PETITS LIVRES series spotlighted by The Edmonton Journal

Small is beautiful Tiny books with big ideas punch well above their weight

The Edmonton Journal    |    Gilbert A. Bouchard    |    April 12, 2008

The pile of brand-new releases from Montreal-based graphic-novel publishers Drawn and Quarterly is remarkably compact.
Stacked one on top of the other, the four titles from the recently inaugurated "Petits Livres" (French for small books) imprint -- a line of books promising "small-and-affordable" art books with a contemporary graphic/comic-art vibe -- are only three centimetres thick.
The smallest book in the lot -- Tom Horacek's All We Ever Do is Talk About Wood -- is a beautifully precious tome that's 12.5 centimetres square, and only half a centimetre thick.

Yet, while the books are small potatoes size-wise, they pack a huge wallop artistically, more than living up to their promise of being the new wave of art books for the post-graphic-novel era.
Gone are the days when fans of graphic/comic-book art would put up with badly printed comic books on bad pulp paper. Modern graphic-novel fans expect, nay demand, top-quality sequential-art books.
Hence the birth of imprints like Petits Livres. Boasting work by cutting-edge underground print artists/cartoonists like Chris Von Szombathy and Julie Morstad, the books are delightfully playful, chock-a-block with spectacularly realized drawings and graphics, as well as being beautiful in their physical production, paper quality and reproductive clarity.
More than just feeding into a newish hunger for high-end comic books, the imprint is also feeding into a centuries-old love of small tomes that you can comfortably hold in the palm of your hands (or even the palm of one hand).
A surprisingly large number of tiny tomes are being released both by graphic-novel and mini-comic-book publishers as well as mainstream publishing houses.
This trend feeds into a western love of small books that goes back to the Middle Ages, a period that saw huge illustrated manuscripts with wooded, jewel-encrusted covers that permanently sat on their own lecterns, as well as smaller-than-small prayer books, breviaries, books of hours, and poetry texts.
Obviously, these small books -- especially the tiny sacred books -- had a practical side (i.e., a prayer book that's portable allows owners to pray wherever they may find themselves), but they also played other esthetic, cultural and even fetish-object functions.
According to Joan Greer, an art historian with the University of Alberta, little books (small, highly personal, highly tactile tomes) throughout history have allowed individuals to explore the contradictory public/private nature of the book.
"Book designers in the 19th century called books 'pocket cathedrals,' acknowledging the reality that a book was a small public space were community happened, the exchange of ideas and beliefs that was both private and public at the same time," she says.
"Your book connects you to a larger world, but does so in your own space. This makes the book both artistically beautiful as well as community-building."
Greer says the tiny book also represents the height of the tactile relationship many book owners have with their volumes.
"When most people think of a 'book,' they are thinking about the content of the book, but what we also need to think about when we're thinking of the idea of the book is its physicality, its materiality," she explains. "That includes the feel of the book, the esthetic pleasure you get from the book as well as the knowledge contained in the volume. The look of the book is as much a 'sign' as the books themselves, and the design of the book is active and really pushes things."

You might also like


Select Your Location: