Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 238 (9/29) -- Lucky by Gabrielle Bell

Out of all the forms of art in the world, low-key autobiographical stories are the one where obvious artifice is the most immediately dangerous. Small stories from life must be shaped without appearing to be shaped, like some Zen parable -- it all has to seem as if it happened exactly that way, even as the creator bends events to give that effortless impression. Of course these stories are vastly harder than they look, since they have to look as if they just emerged spontaneously.

Lucky collects the three issues of the first series of Gabrielle Bell's minicomic of the same name -- plus a few related stories, added in at the end -- and the reader can see her starting with the raw details of everyday life (in that first issue, in pages with six panels and probably too many explanatory words) and stripping those moments and thoughts down to their essences, presenting them in more open pages in the subsequent issues.

She also starts with a precise style -- lots of lines, nearly all the same weight, carefully and exactly placed -- and opens that up only slightly as the book goes on, though the later issues do see her working in larger panels with more space to breathe, and using spot blacks in larger and more confident ways. Both her writing and her art say that this is real, this is her life as closely as she can depict it in comics.

But what Lucky actually shows is Bell rapidly becoming more adept at turning the events of her life into stories. The first issue is mostly anecdotes about various days, though well-chosen and formed into six-panel strips, but the later issues -- probably sparked by the fact that Bell lost her sketchbook, with Lucky #2 laid out in it, making her re-do everything she'd done once -- break out of that page-a-day framework to tell the story of Bell's life, giving weight to events because she realizes they need that weight, and not because they happened a particular day.

The actual events are small -- Bell was a young cartoonist, living in cheap apartments and scrounging for minor jobs, when she made these stories -- but that's the whole point of this kind of autobiographical story. The events are small because everyone's life is full of small events. To turn those small events into real stories, though, takes a keen eye. Bell has that keen eye, together with a precise hand and a willingness to throw her life open -- as long as she keeps those things, her stories will be just as true and clear as these.

Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index

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