D&Q SHOWCASE 3 on Comics World News

“Drawn & Quarterly's Latest Showcase” / Comic World News / Comics World News Staff / August 9, 2005

How does number three measure up?

The first edition of the Drawn & Quarterly Showcase was easily my favorite between it and the second volume. For some reason, the second one never really registered with me as a reader despite a promising line-up. I hadn’t really been expecting much out of the third volume either until I saw the artists involved. Genevieve Elverum had contributed a neat story to Kramer’s Ergot volume 4 and Sammy Harkham hasn’t yet done anything that I haven’t totally fallen for.

Now with the release of the third volume, the first is still my favorite, but just barely. This third volume is good. It’s well balanced between the less conventional form of narrative by Genevieve Elverum, the more traditional nine panel grid of Sammy Harkham, and Matt Broersma’s work that falls somewhere in the middle. However, nothing hit me like Huizenga’s Glen Ganges story this time.

In the third volume, there are three contributors featured. The first section from Genevieve Elverum ignores normal layouts in favor of floating images loosely tied together with accompanying text. Elverum splits her sections into three meditations on life, with the first being the most convincing. It’s easier to conceptualize something like depression with pictures and she does so in a very compelling manner. “What is depression,” is scrawled in a looping cursive style at the top of the first page. Then there are three drawings of a girl on her bed. There are no backgrounds, just the girl and the bed, beautifully rendered in just the right amount and tone of color. In the first picture, the girl holds a book and squints as if she’s pondering the question about depression. In the second, she’s dropped her book to the ground and wrapped a pillow tightly around the back of her head. In the third, she’s still on the bed, but she’s on her knees. The pillow is still wrapped around the back of her head, but she’s leaning forward. Her mouth is wide open in a scream, her hair is wild and there are little flecks of spittle in the air. The text at the top of the next page answers the question, “What is depression?” It reads, “the feeling of skin being too tight…” The next image is of the girl screaming into her pillow.

Perhaps, I was moved too much by her first story that the next part fell short, but it didn’t resonate as much when I read the second part. Elverum changes scenery to a wintry mountainside as she thinks about true love and the way it changes a person’s life. The ending is cute though; actually it’s adorable. This section proves that D&Q still has a knack for recognizing under utilized talent. Elverum also provides the front and back cover of Showcase 3.

Kramer’s Ergot editor Sammy Harkham provides the middle section of this Showcase. His is an unhurried piece that explores the boredom of a summer in a dead-end town just before the senior year of high school. There’s nothing spectacular that takes place in these pages, but the accumulated weight of the events feels like an event in itself. This could be anyone’s summer, but it belongs to a small group of young people and the families that revolve around them in the background. One girl wears her recently deceased brother’s shoes and another girl finds out that her boyfriend or “would be boyfriend” is drifting away from her just when it seems like she needs him the most.

Harkham uses white black and several shades of orange to capture the setting and emotion of his story. As a reader you almost feel trapped in the panels with the characters, as their summer rolls by like the waters of a lazy creek. Great cartoonists like Harkham understand how to structure stories in a way to encourage reader participation and here again he uses that skill. He uses quiet moments or panels that allow a reader to use their own life experience to augment the story. Comics can be great in this way. For example, you see a silent street or a drawing of a house, and maybe it looks like a street or house you’ve seen before. This isn’t a photograph of a street or a house, but a likeness. There’s room for interpretation and it gives the reader a sense of ownership in the story that’s somewhere between a novel where you use the author’s description then fill in the details in your mind, and a film where you’re almost passively accepting what you see on the screen.

The third artist featured in this volume was the one that I was unfamiliar with. Matt Broersma’s work struck me as a blend of Ben Katchor and Richard Sala, which is not a bad place to be in my mind. Visually, he has shades of both cartoonists, but story wise he leans closer to Sala. There’s a ghost that convinces a man to put his body to rest, only to show up in the third part of Broersma’s section as a hypnotist. In between the first and last story, is a piece on a female journalist that travels to exotic locales. She also is the engine that drives the last story. Occasionally, Broersma uses newspaper headlines to help tell his story and even includes an entire page, as a complete page in his own tale, of a fictional novel to help develop the character of an American author. It’s a tricky tool that could have failed in a different type of setting, but here it felt right at home.

Broersma uses shades of gray and green, similar to how Harkham uses orange. Broersma’s line is thicker than Harkham’s thin line, but shakier and less direct. This shaky line actually lends itself to the almost supernatural setting of this last section of Showcase. I enjoyed how little details reoccurred as Broersma’s tale played out on the page, most notably, the fictional novel by the playboy American writer that popped up at odd times. Visually, this was the least exciting part of Showcase Three, but the story and the way it was told made Broersma’s work something to keep an eye out for in the future.

The Drawn & Quarterly Showcase Three is a very reasonable $14.95 for just shy of 100 pages. I would also recommend the first volume that features a long Kevin Huizenga story and a piece by Nicholas Robel. It’s less than $12 on sale at the D&Q website.

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