As fat and as heavy as an old family Bible, Drawn & Quarterly: Twenty-Five Years of Contemporary Cartooning, Comics, and Graphic Novels is the ultimate gift for the comics fan – and should no one close to you be capable of taking a hint, you should simply go straight out and make a present of it to yourself. For this 776-page celebration of the Canadian publisher of the world’s best cartoonists is unmissable. Adrian Tomine, Chester Brown, Jillian Tamaki, Tom Gauld, Daniel Clowes, Chris Ware, Joe Sacco and Art Spiegelman have all contributed new, rare or never-seen-before work (among many others). It also fairly bulges with archive photographs, reminiscences, interviews and essays: Margaret Atwood in praise of Kate Beaton; an appreciation of Tove Jansson by Sheila Heti; Lemony Snicket on how he discovered the mighty Seth. Really, what more could you want?
D&Q, which was founded by Chris Oliveros in 1990, at first struggled to survive in the face of the widespread perception that comics were mostly about superheroes. But having clung on pluckily for more than a decade, it suddenly found itself riding the wave of interest in graphic novels that followed both the movie adaptations of Daniel Clowes’s Ghost World and Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis and the crossover success of Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth (winner of the Guardian first book award in 2001).
Since then, it has gone from strength to strength. In 2005, it publishedPyongyang: A Journey in North Korea, a groundbreaking travelogue by Guy Delisle that went on to sell 50,000 copies. In 2007, it had the fantastic idea of putting together all Tove Jansson’s Moomin strips (it has since published nine volumes of them). In 2011, Kate Beaton’s Hark! A Vagrant enjoyed five months on the New York Times bestseller list. All these landmarks, and dozens more, are celebrated inDrawn & Quarterly: Twenty-Five Years…
You feel a bit giddy turning the book’s pages. There’s something so generous about it, and so democratic, a lonely image from one of Chris Ware’s sketchbooks giving way to the strange watercolours of the Belgian cartoonist Brecht Evens; a full colour story by the peerlessly talented Israeli artist Rutu Modan following hard on the heels of a monochrome strip by Joe Matt (I am devoted to the cantankerous Matt, the comic-book king of confession).
Peggy Burns, D&Q’s stalwart publicist, insists the compendium is a thank you to the more than 50 cartoonists whose belief in the publisher never wavered down the years. And perhaps it is. But it’s really us (and them) who should be thanking D&Q. The company, always punching above its weight, has helped to change the landscape of comics and even of publishing itself, for what self-respecting literary list does not now include the odd graphic novel? (D&Q sold its first UK rights to Jonathan Cape in 2005.) This column would probably not exist were it not for its determination, its (in the main) effortlessly good taste.