By Michael Cavna September 23
‘EL DEAFO’: With her first (and so funny) graphic novel,
deaf Va. artist CECE BELL hopes her tale will help others
IT IS A STORY Cece Bell knew she wanted to tell, and believed it was something she should share. But it took decades of discovery and experience, and then artistic growth and parenthood, to get to a place where she was ready to put it to paper.
At age 4, Bell suffered a brief bout with meningitis that left her “severely to profoundly deaf.” Soon she was wearing hearing aids, and a large Phonic Ear across her chest. As her life, too, began to change profoundly, she created an alter-ego – El Deafo! – who, amid a child’s sense of vulnerability and uncertainty, was determined to feel empowered by her being “different.”
Now, at age 43, Bell has introduced her superheroic self to the world in her emotionally truthful graphic-novel debut — titled, naturally, “El Deafo”(Amulet). As memoir, it is a work that demanded its own journey.
“I think the story was easier to tell, since I knew the material inside and out, and I’ve pretty much spent my whole life trying to make sense of some of the things that happened to me,” Bell tells The Post’s Comic Riffs (ahead of her appearance Wednesday morning at Washington’s Politics & Prose bookstore, and tomorrow afternoon at One More Page Books in Arlington, Va.) . “But the [five-year] execution of the book was probably the hardest project I’ve ever taken on in my life.
“I’ve said it so many times my throat hurts: I don’t see how the graphic novelists in this world make more than one of these things in one lifetime!”
Bell was born in Richmond, and “El Deafo” recounts her childhood growing up near Roanoke. Her Virginia roots run through her work in many ways, including the very illustration itself. She created the inviting art of “El Deafo” with Eisner-winning colorist David Lasky, whom she and her husband met while attending the College of William & Mary.