A starving artist at the grocery store

Dorothy Gambrell is best known for her comic strip Cat and Girl, a deadpan little social commentary strip with a dry sense of humor and a heavy heart. It’s beautifully drawn, full of strong, clear lines and lively backgrounds, and the titular characters discuss nostalgia and consumerism and what it means to be alive. It features a bespectacled, lead-paint eating Cat and a glum, slump shouldered Girl, and their friends, who include an extremely laid back vampire and a mute, sweater wearing character called Bad Decision Dinosaur. Melodie actually introduced me to Cat and Girl, sending me a link to a strip about bacon:

This particular strip isn’t really representative of her recent work, which tends to feature fluid, complicated and informative backgrounds, but the bittersweet wit of Cat and Girl is still as razor sharp. And about bacon!

As much as I love Cat and Girl, the work that really catches at me is the stuff Dorothy does for Donation Derby. The premise is this: donate five bucks or more and she’ll draw you a comic showing you how she spent the money and mail it to you. I have “commissioned” two comics so far. (And really, mine are pretty great, I have to say.)

What results is a sketch diary of the day to day (and apparently rather threadbare) existence of a woman who does, in fact, make a living drawing comics on the internet – but on the frugal edge of NYC. The comics focus on bar conversations with friends at shows, things overheard while on line for the DMV, and what it’s like to dine on meatballs at Ikea. Dorothy is straightforward about the realities of earning your keep with your pen, and breaks it down for all to see with a schematic that tracks her cashflow.

I find her autobiographical stuff utterly compelling; her friends are witty and foolish, and she tends to characterize herself as a little old woman, with querulous ways, a love of boring shirts and Trader Joe’s peanut butter and a steadfast refusal to spend more than $15 bucks on any article of clothing. Her companion is the mustachioed screenprint artist she calls Mr. Chen, and they share burritos and check out new bands and watch Battlestar Galactica together. Reading the Derby comics, I am constantly amazed at how cheap/expensive things are in New York. Tolls out to Long Island cost more one way than what she and Mr. Chen spend on a night out enjoying burritos, PBR and a rock show. In fact, if you read back far enough, you can follow Dorothy and Mr. Chen being poor among the hipsters in Tuscon, AZ before they move back to New York. It’s oddly not as depressing as it sounds, I promise!

If you are searching for a restless narrative about a rootless, thoughtful, educated and fundamentally dissatisfied woman who plays in a rock band called Jenny and the Holzers, draws bitchin’ comics, and is willing to go two miles out of her way to get a deal on store-brand peanut butter, trust me, this strip is for you.

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kormantic has currently lost over 16 millionteen games of Words With Friends in a row. She lives with Matt in their secret lair in the heart of a volcano. She likes CANDY and words that rhyme.

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5 Responses to “A starving artist at the grocery store”

  1. Melodie says:

    You donated $20.10? Was that to commemorate the new year?

    • kormantic says:

      Yes. And it was twice as much as I’d donated the first time. We can’t find the first one, though. we framed the second one, even though she spelled my name wrong. (g)

      • Matt says:

        I still specifically remember putting that thing somewhere that seemed like a “safe place.” At least we have a copy of the Donation Derby book that includes the page, though.

  2. Penni says:

    I love the donation derby idea. That may be the only way I can afford commissioned art.

    • kormantic says:

      Well, you don’t get to ask for anything specific, she just draws what she feels like. (g) I encourage you to send a little cash her way, though! She’s fantastic.

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