Thursday, January 25, 2018

Everything is Flammable

I have heard a lot of praise about Gabrielle Bell over the years. She is a comics artist's comics artist who is revered by many (or at least many of the people I pay attention to). Her semi-autobiographical series Lucky is regarded by many of those folks as a stellar work of comics, a touchstone publication. So I am sad and glad to say this is the first work of hers I've read.

Everything is Flammable is her first full-length graphic memoir, and I thought it was fascinating and compelling. The main happening in the book is that Gabrielle's mother's house burned down and so she needs to regroup and rebuild. Their relationship is complex, loving, but sometimes standoffish. Her mom is a pretty isolated, independent woman and when Gabrielle comes cross-country to help her buy a new house and stove and also generally find her feet, there is some static. Some of the interactions are uncomfortable or bring up uncomfortable things, but they come across as very human and moving. The rest of the book are various accounts of her life and trying to get by. All of these situations are mundane, but they are also strangely suspenseful and relatable.
Autobiographical comics can be pretty boring or humdrum, but the various chapters in this book celebrate the ordinary in an extraordinary way. They come across as testaments to human fortitude, stamina, and behavior. Every page in this book has something phenomenal on it, clearly indicating a master talent at work. Bell portrays herself as anxious and tentative, but she is an exceptional observer, has a unique point of view, and is able to deliver comics that pack a punch, even when they portray a simple conversation. I will definitely be reading more of her work as soon as I can.

All of the reviews I have read of this book have been glowing. Kirkus Reviews concluded their starred review, "A provocative, moving, and darkly funny book that seems almost worth the crises that it chronicles." Publishers Weekly also gave it starred review and wrote, "Bell’s vignettes peel back the layers of the mother-daughter relationship with self-deprecating comedy, displaying irritation but also patient forbearance." Pharoah Miles called it "a book that should be on everyone’s lap."

Everything is Flammable was published by uncivilized books. They have more info about it available here. There is some profanity in the book, so it's recommended for readers mature enough to handle that.

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