Page 45 Review by Stephen
This may be the first comic's spine that is actually a comic!
Here are 750 pages of comics, comics criticism and comicbook creators providing keen insight into each other's work whilst singing the praises of one of the greatest comicbook publishers in history, and I've been enthralled for days.
It's true that some of the comics are readily accessible reprints but the overwhelming majority are either completely new (Tom Gauld) or so rare that you'll never have seen them unless you are actually on the receiving end of Chester Brown's Christmas cards.
Normally I would skip all the prose in favour of the comics themselves - at least to begin with - but Sean Rogers' 45-page account of Drawn & Quarterly's 25-year history with captain Chris Oliveros at its helm is so exceptionally eloquent that I barely even glanced at the photos. With additional research by Jeet Heer and interspersed with first-hand accounts by the likes of Oliveros' cohorts Peggy Burns and Tom Devlin, it was exhilarating, infectious and refreshing, articulating everything I adore about Drawn & Quarterly's honourable ethos, aesthetics and priorities which can be distilled succinctly thus: the comics and their creators come first.
While the publisher Fantagraphics is described as more "transgressive", and RAW magazine under Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly as "formally inventive" and "avant-garde", I would wholeheartedly agree that what distinguishes D&Q's comics and graphic novels is that they are distinctly, overwhelmingly "literary", as well as beautiful art objects. Speaking of beautiful art objects, BUILDING STORIES's Chris Ware has this to say about its former flagship anthology:
"Conspicuously Canadian for its gentle editorial tone, the magazine seemed to point toward a new disposition from which to cartoon, offering a kind and congenial challenge to the sometimes sneery adolescence of American alternative comics of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Chester Brown, Maurice Vellecoop, and Seth (and yes, even you, Joe Matt) all seemed to be getting at something generous, uncertain and awkwardly human in their work..."
Hilariously human is how Lisa Hanawalt depicts life at the D&Q offices in a sprightly coloured double-page spread which sees them all out in a park, high-kicking in clogs while answering the telephone, languishing on a chaise longue or typing away in a hot tub while "Panels the pig selects promising submissions" from his really quite tidy pig pen. Their shipping and delivery service is handled by wolves, naturally.
As to the future, as well as the spine, Tom Gauld supplies the cover and endpapers wherein a cross-section of an asteroid shows beautiful books piled high - and low - everywhere! They're racked on shelves, stacked on cupboards and some are even secreted under the floor boards while one has been left lying after being flicked through in its spacecraft hangar.
The message is emphatic and clear: IN THE FUTURE, THERE WILL BE BOOKS!
You really wouldn't want to read this digitally, would you?
There is no way on God's good Earth than I can cover all the comics here from David Mazzucchelli, Kate Beaton, Chris Ware, Anders Nilsen, Chester Brown, Dan Clowes, Michael DeForge, Tom Gauld, Miriam Katin, Rutu Modan, James Sturm, Jillian Tamaki, Joe Matt, John Porcellino, Louis Trondheim, Gabrielle Bell, Brian Ralph, Ron Rege Jr, Marc Bell, Pascal Girard, Yoshihiro Tatsumi, Shigeru Mizuki, Guy Delisle, Lynda Barry, Mimi Pond, Julie Doucet, Art Spiegelman, Kevin Huizenga, Adrian Tomine and so very many more, nor the enlightening essays by Margaret Atwood (yes, Margaret Atwood!), Lemony Snicket, Sheila Heti, Jonathan Lethem, Deb Olin Unferth, Heather O'Neill, Fiona Duncan and many more still!
However, I loved how Margaret Atwood described HARK, A VAGRANT!'s Kate Beaton's approach in her appreciation of Beaton and the broader tradition of bubble bursting:
"There's a burping in church aspect to Beaton's approach. It doesn't demolish the church, but it does add another dimension."
While discussing Anders Nilsen Fiona Duncan writes...
"To separate fiction from non-fiction is a false divide, I've come to believe. All communication is storytelling."
And she does have a point. Even autobiography is subjective and there's an awful lot of illusion involved, regardless of whether the wool-pulling's intentional. Kevin Huizenga issues just such a slight of hand in 'My Career In Comics' - to begin with anyway. You start to suspect that he's having a laugh when he details his distraction, nay, obsession with drawing and redrawing and Photoshopping hair.
Funnier still, BIG QUESTIONS' Anders Nilsen can't help himself when analysing The Past (Cosmic, Not To Scale) and The Present (More Or Less) before foraging in The Future during 'Me And The Universe' originally published in the New York Times on September 24th 2014 - and that's what I mean about most of these comics being rare. Of the time period 0 to 38,000 years after the Big Bang he writes: "Clouds of particles too hot / agitated to connect in any meaningful way. (Similar to 3 year period in your late adolescence.)" You might spot the USS Enterprise among the planets.
From Chris Ware's personal sketchbook comes 'My New Pal Tramadol' and a more recreational drug strip which ends in a queasy blur-burst of colour. It's followed by a full formed two-page 'Joanne Cole' comic I believe is brand-new and informed by an earlier sketch and the autobiography / far-flung life cycle of a copper coin which has only ever appeared in an abridged form in the New York Times Magazine on April 10th 2014.
There's a new, blue Mimi Pond memoir about being invisible, man-spoken to and meeting Tom Waits.
And unless you read RAW you won't have stumbled upon 'Sneaking Out' by WHAT IT IS' Lynda Barry and you'll never have seen her hand-painted script for 'Cruddy'. It's awful to think that Barry's career was once almost over and resurrected only thanks to D&Q, which gives you some indication of why the publisher is indispensible.
But then it's equally sobering to be reminded that D&Q was once so close to foundering that Oliveros "in all good consciousness" attempted to actively dissuade marketing genius Peggy Burns from coming to work with him. Of the Drawn & Quarterly retail outlet she writes - I forget where - that every publisher should spend time working in a book shop and every retailer should publish at least one book.
I'm definitely down with the first but staring at this D&Q doorstop the second enterprise petrifies me!