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Friday, June 23, 2006

Lucky -- Gabrielle Bell draws in a minimalist style somewhere in-between John Porcellino and Ariel Schwag, a style that a Drawn and Quarterly press release refers to as "unadorned." To be sure, she's not a "bad" artist -- if the stories she tells in this collection (to be released in the fall of 2006) rose above "mundane" (another word used in the same press release, although I invoke it not quite in the spirit I am sure was intended), I can imagine finding Lucky quite charming, or at least entertaining.

There's a vocal subset of devoted corporate superhero comic book readers who think the terms "comics" and "superhero comics" are synonyms, and dismiss books like Lucky as "indy filth" (sometimes with a wink, sometimes not). There's nothing filthy about Lucky (although the author does some nude modeling to raise needed cash); in fact, it's practically chaste in its depiction of the life of a young woman living in New York City. She frequently shares her apartment (and almost as often, her bed) with a gentleman named "Tom," but we never see them act as anything more than friends who occasionally share the same space. We don't know the nature of their relationship, and so presumably it's not important. Late in the book, Tom is replaced by "Tony," who expresses his love to Gabrielle at one point, but we have no idea what sort of love it is to which he refers.

Lucky is, I imagine, the sort of "indy filth" that so rankles fans of superhero comics. Those folks come to their comics expecting things to happen -- you know, Hal Jordan killing the Green Lantern Corps, Wolverine having his adamantium skeleton ripped out through his pores, Kitty sleeping with Colossus, Superman and Big Barda making a porno movie for an intergalactic sleaze peddler (coincidentally named "Sleez;" Dickens had nothing on John Byrne); nothing much happens in Lucky. Well, very late in the book a hole in the bathroom wall seems to turn into an all-devouring black hole, but you know, I read that part of the book already (I think in Mome), and I wasn't all that impressed the first time.

Bell is that most frustrating of autobiographical cartoonists -- she seems to have the chops to tell us things about her life (and therefore our own lives, in the best-case scenario), but instead she tells us things about her day. She models nude, then breaks down crying in the dressing room. She hints she finds it unpleasant and/or boring, but tells us no more.

Panels from Gabrielle Bell's LUCKY, coming in Fall, 2006 from Drawn and Quarterly.

I'd like to know how someone who is an artist finds facilitating the art of others so upsetting -- I can believe being nude in front of strangers for hours might be upsetting, even for an artist who likely has drawn or painted live, nude models before, herself -- but all she does is report the modeling, and the weeping, drawing no relateable emotional line between the two events. Bell keeps a critical piece of knowledge from her reader, either not wanting to share it, or not knowing it needs to be shared to be comprehended.

Not every incident related is mundane or incomprehensible; a nine-page sequence where Bell sells her comics on the street allows us a glimpse of the frustrations of peddling your wares to the public. Unfortunately, the climax of the sequence falls back on an Inside Baseball moment where Bell is confronted by a passive-aggressive superhero comics fan, overblown and obnoxious, and frustrated by Bell's refusal to hand over her personal contact information. After the somewhat upsetting incident, she is reassured by Tom that she is a good person. We don't know if Tom knows about the incident, or is just randomly reassuring people that they are good -- from the presentation, favour the latter.

Another promising sequence that doesn't achieve its narrative promise involves Bell giving art lessons to a pair of sexually precocious 12-year-old boys. They amuse with their provocative dirty talk and intrigue with their choice of art subjects (the view of the outside world from inside the vagina among them), but Bell does nothing more than tell us what happened.

Roger Ebert likes to say that movies are not about what happens in them, but how they happen. Lucky, ultimately, seems to be about what happens to Bell, with little insight or analysis in a genre that fairly begs for at least one of those, preferably both. Otherwise one is left a little bored, and wondering what's up with Kitty and Colossus these days.

Yes, Lucky is mundane and unadorned, but with enough flashes of wit and potential to be truly frustrating. I would read more comics created by Gabrielle Bell, but I would be fueled more by hope and optimism that she finds more to say in her work, than by excitement grounded in my previous immersion in her work. "There should be more here," as my friend Steve used to say. There really should.



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