Peggy Burns Talks Petits Livres

“Four Small Books and One Big One” / Safe Walls / January 18, 2011

For a full two decades now, since its founding in 1991, Montreal-based publisher Drawn & Quarterly has proven itself not only forward-thinking in the comics it chooses to release, but an important influence on the direction of intelligent graphic literature for adults, in North America and beyond. D&Q’s earliest successes were autobiographical comics by talents like Julie Doucet and Chester Brown, but their mandate soon expanded far wider.
Not content with comics alone, in 2004 Drawn & Quarterly launched its Petit Livre line, a series of compact collection of largely non-narrative art, from sketchbook extracts to gallery-ready goodies, by creators with one foot in the scrappy realm of alternative comics, the other in the lofty heights of the fine art world.

“As comic book publishers, we are fans of all things visual,” says Peggy Burns, D&Q’s Associate Publisher, Publicity & Sales. “A few years ago, we wanted to publish artists that were either cartoonists, or cartoonist-like, but our standard high end production values would cause the books to be too overpriced for the casual consumer, so we decided to create an imprint that would be affordable both in price and format, allowing people to take a chance to buy a book whose art captures their eye. The series gets more popular with each title.”

Here’s our selection of the best among D&Q’s growing array of such art books:
Lady Pep, Julie Doucet (2004)

At the turn of the ’90s, Montrealer Julie Doucet was a breakout underground comic star for the then-new publisher, Drawn & Quarterly, her surrealist yet brutally honest self-examinations proving her an important new female voice in the medium. Doucet’s work has become my oriented to the fine arts in recent years, and so fittingly, the first of Drawn & Quarterly’s Petit Livres was this gathering of miniature drawings and handmade artifacts — Doucet’s “Slow Movement” ideas and series of serigraphed art objects, Sophie Punt, are documented here.
Bacter-Area, Keith Jones (2005)

Jones’s Bacter-Area, among the smallest of D&Q’s Petits Livres, is nonetheless jam-packed with lines, shapes and colours — and with mystics and moustaches, kitty-cats and kooky cars, laser beams and ime cream cones. In other words, a cryptic mish-mash of dense, detailed crowd scenes, punctuated by Jones’s occasional “Interdimensional Observations” comics. “Jones lets his subconscious do the talking,” says Burns. “There are pages of intricately drawn inter-species mobs, birds flying next to hot air balloons half their size, and a handful of sculptures scattered throughout.”
Pohádky, Marek Colek & Pat Shewchuk (2008)

Toronto’s Marek Colek and Pat Shewchuk (the duo behind Tin Can Forest studios) apply an astoundingly sleek illustration style, richly organic yet masterfully precise and controlled, to the iconography of the Eastern European folklore they grew up with. Witches, wild beasts, devils and Death himself are tangled together in tableaux that conjure up strange legends never told. Burns calls the book “a tapestry of folk iconography and fables, set against the Europe of peasants, small villages, and eerie forests. Using characters drawn from Czech and Ukrainian folklore and artistic tradition, Colek and Shewchuk take us to a world that is both bleak and beautiful.”
Indoor Voice, Jillian Tamaki (2010)An award-winning illustrator who’s work has graced the pages of New Yorker, Esquire and the New York Times, Tamaki also earned accolades for her graphic novel debut, Skim, created with her cousin Mariko Tamaki. Indoor Voice offers insight into the process behind her vibrant, dynamic yet wisely understated style with an assortment of scraps and sketches in various mediums, showcasing her skills at their rawest. “Whether she’s drawing one-page comics about life in New York,” says Burns, “detailed visions of supernatural creatures and Amazonian women, or watercolour spreads of pigeons frolicking, Jillian Tamaki’s perspective on the world is joyously expressed here. The high level of craft is always leavened by her sense of humour.”
Hot Potatoe, Marc Bell (2009)
And now the one that’s most certainly not a Petit Livre — a hardcover, oversize edition almost 300 pages long! An acknowledged leading light in the doodle-art movement of recent years, Marc Bell’s creative roots lie in comics — such as his series of Shrimpy & Paul tales — and, running even deeper, in quick, freeform line drawings loaded with absurdist impossibilities and multilateral wit. Like Jones’s above, Bell’s book does include some comics, as well as some of his bricolage wall sculptures, but the lion’s share is his line gently coloured line drawings — landscapes littered with bizarre fusions of unhealthy food, redundant machinery, odd figures and incongruous catchphrases.
“It is Marc Bell doing a Marc Bell version of an artist’s monograph,” says Burns of the book. “It’s a send-up of the pompousness that an artist’s monograph can have — it’s filled with Marc’s collages, drawings, and sculptural work, but lots of digressions and left turns like nonsensical interviews and articles. Totally tongue-in-cheek, it dares you not to take it seriously except it actually does a great job of detailing the career on this interesting, under-rated Canadian artist.”
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