D + Q spotlighted by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“Graphic Novels” / St. Louis Post-Dispatch / Cliff Froehlich / March 25, 2007

Smaller than Fantagraphics but just as ambitious in its aesthetic goals, the Montreal-based Drawn and Quarterly (www.drawnandquarterly.com) publishes some of graphic lit's finest artists, including Chester Brown, Joe Sacco, Jason Lutes and St. Louis' Kevin Huizenga.

Through the various incarnations of its titular anthology, "Drawn and Quarterly," the company also has helped introduce English-speaking audiences to an impressive array of significant international artists, a mission it continues to fulfill with books by such talents as Yoshihiro Tatsumi, Tove Jansson, and the team of Phillipe Dupuy and Charles Berberian.

Marguerite Abouet and Clément Oubrerie's "Aya" (112 pages, $19.95) is D&Q's latest cross-cultural gift, a charming and unexpectedly cheery coming-of-age story set in the Ivory Coast during the late 1970s. Refreshing as it is to read a tale of Africa that doesn't deal in genocide, famine or general strife, "Aya" sometimes veers dangerously close to the life lessons of young-adult lit, with the eponymous good-girl heroine hectoring her boy-crazy friends Adjoua and Bintou about their scandalous ways.

But if the general outlines of the story are familiar, the specifics are delightfully exotic, with Abouet vividly sketching the environs and rituals of Abidjan during its regrettably brief time as the "Paris of West Africa." She's considerably aided by Oubrerie's loose, energetic and vibrantly colored art.

In addition to its more traditional graphic-lit offerings, Drawn and Quarterly dabbles in what might be termed art books with comics connections. Some are quite elaborate, such as artist Steve Mumford's "Baghdad Journal," a hardcover compendium of drawings and watercolors made in Iraq during the war.

But the company also publishes a line of small paperbacks called Petites Livres. The latest is cartoonist Charles Burns' "One Eye" (144 pages, $14.95), a collection of digital photographs in which the artist juxtaposes two pictures to alternately ironic, disquieting and amusing effect. Photos of toys, pets, body parts, food, household objects, landscapes and architectural details play off one another in fascinating and often disturbing ways, eliciting the same creeping unease as Burns' eerily perfect drawing style.

Cliff Froehlich is executive director of Cinema St. Louis, presenter of the St. Louis International Film Festival.

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