New and recent titles from D+Q reviewed in the Santa Fe New Mexican

“Panelhead: Beast of the Young & Restless” / The Santa Fe New Mexican / Brandon Garcia / November 26, 2006

For years now, some of the best-looking books have been produced by a tiny Canadian publisher, Drawn & Quarterly. And by that, I mean the physical appearance of the books and not the enticing panels within. I'm not knocking their quality either: Drawn & Quarterly's catalog is the only one I browse, excitedly noting upcoming releases.

Many of their authors are foreign or young and often both. Take Kevin Huizenga, for example, who at 29 is only two years older than me. D&Q recently published Curses, a collection of his stories that live up to its namesake. It opens with philosophical musings on pagan superstition, juxtaposing modern and Victorian examples. Then it segues into contemporary stories about suburbia and infertility before changing themes and reconsidering the nature of curses altogether.

My reaction to Huizenga is mixed. His imitation of Victorian prose is eerily good, but the story is dull and I found myself skimming to the end. Yet his modern stories, told through the lens of folklore are much more entertaining, even if they lack the depth of the collection's opener.

As Huizenga has Glenn Ganges, our hero throughout the collection, meet his wife because of the pair's insomnia, I decided he's a big ol' softie.

Next up is Shenzen, Guy Delisle's account of his visit to the industrial Chinese city. Having already won acclaim with his journal from Pyongyang, Delisle seems determined to visit Asian cities that no one wants to visit.

Shenzen is a series of anecdotes without an overriding story. That doesn't trouble me much because I accepted the book as journalism. Shenzen looks filthy and forcibly isolated and those conditions plague. Delisle seems detached as he recounts translation problems and adventures with public toilets. The Chinese seem friendly and curious, but also distant, as does the author.

Delisle has a good eye for detail, like his sketches of shiny modern buildings amid the urban decay and his illustrations of how throngs of bicycles manage to maneuver without catastrophe. I'll also give him this: If he ate everything he claims to -- including goat lung and dog -- he has a more adventurous palate than I do, and I once applauded myself for eating veal kidney.

As brave an eater as Delisle is, I have to nod toward Julie Doucet and admit that drawing comics as discomfiting as hers takes some guts, too.

Doucet's collection, My Most Secret Desire, is mostly a series of dreams, many of them nightmares about femininity. (I guess Huizenga chose his title first.)

Here, Doucet recounts dreams of rape, menstruation and captivity. Her work is weird and sometimes repulsive. She also seems very fascinated by gender transformation, but in trite or narcissistic ways, as in the self-explanatory If I was a Man I'd Have to Shave and The Double, an ode to self-love. Most confusing was If I Was a Man, which could be read several ways, but where I think she reveals that she'd be a rapist. I don't know if its intent is to slander men for their supposed chauvinist entitlement or praise women for their supposed preening virtue.

Normally, I judge comics on entertainment value, but Doucet is aiming higher. I don't like what she has to say, but I grudgingly have to admit she's good at what she does. She challenges us while expressing an existential fear and loathing of humanity while maintaining a smile. It's quite a balancing act and I hope no one tries to duplicate it. One Doucet is enough.

Last month, I reviewed a group of anthologies, but I left one out for this column: Drawn & Quarterly Showcase No. 4, three stories by Gabrielle Bell, Martin Cendreda and Dan Zettwoch that provide a sample of the publisher's
taste.

Everything I've bought by Bell has been worthwhile, and this story is no exception. It's an ominous story about art and artists filled with self-doubt and a touch of self-loathing. But it's also hopeful, too, making the story an apt metaphor for the lives of artists I've known.

Cendreda matches Bell's strange mood with a story about kids and dogs running around separately during a sweltering summer with an unseen serial killer on the loose. Oddly, a grandpa and his Filipino superstitions hold the story together. I haven't managed to do it, but I think the key to this story is figuring out how all those pieces add up.

Zettwoch's story about the 1937 flood in Louisville, Ky. closes this collection. It's a straightforward story, but people who've never lived through a flood should check it out. All kinds of weird things happen that are well-suited to illustration and Zettwoch finds plenty of them for his story.

I started off by writing about D&Q's quality. Check out this sampler to see what I mean.

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