Everything Is Flammable

The first full-length graphic memoir by writer and cartoonist Gabrielle Bell, Everything Is Flammable is an emotionally raw account of the year she helped her mother rebuild after a candle-lit fire destroyed Bell's childhood home in rural Northern California. Bell's comics up to this point have provided glimpses of her professional and personal life as a starving artist in New York. Her trademark ennui and self-deprecating humor remain on full display here, yet Bell exposes personal vulnerabilities and family dysfunction. The flashbacks to her childhood are rooted in discomfort: a reclusive and semi-feral adolescence in the wild, the trauma of a verbally explosive stepfather, and the conflict and pain forming a tight wire of emotions she endures with her mother.

Bell (The Voyeurs) maintains a wide-eyed optimism tempered by experiential wisdom. Her initial enthusiastic support of Gus--the squatter and ex-con acting as a jack-of-all-trades handyman for her mother after the fire--soon turns to doubt when her mother expresses distrust of his intentions. After a heart-to-heart with Gus, Bell realizes the misgivings spring from a fear of aging and the accompanying loss of self-sufficiency. Aging develops as a centerpiece of Bell's own social outlook: "I am trying my best to resist becoming an eccentric recluse. I'm not rich or famous enough to turn my back on it all. But sometimes it feels like the whole world is conspiring to encourage my anti social tendencies."

The art is simple, but layered mini-stories within the larger narrative add complexity. Its sheer candor is like a window into how one family works, making Everything Is Flammable all the more rewarding. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

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