Writer & Artist: Gabrielle Bell
Publisher: Uncivilized Books
Release Date: July 1, 2014
Are diary or travelogue comics more likely to be boring? It’s a valid question. For the former, you can make the argument that the average non-fiction life tends to be repetitive and routine-filled: wake up, go to work, come home, eat burrito, watch TV, draw comics, mess around on the Internet. A certain amount of this mundanity is refreshing and relatable, but beyond a given point, it reminds us that we just aren’t that interesting. Travelogues, on the other hand, theoretically display variety and exotic locations, but they, too, fall into formula and can disappoint; they’re full of too many facts and figures about new places to resemble more than a list of stuff. An anomaly to both of these observations, cartoonist Gabrielle Bell’s gift makes both forms not only palatable but frequently delightful.
Bell’s new compilation from Uncivilized Books, Truth Is Fragmentary, focuses on her travels to Sweden, France, Switzerland, Norway and Colombia, plus three Julys of daily diaries and a few other autobiographical works. The graphic novel’s cover, showing the cartoonist stressed-out in an airport waiting area, isn’t a great indication of the content within. That’s not to say Bell isn’t neurotic or fully open about her stressors and anxieties, but the book and its protagonist don’t come off as perpetually whiny. Bell also spends plenty of time complaining about not having enough material to fill her diaries, but she doesn’t only complain. She presents solutions as flights of fancy, inventing an imaginary narrator to tell her story and making an effort to enrich her life.
Most of the book’s pages are black-and-white, with an uncomplicated panel structure. This approach is characteristic of the genre, but Bell has a great grasp of body language. In addition, her unique aesthetic never veers into sloppiness or overworks the pages. Mostly, though, her work is strong because of its writing — this includes the way she structures a story from panel to panel. The tone is conversational, self-amused, unstressed and assuredly improvisational, like watching an excellent cook throw a meal together from what’s already on hand in the kitchen.