When, with a mouth full of Kensington Market arepa, I tell a comics-minded pal that I intend to interview Drawn and Quarterly: Twenty-five Years of Contemporary Cartooning, Comics, and Graphic Novels (Drawn and Quarterly), he looks at me like I've just torn a panel off of his favourite strip.
“You mean a review, right? You should get your critical terminology down.”
“No, I mean interview,” I say under a sarcastic tortilla chip crunch.
“Yuh,” he replies muffling the start of some whimsy with a giant chunk of empanada.
“D & Q 25, how’d you get such an impressively muscular physique? Are you aware of how well your 700 plus pages reset warped books, prop open windows to a nice summer breeze, crack beers?”
I would laugh a little, if not for the chokehold my plantain, cheese, and guac arepa, holds in the salisified sun of the Market. I would laugh, if not for the fact I'll be lugging the book around in my backpack for the rest of my visit.
Two weeks and 776 pages later, I sit on the tree-lined second story deck of a rented cottage overlooking a conversational frog-pond. I drink a few beachy beers from the Collingwood LCBO, and wait for D & Q 25 to speak to me from across the wire café–type table. Surely, I am not posing the right questions to the yellow and black monolith propped up in its seat. My family has gone to the beach, and I’ve stayed behind with the seemingly impossible task of summarizing all of the interviews, appreciations, photos, new, rare, and classic comics generously loaded within. I feel as bookishly adrift as the asteroid-topping glass-globed library floating on the book's face. My glasses are fogged with the splattered space amoebas of sustained inner flight and cottage drunkenness. My lips almost recite my thoughts out of perseverance. How will I begin to connect the varied hard work of Peggy Burns, Tom Develin, Adrian Tomine, Kate Beaton, Art Speigelman, Tove Jansson, Ron Rege Jr, Joe Matt, Rutu Modon, Helge Dascher et al? Not to mention the appreciations penned by Margaret Atwood, Lee Henderson, Shelia Heti, Lemony Snickett, Jonathan Letham etc. Forget about the 100 pages of D & Q history and genealogy introducing the collection. I’m numb-tongued at the thought.
Everything else is talking. The frogs are bromping, birds twittering, trees whispering in the breeze like rain. I get into a few imaginatively renamed comics themed beers to break the ice in the heat. A Dominion Ale washes down a Chester Brune washes down a Lynda Barry Berry Lager. My chair squeaks woozy symphonic approval. If I can’t wrap my mind around the definitive history of Canada’s most beloved and globally influential comics publisher, at least I can get wrapped up in another easy sunny day, and pretend my beers have D & Q-themed names in some endless summer series of beautifully labeled delights. A review of this fine day is surely a simpler prospect, I glimmer.
Then again, I sweat, how exactly does one get to the bottom of a day? I get to the bottom of a glass of what should be called Crisp Ale-iveros Founder’s Brew, and picture D & Q’s famously succinct founding Chief, Chris Oliveros, drinking Vintage Moomin Vin and having a long chat with the final proofs of the book lounging before me. A horsefly takes a chunk out of my daydream and my ears recalibrate through the booze with a deep suspicion of the elemental world. Microfocusing so, I hear a small scratchy voice (Is the fly repenting?). At first it’s a yawn really – a yawn like the soft rustling of pages.
“Aren’t you going to say something? Or at least offer me a drink?”
I am realistically gobsmacked. Each word cursors across my comprehension in a well-chosen font. The voice’s gender is indeterminate (perhaps, in keeping with D & Q’s vocal feminism) and has a quiet Canadian accent. It is world-weary and industrious, yet sensitively mid-party. Have I just entered into a Julie Doucet dreamworld? I look around like I don’t know who’s talking, playing it drunkenly, humanly cool. Some impatient fluttering is followed by the sight of D & Q 25’s orange ribbon marker caterpillar-hooking into one of the tables’ wired holes. Then with a cartoonish “heave-ho” the book ascends in ass-end up stutters, hops to my latest beer (Brewing Stories) and, marker uncoiled, slurps up my pint with a fiery thin tongue.
“I thought we were doing an interview here. All the names that are supposed to be collected inside of me seem to be getting interviews all over the place. You’ve joined the journalistic conga line on occasion, if I’ve heard correctly. I think it’s my turn to lead.”
“Wha.. ah what should I ask you?”
“Me?! I feel like I’ve said what I’m going to say. I’ve been told I’ve got 25 years of complementary thoughts, wills, grants, designs, and outputs on record in here.”
D & Q 25 taps what looks like the place a temple would be with the sopping ribbon.
“I want to know what you think. It’s not everyday I get to interview a reader.”
25 says this as though a cyborg meeting one of a large team of its creators.
Does reading amount to a form of creation? I nearly ask, but feel in over my head on all levels. It’s one thing for an object to take on personalities in the illustrations and narratives of lively comics, but it’s a very different one to be interviewed by the authoritative embodiment of this possibility in real, inebriated cottage time. I stare at the book until it is still and silent. I begin to drift off – waking life punts back and forth between the songs of frogs.
“Psst. Don’t shut up on me now. Let’s take this step by step here. Some of my siblings have had a chance to hear a bit about their receptions in the news while on display at Librarie D & Q and other busy independent bookstores. Unfortunately, we’re never really certain which one of us has been under review at any given time, in any given case. Readers don’t seem to distinguish between us. They mass us together in a single referent, like we don’t incorporate many autobiographies over our lives.”
As if subdividing from within, 25 springs a stack of folded pages into my hands. Is it a trick of woodsy light or are they bloodied at their torn margins?
“Look these over and we’ll ease into this thing.”
There are very positive 3 reviews of the anthology (NY Times, Montreal Review of Books, and The Guardian) folded around a short questionnaire.
“There won’t be any more beer until got I’ve my answers. My livelihood depends on it.”
I think of all the D & Q contributors who must have heard these editorial words over the past 25 years.
25 rehooks its ribbon marker on to the tabletop and flings itself over the edge of the deck. I don’t hear a punctuating splash (though the frogs have paused), so I presume this cosmopolitan anthology is going for a head-clearing hike along one of the property's well-managed trails or comparing the foliage in its illustrated pages (like specimens from Leanne Shapton’s Native Trees of Canada) to what’s outside .
I immediately reenter the cottage to look for beer. I keep one eye trained on the rec room’s lone tall bookshelf until I get to the fridge. This book isn’t shit-talking. All of my perfectly chilled, soon to be comically renamed beers are gone. All of the coolers full of my siblings' drinks are gone too. Presumably, my family has taken them to the beach and I’ve consumed all of my beer. But I can’t be sure. I rack my memory and it just spins. I didn’t bring any of my other D & Q titles did I? I left Poetry is Useless and Stroppy at home, right? The family party supplies cannot withstand the combined Dionysian forces of an existentially geared talking silhouette and the All-Star Schnauzer Band. Yes, I left them at home, but they’ve probably lifted my girlfriend’s visa and are hitting Guelph’s bar scene hard. Trapper’s washed down with Doogies washed down with Frank’s.
I really want another beer, but I am 20 km out of town. More importantly, I don’t want to piss this book off. The power with which it climbed and disembarked (out of inanimate-ness nonetheless!) leads me to conclude that I could be bludgeoned to death from atop a dusty cabinet or smothered in my suddenly boring dreams faster than I could chug a final brew. My family would find me resembling an inkily eviscerated panel by Seiichi Hoyoshi. I can’t expose them to such a gruesome discovery of subsequent literary danger.
Luckily, I’ve already read the reviews. I’ll incorporate them into my textual analysis in the answers or improv some jargony comments when the book and I reconvene. How do we reconvene? Do I let out a whistle? Do I cry: ”Oh 25, you wonderful book! Please bring back my beer. I’m ready to talk.”
I crumple into the mustiest couch (the fumes will keep me alert) and get down to it.
“ QUESTIONS ALL BOOKS OUGHT TO ASK A READER *
- What were the circumstances of my birth
- Who are my parents?
- Why was I made?
- Am I beautiful, honest, and good?
- Will I die? When?
- What does it mean to read?
- What will you do with me now that I’ve been read?
- Will there ever be a time when I am free?
- Will I have a family?
- Is there anything you’ve always wanted to ask a book, but were too afraid to ask – but would feel comfortable asking me?”
I drowsily think of my first answer. It’s finally time to get concise. I speak as I write.
“You were born in a small apartment in Montreal under humble circumstances. You were loved from the moment you were imagined...”
I awake to a weight on my chest and the smell of beer on the breath of freshly printed pages. My pen pendulums by the orange of a snaking tongue. The pen drops.
“Where’s the party?”
“Huh?” I respond, hands moving to absorb the intensity sure to be packed into the book's combined blows.
“You didn’t get very far, I will concede. But I was having a few G & T’s with some of the older books over there.”
The orange ribbon points to the tall lone bookshelf. Pulp and lit classics with, mostly of North American and European publication, bristle at their mention. With cocktails.
“And they seemed to say that if your pages contain all the questions for the readers and the writers alike, than you can probably take a pass on interviews for a bit. It’s time to celebrate! We’ll leave the mess for everyone else to clean up!’
25 pirouettes onto the coffee table and breaks into a convincing whip/nae nae.
“But wait, I want to ask you a question.”
25 stares me down.
- Brad, who does not expect that all 25s will act like his 25. You should bring one along on your next vacation to see how it experiences different locales and cultures and alcoholic beverages. Book clubs around these books could be an edifying time as well – they could be like long hoped for family reunions, even.
Brad de Roo: What the fuck did you do with all my beer?
D&Q 25: [We burst into laughter. 25 dabs photo-realistic tears from where’d you’d imagine some eyes.]
“Should we share a few?” I add.
Four hours later, my family returns from the beach, a couple coolers in tow. Barbara Gowdy’s Falling Angel’s and Hamlet and I are sitting cross-legged around our drinks on the floor, still giggling about Chester Brown’s ‘The Zombie Who Liked Arts’ comic which 25 flashed at us with an undead leer. 25 is in a cob-webby corner making out with The Norton Anthology of Canadian Literature in English. Al Purdy poems are slipping Michael De Forge comics the tongue. The rest of the party's getting down to frogsong and Kool and the Gang, giving interviews to each other about every damn thing.
“Brad, what are you doing?” – all of my family at once.
“I’m reading comics”
* The questionnaire was probably transcribed by 25’s drinking buddy BK Munn. As 25 later told it: “When a few siblings and I were close enough on the Bookshelf D & Q 25 Anniversary display, we conspired to ask some of our cousins to help us find someone to represent our queries in the world. We’d see Seth and Marc Bell briefly eying our shelves over the years, but they merely tipped their hats and heads, being all too familiar with our entreaties. We chanced reaching out to a few regular customers to no effect. After one particularly deep sleep in the store (the eBar’s bass ceased to shake our spines earlier than usual and the day's book returns had halved the Can Lit section’s historic snores) we each awoke with a new page in us. In retrospect, we’d overheard many of our cartoonists and readers repeat these questions over and over in different incarnations. Many of the characters we house seem preoccupied with them as well. We often wonder if they collaborated to write this questionnaire to crystallize our collective self-understanding. But it could have easily been one of the store’s comics-minded patrons or staff. Our section is full of note-leaving, booknappings, and unrequited love, second only to the Erotica section”
Full disclosure: At this point in the celebrations, 25 had just smoked something with a dog-eared, camp-fire stained Complete Garfield, so recollections were getting a tad rambly and fantastical.