The New Haven Advocate | Alan Bisbort | December 9, 2010
New Haven Advocate loves D+Q’s approach to print, reviews ACME 20, PALOOKAVILLE 20 and PICTURE THIS!
A three-word response to those who believe the printed book is dead: Drawn and Quarterly. The Montreal-based publisher Drawn and Quarterly, distributed in the U.S. by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, produces books so artfully designed and packaged that one begins admiring them even before opening the covers. Their titles feel more substantial in the hand than most contemporary books. They even smell different, giving off a nice tangy scent of thick, high-quality paper stock. Each seems like a unique hand-made object, having the heft and feel of small treasures. Show me a Kindle that can provide such beauty and tactile joy and I will concede your point about the printed book’s demise.
88 pages. Drawn & Quarterly. $19.99
For all that, Drawn & Quarterly books still contain, for the most part, cartoons. Take the recently published 20th volume of Seth’s Palookaville comic book title. Seth (real name Gregory Gallant) is responsible for the design of many of Drawn & Quarterly’s volumes, as well as for the design of the (ultimately) 25-volume set of the Complete Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz for Fantagraphics Books. Seth is Drawn & Quarterly’s de facto house designer; others who do design work seem to follow the fonts, inking, style and high standards that he has established. So the release of the 20th volume of his Palookaville is an auspicious occasion. The cover features a cityscape in pink ink against a black backdrop, and the volume opens to regal-patterned endpapers. In his welcoming note, Seth explains why his former comic book — published in the pamphlet style familiar to all Spider-Man fans — is now a hardcover. His sense of loss over the comic book format is offset by new possibilities now open to him — exploited fully in this volume. In addition to the continuing saga of Palookaville — essentially, about a family business selling electric fans — Seth is able to include photographs, excerpts from his scrapbooks and sketch books, portraits, interviews and whatever flotsam catches his fancy. Palookaville might be with us for another 20 volumes, which is a good thing.
The Acme Novelty Library
108 pages. $27.50
Simultaneous with Seth’s red-letter volume, Drawn & Quarterly has published the 20th volume of The Acme Novelty Library by Chris Ware, best known for his Jimmy Corrigan saga. Like Seth, Ware publishes work regularly in The New Yorker and the New York Times. His latest installment takes us into the life of Jordan Lint, a tormented loser like his previous protagonists Jimmy Corrigan and Rusty Brown. It is as handsome as any volume in the Acme series, swaddled in Ware’s antiquarian touches, from the Victorian wallpaper-like cover to the wistful scenes of Midwestern homes, muted browns, blues and greys. Within these forms, however, Ware weaves a jarringly sordid plot, relying heavily on adolescent sexual angst. Even while one admires Ware’s genius for deconstructing and then meticulously reinventing comic art formats, his stories are unsettling. You get the impression, in fact, that he is a deeply disturbed individual who is playing out his paralyzed Portnoy-like inner dramas in his “novelty library.” He makes Seth’s wistful melancholy seem uplifting.
Picture This: The Near-Sighted Monkey Book
176 pages. $29.95
Finally, and the greatest cause for celebration, is the release of Lynda Barry’s second coffee-table-sized primer on the creative process, Picture This: The Near-Sighted Monkey Book. While offering quirky tips on unleashing your inner Picasso, Barry is really all about bringing joy into your life. Picture This — and even more so its predecessor, What It Is — is not just a how-to guide for making art, but nothing less than a how-to guide for living. Insights abound like haiku as she poses questions that force us to confront our fears (“What makes us start drawing? What makes us stop?”). Though perhaps a companion volume to What It Is, Picture This does not scale the same artistic heights as its predecessor. Nonetheless, it’s a far more coherent “how to” guide. The one thing the two volumes have in common is that you need both equally. Yes, need. Barry’s books meet needs, some of which you did not know you had until you picked them up. If that is not the mark of a true masterwork and potential classic, I don’t know, uh, what it is.