Drawn and Quarterly is perhaps the most widely adored name in contemporary comics and graphic novels, its "market value" in all likelihood still less than that of Fantagraphics but its output, to my mind, more consistently revelatory; with its renown comes undoubted scorn and disdain: even more than its main competitor, it has recently produced more titles to have gained significant and – dare the word and distinction, each offensive to their separate audiences, be invoked – mainstream attention, among them Adrian Tomine's terrific Shortcomings and the more recent of the remarkable Chris Ware's ACME Novelty Library series.
Their catalogue is enormous, and, boasting among their artists such people as Gabrielle Bell, Gary Panter, R. Crumb, Joe Sacco, Julie Doucet, Seth, and Lynda Barry – and republishing the work of such singular artists as Tove Jansson and Yoshihiro Tatsumi –, it is no wonder they have been receiving so much attention.
Tatsumi's A Drifting Life is one of the most tremendous works I've recently come across. I've not yet finished it, nor am I particularly eager to: its world – a memoir as thinly veiled as genre distinctions may allow – is immersive, and the events recounted within compelling, often quite moving, and subtly transfixing; and yet I find myself often happy to put it aside for weeks at a time. It's difficult to trace this, precisely; perhaps it's simply a result of the work's episodic nature, or perhaps it's simply all too much, and it's storytelling much too literal, for continuous consumption. This nonetheless marks an enormous event in English-language publishing, and it has become a requisite staff selection for all self-respecting independent bookstores.
Steve Mumford has received a great deal of attention for his depictions of life embedded in Iraq; he recently finished his fourth tour and released Baghdad Journal, a collection of his drawings. He is a terrific illustrator, and this work provides a novel and often stunning vision of the war; neither explicitly condemnatory nor dispassionate and ostensibly objective, the collection works most vividly and movingly as a visceral remnant of life as lived in the ruins and fear of battle: his touch – and the proximity of his touch to that which he depicts – is remarkably palpable.
Gabrielle Bell's poignant and quietly profound Cecil and Jordan in New York is one of my absolute favorite of their publications, one I return to – particularly its title story, which Michel Gondry is adapting into a film – quite frequently. It traffics in fairly conventional romanticized tropes of urban solitude, but its cleverness and self-consciousness are less burdensome than often is the case in like-minded works.
I'm very much looking forward to reading 32 Stories, a collection of Tomine's early Optic Nerve stories, and I rarely leave a bookstore without eyeing yearningly their now-four volume collection of Jansson's Moomin strips; her The Book About Moomin, Mymble and Little My – which I had not previously heard of – looks delightful, but I have not yet come across it in person. Drawn and Quarterly's annual Showcase series, in which the work of lesser known artists is given venue, is one of the highlights of my year. The publisher provides a near-endless trove of works to peruse, into which to increasingly invest oneself; it is one of the few major independent publishing houses to allow its artists to fully indulge in and explore their aesthetic, intellectual, and emotional pursuits as independently as they wish.
Chris Ware, ACME Novelty Library #19
Yoshihiro Tatsumi, A Drifting Life
Gabrielle Bell, Cecil and Jordan in New York: Stories by Gabrielle Bell