The final story in the latest issue of Lucky stands quietly aside from the rest of the book. “When I Was Eleven” follows the story of a young Gabrielle Bell so enamored with her experiences in summer camp the year before that she steals away from the day to day grinds that come with being an 11-year-old, opting to live out her days at the camp in the off-season.
It’s quiet, reflective, and arguably the most powerful piece in the book—in its own way, the story also goes a ways toward defining the grownup Bell who occupies the remainder of the issue.
As such, a discussion of the piece seemed an ideal place to close out our interview with the artist.
You describe the pieces in Lucky as being almost like blogging, in terms of their immediacy, but there’s a piece in the new issues called “When I was Eleven.”
Ah yes—I liked to sometimes include extra stuff like that, as well.
Did you just sort of stick in in at the end, or is the piece somehow consistent with the rest of the book?
Um, it’s not really consistent, but I happened to have this comic that sort of fit in with the book. I think it’s too much to blast the audience with pure autobiographical work.
But “When I was Eleven” is pretty autobiographical, no?
Yeah, it is.
Did something jump out about that story that made it something that you wanted to tell now, in the context of Lucky?
Well, an anthology asked me to submit a story, and I submitted that. They rejected it, so I ended up putting it in Lucky.
Have you ever considered collecting some of these stories from when you were much younger?
Um—that story and stories like that are going to be in upcoming collection, but I would like to do more of those stories, too. What do you think? Do you think I should?”
I do. That might actually be my favorite story in that issue.
Really, you think so?
Yeah. I understand reading it why it was an important moment in your life. I think it fits the context of the story in the sense that there are certain moments in our lives that we can point to that have made us who were are today.
Does this strike you as one such moment?
Possibly, yeah. I don’t know, there’s something about me always trying to escape. I remember, when I was in kindergarten, we were all walking in a line back to class. I think I was at the end or close to the end, and I started thinking, “why do we have to stand in this line?” So I sort of jumped out of the line and walked on my own. The other kids shouted at me and I got back into the line, because I was sort of shamed into it [laughs].
You were a little attempted non-conformist in kindergarten.
And then in that story, where I run away from home and I try to live in summer camp, it was a similar thing of my wanting to jump out of my expected life and go into the life I wanted. It’s that urge to step out of line. I think there’s always an urge in me to break free of my life. In that way, that story defines that a great deal. It was a very calculated attempt to break out of the life that was given to me [laughs]. And the thing is that you can’t just break out of it—you can’t just break free. You have to slowly work at it.
Are there any moments in your recent life that are sort of on-par with stepping out of line in kindergarten or escaping to a summer camp?
Good question—it’s getting harder and harder [laughs].
Doing something creative that you have full control over is sort of a manifestation of that though, right?
Yeah, doing comics is definitely a manifestation of that. I’ve been working slowly at it. I did decide to step out and do comics, but it’s still been a long, long process.
Do you think they speak more about you as a person than they did when you started? Have you gotten better at expressing yourself?
I think I express myself well enough. There is a this attitude with comics where you have to keep it like a comic, but I’ve really pulled away from that, I think. My comics don’t have to have punchlines. But there is still that tradition of lightness. I don’t let myself get too heavy with my autobio stuff. I keep doing light things because I don’t want to embarrass anyone or make anyone feel bad. And to be honest, I don’t want to embarrass myself or make myself look bad, which I think is to my detriment, when I look at people like Joe Matt or something.
Does the addition of humor make your personal expression more or less truthful?
It’s not like I’m hiding behind humor. It’s just one way at getting at the truth.