Review by Graham Johnstone
This fourth volume of Drawn and Quarterly Showcase continues the approach and format of previous volumes. Like Fantagraphics’ contemporary Mome anthology, they’re highlighting ‘new’ creators. Gabrielle Bell, and Martin Cendreda, were by this time familiar to Mome readers, but here have the opportunity to create a more extended story or ‘graphic novella’.
Louisville born, Dan Zettwoch’s art seems naive: the figures are ungainly, the arms and legs a bit too long. Yet he’s skilled at designing pages, and conveying props, settings and action with almost instruction manual precision. This works well on ‘We Won’t be Licked!’, his recreation of his city’s great flood in 1937. Most impressive is the two page spread with four tall panels typifying the different approaches to the flood in different neighbourhoods. Each has the narrator in his boat at the bottom, the lower floors in the water and the people taking refuge in the upper levels. In humble Walnut St, we see a family on their roof, singing around a rescued piano, with a makeshift pulley lifting a bucket of supplies from a raft. He uses 45 degree shots without perspective (like Chris Ware, who included this story in his Best American Comics 2007 collection), but Zettwoch has a looser, more relaxed style than the almost oppressive Ware. His is the featured page.
Gabrielle Bell’s 36 page novella is ostensibly fiction rather than her usual diary pieces. Anna is a young artist, like Bell, outside the mainstream of critical taste. It starts with an art school lecturer praising fellow students’ abstracts, and demolishing her more traditional life study. However, her work is popular with the twelve year old son of visiting artist Frank, who gives her an ad hoc job as the boy’s tutor cum babysitter. It’s part story, part meditation on art. Anna and Frank find they share similar feelings about their work. Like much of Bell’s work, it’s a story of people not quite sure what they’re doing or what they want. Bonds develop between the three, but she avoids an artificially tidy ending.
Martin Cendreda’s ‘Dog Days’ has some similarities to Pentti Otsamu’s piece from Volume 2, in that it follows the local adults, children, and animals. Each group is driven by goals and beliefs that make no sense to the others. The one thing all the humans are concerned with, though, is the murders in the area. The old Philippino men are convinced it’s legendary monster the aswang, which can take the form of animals – possibly reinforced here by the mysterious behaviour of the dogs. It further shares a theme with Jeffrey Brown’s piece in volume 2, with the off-stage crime, but here it’s more distant, just providing some common focus and threat for the characters. Like Bell’s contribution, it leaves us with intriguing hints and questions.
Although the volume is printed full-colour, the artists use it sparingly. Cendreda’s line work is printed dark blue, with an peach colour used for lighter tones and an aura of heat. Zettwoch creates more of a palette with his overlaying of khaki and magenta, but it’s really more about coherence than illusionistic colour. In contrast Bell adds watercolour to her line drawings, but still with a limited number of colours: blue, a range of browns and khakis, blonde for Anna’s hair, and a single flesh tone. It looks like she’s new to colour, and Anna’s professors wouldn’t be too enthralled, but it adds clarity and readability to the panels.
Drawn & Quarterly Showcase was a laudable venture publishing intriguing work by up and coming creators. Cendreda and Bell benefit from the greater space here, but the real discovery is Zettwoch.