Truth Is Fragmentary:
Travelogues & Diaries
By Gabrielle Bell, Uncivilized Books, 172 pages, $21.99
At one point in her latest comic-strip memoir, Gabrielle Bell wonders whether she is “one of those people who are afflicted with too much consciousness.” For readers, though, Bell’s affliction – evident in her pensive captions, careful lines, and worried-over shading – is rather more of a blessing. Her comics brim with unpredictable, incisive observation, as she records not just the humming details of daily existence, but the fancies that fill life’s lulls as well. At one moment, the cartoonist may depict herself trying on dresses, drawing, or reading Montaigne, but the next may edge imperceptibly into the fantastic, where Bell sits astride a giant cat, or befriends a wayward bear. This volume – a collection of reports about her globe-trotting trips to comics festivals, plus diaries kept annually each July – documents a life lived in transit, which can make the book feel fleeting, at times. But Bell’s consciousness so thoroughly inhabits life’s in-betweens that each fragmentary moment gets endowed with complex meaning.
By Julie Delporte, Drawn &
Quarterly, 112 pages, $19.95
In Delporte’s second book of impressionistic, illustrated diary entries (though an alter ego “writes” this newest one), the Montreal-based cartoonist practices a kind of deceptive simplicity. The artist’s pencil-crayoned sketches – hazy outlines of people or nature, often bearing marks of having been corrected or fixed with tape – look surrendered to the page half finished, while her narrator’s voice seems muffled and affectless. But this hesitant, detached approach suits the book’s minimalist narrative. Leading a vexed existence in France, the diarist endures persistent headaches and crippling ennui that prevent her from leading a stable life. Eventually attributing her condition to “electrical sensitivity” – an acute reaction to the radiation emitted by our technologized landscape – she seeks solace in remote locales like Baie-Saint-Paul, or the Jura mountains. These Thoreauvian idylls teach the character spiritual self-reliance, at the same time they permit Delporte’s lo-fi, artisanal methods to shimmer with the fluidity of the natural world, rather than quaver with human uncertainty.
Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?
By Roz Chast, Bloomsbury, 240 pages, $33.00
In her New Yorker cartoons, Roz Chast has made a decades-long career out of cramming those single panels as jam-packed as possible: for her, more scribbles, more captions, and more frames mean more yuks. This density of detail carries over into the best stretches of Chast’s first book-length comic, a memoir about her nonagenarian parents during their difficult twilight years, compact with touching incidents and farcical minutiae. The challenges of the long form often lead Chast to lapse into prolix prose passages – never a cartoonist’s strong suit, though the technique surely helps detour around the problem of having to visualize painful memories. Elsewhere, though, Chast puts to good use her longtime facility with cartoon shorthand, distilling situations to their gag-like essence (her querulous father’s memory lapses manage to be both weirdly funny and heart-wrenching), or condensing language into rich turns of phrase (her mother, on the topic of life-support systems: “I don’t want to be a pulsating piece of protoplasm!”).
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