Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Drawn & Quarterly edited by Tom Devlin with a cast of thousands

You might think I'm joking with that headline, but the title page lists four other people who helped Devlin edit this book, two people (including Devlin) who designed it, five who worked on the production, and Helge Dascher, who translated whatever was originally in other languages. And then the book itself is nearly eight hundred pages long, on relatively heavy stock to show off the art. There's a lot of stuff here, and it required a lot of people to bring it into the world.

The resulting monolith has the run-on title Drawn & Quarterly: Twenty-Five Years of Contemporary Cartooning, Comics, and Graphic Novels. Some small pieces of it may not be exactly contemporary -- there are reprints of work by John Stanley and Tove Jansson, for example, and several others I'm overlooking in the very long Table of Contents right now -- but it all can be thrown into the buckets of "cartooning, comics, and graphic novels." I will stand aside if anyone wants to start defining exactly which pieces go into which of those buckets, or how those buckets are different from each other -- that's a fight I want no part of.

But I should note that a huge piece of this book is not words-and-pictures-juxtaposed, which somewhat surprised me. It's something of a coffee-table book history of D&Q, with lots of text pieces covering the company and all of their major cartoonists, with many of those cartoonists writing about each other and plenty of writers-about-comics telling us why this person or that is so totally awesome. (And I agree with nearly all of them, nearly all of the time.) So you should know that this book is even longer than it looks -- it's not eight hundred pages of comics, it's about five hundred pages of comics wedded to a three-hundred-page book of essays.

We all know that any review of a book like this is going to degenerate into a list of names at some point, right? Well, let me get into it, then. D&Q showcases the work of a large number of cartoonists closely associated with that publisher, including the original famous triumvirate (Chester Brown, Seth, and Joe Matt), Julie Doucet, Adrian Tomine, James Sturm, Jason Lutes, Dylan Horrocks, Chris Ware, Daniel Clowes, Frank King, John Stanley, Doug Wright, Yoshihiro Tatsumi, Michel Rabagliati, Rutu Modan, Kevin Huizenga, Anders Nilsen, Duy Delisle, John Porcellino, Brian Ralph, Ron Rege, Jr., Marc Bell, Mimi Pond, Vanessa Davis, Tove Jansson, Lynda Barry, Kate Beaton, Pascal Girard, Tom Gauld, Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie, Seiichi Hayashi, Denys Wortman, Art Spiegelman, Brecht Vandenbroucke, Michael DeForge, and Shigeru Mizuki.

(And that's not even a full list.)

But the point of the book is not that it has a lot of cartoonists shoveled in; it's that it tells the story of a great publisher, run by a smart team (originally Chris Oliveros, pretty much all alone for ten to fifteen years, and joined by a number of others -- most prominently Peggy Burns and Devlin -- over the past decade) that took a chance on smart, artistic, literary work both from close to them (Quebec and Canada in general) and around the world, because they believed in the strength of those stories and that artwork. D&Q has never chased trends, it's never put out a book about people in capes punching the world better, and it's never pandered to anyone.

And Drawn & Quarterly (the book) is a great monument to the work that Drawn & Quarterly (the publishing company) has done over those twenty-five years. It has a massive number of pages of great comics, and it's going to be a very rare reader that's already familiar with more than 75% of it. If you like comics as an artform and a medium for serious expression, this is a book you need to read.

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