There is a saying among writers, fiction and nonfiction alike, to draw from the truth. After all, life, in its infinite joy, sadness, normalcy, and peculiarities, often inspires the best material. Brooklyn cartoonist and writer Gabrielle Bell has taken that advice all that much more literal with her latest collection, “Truth is Fragmentary: Travelogues & Diaries.”
Hailed as an alternative cartoonist, Bell is best known for her works “The Voyeurs” and “Lucky,” which won the Ignatz Award for Most Outstanding Minicomic in 2003. In her recent work, Bell demonstrates a continued maturity and excellence as one of the best young cartoonists of her time. Using her life and travels as a starting point, Bell, in the most appropriate of ways, draws life through comics.
The work, or “comic diary” as Bell identifies, is composed of 13 stories that explore her travel experiences during the period of 2010 through 2013 in cities around the world. While many of the stories are grounded in reality, as the title suggests, “truth is fragmentary.” Without giving too much away, the collection is sprinkled with some fiction. Perhaps it was the zombies or baby-eating bears that gave it away.
Nevertheless, as readers follow Bell from places like Stockholm to Bogotá, we discern that while many of the stories drift from fun and lighthearted to sardonic and self-conscious, the entirety of the collection manages to gain force with impeccable poise. The collection includes mostly black and white comics, but Bell also incorporates colored panels as well. One commonality bringing the two types together is their content; each frame is filled to the brim with narrative and dialogue.
In the story “Montpellier, France,” Bell discusses her less than proficient French, accompanied by an even more amusing comic play-by-play: “I have to say, my French is just terrible. Awful. Embarrassing. Maybe this is because I’m pretty much both self-taught, and a bad student. Or it could be that I’m so shy and anxious that my mind goes blank every time I talk to anyone I don’t know. But I try all the same.” Further notable pieces include: “Academy Awards,” “Truth is Fragmentary,” “Happiness,” and “Bogotá, Colombia.”
Bell enters and concludes the collection without conceit. Even with serious matters, Bell tends to humor her readers by poking fun at herself. As demonstrated in “Montpellier, France,” Bell maintains her effort to try. Without filter, Bell gives readers a matured introspection of life while revealing the bigger picture — to keep laughing.
‘Truth is Fragmentary: Travelogues & Diaries’ by Gabrielle Bell Rating: W W W W