Book Review – Drawn & Quarterly 25 years (Drawn & Quarterly – 2015)

This celebration of the first 25 years of ‘contemporary cartooning, comics, and graphic novels from Canadian publisher Drawn & Quarterly (edited by Tom Devlin) is something of a leviathan.  At over 770 pages and weighing around 4lb 10oz (or 2.1kg if you work in metric) it’s not something you could snuggle down with in bed unless you have wrists of iron or a bed lectern.   

The book is crammed with cartoons, art work, photos, history, memoirs and written ‘appreciations’ of the many artists and cartoonists who have been associated with D&Q since it was started by Chris Oliveros in 1989.  D&Q has been likened to the comic equivalent of the New Yorker and many of the contributors to this book have achieved critical acclaim such as Julie Doucet, Seth, Joe Matt, Chester Brown, Art Spiegelman, Joe Sacco and many others.

In the early days D&Q struggled to get serious comic books taken, well ‘seriously.’ Amongst the reproduced ephemera is a leaflet entitled “Selling Graphic Novels in the book trade”, which is a charming pamphlet and something that booksellers could still learn from.

The work of the artists and cartoonists is preceded by an appreciation, which helps to set the work in context.  One that stood out was an appreciation of the cartoonist James Sturm by Noel Murray.  I’d not heard of Sturm before but the essay by Noel Murray made me want to read his work straight away.   This was followed by a story by Sturm about a comic artist who feels he is falling behind and about those he abandons in pursuing his aims.  Sturm adopts a variety of cartooning styles and the story ends in a neat punchline.

Naomi Fry describes the profound affect that the work of Daniel Clowes had on her:

If you weren’t consistently humiliated by life, you wouldn’t recall every stupid moment of it in such intense detail.

This is a feeling a lot of people can identify with and the autobiographical work of some of the artists linked to D&Q can be so open and honest, in the way that very personal and possibly embarrassing memories are bought to life, that the reader feels their pain and shame. 

Rather than just being lots of boring words to be endured between the cartoons, the written appreciations of the artists are genuinely interesting, illuminating and add to the enjoyment of the work.  

The D&Q artists enthuse about great cartoons from the past and the enduring impact that it has had on them.  Chris Ware writes fondly about Walt and Skeezix by Frank King, a strip where the characters aged in real time and ordinary things happen.  The strips reproduced in the book revealed a lovely, engrossing story of real life.

Seth writes at length about Doug Wright and argues he was every bit as important to comics and cartoons as Charles Schulz.  In capturing the texture of the 1960’s, Seth notes that Wright achieved it 

…thought work that was focuses on quite, tiny little moments.’

Wrights influence can be seen in the work of Seth which often has a quiet Zen like quality about it.  

Many of the cartoons are beautiful artworks in their own right and demand to be studied and appreciated, a couple of cases in point being the works of Denys Wortman and Shigeru Mizuki.

In a tome of this size with an amazing variety of contributors, not everything hits the mark but this would be true of any publisher who tried to put together a collection involving their entire roster of authors. 

This is a great collection and serves as a great introduction to D&Q and a celebration of its achievements over 25 years. 

 

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