|Interview conducted by Stefan Blitz|
Her name might be unknown to your average comic book store customer, but cartoonist Cece Bell has the kind of fanbase that most people in the industry would kill for and has accomplished what major comic publisher’s can’t seem to achieve; introduce comics to kids.
Strong visuals and charming text have defined her work since her first book, Sock Monkey Goes To Hollywood: A Star Is Bathed, was released in 2003. Her first graphic novel (after incorporating comics within her storybooks), El Deafo, was released in 2014 for which she was awarded The Newbery Medal Honor.
She’s a contributing cartoonist to the new comic anthology, Comics Squad: Lunch, which is available tomorrow. Cece took some time to discuss her work, geek interests and upcoming projects.
FOG!: You’ve done a number of books, including several within the comics medium (though all released by book publishers). Were you a comic fan growing up and which titles and creators, if any, have influenced you and your work?
Cece Bell: I actually didn’t read that many comics growing up. However, I have an older brother, and I loved reading his copies of MAD magazine. I especially loved his (much naughtier) National Lampoon magazines, which had risqué photos of nekkid ladies arranged in comic book form, with speech balloons and everything. Naughty, naughty.
I also read stuff like Archie and Richie Rich, too…but rarely read any of the superhero stuff. That stuff just didn’t interest me the way Archie’s “real-life” (as if) stories did. I was also introduced to Beano (a British comic book that came out weekly, I think) by a friend who got them in the mail from her relatives in the UK.
I’m sure I was drawn to these particular comics because they were funny. Perhaps they influenced my sense of humor. They definitely gave me guidance as to how to set up a punchline in comic book form.
And I didn’t know you could really REALLY knock someone’s socks off with the comics medium until I was in college and read Art Spiegelman’s MAUS for the first time. Holy moley.
How did you become a part of the Comics Squad anthology?
The amazing Jarrett Krosoczka asked me to be a part of it, soon after my graphic novel, El Deafo, came out. I was so honored to be asked!
The theme of the latest book is “Lunch”. What’s your creative process in developing the story?
While I was working on the story, I tried to think of some of the feelings I had experienced when I was a kid eating lunch at school. I had a particularly bad lunch period in the 6th grade, so I looked to that. I had a lot of anxiety about EVERYTHING that year.
I started with the anxiety stuff, but then the story started to pull in the direction of anthropomorphic food. Why not put these two things together into one swell package? Thankfully, Jarrett was also my editor, and he gave me lots of room to be weird. So it’s plenty weird.
Your book El Deafo was inspired by your childhood living with your deafness. Was drawing a natural outlet for you when growing up?
Yes it was. You don’t have to be able to hear anything in order to draw—and I think I was able to leave my anxieties behind and get into a very zoned-out state when I drew and made things. It was always a great relief to not have to worry about trying to hear anything for a while—a true escape. I think I also wanted to impress my friends and family—always fishing for a compliment and approval, I was!
What are your upcoming projects?
I’m working on three chapter books with my husband, Tom Angleberger, about Inspector Flytrap—a Venus flytrap who truly believes he is the world’s greatest detective. Tom wrote the books, and I’m illustrating them (and adding a few one-page comics, to boot).
I also have a picture book coming out in March called Chuck and Woodchuck. In September, a sequel to my early reader (Rabbit & Robot: The Sleepover) comes out, and this one is called Rabbit & Robot & Ribbit. I’m also supposed to be working on a fourth Sock Monkey book from my Sock Monkey series that began about 15 years ago! Busy times, but good times.
What are you currently geeking out over?
Well, I do love me some tee-vee. Right now I’m into Nashville and Empire (both soapy good fun and if we could get Deacon Claybourne and Cookie together then we’d REALLY have something). Tom and I decided to give Dallas a try last year (the old one that was on when we were just a tiny bit too young to be watching it) and here we are on Season 8 and still loving it. JR Ewing may be my favorite TV villain ever, after Francis Urquhart, that is. Uncle Grandpa is the best cartoon on TV right now! And Over the Garden Wall, another cartoon (if you could call it that) was magnificently jaw-dropping. Thank goodness for closed captioning—this list of mine would not exist without it and I would be missing out on TV’s current Golden Age for sure.
I recently received an amazing book about Ed Emberley (put together by Todd Oldham and Caleb Neelon) that is like cake, candy, AND ice cream for the eyes and soul. And Lumberjanes by Shannon Watters, Grace Ellis and Noelle Stevenson is AMAZING. I’m also eagerly anticipating (there is actual drool on my chin for this book) Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier!
And oh yeah, I have to admit that even though I wouldn’t know her music if you played it for me right now, I have this fascination with Taylor Swift. Go figure.
Music isn’t sounding so great to me lately, but I’m getting new hearing aids soon so maybe I can go back to my Burt Bacharach and Sergio Mendes albums with renewed joy. We’ll see.