Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Envelope Manufacturer by Chris Oliveros

Chris Oliveros is best-known for other people's comics: he was the founder and publisher of Drawn & Quarterly for its first twenty-five years, only stepping away recently to concentrate on his own comics. I believe The Envelope Manufacturer is his first book-length comic, but I'm sure shorter works lurk in the background -- possibly as long ago as the beginning of D&Q, or even older.

Oddly though, from the evidence here, Oliveros has been powerfully influenced by Seth. We have an office in what feels like a provincial Canadian city, some years ago -- say the 1950s, but it doesn't have to be then. The men wear suits with wide ties, the women have longish skirts and fussy hair. They work at a deeply old-fashioned and dying industry, in a marginal end of even that: a tiny shop making envelopes. And that business is failing, and has been failing, first slowly and now rapidly, for some time. They talk elliptically to each other, saying the same things over and over again and seeming to hope for a different answer this time.

Oliveros's line is shakier -- deliberately, as a stylistic choice -- than Seth's is, but there are some minor similarities in the art as well,  mixed in with Oliveros's tiny feet and shading done with many little hand-drawn parallel lines.

Mostly, though, this is a story driven by dialogue -- not conversation, since they all talk past each other and it doesn't change anything -- but by their long speeches at each other, about what they want and need and should have had, about how to make the business strong again, about all sorts of things that they're clearly all completely wrong about. While they talk, Oliveros's virtual camera swoops around, showing this person and that, diving out into the street or just outside the window, as if even he can't stand to stay in the company of the characters he's created. (That may be unfair, but I think it's amusing, so I'll leave it in.)

I don't know if comics needs another chronicler of low-key business failure and despair, but we seem to have just gotten one. And Oliveros is pretty good at that, with a whimsical line making up for the bleakness of his character's situations.

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