anders Nilsen scurrying across Richmond in search of an address which turns out to be, of course, back in New York) and the not-so-everyday existence of artists who live the life they write and write the life they live. Here, for example, Nilsen and Bell encounter a dead bird:

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Of course, they are not in Nilsen’s comic; they are, literally, in Bell’s—and that is both the joke and the strange twist of the knife that makes these comics at their best work so very well. What makes them work even better than Bell’s earlier work is best exemplified in what follows, when, two panels later, the frenetic Bell–hip deep in a mounting panic attack–accidentally steps on the dead bird and then goes on to dream about confusing Cornel West with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. when trying to make small talk with President Obama.

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A few years ago, in reviewing the first volume of Lucky (D&Q, 2006), I somewhat playfully (and, I fear, patronizingly) expressed my feeling that Bell’s diary comics made me more inclined to hire her for a job or rent her an apartment than to want to seek out her next comic. In 2010, I can say that in reading her comics today I am much less inclined to want to hire her or rent her an apartment (given her love of space heaters in enclosed spaces). In allowing her self-representation in the comics to be perhaps more honest and raw, Bell may have made it harder to find a good roommate, but she has most definitely become a better cartoonist.

If my review of her earlier autobiographical comics was a bit dismissive (ok, maybe more than a bit), the Hooded Utilitarian was at the time more openly skeptical as to whether Bell really had any interest in writing autobiographical comics at all. Today it is clear that Bell has a deep interest in the form; it is also clear that she is now willing to pay the emotional and psychic price of those investments. The openness to self-exposure and self-discovery that was strangely absent in the early diary comics is increasingly on display in the newer work. And the distant, minimal art of the early work has been increasingly displaced by a much more expressive line, use of shifting perspectives, and rich, extended interior monologues. Like Noah, I had originally hoped Bell might move away from the autobiographical to focus on fiction, as she seemed to share more as an artist when she wrote about people not herself. It is a great surprise and delight to find that Bell has proved me wrong by fully immersing herself in the possibilities and responsibilities of the genre she had been playing at only a few years earlier.

Alright, Ms. Bell. You’ve now blacked out your entire apartment building. I can’t wait to find out what happens next (and since there is now officially no possibility I will ever be your landlord, I promise not to tell).

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