November 2004

Bryan Miller


Drawn & Quarterly Showcase: Book Two

Drawn and Quarterly is the single best publisher of American comics. Top Shelf has the occasional hit and Fantagraphics used to occupy the position, but no current company even comes close to so consistently producing new work by the top talent in the industry.

Comics anthologies, however, tend to be a mixed bag. With a few notable exceptions (the comics issue of McSweeny's and perhaps last year's surprisingly good True Porn), they tend to highlight one or two strong artists whose work is wrapped in at best mediocre material. Drawn and Quarterly has such a strong track record, however, that the notion of a D&Q anthology can't help but sound appealing. Drawn and Quarterly Showcase: Book Two doesn't feature the company's most prominent artists, however, but rather two European artists, Pentti Otsamo and Erik De Graaf, as well as Top Shelf's Jeffrey Brown.

Otsamo opens Showcase with the strongest of the three entries, “Life During Wartime,” a nicely drawn but medicoure, all-too-familiar story. The last thing the indie comics scene needs is another story about a lonely man who collects things, people who still haven't gotten over lost loves or sad boys whose world of childish innocence is undercut by a cynical, pre-adult view of life. Otsamo manages to combine all three, plus throw in some dead pets just to be safe. His story isn't so much bad as it is a rerun. Nothing he does hasn't been done better, and quite similarly, in a hundred other, better comics.

The second and most disappointing story in the collection is by Chicago's Jeffrey Brown. His books Clumsy and Unlikely were both strong, fairly original takes in the I Miss My Girlfriend sub-genre of comics, earnest and sad and well told. Brown's art is intentionally sketchy; he draws in hurried, lines as though each strip was dashed off in a few minutes in his sketchbook, giving his work the feel of a diary. This works very well in autobio tales where the raw emotion of the work is benefited by the hurried but earnest looking work lacking in technical mastery or the artist calculating of a careful draftsperson. But Brown's “Monday Nightmare,” which is “based on actual events” according to Brown, just looks shoddy. He tells a pedestrian story about a murder that is framed by a nightmare. None of it feels real or immediate and the story is not only fairly dull, but told in such a way to minimize any kind of narrative payoff. The sketchbook style art doesn't add anything to the already dull story, and the whole work comes off as incredibly amateurish-unfortunate considering how good Brown can be.

The final tale, the story story “Game” by De Graaf, is beautiful looking. His visual style is reminiscent of the Canadian artist Seth with its Toth-like simplicity and blue-and-gray tones. The story, however, is stunningly dull and one-dimensional. A boy goes to his grandparents' farm and learns where meat comes from. Over the course of several pages, obviously. But then he goes to sleep and it's okay. It reads like a children's story for PETA members with a Twilight Zone ending. The D&Q Showcase isn't much of a showcase of Drawn and Quarterly at all. It reads more like Fantagraphics most egregiously dull foreign reprints blended with Top Shelf B-sides. It's the kind of indie comics that makes one wonder, Does anyone have any Batman comics handy?

Drawn & Quarterly Showcase: Book Two
Drawn & Quarterly
ISBN: 1896597815
95 Pages