Drawn & Quarterly 25th Anniversary – various artists (2015)

Although they have existed in some form or another almost as long as there have been comics, the non-formulaic format had been a rare breed that emerged only in the last few decades or so. In the age before comic shops were even around the ‘spinner racks’ were exclusively composed of genre specific titles falling into either the superhero, horror, western, funnies or romance categories.

One of the publishing driving forces that changed all of that was Drawn & Quarterly, a Montreal institution that paved the way for many Canadian and later international independent comic artists and writers. To celebrate their silver anniversary Drawn and Quarterly published a massive tome – over 775 pages if you count all the fiddly bits – Drawn & Quarterly: Twenty-five Years of Contemporary Cartooning, Comics and Graphic Novels.

Like many comic fans (and many of the D&Q creators themselves) my introduction to comics was paved with Batman, Superman and other caped heroes. The hand-me-down stack I inherited from cousins even before I could read them (and helped me learn to read) were from DC, Marvel, Harvey, Gold Key, and the odd Archie. They were created by artists and writers hired to stream a repetitive monthly title within the boundaries of characters that delivered either action, jokes or scares. First and foremost, they were commercial properties and driven by profits. They followed a staid blueprint with the exception of trying out the occasional new character in the hopes of having another popular title. They catered to a pulp reading audience, mostly juvenile mirroring their patrons.

While there are earlier examples of what can be described as ‘indie comics’, the modern form sprung from the counterculture of the 60’s which broke with tradition by publishing ‘underground comix’ that catered to the rebellious liberal youth. Suddenly artists like Robert Crumb  were releasing small press runs of hallucinogenic, sex and drug oriented content. But the whimsy of those ‘comix’ also began to elicit intellectual ramblings, although mostly targeting authoritarian society.

Those libertine ‘hippie’ comix soon gave way to the modern ‘indie’ comic and graphic novels. They are introspective, often non-sequential and non- linear, at times autobiographical, but always thought provoking. They often canvass adult matter and tap into taboo territory. They employ drawing styles that range from minimalist to densely packed panels using fine lines, jagged edges and anything in between.

Beginning with their humble beginnings in founder Chris Oliveros’ kitchen the Drawn & Quarterly anniversary collection is a montage of articles, often creator specific, interspersed with just the right minute dose of comic samples from each to get a feel of their work. Written by both industry insiders and D&Q staff over the years, it emphasizes their early years featuring the legendary triumvirate of Canadian indy comic colleagues Seth, Chester Brown and my personal favourite (American but former longtime Canadian resident) Joe Matt. Other luminaries include Julie Doucet, Adrian Tomine, Chris Ware, Joe Sacco and many, many others. Other articles are dedicated to notable staff that have been essential to the production and success of D&Q, accented by tons of photos of both crew and contributing artists throughout the years.

Book with inserts

I found this treasure trove to not only be a great read from a historical point of view but as an introduction to a number of artists I was not familiar with and will be seeking out in my future shopping. If this book alone was not good enough it comes with some replica D&Q correspondence, envelopes and even a post-it note from a few select artists over the years as inserts.

I have to add one last tidbit about this volume that I basically consumed over the period of a few days. I borrowed this book from a friend whose husband found it rummaging a second hand store where it was not only priced at a paltry $3.99 but was further discounted another 20%. Talk about a ‘score’.

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