Eating My Way Through Two and a Half Decades of Comics

The Drawn and Quarterly 25th Anniversary Anthology

Eating My Way Through Two and a Half Decades of Comics

It's when I'm preparing some eggs for breakfast that my mind flashes on an image of Chester Brown masturbating.

See, I like to make scrambled eggs that are as thoroughly infused with milk as possible, so after the initial mixing I always take the handle of the whisk between the palms of my hands and, with its curved wires in the raw-egg-and-milk mix, spin the tool rapidly – like a Boy Scout spinning a twig in tinder to start a fire.

Which is pretty much how acclaimed comic-book creator Chester Brown, bending over a chair, his cock between his hands, tends to get himself off.

I know this because Brown illustrated his unusual (I'm assuming) technique decades ago, in those early graphic novels – The Playboy and I Never Liked You – that were collected from issues of his comic-book Yummy Fur.

Those early perfectbound books (and Brown’s later ones, too) were published by the Canadian powerhouse of comics called Drawn and Quarterly.

I’ve reviewed a fair amount of titles from Drawn and Quarterly over the years, and today – why I’m mentioning this odd resonance at all – today there’s a new D&Q title awaiting my perusal, the first thing on my post-breakfast reading agenda.

After this morning’s scrambled eggs and toast have been washed down with a few cups of strong coffee, I’ll make my way through the Drawn and Quarterly 25th Anniversary Anthology which, just from the basic looks of it, seems enough to bring an aficionado’s mind to orgasm, but we’ll see.

Pardon me for a moment while I, trying desperately to not think about some gangly and talented Canuck’s style of self-abuse, get back to those eggs?

Pausing halfway through the Drawn and Quarterly anthology to make a bit of lunch, now, layering slices of roast beef and swiss cheese onto thick soft planks of fresh-baked wheat bread, it occurs to me that I’d have to pull a Dagwood, to create a sandwich of so many diverse strata that it’d boggle the instruments of culinary geologists, in order to match the satisfying complexity and depth of what’s been transfixing me in D&Q’s bright pages since breakfast.

I’d need kale and romaine lettuce, near-translucent slices of cucumber, julienned daikon that’s been soaked in brine, fat-speckled salami direct from Genoa, sweet scarlet discs of tomato, a heavy trowel’s worth of garlic-infused guacamole, a handful of capers and – I’d need a lot of ingredients, is what I mean.

Those pages, those bright pages … and they’re bright not only because the paper that backgrounds the text is so pristinely white, but also because the opening section of interviews and appreciations and reminiscences are enhanced with depictions of the people – the artists and writers and designers and PR people and interns and so on – all those comics-loving humans so passionately involved with the company that Chris Oliveros had the (Quixotic? temporarily insane?) impulse to start more than two decades ago.

“Enhanced with” is the wrong phrase, though, when writing of the anthology’s curated images. “Enhanced with” is much less precise than, say, the least calibrated instrument of a culinary geologist. “Resplendent with” is closer to the truth, as those images are an effectively staggered gallery of 1) illustrations by many of the best artists in the comics industry, turning the spotlight of their talents on their own longtime associates, and 2) a wealth of candid snapshots and posed photo-tableaux of, well, celebrities of sequential art.

Yes, celebrities. Like, if I were reading People magazine or something along those lines and it was full of photos of the usual shifting pantheon of media-hyped hunks and ingenues, all the pretty people whose textual profiles too frequently reinforce the adage that beauty is only skin deep, and how am I supposed to really give a damn about them beyond what surfaces I’ve glimpsed on a glowing screen somewhere? You know?

But – these people in the Drawn and Quarterly anthology? These people have been directly responsible for much of what’s fed and illuminated my mind, what’s pleased and jarred my eyes, what’s made me laugh and cry and wonder, for years and years and years. These are the people – the ones who created and are still actively creating works that I care about – whose pictures I want to see. And, hell, some of them are even prettier than those Hollywood types, anyway.

But, unlike I could with People magazine, I can’t page through the Drawn and Quarterly antho while I’m devouring this roast-beef-and-swiss-cheese concoction. Because there’s no way in hell I’ll let a drop of mustard stain the beautifully bound, 776-paged masterpiece of comics celebration, not gonna risk a wayward shred of meat falling on the pageant of photos or the graphic narratives of, for example, Anders Nilsen – or David Mazzuchelli, or Lynda Barry, or John Porcellino, or Miriam Katin, or Adrian Tomine, or Kevin Huizenga – or, ah, anyone, of course, not ever, but especially not when they’re part of something this magnificent.

So let me just dispatch the last few morsels of sandwich before I return to that orange-ribboned company of glory?

Oh, and now it’s time for dinner. And there’s nothing I can make in the kitchen that would serve to replicate the aesthetic feast I’ve just enjoyed via Drawn and Quarterly, so instead I’ll venture into the sprawling urbanscape of Austin and partake of some of this city’s internationally celebrated noms – except that, even that won’t provide an equivalent cross-sensory experience.

Thinking of the anthology, I know I’d have to attend some culinary festival that featured the likes of Paul Qui and Bryce Gilmore and Sonya Cote and Ned Elliott and Aaron Franklin and Erica Beneke and so on, that included top chefs from the past 25 years – and guest chefs from across the globe – and, while I was reveling in the edible wonders they’ve prepared, they’d have to be sitting nearby and telling stories of their triumphs and tragedies and how they happened to be part of this festival together.

Which isn’t going to happen – at least, not tonight.

But, back there at my house, sits the Drawn and Quarterly anthology – displayed on, I’m not kidding, on a special shelf all its own, the way you might display the Oxford English Dictionary on a special shelf all its own – because it is history, it is brilliance, it is the fucking OED – and that D&Q anthology, with its Tom Gauld cover that includes a perfect illustration on the wide spine, that antho is such a festival, a comics festival wrought in paper and ink, featuring works by the artists I namechecked in the lunch section above, and also by Rutu Modan and Daniel Clowes and Chris Ware and Tove Jansson and Lisa Hanawalt, and more, and of course by that sort of holy D&Q trinity of Chester Brown and Seth and Joe Matt.

But you can’t really mention those last three en bloc, when you're talking about D&Q, without also mentioning Julie Doucet … but then they wouldn’t be a holy trinity anymore, would they? And so maybe Doucet would have to be, in this configuration, like, the Virgin Mary? Which wouldn’t make sense, especially considering that, ah, Dirty Plotte of hers, right?

And so, behold: ecclesiastical comparisons, culinary metaphors, sexual proclivities, the idea of how much of a comics-borne story happens between the panels … all of it, the entire structure of this review, just kind of falls apart.

Well, of course it does: This was written in a couple of hours, over the course of a single day. It’s not going to hold together like the Drawn and Quarterly 25th Anniversary Anthology, partly because, unlike that stunning volume, it’s not the result of months and months and months of consideration and effort by diverse and seasoned hands. And it’s disintegrating here, this review, partly because I’m not going to expend more time and effort right now. No, I’m going to grab a bite to eat and then come back and read some more, to continuing feeding my head on this vast banquet of brilliance served up all the way from Montreal.

What do they say, especially (I’d reckon) in that city? Bon appétit?

Just so.

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