In the 25 years since its creation, Drawn & Quarterly has grown from a small comics magazine into one of the industry’s top publishers, crafting impeccably designed titles by renowned cartoonists like Lynda Barry, Chester Brown, and Seth, along with works by some of the most exciting, provocative new talents in graphic storytelling. That evolution is chronicled in Drawn & Quarterly: Twenty-Five Years Of Contemporary Cartooning, Comics, And Graphic Novels (Drawn & Quarterly), a hefty 776-page hardcover that’s a beautiful tribute to the dream of editor-in-chief Chris Oliveros and an incredible resource for both fans of alternative comics and newcomers looking for an entry point into this corner of the art world.
The book starts with a detailed history of the past 25 years of D&Q, followed by in-depth interviews with Oliveros, D&Q creative Tom Devlin, and translator Helge Dascher, helping readers understand why the publisher has been able to sustain such a high level of quality over the years by spotlighting the immense knowledge of the people working behind the scenes. The early text pieces make for an engaging gateway into D&Q, but the major appeal of this book is the comics (as it should be). There are new short stories by Tom Gauld, Kate Beaton, and Joe Matt (among others), and reprints of little-before-seen material from Julie Doucet, Art Spiegelman, and Adrian Tomine (among others).
Many of these new works incorporate D&Q in the story: Jillian Tamaki delivers a hilarious short about a D&Q intern who gains national fame when she goes public with her tale of workplace harassment; James Sturm explores the pressures placed on modern-day cartoonists and takes a peek at D&Q’s status in the near future; and Michael DeForge comments on the current trend of Hollywood professionals taking their movie and TV ideas to comics and how D&Q has steered clear of these projects. A strong reverence for the publisher and its mission shines through in these stories, and that sense of admiration is carried through in numerous quotes from creators who have been influenced by D&Q cartoonists, drawing attention to the huge influence the publisher has had on the larger comics climate.
The sheer quantity of unique artistic voices showcased in this title makes it an extremely attractive book for readers who want to experience the wide scope of graphic storytelling, and the essays on these assorted works provide valuable context to give readers an even deeper understanding of the cartoonists’ perspective. Literary figures like Jonathan Lethem, Margaret Atwood, and Lemony Snicket contribute pieces on Chester Brown, Kate Beaton, and Seth, respectively, and some of the top critical voices in comics (including The A.V. Club’s own Noel Murray) offer appreciations that give the book immense educational appeal. This title could easily serve as a textbook for a college course, and readers looking to broaden their knowledge of some of the most inspiring cartoonists of the past quarter-century will find a lot to love in these pages. [Oliver Sava]
Mainstream comics appear to dominate the superhero genre, to the point where many independent comics creators and publishers avoid capes and cowls altogether. Conventional wisdom has it that indies can’t succeed with superheroes, despite a slew of examples that fly in the face of this “rule.” Super Cakes (Yeti Press) is yet another in a long tradition of doing precisely what comics aren’t supposed to do, and excelling because of it. Kat Leyh (not to be confused with Kate Leth, though they’re forgiving with mix-ups) is the writer and artist for the entire book. She’s created an alternate version of our world where superheroes are not only real, but their lives are just as mundane as our own. Main characters (and girlfriends) May and Molly patrol the streets of Chicago with an eye out for danger, saving innocent bystanders from a cavalcade of monsters and villains, sometimes while getting their morning coffee. The world that Leyh has created is rich with details, some of which are only briefly explored in one of the five stories collected in this book. There’s more than enough here for far more stories, should Leyh revisit them in the future when she’s not working for Boom! and KaBoom! Studios on titles like Adventure Time, Bravest Warriors, and Lumberjanes.
Don’t let that body of work fool you. Leyh excels at all-ages books, but “all ages” doesn’t mean exclusively targeted at children. Super Cakes falls into that nebulous category that might be YA in prose novels; as a graphic novel it’s a sweet and charming story that’s action-packed enough to keep the plot moving at a brisk pace. The monsters pose real threats without relying on grotesqueness and the side characters provide great texture to an already rich book. Grey Greave, featured in the final story “Bad Weather,” is a joy to read, distinct from May and Molly but clearly belonging to their world. May’s family, sprawling and more racially and physically diverse than any comic book family in mainstream comics, will hopefully return in other plots in the future. “Welcome To The Family” is perhaps the strongest story in the book, showing the importance of surrounding yourself with love and encouragement, particularly in the face of fear. May and Molly both have superpowers that allow them to protect others, but their families treated them very differently as their abilities manifested. And despite the fact that they clearly love one another, it can be a struggle to overcome that kind of difference. Leyh handles the difficult topic of diversity and acceptance with grace, confronting head-on the fear and self-consciousness that comes with being a little different.
Leyh released her graphic novel Bird Witch with Yeti Press last year, and as in that book, the themes of family and self confidence dominate in Super Cakes. Though Bird Witch and Super Cakes are unrelated, they’re great companion pieces. Both are quick reads, but Leyh’s excellent artwork yields new secrets with each re-reading. Backgrounds are detailed enough to reveal hints of character backgrounds and set moods masterfully, but Leyh’s sense of movement and skill with facial expressions is what shines. Her website is flooded with artwork that feels joyful and kinetic, colors that are bright without being saccharine. Leyh is a talent to keep an eye on, and hopefully she’ll take May and Molly with her as she continues to succeed. [Caitlin Rosberg]
Fabien Vehlmann and Bruno Gazzotti’s ongoing story of a group of children looking for answers in a world suddenly wiped free of adults continues to etch its way into increasingly unsettling and sinister territory. Having decided to leave their deserted hometown to widen their investigations into the “vanishing,” Alone 3: The Clan Of The Shark (Cinebook) finds Dodzi, Ivan, Leila, Camille, and Terry on the road in their bus, traveling from empty cities to burned-down towns. A dangerous situation leads to the discovery that they’re not the only children to have survived, as they’re saved by a commune of kids living at a theme park, led by an enigmatic young boy called Saul.
Meeting more children gives Dodzi and his friends more to work with as they collate and compare experiences of the vanishing. From what they glean, the event seems to have struck towns at different times, moving like a wave, affecting what the areas it hit as it spread. It’s another bit of information that reinforces the group’s theory that the vanishing may have been deliberately orchestrated. But by whom, and to what end? And why can no one remember anything?
However, there are more immediately pressing concerns affecting Dodzi and the others—namely Saul and the strange community he’s built and fostered at the theme park. Girls must cook and sew, boys are punished by being made to wear dresses, a system is introduced where the children are paired up to be married (“to continue the species”), and those who disobey any of the rules are tied to the merry-go-round with a sack over their head and spun for hours on end. Things become clearer when Camille chances upon a stack of Saul’s preferred reading material: books on Hitler and the Hitler Youth. Saul uses the park’s very singular special attraction—a great white shark in captivity—to enforce his hold and fear. The initial happiness on finding more children quickly dissipates as Dodzi and his friends look for a means of escape.
While apocalyptic scenarios often depict the consequences of social breakdown, Gazzotti and Vehlmann illustrate a situation that presents the problem of extremities in maintaining specific social mores. The apathetic nature of following group behaviors is further highlighted in the young, impressionable, and scared children. Ideologies and implementation of social hierarchies and constructs are a learned behavior, which Saul has developed from his father. It’s no accident that he goes into overdrive mode when his leadership is threatened by Dodzi and Leila, two black children who are admired and respected for their intelligence and resourcefulness, and easily trusted by the rest.
Gazzotti’s cartoonish, slightly blocky illustrations carry the shifts between the protagonists youthful exuberance and the more serious developments well. The round-cheeked style and bright colors are a continued reminder that these are actually children, while Gazzotti’s lines are substantial enough to lend real heft to the subjects addressed. Alone is a compelling, superbly paced series, never losing sight of the central mystery of its premise, even as each installment brings with it new challenges for the children. [Zainab Akhtar]
Although often overshadowed by heirs Saul and David, Samuel occupies a unique place in biblical history. Bridging the gap between the eras of Judges and Kings, Samuel was one of the first prophets of Israel as well as the general who led the rout against the Philistines at Mizpah. He left the kingdom to his sons, and subsequently to Saul, all of whom proved disappointments, before eventually anointing David as his true successor. He died in his hometown of Ramah, and other than a brief incident entailing his resurrection at the hands of the Witch Of Endor, he passed into history as one of the most holy men in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions.
According to Rob Liefeld, however, there’s more to the story that what is recounted in the two Books Of Samuel. The first issue of The Covenant (Image) posits an as-yet-unrevealed episode featuring a young Samuel, newly appointed last priest of Israel, leading a crack team of commandos deep into Philistine territory to reclaim the Ark Of The Covenant from the temple of Dagon in the city of Ekron. He is aided in this effort by three of David’s Mighty Men (the Gibborim of 2 Samuel 23:8-39), an Israeli X-Force in all but name. The Covenant begins with this team assembled before Ekron, conducting a grisly torture session on a Philistine soldier for information regarding the Ark’s location. If you guessed that this unlucky Philistine dies a painfully ironic death at the fangs of an angry serpent (Dagon being a serpent god), you’d be correct.
But you’re not reading The Covenant because you want a subtle exegesis of Jewish history and biblical myth. The Covenant is, as promised, an extreme retelling of some of the most action-packed episodes of the Hebrew Bible. Art is provided by newcomer Matt Horak, working from Liefeld’s script. Although there’s no mention of Liefeld providing layouts, his DNA is apparent in every line of the finished product, even if said layouts appear positively restrained compared to Liefeld’s most outrageous original work. As in the classic tradition of whitewashing the biblical epic, all characters are presented as appropriately white, even down to the fair-skinned blond and red-haired Hebrew maidens sacrificed on the steps of the temple of Dagon.
It would be a mistake to praise The Covenant for its theological insight. What it reveals, however, is a new side of Liefeld, one hinted at in the past by occasional Bible-themed pin-ups, but fully revealed in the pages of what can only be seen as a profoundly sincere project. Great artists throughout history have interpreted and reinterpreted the Bible to suit their needs, and his choice of Samuel to provide focus for his story cuts to the core of Liefeld’s career. Time and time again, he has returned to the idea of wise and holy warriors, set apart from history but nonetheless entrusted with the survival of their tribes, forced to adopt extreme methods in the present to ensure a brighter future. Accordingly, there is something compelling in The Covenant, despite its seeming preposterousness: those who grew up with Liefeld’s work and in the shadow of his outsize influence on comics history will find much to chew on. [Tim O’Neil]