Drawn & Quarterly

Alternative Comics Publisher Brings Literary Graphic Novels to Digital E-Readers

Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography by Chester Brown

Alternative comic book and graphic novel publishers have been slow to bring their material to digital platforms like the iPad, Kindle and Nook e-readers but one of the most acclaimed and influential has made an initial step. Drawn & Quarterly announced yesterday that Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography and Paying For It: A Comic-Strip Memoir About Being A John, two of the most critically praised graphic novels by cartoonist Chester Brown, are now available on the Kobo Vox e-reader. Kobo apps are also available on the iPad and iPhone (although for the life of me I couldn’t figure out how to do a search on either version of the app, and had to go to their website just to set up a new account) as well as the Android.

Louis Riel is a meticulously researched yet somewhat fictionalized biographical account of the life of the Canadian folk hero and leader of the Métis people. TIME Magazine named it one of the best comics of 2003. It won prestigious Harvey Awards for Best Writer and Best Graphic Album, and was also nominated by the Ignatz and Eisner Awards both for Outstanding Graphic Novel. In October, Louis Riel was selected for Canada Reads, an annual competition put on by the CBC to select that country’s essential read.

Paying For It is Brown’s newest release, and like the sub-title says, it tells of his experiences hiring prostitutes. The controversial release was covered here previously and has continued to inspire debate and discussion, as well as consideration as one of the year’s best releases.

Drawn & Quarterly and Kobo are Canadian companies that have both agreed to a non-exclusive contract, with the implication being that the publisher is free to distribute their digital books on other e-readers. In a rare bit of generosity, Drawn & Quarterly also revealed that proceeds from e-book sales on Kobo would be split 50/50 with Drawn & Quarterly and Chester Brown, per the Writers’ Union of Canada. The majority of comics publishers have not revealed what, if any, cut creators get from digital sales. Drawn & Quarterly plans to add more creators to Kobo and to also expand to other devices next year. So maybe we can look forward to being about to buy Kate Beaton’s Hark! A Vagrant, The Death-Ray by Chris Ware, Big Questionsby Anders Nilsen, Wilson by Daniel Clowes, Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea by Guy Delisle, A Drifting Life by Yoshihiro Tatsumi, and so much more.

(via Publishers Weekly)

Comics Can Be Anything: Chester Brown outs self as john for prostitutes in graphic novel Paying For It

Paying For It by Chester Brown (Drawn & Quarterly)

One of the major releases of the year is the graphic novel Paying For It: A Comic-Strip Memoir About Being A John by Chester Brown. Yes, that’s right. It’s a comic book about prostitutes, sex workers, hookers. You get the idea. But don’t expect lurid sex scenes and locker room bragging of sexual conquests. Like his acclaimed Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography, which methodically tracked Canada’s history and the controversial revolutionary’s life in the mid-1800s with cool detachment, so too in Paying For It does Brown logically and almost mathematically examine romantic love. And as you might guess, he comes to the conclusion that paying for sex instead of having a girlfriend is the life for him. At least for a while.

The book has been getting almost universally praised: “incredibly engrossing” – Carlton Hargro, Creative Loafing; “required reading for anyone who seeks to better comprehend the limits of romantic love” – Morgan Davis, Comics Bulletin; “revealing” – James Smart, The Guardian; “insightful and fascinating,” “5 stars” – Kelly Thompson, Comic Book Resources; “There is a commendable honesty here, to be sure: a kind of downbeat, detached naturalism. But there is something dispiriting about it too.” – Naomi Fry, The Comics Journal; “amusing and revealing” – Chris Randle, The National Post; “remains compelling” – Sean Rogers, The Walrus; “a defiant work of truth-telling and a welcome return to autobiographical comics from one of the medium’s incontrovertible masters” – Brad Mackay, The Globe and Mail.

And that was just the first couple pages of Google. But perhaps the most intriguing review was posted last week. The website Tits and Sass is a group blog by and for sex workers. Yes, that’s right. Chester Brown’s graphic novel about prostitution gets reviewed by a prostitute. Charlotte Shane turns in an excellent review, smartly written. She hilariously claims that she wouldn’t want Chester Brown as a client.

But I think I was most relieved that she didn’t treat the medium of comics as any sort of special case. The graphic novel form isn’t derided, it’s not a novelty, it’s just the piece of entertainment that’s being reviewed. And scanning through the site, I don’t see a lot of comics or graphic novel coverage. In fact, in all of the reviewed from the mainstream press linked to above, they all appear to be comfortable enough with the form.

However…

While a great interview, I get the impression from Fanny Keifer that she’s kind of surprised comics could be about this. Yes, yes they can. In fact, they can be about anything.

Read This: Scenes From An Impending Marriage

I firmly believe there’s a comic book or graphic novel for everyone. Yes, there’s even a comic for soon-to-be newlyweds in the form of Scenes from an Impending Marriage: A Prenuptial Memoir by Adrian Tomine (published by Drawn & Quarterly).

This little book is a quick read but endlessly enjoyable. Anybody who has gotten married, no matter how smooth or not it went, will relate. The memoir goes through a number of brief anecdotes of writer/artist Adrian and his fiancée Sarah Brennan going through all of the planning stages of putting together a wedding. It stays light and humorous instead of getting overwhelmed with family drama. And there are occasional single-panel cartoons that provide a great running gag.

The author and now-wife were interviewed on NPR’s All Things Considered recently and their really quite adorable.

This would make a great wedding present. Or if you’re the one getting married, you can even add it to your Amazon.com wedding registry.

Here’s Drawn & Quarterly’s write-up (and the blurb on the back cover):

Scenes from an Impending Marriage

Adrian Tomine

YOU ARE CORDIALLY INVITED
to witness the hilarious true story of one couple’s long march to the altar. Best known for his cover illustrations for The New Yorker and for the critically–acclaimed graphic novel Shortcomings, Adrian Tomine now opens the pages of his private sketchbook to reveal a witty, intimate account of the heady months prior to getting married. Through a series of comic vignettes, Tomine captures the amusing, taxing, and often absurd process of planning a wedding, as well as the peculiar characters and situations that he and his fiancée encounter along the way. Filled with incisive humor, keen observations, and unabashed tenderness, Scenes from an Impending Marriage is a sweet-natured document of the little moments leading up to the big day.

Hardcover, 4.25 x 5.5, black and white, 56 pages

ISBN: 9781770460348

$9.95 US / $10.50 CDN

Here’s a page from the preview posted at NPR to give you a taste.

Print Comics: Still Awesome

My post on Monday about innovative experiments with digital comics doesn’t mean I don’t love me some dead tree comics. Print still has a lot to offer but digital means that the physical version has to step it up and offer more. Fortunately there are some good examples out there.

As a counter-point to the Johnny Cash digital graphic novel with soundtrack, there is BB Wolf and the Three L.P.’s by JD Arnold and Richard Koslowski from Top Shelf Productions. It can be purchased with a 7-song CD, BB Wolf and the Howlers: The Lost Recordings. The graphic novel spins 1920s race tension with the Three Little Pigs fairy tale. The CD brings the music of the titular blues singing main character to life, which is a very cool way to eliminate the guess work of what the music of a fictional character from a silent medium sounds like. You can also get the limited edition BB Wolf Box Set, which includes the graphic novel, the CD and a wooden box with laser engraved art on the cover and 2 shot glasses for that authentic hard-drinking blues effect.

Creating such an experience that goes beyond the pages is a compelling way to make it still matter to have print and physical product. But it doesn’t have to be about creating ancillary material. Savvy creators and publishers can find ways to have their published material be an aesthetic extension of the world they have created.

Fantagraphics Books has always excelled at this. C. Tyler‘s You’ll Never Know, both Book I: A Good and Decent Man and the new release Book II: Collateral Damage, are designed to look like scrap books or photo albums, inside and out. A visually powerful choice that is incredibly appropriate since the story centers on a woman trying to piece together her reticent father’s wartime past.

Last year, DC Comics published Wednesday Comics, an anthology of superhero and adventure stories printed on large broadsheet newsprint that folded out to 14″ x 20″ pages, approximately double the size of modern comic book pages. Reminiscent of the old Sunday comics pages from the first half of the 1900’s, it was a kick to see Green Lantern, Batman, Wonder Woman and other characters in this retro format that pre-dated nearly all of them.

There are a lot of other good examples. Some publishers, like Archaia Entertainment and Drawn & Quarterly, just have consistently great design sense in their print publications. Tumor, by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Noel Tuazon, started its life as a digital graphic novel on the Amazon Kindle, but has ended up being a great looking physical product. Chris Ware’s Acme Novelty Library books (and really any of his books) are always intricately stunning.

So sure, digital comics are the future. But that doesn’t automatically mean print comics have to be relegated to the past. There are still new and creative ways to make an appealing print comic book or graphic novel. As the ratio of print to digital finds its level ground, it will be up to creators and publishers to make products in both realms that are compelling and worth a reader’s investment.