8 Comics for Literature Lovers by Drawn & Quarterly

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This month — a special one for lovers of comics, cartoons and graphic novels — marks the release of Drawn and Quarterly: Twenty-Five Years of Contemporary Cartooning, Comics, and Graphic Novels. To celebrate the book and Drawn & Quarterly’s 25th anniversary, we’ve asked creative director Tom Devlin to provide a “random list of his favorite comics” for our literary readers.

I Never Liked You by Chester Brown

“This book came out years before I worked at Drawn & Quarterly, and for many of those intervening years I declared it the greatest graphic novel ever produced. That may still be true. I’ve reread this book more times than any other comic. When the comics that make up this book came out, we were in a mini-renaissance of cartoonists pushing themselves and the boundaries of comics expression. Chester was ahead of the pack and probably still is. This book is the single most emotional comic ever made in North American comics. Young Chester is so numb and so terrified, it practically spills off the page. His mother’s neediness is shocking and sad and so revealing. As a shy high school kid, I could see myself again and again in this book. At the end when Chester chooses to listen to a crappy rock record instead of trying to engage in the difficult terrain of managing a relationship, I saw my young self and quite possibly most of the young men I ended up befriending in comics and music fandom over the next several years.”

Red Colored Elegy by Seiichi Hayashi

Red Colored Elegy is quite simply the most emotional comic I’ve ever read and was the key that opened my understanding to the modern era (’60s to present) of Japanese comics. How the characters feel, REALLY FEEL, is emphasized over everything. Plot points are submerged beneath the anguish and confusion of our protagonists to the point that the reader may, at any point, be unsure whose parent has died and if we’re glimpsing a character’s past or future. We don’t see to young people fall in love so much as them deal or not deal with being in love. The story is cinematic and sweeping without relying on obvious cinema tricks like camera angles and soundtracks.”

Susceptible by Genevieve Castrée

“The memoir is a tricky thing. It can easily come off whiny or exploitive or even down right dull. There was no way Genevieve was going to be dull. She was one of the most exciting drawers in comics in years. Even in her teens she drew like a fiend. While we waited patiently (twelve years!) for her to deliver this book we sometimes lost faith. But faith was restored when we saw the final result. This book is very much a portrait of her parents — two young people who were not prepared to be together and raise a child. Nobody is spared in this intimate look at family and growing up but perhaps Genevieve’s greatest achievement is how she places no blame on her parents’ inadequacies for the person she became.”

The Hospital Suite by John Porcellino

“My single favorite work by John, even if I do so love everything he’s ever done. I think John’s sincerity in a snarky age helped shape a whole area of comics in a way that’s downright visionary. He’s been repeatedly called the least revealing of autobiographical artists with his sidestepping of personal foibles and his choice to embrace the world around him and how that world made him feel. So many walks in the woods and reinterrupted koans and letters from friends built a portrait but one that could be confoundingly incomplete. This book explains why. John wasn’t ready to reveal the details of his life that he finally shows in this book. The pain, the confusion of his illness and how that pain destroyed his life and relationships again and again. Like writing about Chester Brown, writing about John P. feels like an invasion of privacy. I almost feel like we should read books like this and nod out heads and set them aside and never speak of them again. There’s too much pain. Too much human emotion to handle. But aside from this book, I know John. I know him to be funny as well as wise. I know him to be the kind of guy who loves old monster comics and Jethro Tull records. He’s not just a broken tortured soul. None of us are. This book made me realize that we’re not just the sum of our pain even if its ever present. We’re bigger than that even if at times it is all we are.”

George Sprott 1894 – 1975 by Seth

“In 2014, we might take Seth’s stylistic approach for granted and forget just what an odd choice it was back in the ’80s when RAW and Weirdo were both built on either a Crumbish scuzzy technical virtuosity or a more abstracted angular formalism. Seth’s smooth brushy curves really stuck out as a throwback to the early to mid-20th century New Yorker illustration deadline-making professional and certainly he was trying to affect that entire persona. For me, George Sprott is the culmination of this aesthetic and the one work produced under a rigid deadline–and then like the pros of old, like Crocket Johnson–worked and reworked. As great as It’s a Good Life, If you Don’t Weaken and the still on-going Clyde Fans are, Sprott has the heat of a work produced under extreme pressure and the artist rising to the occasion. In many ways, it’s impossible to separate any single of Seth’s work out from the performance of his artistic life, but this book is a tour-de-force of all Seth’s concerns and ticks and strengths. The format is large, probably too large for any book or comicstore, and lavishly produced with cover debossing and removable back-band and multiple foldouts and spreads. The entire book would have been printed in pantones had cooler heads not prevailed. The story focuses on a deluded blowhard TV show host who lives through and makes history in his image. His version is skewed and thus fascinating. Seth is fascinated with these types —people who build empires and wreck them or misuse them or sully them for those who come later, failed business people, failed people, forgotten. This book is large and on the cover we see a man’s name and the years he lived and died. It’s an actual tombstone or what a tombstone hopes to be.”

Spent by Joe Matt

“Joe’s performance anxiety of the past decade has overshadowed his body of work which is too bad. Spent is the graphic novel he almost didn’t finish but we should be thankful that he did because it’s clearly his masterpiece. There is really nothing like this unless maybe you want to call it a masturbator’s version of A Fan’s Notes. Right from the start of this book Joe sets up that he’s not such a bad guy, he’s found a way to live in this world with a minor weakness, and why can’t we accept that and just let him be. The great thing is that not a moment of this rings true. Not his characterization of his friend Seth nor his “porn dealer” Tony or anyone else in the book for that matter. But the whole thing is compulsively readable. Joe tells the story by switching back and forth from meetings with Seth (or Seth and Chester) and moment by moment accounts of how he edits his ever increasing tightly edited porno collection. His friendships remain in a rut because Joe refuses to conduct them in an adult fashion (he’s teases and cajoles Seth and sets up situations where he makes himself a target for Seth’s bullying which he then pouts over). In his rooming house bedroom, which he sequesters (cloisters) himself in to avoid bumping into a perceived parade of irritating non-friends outside the door, we see Joe procrastinate and masturbate like a bored teenager who has no repercussions for his behavior. Joe indicts himself and begs us to save him but at the same time seals himself away from any interaction that might bring him into the real world. It’s pretty condescending to accuse an artist of not being aware of what they are really revealing and I’ve certainly done that in the past but I’m not so sure that’s the case. Spent is a cry for help that quite possibly nobody heard.”

We Are On Our Own by Miriam Katin

“Several years ago, I stood behind the Drawn & Quarterly booth during Comic-Con International while Miriam’s mother, then in her nineties, five feet away was surrounded by cosplayers, fanboys with gigantic promotional shoulder bags bearing the title of the teenage Superman fan-fic TV show Smallville, and industry flacks. I condescendingly thought, ‘This woman survived the Holocaust for this?’ And my viewpoint was wrong. She was living in the middle of people being joyful, loving what they love, being weirdos in their domain. Miriam was there being celebrated for her book about her and her mother’s escape from the spreading Nazi domination. Miriam was three and the story is told through the eyes of a child, and many people felt Miriam herself was naive. They felt her approach was not serious. Miriam survived to tell this story and tell it beautifully.”

Birdseye Bristoe by Dan Zettwoch

“On the final page of the book, our title character and his niece and nephew walk across a rotting horizontal billboard. Patches of paper are torn of in numerous places displaying several different eras of advertising. The characters are IN history, not just living it but standing on several manifestations of the past at once. At the outset of the book we see Birdseye walking through the rubble of a fallen cellphone tower. There is nothing here but debrisbent metal and screws, no history, nothing to read. This is the crux of Dan’s story. He’s damning our modern word for its lack of history and it lack of story and [lack of] feeling for the handmade. In lesser hands this would be an over-the-top angry screed but Dan knows the score but he wants to show us the beauty in the things that human hands have made.”