Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #255: Drawn & Quarterly Showcase: Book Two

I've said this a couple of times already this year, but intense reading is a good way to clear out your shelves. It's also a good way to see what's actually on those shelves, and to try to remember how those books got there.

Sometimes, that isn't clear. For example, I had Drawn & Quarterly Showcase: Book Two, second in a series of five sort-of annual books (appearing between 2003 and 2008) from the publishing company of the same name, sitting up on my shelf. It was published in 2004, and still had a publicity letter sitting in it.

But I wasn't getting publicity copies back in 2004: I was still working at the SFBC then, and if I wanted a book (and had a decent-enough excuse for wanting it), I just called up my sub-rights contact at that publisher and asked to see it. Publicity didn't enter the picture at all until I stopped working on genre books for a day-job.

So I think this came along with the influx of books from friends after my 2011 flood: I got a bunch of things then and put them up on the shelves without always taking a lot of care to see what I had and what it meant. However it got here, it got put away and was forgotten for years, until the press of Book-A-Day led me to make an inventory of my quick-read books [1] to make it to the end of the year.

The point of Drawn & Quarterly Showcase, as far as I can tell a decade and a half later, was to highlight the work of new cartoonists, or ones who weren't familiar in North America. The ex-publishing hand in me sees that as a wonderful idea that inevitably leads to low sales -- who goes out of their way to read things they don't know anything about? -- so I'm not surprised the series ended.

This particular volume has a little less than a hundred pages of comics, with work from three men: Pennti Otsamo, Erik De Graaf, and Jeffrey Brown.

Otsamo is a Finn, who had published short stories in D&Q anthologies during the '90s and had recently embarked on a newspaper strip when this book appeared. He provides the cover, which is a moment from his story "Life During Wartime." Jani is a pre-teen boy who is moving into a new house with his recently divorced mother -- he's quiet and solitary, but, though him, we see a web of connections of the locals, from the grumpy man in the apartment next door to the casually cruel group of boys Jani tries to befriend.

De Graaf is Dutch, and drew the endpapers as well as the concluding story, "Game." This one is about a boy visiting a farm, who learns that there aren't a whole bunch of rabbit there because they're pets. To make it more pointed, he learns this at dinner.

In the middle is the lone American, Brown. (D&Q is a Canadian company, so all of the creators were foreigners for them!) He was at the beginning of his career at this point: only Clumsy and Unlikely had appeared. His contribution here is in that style: a bunch of mostly four-panel pages, in mini-comics style -- all linked into a loosely related story but without any overall title. Two co-workers at a warehouse go through an eventful week -- one has a recurring nightmare, the other has a disappointing birthday with his girlfriend, and both discover the dirty clothes of a little girl in a truck which may be related to a death -- told in individual moments.

As you'd expect from D&Q, this is all on the art-comics side: stories about people, in a literary style, about what they experience and feel in real worlds. They're all good stories, but the Brown is probably the best, with a creepy power that comes from not explaining all of the details and ending with the comics equivalent of a camera lens pulling away. I'd love a comics ecosystem with more space for stories like these, but I suppose I should just be glad the long-underwear crowd has relaxed their grip enough to let any of it exist.

[1] Literally: I have a Google spreadsheet with about 200 lines on it, listing all of the books I have immediately available for Book-A-Day in various categories, with columns for when I expect to read them and what Book-A-Day number I'm expecting them to slot into.

(This is more complicated that it might look, since I'm trying to jam multi-book series into single posts as much as possible, like my six-book Saga of the Swamp Thing post back in July and the nine (!) Nexus Archives I'm reading this week.)

Those of you who actually know me in real life will not be surprised by this.

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