"Cecil And Jordan in New York Stories'"
By Gabrielle Bell (Drawn and Quarterly)
Seizing the moment for one of the best authors of graphic short fiction, Gabrielle Bell's collection "Cecil And Jordan In New York Stories" moves beyond the clichés of generational slacker comics and imbues the tales of the under the radar generation with an understanding and context that pushes away the typical self-deprecation that eventually becomes just more self-mythologizing.
In any of the stories, the protagonist seems to be the same girl -- sometimes unnamed, though also appearing as Anna, Kristin, Gabrielle or someone else -- which creates a kind of "Everygirl" who retains personal affectations the reader might apply to Bell.
This hints at a strong use of autobiography without giving herself totally to the form. Because of this, the stories have points to them and dramatic build-ups -- although often in subtle, unconventional ways. There are philosophical and emotional conclusions here -- Bell is smart enough to exhibit that she cannot only write about her experiences, but they actually mean something beyond the moment; there is something to be taken away from them other than the slice-of-life situations that bog down so many clueless autobiographical comics.
Included in this volume is the title story, which is the basis for one segment of Michel Gondry's film "Tokyo." While much has been made of this story in press coverage of Bell's book, it's really one minor and metaphorical portion of a larger investigation in regard to creative partnerships and interaction -- whether one has to actually be the major force in any creative work or movement, or if there is some validity to being sidelines support -- and if there is, can that role possibly be of any value to the person in it?
This idea is best spelled out in "Felix," the standout novella in the middle of the book that sees a young, trodden-upon art student become a tutor for a famous artist's son. In the transformation from artist to muse, Bell examines the power of both, as well as the idea that the artist's work may actually be the muse's creation and the irony of a male artist failing to function in that role for his own child.
At the center of Bell's investigation is inspiration -- who gives it, who receives it and what is done following that transaction. The final partnership in creativity is between author and audience -- "Cecil And Jordan In New York" give readers plenty to hold personally for themselves, as well as a dispatch from Bell's soul.