Posts Tagged: Comics

An Evening with Graphic Journalist Joe Sacco

Join SFU Woodwards for an evening with award-winning graphic journalist Joe Sacco on Wednesday, November 2, 2016 at 7:00 PM.

Joe Sacco is a Maltese-American comic book artist and journalist whose work combines eyewitness reportage and graphic art storytelling techniques. He is the author of Palestine (1996), Footnotes in Gaza (2009), Safe Area Gorazde (2000) and The Fixer (2003). In addition to his 1996 American Book Award, 2001 Guggenheim Fellowship, and 2001 Eisner Award, Sacco’s Footnotes in Gaza was nominated for the 2009 Los Angeles Times Book Prize Graphic Novel award. Sacco was awarded the 2010 Ridenhour Book Prize for Footnotes in Gaza. He was award the 2012 Oregon Book Award for Footnotes in Gaza and 2014 Oregon Book Award Finalist for Journalism.

Sacco will be in conversation with Chris Brayshaw from Pulp Fiction Books, filmmaker Sobhi Al-Zobaidi, and Roxanne Panchasi from SFU’s History Department.

Tickets are $13 and can be purchased online.

Co-presented by SFU’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement, Broken Pencil & Canzine West 2016, SFU History, SFU Library, and the Institute for the Humanities at SFU.


Canzine West: Festival of Zines and Underground Culture

Canzine West 2016, organized by Broken Pencil magazine, takes place on Saturday November 5, 2016, 1pm-7pm in Vancouver.

Volunteers needed: If you’re interested in volunteering for Canzine West, please email canzine@brokenpencil.com

Canzine West features more than 100 zine and comics vendors as well as two events in the afternoon. It is free to attend, and takes place at Goldcorp Centre for the Arts (SFU Woodwards), 149 West Hastings Street.


2:00 pm | Panel | Advancing Your Cause Through Self-Publishing and Zinemaking

A host of experts from Vancouver’s community activism and zinemaking scenes will share how independent publishing helps connect and amplify their mission.

Featuring: Stefania Seccia, the managing editor of Megaphone Magazine, and reporter for The Tyee’s Housing Fix team; Dana Putnam a Library Technician in the Inspiration Lab at VPL; Hannah McGregor, an Assistant Professor of Publishing @ SFU and co-producer and co-host of Witch, Please; Jenn McDermid, a founder and director at the Downtown Eastside Women’s Art Collective and an Associate Editor at online feminist magazine Fembot; Jessica Todd, a founder and director of the Downtown Eastside Women’s Art Collective and an outreach worker for SAFE in Collingwood.


4:00 pm | Radical Reading Series: Blanket Fort Edition

Featuring: Adèle Barclay, whose debut poetry collection, If I Were in a Cage I’d Reach Out for You, was shortlisted for the 2015 Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry; Carleigh Baker whose first book, a collection of short stories titled Bad Endings, is forthcoming with Anvil Press in spring 2017;  Jill Mandrake, a writer of strange but true stories and a librarian at SFU; and Kevin Spenst, the author of Ignite (Anvil Press, 2016), Jabbering with Bing Bong (Anvil Press, 2015) and over a dozen chapbooks.


The Golden Age of Reprints: An Analysis of Classic Comics in a Contemporary Industry

 

By Tracy Hurren

ABSTRACT: This report focuses on the comics reprints environment in 2011 through an analysis of the reprinting activities at Montréal’s Drawn & Quarterly. The report introduces the reader to Drawn & Quarterly by examining the comics environment from which it emerged in the 1980s and exploring the development of the company to the present day. The complete history of comics reprints in North America is explored, highlighting the role of reprints in creating the foundation of the comics industry. The reprints market in 2011 is discussed by analyzing Drawn & Quarterly’s key competitors and their individual roles within the industry, and exploring the idiosyncrasies of the company’s four main reprint series: Nipper, Walt and Skeezix, The John Stanley Library, and Moomin. Finally, the report closes with comments on trends in the marketplace, Drawn & Quarterly’s current stance on comics reprints, and ideas on what reprints may look like in the future.

 

 


Acknowledgements

Thank you to those who have supported and encouraged me, especially Roberto Dosil for his guidance throughout the completion of this report. I would also like to acknowledge the support of Chris Oliveros, Tom Devlin, and Peggy Burns for their patience with me and assistance throughout my internship and subsequent employment at D&Q. In addition, I am grateful for the encouragement and support from my cohort in the Simon Fraser University Master of Publishing Program, and the friendship of Kathleen Fraser, Cynara Geissler, Elizabeth Kemp, and Megan Lau throughout the program and the completion of this report. And of course, my parents, Bryan and Kim, for never once wavering in their support of my ambitions, regardless of how ridiculous they may have been at times.

 

 


CONTENTS

1. Introduction

2. History of Drawn & Quarterly
++++2.1 Comics Culture in the 1980s
++++2.2 Drawn & Quarterly: The Early Days
++++2.3 More than a Magazine

3. History of Reprints
++++3.1 The Creation of the Comic Book
++++3.2 The First Wave of Modern Comics Reprints

4. Reprints Today
++++4.1 Everyman’s Comics
++++4.2 The Reprint Revolution
++++4.3 The Reprint Environment in 2011

5. Reprints and Drawn & Quarterly
++++5.1 Series Acquisition: Copyright and Collector Culture
++++5.2 Series Development: Format, Price Point, and Doug Wright
++++5.3 Context and Walt and Skeezix
++++5.4 Series Design and the John Stanley Library
++++5.5 The Comics Canon and Moomin

6. Conclusions
++++6.1 Collector Culture and Cultural Vogue
++++6.2 The Future of Reprints at Drawn & Quarterly

Notes

Bibliography

Interviews

 

 


1. Introduction

Since their initial appearance within North American popular culture in the late 1890s, comics have existed in many media, from newspapers to dirty magazines, poorly printed pamphlets, and, more recently, between the covers of exquisitely designed and produced books. In their infancy, comics were regarded as lowbrow entertainment; today, society regards them as an art form worthy of further examination and exploration, representative of a range of tastes. With comics’ elevated status within popular culture, the forces that limited the medium in the past have been removed, and the future of comics is as limitless at the imaginations of those involved. Although the maturity of the industry has helped to drive the medium forward, it has also facilitated the revisiting of underappreciated works from comics’ history.

Comics’ ephemeral nature throughout the better part of their existence has left the documented history of the form incomplete. Today, comics publishers like Montréal-based Drawn & Quarterly (D&Q) are investing significant resources in culling forgotten comics treasures, bringing much-deserved attention to those that have been buried in landfills, or later, dropped off at recycling plants. The act of revisiting these classic works in a contemporary setting fills gaps within comics history: new aspects of the classic works are discovered, and the lineage of contemporary cartoonists can be understood more completely.

Reprints have existed within the comics industry in North America since its inception in the late nineteenth century; the shape they currently take, however, is miles ahead of their original form. Contemporary comics are among some of the most exquisitely designed books available today. Collections of comics reprints conform to these high standards—standards that, while in part are a result of the maturity and evolution of the form and the sophistication of the audience, are also a product of the efforts of revolutionary comics publishers, including the reference company for this report, D&Q.

The report starts with an analysis of the comics environment in the 1980s from which D&Q emerged, followed by a brief history of the company’s accomplishments to the present day. The report then explores the history of comics reprints in North America beginning with their first appearance in the late nineteenth century, focusing on their role in building the foundation of the comics industry, and ending in the mid-1990s with the demise of the first wave of modern reprints. A synopsis of the reprint environment in 2011 follows, including an analysis of D&Q’s key competitors. Next, the report focuses on D&Q’s reprinting activities, examining series acquisition and series development. To explore series development, D&Q’s reprints of Doug Wright’s comics are analyzed. D&Q’s reprint series of Frank King’s classic strip, Walt and Skeezix, is also explored, highlighting the effects of placing classic strips in a new context. As the basis for understanding series design approach, the John Stanley Library and the notes of the series designer, Seth[i] , are evaluated. Lastly, this section of the report looks at comics reprints’ role in constructing the comics canon and creating our remembered/documented history of the medium. The report concludes with observations on current trends in collector culture and its influence on reprint publishers, and an examination of D&Q’s current stance on comics reprints.

 

 

2. History of Drawn & Quarterly

2.1 Comics Culture in the 1980s

The 1980s was an important time for comics in North America. The industry was by no means flourishing, but the accomplishments of a new generation of cartoonists and innovative publishers throughout these years formed the basis of the burgeoning industry we see today. Some of the finest contemporary comics artists including the Hernandez Brothers and Dan Clowes got their start during these seminal years by creating some of the first alternative comics[ii] . Evolving from the underground comix of the late 1960s and early 1970s, which created an audience for uncensored, adult-oriented comics in North America, alternative comics provided a less transgressive, more intellectually driven outlet for these adult readers—and artists—to sate their appetites (Mouly in Kartalopoulos, 2005). But the underground comix tradition had not died entirely—it survived in the works of the father of the form, Robert Crumb, including his magazine-sized comix anthology Weirdo[iii], which continued to push the genre in innovative directions, publishing renowned artists such as Gilbert Hernandez of the aforementioned Hernandez brothers, Terry Zwigoff (who would later direct the movie adaptation of Clowes’s most successful comic, Ghost World), Gary Panter, Harvey Pekar, and Kim Deitch. Also published in Weirdo were many artists who would later be published by D&Q, including Charles Burns, Dan Clowes, David Collier, Julie Doucet, Debbie Drechsler, Joe Matt, and Joe Sacco. Weirdo remained an influential publication within the industry until the publication of the twenty-eighth, and last, issue in 1993.

Publishing comics at the same time as Weirdo was Seattle-based Fantagraphics. In 1976 Fantagraphics launched the Comics Journal[iv], the industry’s first trade magazine; the company embarked on publishing activities that extended beyond the magazine in 1982 when it began publishing some of the first alternative comics in North America. Though moving the medium in a direction divergent from underground comix tradition, Fantagraphics began their comics publishing endeavors with close ties to the underground. While underground comix were produced across North America, they especially flourished on the West Coast. Based in the West, the influence of underground comix is evident in Fantagraphics’ early alternative publications. The company published the top artists of the early alternative scene, Daniel Clowes, Peter Bagge, and the Hernandez brothers; in the years to come, these five artists would be cited as inspiration for all those who became involved in the medium, including D&Q publishers Chris Oliveros (Oliveros, interview).

While west-coast Fantagraphics had roots in the underground, emerging simultaneously on the East Coast was something entirely different. Françoise Mouly created Raw Magazine—the highbrow alternative to lowbrow underground comix—In 1980. Co-edited by Art Spiegelman, Raw soon became the seminal alternative comics publication. Although the best known comic to be published in Raw was Spiegelman’s Maus[v], the magazine also published the works of other influential cartoonists of the 1980s, many of whom later joined D&Q’s stable, including Lynda Barry, Charles Burns, Julie Doucet, R. Sikoryak, and Chris Ware, who before contributing to the magazine spent his college days staring at the pages of Raw, mimicking the works of Gary Panter, Jerry Moriarty, and Kaz (Ware in Kartalopoulos, 2005). In an interview with comics critic Bill Kartalopoulos, Mouly describes the intent of Raw:

There was a goal that was to show an audience, a world, or whatever, to make it manifest how good comics could be. I mean, it was to fight the prejudices against comics as toilet literature, that they should be printed only on newsprint, and disposable…So here the large size, and the good paper, and the fact that it was non-returnable, were meant to force people to see how beautiful, and how moving, and how powerful, the work could be. And it should have Europeans and Americans and people from all over. It should bridge a lot of gaps. That was the intent. (Mouly in Kartalopoulos, 2005)

Throughout Raw’s life, Mouly followed these goals—goals that, for those familiar with D&Q, should ring a bell. Mouly’s commitment to quality content, design, and production set new standards for the comics industry.

 

2.2 Drawn & Quarterly: The Early Days

Amongst the budding cartoonists influenced by Raw was Chris Oliveros, founder and publisher of Drawn & Quarterly. At the time of the company’s inception, although Fantagraphics and Raw were driving the medium in new directions, the comics industry was still dominated by superheroes (Bell, 2002). Living in Montréal, Oliveros was privy to a wider range of comics than many: not only did Montréal have thriving anglophone and francophone comics scenes, but, unlike elsewhere in North America, European comics were relatively well represented (Bell, 2002). With exposure to a variety of comics styles, including those represented in Raw, Weirdo, and Fantagraphics’ publications, it was clear to Oliveros that in order for the North American comics scene to mature creatively, it would need to be steered away from its fascination with capes and toward the likes of the aforementioned alternative publications (Bell, 2002). Oliveros published the first issue of his comics anthology, Drawn & Quarterly, in 1990. Early issues of the anthology included the works of Chester Brown, Joe Sacco, and Maurice Vellekoop, who remain leaders within the comics community today. Oliveros entered the scene with a commitment to publishing first-class comics by Canadian and foreign cartoonists; he saw comics as more than a popular form of entertainment—he regarded them as art, and published them accordingly. D&Q emerged in a post-Raw environment in which comics were now clearly aimed at an adult audience, and were, however gradually, being accepted as more than lowbrow ephemeral entertainment (Devlin, interview).

Paramount to the early success of D&Q were the multifarious and provocative nature of its expertly curated list and Oliveros’s dedication to producing books with high production values. In an interview with Canadian Business magazine, Jeet Heer, co-editor of Arguing Comics and author of several introductions to comics reprints series, was quoted saying, “Oliveros was the first publisher who really cared about design…You’d think comics people would be sensitive to that, but the obverse is true” (McBride, 2009). Artist Jerry Moriarty once said, “Françoise [Mouly] would throw her body on the printing press if the work was not up to her standards” (Moriarty in Kartalopoulos, 2005). While Oliveros may not have been the first publisher to pay attention to comics’ production and design values, he certainly was a leader. D&Q’s high standards of quality, like those of Raw, attracted artists, some of the world’s best cartoonists among them, and the company has consistently maintained those standards. The early success of D&Q in pushing alternative comics forward in North America was recently noted by Mouly in an online interview in which she acknowledged that the reason she ceased the publication of Raw in the early 1990s was because she felt the magazine was no longer necessary: Raw was created to fill a niche—alternative comics were underrepresented in North America—but the magazine acted as a catalyst, and publishers, notably D&Q, were able to pick up where she left off, continuing to drive the medium forward (Mouly in Dueden, 2011).

The late 1980s and early 1990s saw the emergence of several alternative comics publishers within Canada; of these publishers, only D&Q remains (Bell, 2002). Whenever Oliveros is questioned about his accomplishments—about how he was able to build, from the ground up, one of the top comics publishing houses in the world—his answer is always the same: “We just publish what we think is good.” Oliveros’s stock answer is as modest as the man himself, and although the statement may be the company’s focusing line, the reality of the establishment and continued success of D&Q is the company’s unrelenting commitment to the form that supports it.

 

2.3 More than a Magazine

Although D&Q began as an anthology publisher, the company quickly expanded into pamphlets[vi] , the first of which was Montréaler Julie Doucet’s Dirty Plotte, followed shortly after by Seth’s Palooka-Ville, Joe Matt’s Peepshow, and Chester Brown’s Yummy Fur, Underwater, and, later, Louis Riel (Bell, 2002). Although the majority of comics we see today are published in book form, the pamphlet format remained prominent in comics for most of the 1990s. As late as the year 2000, D&Q, an industry leader in book-format comics, only published about four books a year. Although Oliveros claims the progression from pamphlet to book format was natural, D&Q played an important role in pushing the industry in this direction: mainstream media outlets were enamoured of the company’s “lavishly, lovingly produced” titles, and the popularity of book-format comics drove their dominance (McBride, 2009). Prior to the twenty-first century, traditional, pamphlet-style comics were only available through the direct market comics shops; in a 2004 article in the New York Times Magazine, D&Q, along with Fantagraphics, is given credit for expanding the comics retail market into traditional bookstores (McGrath, 2004). Although the quality of these companies’ titles clearly contributed to their success in bookstores, the leading factor behind D&Q and Fantagraphics’ success in delivering their product to the book market, which was omitted from the New York Times Magazine article, was their alignment with two of the most prestigious literary publishers of the twentieth century—Farrar, Straus and Giroux and W.W. Norton & Company, respectively.

Still based in the same Montréal neighbourhood—but no longer out of Oliveros’s two-bedroom apartment—D&Q operates with five full-time employees, two part-time, and several interns. Two key members of D&Q’s team—who moved to Montréal in 2002 from New York to take on their new roles within the company—are associate publisher Peggy Burns and art director Tom Devlin. With the addition of their expertise and unrivaled dedication, the company has become one of the leading comics publishers in the world: only ten percent of D&Q’s sales are in Canada. Seventy-five percent of revenue comes from the United States, while the remaining fifteen percent of sales are made in Europe. The esteemed publisher produces thirty books a year; on average, six of these titles are reprints. D&Q’s current reprint series include The John Stanley Library, Walt and Skeezix, The Collected Doug Wright, Moomin, and, beginning in the fall of 2011, Everything, which will be a comprehensive collection of comics legend Lynda Barry’s work. Though not a series, D&Q also reprints collections of Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s short stories.

 

 

3. History of Reprints

3.1 The Creation of the Comic Book

Despite the relative youth of comics as a medium, comics reprints are old hat. In fact, the first comic book ever published in America, which appeared in March of 1897, was a collection of reprints of Richard F. Outcault’s Hogan’s Alley. Titled The Yellow Kid in McFadden’s Flats and published by G. W. Dillingham Company (with permission from the copyright holder, Hearst), the 196 page, black and white, hardcover collection sold for fifty cents (Olson, 1997). Used for the first time in North America, the phrase “comic book” was printed on the book’s back cover (Coville, 2001). Similar in format to the comics reprints we see today, The Yellow Kid in McFadden’s Flats took a much different shape from the pamphlet comics that preceded it. This collection was also unique in that it contained supplementary material written by E. W. Townsend, the strip’s writer (Coville), a feature that, though unprecedented at the time, is now commonplace in comics reprints. On many levels, The Yellow Kid in McFadden’s Flats displays the essential characteristics of contemporary comics reprints.

Although the late eighteen hundreds saw innovation with the emergence of the first comic book, over the next thirty years publishers continued to produce collections in the same vein as the Hogan’s Alley collection, reprinting newspaper strips—either previously published or rejected (Hadju, 2008). While the early collections were generally hardcover, publishers slowly began to experiment with size, colour, and pricing (Coville, 2001). Intrinsically, comics at this time were disposable ephemera, designed to be enjoyed daily and then used to wrap up the trash. Because of this, their value—derived “from their freshness, like produce or journalism”—diminished after they were printed (Hajdu, p. 21). And so in 1933, with no intent to actually sell the comic book, which was comprised entirely of reprinted material that was perceived to be worthless, Harry Wildenberg struck a deal with Procter and Gamble to produce one million copies of a four-colour comic book to be given away as a promotional item (Coville). The comic, titled Funnies on Parade and printed by Eastern Printing, was the first comic book to take the classic comics pamphlet form—saddle stitched, measuring eight by eleven inches (Hajdu).

The success of Funnies on Parade had much to do with the format. Either Wildenberg or his salesman, Maxwell Gaines, discovered that eight pages of a comic could be printed on a single page of newsprint, and that the printing could be done cheaply during the press’s downtime (Hajdu, 2008). With its minimal overheads, Funnies on Parade was so successful as a promotional item that within the year, Gaines created a second book, Famous Funnies, which again featured ads for common household products. By early 1934, Gaines struck a deal with American News Company, a major distributor, and began selling his advertisement-backed comics on newsstands for ten cents (Hajdu). While comics had been trickling onto the newsstands in various forms for several years, Famous Funnies was the first to achieve wide-scale distribution, establishing comics’ presence on newsstands (Hadju). Thus, as a vehicle for advertisements and a venue for devalued newspaper strip reprints, comic books, as we know them today, were born, becoming a prominent element within North American popular culture.

The success of these comics in the first half of the 1930s—still comprised entirely of reprinted material—lead Eastern Printing to form an equal partnership with George Delacourt of Dell Publishing; Gaines later partnered with DC Comics to create All American Comics (Coville, 2001). In 1935, one year after the second issue of Funnies on Parade hit stands, the first comic book containing new material, New Fun, was published by Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson (Hadju, 2008). Realizing there was an alternative to paying newspapers for their previously used or discarded strips, Wheeler-Nicholson commissioned new comics to be created especially for publication within New Fun (Coville). While collections of reprinted material continued to be published, reprints were no longer the only material gracing the pages of comic books, and comics containing new material overshadowed the reprints. Although comics reprints established the foundation for the comics industry, notable developments within the reprint market would not be seen again until late in the 1970s.

 

3.2 The First Wave of Modern Comics Reprints

In spite of the comics industry’s early reliance on reprints, the popularity of these books waned as new material found its way between the covers. One of the first publishers to dive extensively into comics reprints since these foundational years was Kitchen Sink Press. Created by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund founder David Kitchen in 1969, Kitchen Sink Press began publishing reprinted classics in 1972, including Will Eisner’s The Spirit, George Herriman’s Krazy Kat, Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon, Al Capp’s L’il Abner, and Milton Caniff’s Steven Canyon (The Comic Book Database). Kitchen Sink was joined in the reprint market by many, often small, independent publishers throughout the 1980s. These emerging reprint publishers tended to pop up and produce reprints for a year or two before folding (Oliveros, interview). While the reprints being published in the 1980s were of higher production values than those produced in the 1970s, they were, nonetheless, cheaply produced, poorly designed paperbacks devoid of context (Oliveros). Confined by the technology of the day, these reprints were little more than photocopies of the original strips placed between monochromatic covers (Devlin, interview). In some cases, when the photostats were not available, the reprints were derived from traced versions of the originals (Devlin). In other cases, in an attempt to make the strips conform to standard comic book format, publishers would reformat the content in various sizes within the same book, creating a jarring experience for the reader.

Of the publishers to venture into reprints extensively in the 1980s, Fantagraphics is one of the few that continues to thrive today—or even exist, for that matter. Fantagraphics’ reprint activities included the magazine Nemo, the Classic Comics Library, edited by comics historian Rick Marschall, and an imprint, the Nemo Bookshelf. The magazine ran for thirty-three issues, and unlike the bare-bones reprints that were common in the 1980s, it went beyond simply reprinting vintage comic strips and included supplementary information on the history of the strips. Fantagraphics’ reprint imprint, the Nemo Bookshelf, included Harold Gray’s Little Orphan Annie, Walt Kelly’s Pogo, Will Gould’s Red Barry, Milton Caniff’s Dickie Dare, E. C. Segar’s Popeye and Harold Foster’s Prince Valiant (The Comic Books Database). Although the production value of these reprints conformed to the standards of the day, Fantagraphics’ early innovation with reprints can be seen with their Popeye and Prince Valiant collections, which were both complete collections in an era when “best of” collections were the norm.

Another publisher to venture into reprinting complete collections during the first wave of modern reprints was industry powerhouse DC Comics with DC Archive Editions in 1989. The editions collect early material previously published by DC Comics, including Batman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Justice League of America, Superman, Teen Titans, and Wonder Woman, as well as some comics originally published by other companies, such as Will Eisner’s The Spirit and Wally Wood’s T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents. Following a rigid design template that makes it difficult to tell the over one hundred books in the series apart, DC Archive Editions is the only reprint series that existed in the 1980s that continues to exist today. Its importance stems not only from the fact that it was among the first series to reprint complete collections—for better or worse—but also that DC was the first publisher to reprint comics in hardcover editions since the early nineteen hundreds. However flawed the series may be, it planted the seed of archiving in hardcover, setting a standard among collectors seeking to read series in hardcover book form, a format that today is the norm for such collections.

Although reprints were common in the 1980s and early 1990s, by the mid-1990s the reprint industry had withered, and the industry saw few collections of reprinted material until the second wave of modern reprints began in 2002 (Oliveros, interview). Many factors contributed to the disappearance of these reprint lines, including the comics industry’s decline during the 1990s due in part to the failure of several major distributors (Devlin, interview). Another reason for the failure of reprints, however, was the packaging. The reprints of the late twentieth century were marketed to their original audience—to collectors and readers who had enjoyed the strips when they were originally published—in a fashion that was nothing more than nostalgic and antiquated (Burns, interview). The reprint publishers during these years failed to introduce the material to new readers, and the limited customer base was not enough to sustain the industry, which, at this time, was still limited to comic shops, as interest from mainstream media and bookstores had not yet been piqued.

 

4. Reprints Today

4.1 Everyman’s Comics

Shortsighted vision and a floundering comics industry effectively killed the production of comics reprint by the mid-1990s; however, by the early 2000s the industry had made an unpredictable comeback, and technological advancements finally made quality reproductions of classic comics possible. Brought on in part by the unprecedented success[vii] of Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth after its 2000 release by Pantheon Books under the editorship of landmark designer Chip Kidd, the mainstream media began to pay attention to comics, and this attention meant that, for the first time, bookstores began to stock graphic novels (Oliveros, interview). Before this distribution expansion, comics publishers were limited to the direct market; the acceptance of comics into the general book trade meant the production of deluxe, hardback reprints was possible, as the market was finally large enough to make these collections financially feasible (Oliveros). In addition to the hugely successful Jimmy Corrigan, other titles published during these years include Joe Sacco’s Safe Area Goražde (2000, Fantagraphics) and Palestine (2002, Fantagraphics), Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis (2003, Pantheon), Adrian Tomine’s Summer Blonde (2002, Drawn & Quarterly) and Daniel Clowes’s Ghost World (1997, Fantagraphics) and David Boring (2000, Pantheon)—all titles that garnered a plethora of mainstream media attention and were instrumental in gaining mainstream acceptance for comics. The success of these titles was partly because of the building hype surrounding the “graphic novel,” but these books were also building the hype that was helping to sell them. Satrapi and Sacco captured their readers and brought them into war zones, like Spiegelman had done with Maus a decade earlier, bringing vividly to life with the skillful combinations of image and text a world that readers could not enter with text alone; similarly, Tomine, Clowes, and Ware pushed the boundaries of fiction with innovative form that captured the attention of readers in a way that comics that predated this period had not achieved. Although several comics achieved similar mainstream acclaim in the mid-1980s, including Art Spiegelman’s Maus, Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez’s Love and Rockets series, and Alan Moore’s Watchmen, the movement lacked teeth because these quality titles were sparse; the critical mass of quality books required to achieve mainstream acceptance and prolonged media attention was not achieved until the turn of the century (McGrath, 2004).

In a 2004 New York Times Magazine article, D&Q and Fantagraphics were credited as the “enterprising publishers” that “managed to get their wares into traditional bookstores” (McGrath, 2004). This achievement, however, could not have been accomplished without the unprecedented partnerships between D&Q and Farrar, Strauss and Giroux and between Fantagraphics and W.W. Norton & Company. Pantheon Books’ success with Jimmy Corrigan was partly the result of the publisher’s success in selling the book through the book trade, a success that was made possible because of Random House’s book trade distribution. For independent comics publishers, like D&Q and Fantagraphics, the success of this title made it clear that times were changing within the comics industry, and partnerships would need to be formed with distributors that were able to facilitate the transition away from solely the direct comics market and towards the much larger general book trade. D&Q formed its partnership with Farrar, Strauss and Giroux in 2004 after dissolving a distribution partnership with Chronicle Books that was established in 2002; Fantagraphics aligned itself with W.W. Norton in 2001.

In addition to these exceptionally successful titles and expansion in distribution channels, Hollywood adaptations of several comics helped to bring even more attention to the medium, including a film adaption of Dan Clowes’s Ghost World in 2001 and Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor in 2003, as well as a second wave of superhero comic adaptations, including X-Men (2000), Spider-Man (2002), Daredevil (2003), The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003), and Hulk (2003), which helped to revitalize popular culture’s interest in the medium.

 

4.2 The Reprint Revolution

With the wider acceptance of comics by mainstream culture, publishers were finally in a position to produce the reprint collections they had been dreaming of for decades, but that previously would not have attracted a large enough audience to make their production feasible. Spring 2002 marked a paradigm shift in comics reprints; the poorly reproduced paperback collections of the past were trumped by a superior product, one that honoured classic comics in a package that represented the contents’ cultural value. The second wave of modern comics reprints—the Golden Age of reprints—began in 2002 with Fantagraphics’ reprint series of George Herriman’s Krazy Kat, titled Krazy and Ignatz because of copyright restrictions. Gorgeously designed by Chris Ware, not only was it the first reprint series to pair a contemporary cartoonist with an influential comic series—a strategy that is commonplace in reprint series today—but the design captured the spirit of the comic, drawing on the time period in which it was originally created. Krazy Kat had been reprinted in the past by numerous publishers, dating back to the first comic books in North America, but unlike its antecedents, the design of the series added a new element to the content, and following the tradition that Fantagraphics began in the 1980s with Prince Valiant and Popeye, Krazy and Ignatz was to be a complete series, including all of Herriman’s Sunday and daily strips. Today, the publication of the dailies is complete, and Fantagraphics has begun reprinting the Sundays.

Krazy and Ignatz is an important series for Fantagraphics partly because Krazy Kat is one of the most popular comic strips of the twentieth century, being the first to break out beyond the lowbrow status of comics with such fans as Gertrude Stein, Picasso, and William de Kooning, but also because the comics were in the public domain, which allowed Fantagraphics to cheaply experiment with the addition of a celebrity designer. The series also includes introductions/tributes by Jeet Heer, Ben Schwartz, and Bill Blackbeard. In addition to everything the paperback series has to offer, it has a low price point ($19.95–$24.95), which has helped to cement the success of the series, and to this date, it is one of the most successful comics reprint series in existence.

Although Krazy and Ignatz was the first reprint series to be published in a deluxe format with a contemporary cartoonist as the series designer, more often Fantagraphics’ The Complete Peanuts series, which did not appear until 2004, is given credit for pushing reprints in this new direction. However, if it were not for the success of Krazy and Ignatz, Fantagraphics may have never published The Complete Peanuts in the format it now takes, a format that has become the norm within the comics reprint industry. Although thousands of books over the past forty years have reprinted various Peanuts strips, no publisher had attempted a complete collection (Douresseau, 2004). Beautifully designed by Seth, The Complete Peanuts, now on its fourteenth volume, is scheduled to span twenty-five volumes, which will include all fifty years of the strip. At a rate of two books per year, the entire collection will be complete in the fall of 2016; each volume includes two years of strips and invaluable introductory material.

Perhaps part of the reason why The Complete Peanuts series overshadowed Krazy and Ignatz as the leader in modern comics reprints was because Fantagraphics bought the rights from United Media, and therefore had the power of one of the biggest and most influential syndication companies today, as well as, and even more important among hardcore Peanuts fans, the explicit consent, support, and promotional assistance of Charles Schulz’ widow, Jeannie Schulz. In addition, every Peanuts books, no matter the subject or format, debuts on the New York Times bestseller list, and as a result so did Fantagraphics’ editions. Because of these factors, Fantagraphics knew their series would sell, and, coupled with the public’s newfound acceptance of comics, launching the most extensive marketing campaign in history in support of a reprint series was not much of a gamble. And, with the new shape the industry was taking, for the first time, the primary focus of the marketing efforts, which included counter displays, promotional posters, and media efforts across all four media—print, TV, radio, and internet—was the book trade (Reynolds in Douresseau, 2004).

Series designer Seth responds modestly to claims that The Complete Peanuts revolutionized comics reprints; however, he does acknowledge the series’ role in steering the marketplace towards complete collections rather than selections from treasuries. Although complete collections had been done in the 1980s, they had never been done with such success, or care, and they were never the rule, but always the exception. While this element of Peanuts is quintessential to the modern reprints movement, similar to Krazy and Ignatz, the other two defining features of the series—the inclusion of supplementary information and the focus on exquisite design—have played an equally vital role in the reprints that have entered the marketplace since the release of Fantagraphics’ Krazy and Ignatz and Peanuts. When questioned about the shift in reprints post Peanuts, Seth responded as follows:

I suspect something in The Complete Peanuts seemed ‘new’ at that moment in time. It did seem to make a dividing point between the reprinting activity from before and the reprinting activity after. I’m not entirely sure why… but it might have to do with the care that was focused on the packaging and format. It was the start of a period where comic related books were starting to be assembled with a lot more care than the collections of previous decades. In life, timing is everything and The Complete Peanuts came at just the right moment. (Seth, interview)

While timing played a role in Peanuts’s success, Seth’s rethinking of Peanuts in a design sense also played a vital role. The Complete Peanuts is perhaps the perfect amalgamation of business and art. What sets Seth’s design apart from that of other Peanuts reprints is that he rethought the strip. Seth added an emotional melancholy element with his design never before seen in a Peanuts book. So while the design is exquisite, the approach to the design is also groundbreaking. Seth saw the melancholy, depressed nature of Peanuts (perhaps from reading it himself as a child) and designed the series using dark, melancholy colors to highlight this aspect of the comic. Previous collections of Peanuts were generally designed using very poppy and kid-oriented palettes. Seth intentionally avoided such colours, in part to make the series more attractive to adult readers (Seth, interview).

Whether it was a result of the marketplace sitting in a prime position, the on-point series design, the effectiveness of the marketing activities, or the inherent quality of the strips, The Complete Peanuts quickly became the most successful reprint series in comics history. More likely, however, it was no single element that garnered the series’ success, rather a convergence within the marketplace. Peanuts’s signature elements, which it shares with Krazy and Ignatz, define the modern comics reprint, and together the two series influenced a flurry of reprint projects that closely follow in their footsteps.

 

4.3 The Reprint Environment in 2011

Following the release of The Complete Peanuts, the reprint industry quickly expanded; publishers across North America began developing their own reprint collections, and, in some cases, devoted imprints solely to reprinting classic comics. Fantagraphics, too, developed several additional reprint series, including two titles that they had previously published as part of their Nemo Bookshelf imprint in the 1980s, E.C. Segar’s Popeye and Prince Valiant. While both these series had been previously completed in softcover, the new editions conform to the deluxe twenty-first-century reprint production standards.

Not only did Fantagraphics set the bar for the modern comics reprint, but Seth’s design of The Complete Peanuts had a major impact on subsequent reprint series. In fall 2006 IDW Publishing released the first volume of The Complete Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy. While Seth played no role in the production of this series—the credited designer is Ashley Wood—the series design is strikingly similar to Seth’s work with Peanuts. While the ethics of IDW’s design decisions are questionable, perhaps it was also a case of Fantagraphics changing the way people looked at comics reprints (Devlin, interview). One way or another, IDW came to the conclusion that Fantagraphics’ Peanuts was how comic strip reprints in the twenty-first century were suppose to look, and IDW carried on this tradition with the establishment of their imprint—the Library of American Comics—in 2007, dedicated to “preserving, in definitive editions, the long and jubilantly creative history of the American newspaper comic strip” (“The Library of American Comics”). IDW now has one of the largest lists of comic strip reprints in the industry. With Dick Tracy volumes being released on a quarterly schedule and Little Orphan Annie volumes being released three times a year (both of which, like Fantagraphics’ collections, have introductions by industry experts), IDW’s list is growing at a rapid pace; fourteen strips are currently reprinted as part of the library, including beloved Archie, Family Circus, and Blondie. All the titles in the library are hardback and of archival quality, and generally include supplementary information.

Deeply involved in comics reprints, IDW has a second reprints imprint—Yoe! Books. Created specifically for the comics collector and accomplished creative mind of Craig Yoe, the imprint draws on his very large, idiosyncratic comics collection (Devlin, interview). Yoe! Books is an example of collectors’ prevalent role in the reprints industry. While Yoe is more than simply a collector—earlier in his career he was the creative director of The Muppets—he represents collectors’ influence on the reprints market. With an industry saturated with reprints sourced from a handful of collectors, the shape of comics history can easily shift to reflect these collectors’ personal taste[viii] .

Another player in the North American reprints game is the Milwaukie-based publisher Dark Horse. While Dark Horse reprints collections of comics from mainstream publisher Marvel, they also reprint Marjorie Henderson Buell’s Little Lulu and Tubby. They began reprinting Little Lulu in 2005. Dark Horse differs from other classic comics reprint publishers today in that their collections focus less on the added value of first-class design and supplementary material, and more on achieving a price point that will put the product in as many hands as possible. The inexpensive format of the mainstream publisher’s paperback reprints is similar to that of their typical publications; it is unclear whether this is a strategic decision to keep the price point low or just a case of the publisher sticking with what they know (Devlin, interview).

Another key publisher producing reprints today is New York–based Abrams. What sets Abrams apart from the rest is that they are not strictly a comics publisher, but rather an art book publisher. Their books are not series, but more often coffee table books that display the art of a particular artist over the years—The Art of Jamie Hernandez—or cover a pivotal moment in a comic’s run—Archie Marries—or the history of a creator—Jerry Robins: Ambassador of Comics. Abrams publishes the art history books of the comics medium. Perhaps the most influential book published by Abrams is Dan Nadel’s Art out of Time, which collects the work of forgotten cartoonist from comics history. This book is discuss in more detail in section 5.5.

These four publishers—Fantagraphics, IDW, Dark Horse, and Abrams—are D&Q’s key competitors within the reprints industry today. The titles produced by these companies share similarities; however, each of them, including D&Q, satisfies unique roles within the marketplace, serving its own niche audience. Each of these publishers represent a certain standard of quality and a certain price point within the market—each company produces a product that satisfies today’s deluxe reprint standards, with the exception of Dark Horse, whose products are marketed to consumers concerned primarily with price point and less with the quality of the packaging or collectability.

 

 

5. Reprints and Drawn & Quarterly

D&Q has a distinctive list; unlike many general trade publishers, the company’s list is cohesive in content and design to such a degree that savvy readers can pull a D&Q book off the shelf and identify it as such without checking the logo on the spine. Regardless of whether the book is hardcover or softcover, verging on pocket sized or covering the top of a coffee table, the high production values of D&Q’s books are an integral element of the company’s brand. D&Q has built its reputation on publishing comics that push the medium forward; the company’s titles that look back—the reprints—are no exception. Despite their differences, the reprints at D&Q, progressive in their own right, share many similarities with their contemporary titles. From the start, Oliveros built the company on one earnest ambition: the desire to publish good comics. Regardless of the decade a comic was created in, D&Q seeks to bring quality content to readers—content that deserves to be read, and demands to be recorded in comics history—in a package that properly denotes the contents cultural value. With its publishing vision, D&Q’s rescued master-of-the-medium Doug Wright from slipping into obscurity, enabled the genius of Frank King’s Gasoline Alley to be fully realized, archived a pack of John Stanley’s rug rats—Melvin the Monster, Tubby, Nancy, Judy and Val, just to name a few—in a package tailored to honour Stanley’s exemplary skills, and introduced Tove Jansson’s daily Moomin strips to a North American audience for the first time.

The comics in D&Q’s early reprint stable pushed the medium forward in their day, and continue to add momentum to the form today through their influence on contemporary cartoonists. Regardless of how progressive a cartoonist may be, the comics they create are a palimpsest of comics history. Not long after Chester Brown’s Louis Riel was released in 2004, readers began noting the similarities between Brown’s artwork and that of Harold Gray in Little Orphan Annie (Heer, 2003). Likewise, only after reading Gasoline Alley does one notice the influence of Frank King on Chris Ware (Devlin, interview). And no matter how hard “alternative comics” readers try to separate their favourite works from superhero genre comics, the quintessentially alternative work of the Hernandez brothers cannot be divorced from its superhero influence. Comics history is intricately woven into the contemporary medium. Classic comics’ vital role in the progression of the medium is highlighted and explored through comics reprints, and this genealogy is something that D&Q’s readers—smart comics readers who care not just about where the medium is going, but also where it came from—are interested in, particularly when one starts to notice elements of a classic cartoonist’s work popping up on the pages of their favourite contemporary artists. Understanding classic comics gives context to comics today, and, as is the case with Louis Riel, adds new depths to already complex titles.

Classic comics’ below-the-radar influence on the industry today coupled with their role in shaping the medium’s remembered history makes reprints at D&Q an important aspect of the company’s publishing activities, from both business and cultural perspectives. While many logistical considerations regarding publishing reprints are similar to those regarding the publication of contemporary comics, there are several aspects of publishing reprints that are unique; these idiosyncrasies will be explored in the following sections of the report, including specific copyright considerations and the impact of collector culture on reprint series acquisition, the value of creating a new context for classic content to exist within, reprint series design best practices, and lastly, the cultural and historical impact of the specific comics that contemporary publishers decide to revisit.

 

5.1 Series Acquisition: Copyright and Collector Culture

D&Q is in the enviable position of being an industry leader. As such, industry members, cartoonists, and readers alike have a lot of faith in the titles that the company selects for publication. For a company producing such a reliably strong list, D&Q’s selection criteria are remarkably simple—the editors simply ask themselves, how much do we love it? (Oliveros, interview). Though relying on one’s personal taste may not be a textbook method to develop a stable enterprise, within publishing, throughout history, most brilliant publishers, including Penguin’s Allen Lane, have been able to anticipate demand, as much as they satisfy it, which means they have a big hand in shaping reading preferences or taste, as is the case with D&Q’s acquiring editors, Chris Oliveros, Tom Devlin, and Peggy Burns. Although the decision to publish reprints essentially comes down to how much the editors like the content, there are several other factors that are considered by D&Q before embarking on a reprint series.

A primary consideration when determining the feasibility of reprinting a classic comic is whether a comic is protected by copyright or it falls within the public domain. Determining who (if anyone) owns the copyright to classic comics is not always an easy task. Because copyright applies to individual issues of a comic and not to a series in its entirety, the rights to each issue within a series have to be checked individually. In text-based publishing, the one aspect of a text that is exempt from copyright is the title; in comics, however, many characters—whose names often double as the series title, as we saw earlier with Krazy Kat—are trademarked, adding one more legal obstacle to an already complex equation. In addition, because of the age of many classic comics, and the drastic metamorphosis the comics industry has been through since many classic comics were created, often the original copyright holder has long ago sold their rights to another party, making it difficult to ascertain who is currently in possession of the rights. The last factor affecting rights is whether or not the copyright has expired. The American copyright act of 1909 (which most classic comics are protected by) ensured protection to all works containing published notice for a term of twenty-eight years, with the option to renew protection for another twenty-eight years at any point within the last year of protection (Devlin, interview). If the copyright is not renewed at some point in the twenty-eighth year, the work falls into the public domain (Devlin). To assist with determining who owns the rights to classic comics, a copyright lawyer is retained by D&Q.

D&Q’s most complex copyright encounter involved the reprinting of Marjorie Henderson Buell’s Tubby. The company released their first volume of Tubby in the summer of 2010 as part of the John Stanley Library,[ix] about one month before another comics publisher, Dark Horse, released their first volume of a reprint series of the same comics. Having purchased rights to reprint Tubby from Classic Media, it came as quite a surprise to Dark Horse that another publisher was reprinting the same material—a situation that negatively impacted the sales of both publishers’ editions (Oliveros, interview). Although the copyright uncertainties have since been resolved, at the time, Classic Media—a company whose sole purpose is to buy and sell rights—maintained that they owned all rights to the material, including the trademark on the stylized version of Tubby Tompkins; however, as copyright to the issues passed hands throughout the years—first from Buell to Western Publishing Company, and then to Golden books, whose assets were later acquired by Classic Media—the rights on several issues of Tubby were never renewed, leaving those issues in the public domain, and available for publication by any interested company, an opportunity that D&Q embraced. Additionally, the trademark on Tubby Tompkins expired in 2007 and was never renewed—again, likely a clerical oversight by Classic Media. While Dark Horse’s edition of the series will be comprehensive, D&Q is limited to the issues in the public domain—twelve in total. D&Q’s first volume contained four of those issues, number nine to twelve, and was published under the no-longer-trademarked title, Tubby. Although D&Q had originally intended to publish more than one volume, the realization that Dark Horse was publishing the same material led D&Q to reconsider the viability of the series. With the lower price point of Dark Horse’s paperback volumes and the saturated market (a common problem with content in the public domain), D&Q will likely not publish a second volume of Tubby, despite the desire to showcase the content within its John Stanley Library.

Determining the availability of a series involves more than assessing the copyright status: unlike with text-based reprints where the entirety of the content is already collected, before a comics reprint series can be given the green light, a complete source for the collected material must be tracked down. In their infancy, comics were ephemeral—disposable entertainment delivered to one’s doorstep in the morning and intended to be placed on the curb with the trash in the evening. With their traditional lowbrow status, extensive archives do not always exist, and publishers often rely on dedicated collectors as a source for their material—someone must have previously invested much time, and often money, in collecting these classic comics of the past before they can be reprinted in the present.

Comics collector culture began to take shape in the 1960s with the development of the direct market. At the time, comics were distributed through magazine distributors who were unwilling to disseminate the adult-centric underground comix that were quickly rising in popularity; underground comix publishers were forced to created their own counter-cultural distribution networks, which, in accordance with the focus of the material, was centred on record stores and head shops, bringing comix directly to their niche consumers (Wolk, 39). While major publishers were unwilling to undertake large print runs at the time because of market uncertainties, underground comix publishers were able to move up to five or ten thousand copies of a book through this direct distribution channel; this distribution system evolved into the direct distribution comic-book stores that emerged in the mid-1970s and still exists today (Wolk, 39). These early comics shops created a place for comics fans to gather and talk about comics. Comic book conventions, which also emerged in the 1960s, were another venue for such activities (Devlin, interview). Together these two emerging forces—comics shops and conventions—formed the foundation for collector culture within the industry.

Even with the extensive collector culture surrounding comics, it has never been easy to compile complete collections. Though fictional, Seth’s Wimbledon Green is a realistic portrayal of the lengths collectors will go to assemble complete collection—and the prices they will pay. When comics collecting began in the 1960s, however, the activity did not necessarily require a fat wallet, simply a lot of time and the patience to dig through crates (Devlin, interview). As time passed, and the prices of aging comics began to rise, it became unreasonable for an individual to acquire a comprehensive collection of any particular comic (Devlin). In 2010, Detective Comics no. 27, the issue in which Batman makes his debut, set the record for highest selling price of a single issue in comics history, $1.075 million; one month later, Superman beat out Batman, and Superman’s debut issue, Action Comics No. 1, sold for $1.5 million (Nguyen, 2010).

Because of the high price of classic comics, reprint publishers often rely on preexisting collections as their source. Although today reprint series are generally dependent on the collections of individuals, there are several public institutions across North America that have extensive archives of artists’ work, and in some cases even own the originals[x] . Within the United States, the largest comics archive resides at Ohio State University. Both in depth and scope, the archive in extensive, and a vital resource to anyone embarking on a reprint series. D&Q utilized Ohio State’s archives for the first volume of Walt and Skeezix. Though the collection at Ohio State is extensive, the use of public institutions is, often, prohibitively expensive, and because of this, many reprint publishers have turned to private collections as a more affordable source of classic comics collections. Although D&Q used the archives at Ohio State for portions of the first volume of Walt and Skeezix, for all succeeding volumes, the private collection of cartoonist Joe Matt was the primary source of content.

D&Q’s Nipper series is another example of a series relying in part on the collection held by a public institution. Although not all of the original art is available, the majority of it was donated by the artist’s family to the Canadian National Gallery. Because of the high price of scanning the gallery’s collection, D&Q paid to have only the best years of Wright’s work scanned, and opted to utilize the private newspaper clipping collections owned by Wright’s family and series designer, Seth, to complete the company’s collection. Since the collection owned by the National Gallery is original art, the strips printed from these scans are superior to those printed from scans of yellowed newspaper clippings; however, with improvements in digital retouching software, publishers are able to restore newspaper clippings much more effectively than they could in the 1980s.

With the advent of the internet, it has become easier, and less expensive, to track down scarce material, making the use of costly public institutions even less of a necessity. When publishers are missing a strip in a series, often all it takes is a digital request sent out to the nerd network—the legions of comics fans trawling comics industry blogs (Burns, interview). Oftentimes, they come though with missing comics almost instantly, whereas, before the internet, that one missing strip could take months, or even years, to track down (Burns). Comics collectors are often so pleased to see collections of their favourite classics being published that they are happy to lend or sell their comics to publishers at a reasonable price.

Determining the availability of a comic—through private or public collections—is just the first step in deciding whether reprinting the material is a viable business decision. The second factor to consider is whether or not there is a viable market for the material, or whether one will have to be developed. Part of the success of The Complete Peanuts was that the strip had not yet faded from the collective memory of North American society. With many of the strips D&Q reprints, the artist’s work is no longer prominent within the cultural milieu. Regardless of the historical significance of a comic, or how well respected a publisher is within the industry, it is not always possible to build an audience for a classic comic within our contemporary environment. D&Q published a collection of Clare Briggs’s Oh Skin-nay! comics in 2006. Despite the quality of the work, D&Q was unable to cultivate an audience for the material, and, sadly, no subsequent reprints of the artist’s work have been published. In some cases, however, all the comic needs is a modern-day champion, a prominent cartoonist to put their name behind the strip—this is where a respected series designer comes in. By attaching a big name within the industry, like Chris Ware or Seth, to a series, publishers can more easily find a home for forgotten or obscure content within our contemporary industry.

As we’ve seen, acquiring a reprint series can be an extensive process; however, there are several financial benefits to reprinting classic content. Acquiring content from the public domain accrues no costs to the publisher. Although acquiring the rights to some copyrighted work can come with an unwieldy price tag, often the rights can be acquired for very little cost. Without having the financial burden of large advances, acquiring reprint series can be an excellent way to expand one’s list with few upfront costs.

 

5.2 Series Development: Format , Price Point, and Doug Wright

Once the viability of a reprint series is established, the extent of the series needs to be determined. The industry trend is towards comprehensive collections, and, for the most part, D&Q’s reprints conform to these standards; however, for a small company like D&Q, committing to a comprehensive series is a major undertaking, especially since sales dwindle as a series progresses (Burns, interview). In France for example, series are the norm—bookstores and libraries are accustomed to stocking complete series and readers look forward to seeing a series through to the end. The opposite is true in North America. Although retailers are becoming increasingly versed in stocking series with the recent success of Harry Potter and Twilight, change is slow. After all, trade bookstores are still learning how to shelve comics, let alone reprint series.[xi] Because publishing series is not a trade tradition in Canada, it is understandable that a retail tradition does not exist either. The push for maximizing return per square foot of retail space controls the products available in bookstores; unfortunately, this means that stocking every volume within a series that is now on its eighth or twelfth volume is not a priority for many retailers, and this unavailability of complete series negatively impacts sales. The success of comics series such as Jeff Smith’s Bone, which was picked up by Scholastic, and Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim, which was turned into a major motion picture in 2010, has helped to train bookstores to effectively stock, and therefore sell, comics series, but retailers still have a lot to learn (Oliveros, interview). Even if a bookstore wanted to shelve an entire series, there would likely be logistical obstacles—there is only so much room in bookstores, leaving little room to shelve The Complete Peanuts, for example, which will comprise of twenty-five volumes when it is complete.

Whether due to retailers accustomed to single title promotion/merchandising and pumping bestsellers, or a reading culture that is unaccustomed to the form, declining sales over the life of a series often results in price increases as a series progresses. Selecting a price point—and, therefore, format—that will be sustainable over the life of the series is ideal. The publisher needs to balance the desires of devoted fans, who often want high-end reprints, and newcomers to the material, who need the content and the price to be accessible (Mullaney in Lorah, 2008). Regardless of how strategically the initial format decisions are made, in all likelihood, pricing hikes will still need to occur in order to maintain the production of the series. Luckily, this trend tends to be a reality that most reprint comics readers are familiar with, and once they’ve committed to a series, dedicated readers generally stay faithful to the comics even when faced with the imposition of price increases (Burns, interview). This was the case with D&Q’s Walt and Skeezix: after the fourth volume the price increased to $39.95 from $29.95. Despite this somewhat drastic price increase, the series still has enough faithful readers to support its continued production (Burns). The casual reader, the reader without any previous relationship with the comic, however, is easily driven away by the higher price tag.

Another factor that can prohibit readers from reading books within a series is volume numbering. When readers have no previously relationship with a series they are often reluctant to pick up in the middle of the series and start reading, even though in many cases there is no disadvantage to beginning in the middle. To counteract this problem, with the Moomin series, D&Q chose to exclude numbers from the spines of the books. This decision has helped to facilitate higher sales of later volumes within the series.

Whether as a solution for declining sales, or simply because the original format is not the best fit for the content, adjustments to format can breathe new life into a series. While it is ideal to maintain the format of a series throughout its run, sometimes changing the format is the best solution (Devlin, interview). D&Q’s Doug Wright series illustrates this point succinctly. The first book in the series, The Collected Doug Wright Volume One, was released in the spring of 2009. Designed by Seth, the oversize, metallic-hardcover tome measures nine by fourteen inches, spans 240 pages, and weighs in at just under five pounds.[xii] The first volume of The Collected Doug Wright is a comprehensive look at both the life and career of one of Canada’s most beloved and most successful mid-century cartoonist. Reprinting material from Wright’s family’s and Seth’s personal collections, as well as the National Gallery’s, it includes thousands of pieces of art, pictures, letters, and unique excerpts from the artist’s journals, creating a picture for the reader of not only Doug Wright the cartoonist, but also the individual (Burns, 2009). The book includes Wright’s earliest work through to the early days of his seminal pantomime strip, Nipper. With a biographical essay by Brad Mackay and an introduction by Canadian cartoonist and creator of the landmark strip For Better or Worse, Lynn Johnston, The Collected Doug Wright Volume One is a book all comics collectors and book fetishists should have on their shelves.

The $39.95 cover price is not necessarily prohibitive in itself (though pushing it for some readers); however, the book has several other barriers to entry. Although Doug Wright was a household name at the peak of Nipper’s popularity, the strip was largely a Canadian phenomenon. In the United States, where the majority of D&Q’s market resides, the lovable, bald-headed children in Wright’s strip had no cult following—readers did not know what to make of the deluxe tribute to an unfamiliar cartoonist (Burns, interview). Even within Canada, where the strip was syndicated for over thirty years, the only existing collection of the strip outside of the artist’s family’s belongs to the series designer, Seth. For a cartoonist that today is virtually unknown, especially outside of Canada, the lavish format may have hindered rather than helped sales.

Since the primary goal of The Collected Doug Wright Volume One was to introduce Wright’s work to a new generation of readers, the format was rethought, and the focus shifted from collectability to accessibility (Oliveros, interview). With a new format and stripped down content, the second book in the collection, Nipper 1963–1964, achieved the goal of reaching new readers. With much of the material on the history, carrier, and life of Wright removed, the reader is left with only the meat—two years of the enduring comic strip Nipper, as well as a brief introduction by Brad Mackay. Still designed by Seth, and still lovely in its own right, this paperback edition measures eight by five-and-a-half inches and sits at 112 pages: it’s almost small enough to carry in one’s pocket. At less than half the price of the first volume, Nipper 1963–1964 fared much better in the market than the previous volume, receiving very good reviews, including mainstream media coverage from powerhouses Boing Boing and Entertainment Weekly (Burns, interview). In addition, positive word of mouth within the comics community really helped to sell the book (Oliveros). The inexpensive paperback format does not suit all of D&Q’s reprints—indeed, it is the only series like it—but it seems to be just the (W)right format for Nipper.

The third book in the collection, Nipper 1965–1966, is scheduled to be launched in the fall of 2011 and will continue to be released annually in the same paperback format as the second book. With such a sustainable format, D&Q’s staff is confident that they will be able to keep churning out volumes until they run out of material (Burns, interview). Wright’s body of work, a vital part of twentieth century Canadian cultural history, escaped obsolescence thanks to D&Q’s publishing vision and ability to adapt to the demands of the market, finding the appropriate form to bring Wright’s work to the reader. Learning from the success of Nipper’s new format, D&Q has become increasingly aware of the necessity of selecting the best format for the content, even if at times it means straying from the deluxe packaging that has come to define the company’s brand.

 

5.3 Context and Walt and Skeezix

In 2000, in volume three, issue one of D&Q’s flagship anthology, Drawn & Quarterly, Oliveros began reprinting Sunday pages of the American cartoonist Frank King’s Gasoline Alley, retitled Walt and Skeezix because of copyright restrictions. Beginning as a satire of the post-wwi car craze, Gasoline Alley quickly transformed into the story of a family. The strip was one of the first cartoons to use contemporary America as its setting, and King’s characters age in real time, painting a succinct portrait of life in America—of America’s collective cultural history—in the twentieth century (Burns, 2005). At the time, only reprinting the Sundays, Oliveros did not have grand designs to reprint a complete collection; he did have an interest in reprinting the dailies, but it was still too early in the evolution of the comics industry to conceive of a comprehensive collection that was up to the high production standards that Oliveros had set for the company (Oliveros, interview). In 2000 the comic shop direct market was all that comics publishers had to work with, and with all its limitations, including its limited reach, a reprint series the likes of which we see today would not have been possible (Oliveros). At this time, D&Q was only publishing about four books a year; the remainder of the company’s titles were pamphlets (Oliveros).

By 2004, however, the industry had changed drastically. The inclusion of comics in the book trade created a much larger market for comics; all of a sudden the production of books instead of pamphlets was viable (Oliveros, interview). In addition, the success of Fantagraphics’ Krazy and Ignatz and The Complete Peanuts gave hope to those with aspirations to produce similarly ambitious reprints projects. As the industry transformed before his eyes, Oliveros saw an opportunity to reprint Gasoline Alley in the format he wanted to, but he knew that taking on a reprint series of this nature would be a serious commitment. Indeed, to this day, the Walt and Skeezix collection is D&Q’s most extensive reprint series. Not only would embarking on such a series be a big commitment, but the act of tracking down a reliable source for forty years worth of daily strips was daunting. D&Q artist Joe Matt had been collecting the strip for years, and encouraged Oliveros to publish a comprehensive collection from his own archives; however, because of the nature of syndicated strips, Oliveros knew he would need a secondary source against which he could check Matt’s collection. Since Gasoline Alley appeared in four hundred newspapers across America, some newspapers would print the strips on the wrong day (Oliveros). Luckily, Ohio State University has microfiche copies of the Chicago Tribune, which was the newspaper that held the rights to King’s strip. With the Chicago Tribune’s collection available to check the dates on Matt’s strips and fill in the occasional gap or replace damaged strips in his collection, Oliveros realized that the publication of a comprehensive collection would be possible. At the same time, Oliveros was in contact with King’s granddaughter; to his delight, he discovered that she had extensive archives of her grandfather’s work, including photographs, letters, and other ephemera that could be used as supplementary content within the collection. The collection that Oliveros did not think would be possible back in 2000 was finally fully realizable. With series designer Chris Ware—who often cites Gasoline Alley as one of his favourite comic strips—on board, in addition to series editor Jeet Heer and collector Joe Matt, the first volume of Walt and Skeezix was published by D&Q in 2005. Currently reprinting only the dailies, the series is now D&Q longest running reprint collection.

Walt and Skeezix is the first multi-volume collection of King’s classic strips. Even when the strip was at its peak, no publisher collected it in book form, which meant that after each daily strip graced the newspaper’s page, the content was thrown in the trash, essentially obsolete the day after publication (Burns, interview). The obscurity of the strip posed both an opportunity and a challenge: unlike commonly reprinted comics like Popeye or Little Orphan Annie, there were no competing collections of the work floating around used book stores or being auctioned online; however, Gasoline Alley, undiscovered and underappreciated, did not have much of a built-in audience, which was part of the challenge of marketing the collection (Burns). Luckily, with famous cartoonist Chris Ware[xiii] as the designer, the series received a great deal of attention upon release of the first volume, and despite the fact that the strip was largely unknown, the first volume achieved widespread acclaim.

The annual volumes, now five in total, are each over four hundred pages, cloth bound, debossed, and jacketed, showcasing Ware’s design at its finest. Each volume collects two years of daily strips (beginning in 1927 when the dailies first appeared) and includes a unique eighty-page introduction by Heer, illustrated with photos and ephemera. Part of the magic of Heer’s introduction is that it is a biography within a reprint series; it is a time capsule. Though many publishers have since followed, D&Q was the first to include supplementary material of this magnitude in a reprint series, and with its inclusion, Walt and Skeezix is more than just a reprinted classic comic strip: it is the story of one of America’s finest cartoonists.

The new context in which King’s strips are placed not only creates a stunning package for the material, but also presents the content to the reader in a way that maximizes the strengths of King’s storytelling, making the content even more accessible today than it was when it was originally published almost a century ago and delivered daily to the doorsteps of over thirty million readers across America (Burns, interview). The strip’s pacing is what makes it so unique today. When it was originally published, the continuous nature of the strip made it difficult for casual readers to enjoy. In a newspaper article written by the series editor Jeet Heer and published shortly after the release of the first volume, Heer notes that Gasoline Alley has not been canonized with comics classics such as Peanuts or Krazy Kat because “as a strip that dwelt on the daily travails of ordinary people, Gasoline Alley needs to be read in bulk to be appreciated” (Heer in Rizzo, 2005). In the new context of its collected form, the reader experiences King’s pacing in a much more concentrated way, one that makes King’s strip more engaging and optimizes his story telling abilities. The condensed format also makes the strips more accessible to today’s comics readers who are used to faster-paced content.

Although Walt and Skeezix is the reprint published by D&Q that benefits most from the contextual change brought on by its collection in the book format, regardless of the comic, placing classic comics that were once ephemera into a contemporary package affects the way the comics are perceived and enjoyed. Aside from the obvious fact that collecting classic comics and placing them within the context of a book adds posterity to the content, making it easily accessible to a new generation of readers, the new context also plays a role in how the content is perceived by the reader. For example, Dark Horse and D&Q each placed their Tubby reprints in different contexts: Dark Horse published the content in a paperback format more closely resembling the original context in which the comics appeared, while D&Q produced exquisite hardcovers, with embossing and foil stamping. Neither format is incorrect. Dark Horse’s format does little to alter the context in which the content is consumed, which, it can be argued, is the right way to reprint classic comics, as it most closely resembles the context in which the creator intended the work to appear. Conversely, D&Q’s format highlights the content’s importance within comics history and adds value and collectability to content that was previously ephemeral in nature. Regardless of the approach taken by a publisher, it is important to consider the effect that the new context will have on the material, and select a format that is most suitable to the content. For Walt and Skeezix this meant a comprehensive collection that highlighted King’s gift for pacing, while Doug Wright’s work, widely unknown, benefits from a minimalist approach that keeps the comics affordable, and thus encourages readers unfamiliar with the content to give it a try.

 

5.4 Series Design and the John Stanley Library

Designed by world-renowned cartoonist Seth, D&Q’s John Stanley Library plays a vital role in celebrating Stanley’s underrepresented works. A journeyman cartoonist who made his name on licensed properties like Little Lulu, Stanley’s other work is widely forgotten. The library includes several series written—and sometime drawn—by Stanley, including Melvin Monster, a story about a good little monster who has a tough time fitting in with all the bad monsters in Monsterville, Thirteen Going on Eighteen, which is often considered a smart alternative to Archie, Tubby, an offshoot from Little Lulu where the title character has more time to shine, and Nancy, a comic centred around the title character, a self-assured young girl who spends much of her days outsmarting the boys. Since these works are not among Stanley’s best known, Seth’s role in the series has been instrumental to its success.

Regardless of whether a series’ design is done in or out of house, there are some initial decisions regarding the shape of the collection that need to be made before a designer can begin. When choosing the format and size of a series, not only does it need to reflect an appropriate price point, as discussed earlier, but it also must be suitable for the contents: the format and size of the book needs to work for the entire collection, which in some cases means it must to be adaptable to material of varying sizes (Devlin, interview). While D&Q does not currently publish any collections of reprinted comics that include both daily strips and Sunday pages, other publishers have faced this challenge with mixed results. Published by Abrams, Dan Nadel’s Art Out Of Time is an example of the challenge of finding a format that accommodates the varying sizes of its content. The daily strips and comic book pages in this collection are well suited to the format; however, the Sunday pages, which were originally much larger, and therefore shrunk down considerably, are illegible. Though to a much lesser extent, the varying sizes of the contents played a role in selecting the format for the John Stanley Library. Throughout Stanley’s long cartooning career, comic books became smaller; D&Q’s art director, Tom Devlin, had to select a format for the series that would accommodate content that came from any stage of Stanley’s career.

Another factor in choosing a format is the intended audience. In the case of the John Stanley Library, the content was designed to be enjoyed by children; Devlin selected a large format and decided to only collect three or four comic book issues in each volume to keep the page count low and therefore easily handled by little hands. By keeping the length of the volumes short the books are also quick reads, which preserves the original reading experience. The format keeps the comics in children’s territory, conforming to a classic children’s format, but also accommodates the varying sizes of the works contained within.

The amount of material to be collected in the complete series also affects the length of each volume. When a series’ run is short, like Melvin Monster, these decisions are simple: the series only spanned nine issues so it was clear that each volume would contain three issues. With a longer running series, it is important to plan out all the volumes before the initial design stages begin so pacing is consistent through to the last volume.

Once these initial format decisions are made, the design of the series can begin. Because the John Stanley Library includes several different titles, it was important that that design of the series be adaptable. Seth discusses his solution:

With the [John Stanley] Library I tried to build a design-system based on the very simple idea that these were a “Library.” I have always had a real fondness for children’s encyclopedias and I wanted to get some feeling of these old books into the series. By building the look of these books around a simple grouping of horizontal rules (and the [John Stanley Library] seal) I knew that I could easily create simple variations in the arrangement of these elements on the book covers to allow an almost endless number of new titles to be added to the series. They could look basically the same as the other books—and yet, by simply moving these elements up or down, here or there, they could have their own specific places in the series. This would allow them to sit together on the shelf as a unified whole in a way that wouldn’t be as cohesive if each series was entirely its own design. I also knew, though, that each book could probably stand alone as a nice children’s book because of the bold images on the covers and the bright colours involved. Basically they needed to work individually, and as a title (say Nancy) and as part of an overall library. The idea of a pepped-up encyclopedia model was a simple solution. (Seth, interview)

In addition to his over-arching design concept, Seth selected a colour palette that would appeal to children. With The Complete Peanuts, Seth deliberately chose low-key colours because he wanted to avoid an association with children’s publishing; with the John Stanley Library, however, he wanted to emphasize those elements, so he chose to work in bright tones to create an appropriate mood (Seth, interview). Although Stanley’s reprint history is limited, the previous collections of his work have always been aimed at adult collectors; with his design, Seth hoped to make the books appeal more to children, since they were Stanley’s intended audience, after all.

It was also important to Seth that Stanley’s characters, being central to his work, played a central role in his design. Stanley’s characters were “big and bright and extroverted…eccentric (yet likable),” which were rare traits in comics of that time period as most characters were “remarkably vapid and cardboard” (Seth, interview). The personalities of these characters come alive in Seth’s design, flawlessly expressing their quirks.

Another aspect of Seth’s design, which is visible in all the series he designs in addition to the John Stanley Library, is the attention he pays to creating a complete package for the content: the reading experience begins with the front cover and ends with the back cover, effectively leading the reader into the work and easing them out. As a designer, Seth notes his enjoyment in designing the front matter of books:

Chip Kidd once said to me that the pages between the half title page and the [start of the body text] are the place for a book designer to shine—to use some poetry. He’s right, I never forgot that. I love those introductory pages. They have a rhythm to them that can really be special if you can balance images, the spreads, the text etc. It should roll by the reader like a panorama—setting the emotions for what is to come in the book itself. (Seth, interview)

The success of Seth’s design comes not only from his exemplary design skills, but also his love of the content. In fact, it is Seth’s respect for Stanley’s work that led him to design the series. Years ago when Devlin was editing a special issue of the Comics Journal Seth wrote an essay about Stanley to be included in the journal; years later when Devlin conceived of the John Stanley Library, Seth was an obvious choice for series designer (Seth). Much as Frank King shaped the work of Walt and Skeezix series designer Chris Ware, Stanley had an influence on Seth’s work:

He moved his characters through space and time in interesting ways and my first chapter of Clyde Fans was heavily influenced by Stanley’s signature trait of having characters talk endlessly to themselves while engaged in other matters. I’ve also been a student of how he structured his comic books—the care and thought that went into each decision on how his separate short stories and one-pagers fit together. (Seth, interview)

While Seth’s exquisite design has contributed to the success of the series, the quality of the content, of course, is what keeps readers coming back. Stanley was ahead of his time, writing protofeminist cartoons with women in dominant roles at a time when this was not the norm, and these aspects of his cartooning result in comics that continue to hold up today, where many comics created during these years do not. If Stanley had been working in a different medium, film, for example, he would be remembered by society at large, but instead, he was creating comics in a time when what he was doing was considered the lowest of low culture (Oliveros, interview). Though the design is secondary to the content, Seth’s packaging has been instrumental in introducing this quality content to a generation that may otherwise never have known it existed.

 

5.5 The Comics Canon and Moomin

The first chapter of Douglas Wolk’s comics theory book Reading Comics and What They Mean is titled “What Comics Are and What Comics Aren’t.” Although the opening chapters of other comics theory books may not be so blunt in their intent, they all tend to revolve around asserting some sort of defining statement regarding what should be included in the realm of comics and what should be excluded. Art Spiegelman defines comics as “writing, drawing, and this other stuff that’s somewhere between the two” (Spiegelman in Kartalopoulos, 2005), which, being a non-definition, is perhaps the best definition of comics that I’ve come across. If someone attempted to define comics fifty years ago, surely some of today’s best comics would be excluded from the antiquated definition. An example of this is Lynda Barry’s recent work: when Amazon first received What It Is—having no idea what to make of the thing—they classified it, to Barry’s delight, as science fiction. Similarly, if one were to use Spiegelman’s definition, Maira Kalman’s work, residing as it does in liminal territory, could be classified as comics; others, including Kalman herself, who fervently denies any similarities between her work and comics, would disagree, but to many, the distinction is not so clear. Comics are a young medium, and throughout their century of evolution in North America, the form has grown and expanded in delightfully unpredictable ways. Boxing comics in with definitions—or panel walls, as it were—not only hinders the creativity of the medium, but is also a waste of time, as the defining elements of what makes a comic a comic are sure to expand in the years to come.

Looking forward, with artists like Barry pushing the medium in unexpected directions, the diversity of the medium will continue to expand. Looking back into comics history, however, diversity within the medium it not easily visible. It is not the case that unique works created by fully-formed artists were not being created; rather, for many years, there was no celebration of comics as an art form, and those works that were not greeted with immediate monetary affirmation were quickly dropped by publishers, leaving a plethora of first-class work without support because it lacked mass appeal (Nadel, 2006). These works quickly faded into obscurity, often the moment they were tossed in the trash. Because of comics’ ephemeral nature and low-art status, there is a wealth of history that has yet to be uncovered. The comics documented in history are primarily those that achieved commercial success—although these comics are deserving, they form an incomplete picture of comics history (Nadel).

Enforcing this canon are books like Wolk’s Reading Comics, but also art exhibits like Masters of American Comics and the Comics Journal’s 210th issue, which listed the one hundred best comics of the twentieth century. In addition, by making the material available to readers, comics reprints play an instrumental role in canon construction. To this date, the majority of comics that continue to be reprinted, and therefore shape comics history for society at large, are these canonized works. The literature canon wars of the 1980s were fought to broaden what was being taught in classrooms to include more works by women and minority writers; similar expansion has occurred within the art history canon (Donadio, 2007). Both literature and art have a well-documented history, making the exclusion of widely forgotten works correctable; with comics, however, the history is undiscovered, and therefore malleable (Campbell, interview). The exclusion of works today could mean their permanent exclusion within a generation (Oliveros, interview).

Until recently, the canon was shaped by heavy hitters like Stan Lee and collectors like Bill Blackbeard and Rick Marshall who have connections within the publishing industry (Spurgeon, 2006). The same names—Richard F. Outcalt, Windsor Mackay, George Harriman, E.C. Segar, and Walt Kelly—chiefly belonging to white, American men, pop up time and again (Devlin, interview). These greats were established as such in the 1960s when the fandom began to take shape and comics folks began meeting and talking at conventions (Devlin). Without someone to champion comics from the past in the modern day, their ephemeral nature leaves them marginalized (Spurgeon). Even Fantagraphics, which built its reputation on challenging the status quo, rigorously upholds the canon with its reprint series (Devlin).

As in literature and art, women have long been excluded from the comics canon. Marjorie Henderson Buell, who created Little Lulu, which, until Peanuts, was the most licensed strip in comics history, and Dale Messick, creator of Brenda Starr, Reporter, which ran in newspapers from 1945 to 2011, are rarely mentioned among the great cartoonists of the twentieth century. And although Little Lulu is now being reprinted, for such a popular comic, it is astonishing that it was never reprinted until 2005; Brenda Starr, Reporter has never been reprinted.

Although the majority of reprints today enforce the canon, we are starting to see publications that broaden the lens, focusing less on the established American classics. Forward-thinking publishers like D&Q have played an instrumental role in this expansion. One such comic championed by D&Q is Tove Jansson’s Moomin. Although the strip was syndicated in forty countries around the world and enjoyed a readership of several million, Moomin had never been syndicated in North America and, therefore, was virtually unknown on the continent. Furthermore, despite its popularity in Britain, it had never been reprinted in English, only in Scandinavian languages where Jansson was a celebrity. In addition to being gender exclusive, comics reprints tend to be geographically myopic. Until D&Q began reprinting Moomin in 2006, the only European comics series to be successfully reprinted in the United States was Tintin. Expanding the North American canon on two fronts—gender and geography—Moomin has become the company’s top selling reprint series; with 45,000 copies in print, the first volume is in its seventh printing. Deservedly, and at last, Jansson has been given the position she deserves within the North American comics history. But the D&Q series not only awarded Jansson with the readers she deserved in North America, the series also spawned an international interest in reprinting the work, sparking many foreign editions— most using D&Q’s design.

While D&Q consistently challenges the canon, they are not the only publisher to do so. Dan Nadel, publisher at Picture Box and co-editor of the Comics Journal, is well known for his efforts in bringing much-needed attention to under-appreciated works from comics history. Published by Harry N. Abrams, Nadel compiled two comics history books—Art Out of Time: Unknown Comics Visionaries 1900–1969, and Art in Time: Unknown Comic Book Adventures, 1940–1980. As the titles suggest, these collections focus on the “lost comics” (Nadel, pg. 9, 2006). Nadel saw holes in the documentation of comics history, and, with these two books, found a place for many under-appreciated artists within the narrative of comics history. In addition to giving more obscure works a few moments on centre stage, Nadel has managed to broaden the diversity of work that the industry takes seriously. In Art Out Of Time Nadel takes widely unknown cartoonists like Boody Rogers and Fletcher Hanks and looks at them less as freak oddities and outsiders, and more as individual artists (Devlin, interview). The context in which these works were published—as forty-dollar art books published by an esteemed art book publisher—helps to increase the perceived value to these underappreciated works.

Culturally, reprints’ role in expanding the comics canon is perhaps the most valuable aspect of continuing to publish these works. For publishers like D&Q who have long worked to push the medium forward, reprinting these invaluable works is not only a pleasure, but a duty—an effort to right the wrongs that exist within this “impure medium” (Nadel, pg. 6, 2006).

 

 

6. Conclusions

6.1 Collector Culture and Cultural Vogue

Part of the reason why comics reprints in the 1980s were not sustainable was that the primary audience for the books was comics collectors; today, however, that audience has expanded and it is not just collectors that are interested in classic comics. In part the expansion of the audience is because of comics presense in trade bookstores, but also, as Jeet Heer points out, because the historical consciousness of our current culture is stronger than ever, and people are seeking to learn about the past through other means than history textbooks (Heer, 2002). The success of shows like Canada: A People’s History, historical novels by Margaret Atwood, and biographical comics like Chester Brown’s Louis Riel highlight the current trend towards informing oneself about history through popular culture (Heer, 2002). Reprinted comics, particularly when presented with supplementary information, provide a history lesson for readers. In the case of Walt and Skeezix, the reader learns about the collective history of America during the 1900s.

But it is not just the historical consciousness that is helping to sell comics reprints. Collector culture is creeping its way out of niche countercultural pockets into the mainstream in many ways; similar to complete seasons of television shows presented on DVD, or discographies of artist’s completed works, comprehensive collections of classic comics are aligned with the current cultural trend towards collecting popular culture in complete packages (Taylor, 2005). Although people’s attraction to completeness is nothing new—some anthropologists speculate that our desire to do so stems from our instincts to hunt and gather—its prevalence in mainstream culture has not been this strong since the popularity of stamp collecting waned in the early 1900s (Rubin, 2008). This current trend is favourable to publishers such as D&Q, who invest a substantial portion of resources in the production of volume after volume of reprints.

 

6.2 The Future of Reprints at Drawn & Quarterly

Although reprints are not among the highest selling books at D&Q, they provide a stable and predictable source of income for the company. Despite the success of D&Q’s reprints, the model is still in flux and the future of each reprint series is as unpredictable as the future of the publishing industry itself. Declining sales of a series as it progresses is currently the top obstacle for the company, but D&Q is committed to finding creative solutions—even if it means straying from the preferred hardcover format, as we saw with Nipper—in order to keep its reprint series alive. Initially D&Q approached its reprint series from the same perspective that it approached all of its titles: if the content was good, the company would publish it as a deluxe, hardcover book (Oliveros, interview). Publisher Chris Oliveros is the first to admit that this approach has some flaws. He notes that, as we saw with Nipper, the hardback format is not always the best fit for the content, and, as was the case with an early reprint, Clare Briggs’s Oh Skin-nay!, the company’s assurance of quality is not always enough to sell a book. There are currently no plans to alter the format of any more of the company’s reprints series, but there is constant chatter around the office about ideas for new series, and about innovative formats and approaches that could maintain the sustainability of reprinting classic comics in the years to come.

Likely, particularly with the success of Nipper, D&Q will experiment with other paperback reprint series in an attempt to lower its overheads and keep the editions at a price point that is not prohibitive and places the content in the hands of as many readers as possible. This format will lend itself particularly well to collections of children’s comics, which are likely to be seen from D&Q in the near future. Although various formats will be explored, Oliveros’s personal vision—to publish good comics, which to Oliveros means first-rate content and production—is still the sole driver behind the company’s activities, and will continue to be the reason why comics readers trust D&Q as an authority on quality content.

Although the reprint industry will likely remain similar in form for the next several years, speculations regarding what it may look like further into the twenty-first century produce some interesting questions, many of which, at this point, do not have answers. With comics’ evolution from staple-bound pamphlets to hardcover books, and movement from newspapers’ pages to computer screens, what impact will the art’s increased posterity and existence within more long-lasting formats have on reprint collections in the future? Will the same careful curation be necessary when the work is already available in various forms? How much longer can the reprints industry survive before all the comics considered “worth” reprinting are exhausted? Or will the well simply be replenished as contemporary comics age and become classics? In our current environment, the internet is flooded with webcomics and reproductions of vintage comics, and, brought on by the increased popularity of comics beginning at the turn of the century, the print comics industry has become oversaturated. What impact will comics’ increasingly mass appeal have on the medium? Despite the uncertainties, D&Q’s assurance of quality and role as a gatekeeper will remain valuable to comics readers, and, likely, will become even more valuable as uncurated digital content becomes even more prevalent.

 

 

 


NOTES

i Pen name for Canadian born cartoonist and designer Gregory Gallant. RETURN

ii Although the term “alternative comics” is still used by some, alternative comics are, today, more often simply referred to as comics. RETURN

iii Weirdo was published by San Francisco–based Last Gasp from 1981–1993. Control of the publication was turned over to cartoonist Peter Bagge with issue 10, and then Crumb’s wife, and fellow cartoonist, Aline Kominsky-Crumb, with issue 18. RETURN

iv The last regular print issue of the Comics Journal—issue 300—was published in November of 2009, at which point the publication moved online. On March 5, 2011, The Comics Journal relaunched their online publication, revitalizing the format and changing over the staff. The magazine is now run by Comics Comics (a web-based critical comics analysis blog that was retired with the launch of the new Comics Journal) editors Dan Nadle and Tim Hodler. RETURN

v Maus was later collected in two volumes and published by Pantheon Books (an imprint of Random House). The first volume appeared in 1986; the second in 1991. Spiegelman received the Pulitzer Prize for Maus in 1992. RETURN

vi Traditional comic book form is the pamphlet format, which Unesco defines as a “printed publication of at least 5 but not more than 48 pages exclusive of the cover pages” (Unesco, 2004). Pamphlets are generally saddle stapled. RETURN

vii In 2001 Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth won the Guardian Prize for best first book, a prize that had previously been awarded to authors including Zadie Smith, Jonathan Safran Foer and Philip Gourevitch (McGrath, 2004). RETURN

viii Comics collectors and their influence on shaping comics’ documented history are discussed further in chapter six. RETURN

ix John Stanley, being a journeyman cartoonist and scripter, wrote stories for Buell’s characters, and, in some cases, created the art as well. RETURN

x IDW’s The Complete Little Orphan Annie is an example of a series reprinted from archived original art. Harold Gray, the comic’s creator, saved virtually all of the original art, which he donated to Boston University in the 1960s. The superior quality of the strips reprinted in this series is noticeable. RETURN

xi A 2010 article in Publisher’s Weekly talked extensively about the difficultly trade bookstores have in shelving comics, which are a medium, not a genre; since bookstores are organized by genre, shelving comics in one section is exclusive and limits their exposure to a broader bookstore audience (Reid, 2010). RETURN

xii Spare copies around the office are used to weigh down the scanner lid when scanning material with creases. RETURN

xiii Chris Ware was also the series designer behind the first reprint series of the second wave of modern reprints, Krazy and Ignatz. In addition, he is one of the finest contemporary cartoonists today. Volume twenty of his comic series The Acme Novelty Library, which was released in the fall of 2010, has virtually sold out less than half a year later. The print run was twenty-five thousand. RETURN

 

 


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Nguyen, H. (2010, March 30). Action comics no. 1’s super $1.5 mil sale. Retrieved from http://blog.zap2it.com/frominsidethebox/2010/03/action-comics-no-1ssuper-15-mil-sale.html

Olson, R. (1997, September). The yellow kid in mcfadden’s flats. Retrieved from http://www.neponset.com/yellowkid/news0302.htm

Reid , C. (2010, January 12). A shelf of one’s own: shelving graphic novels in book stores. Retrieved from http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/newtitles/adult-announcements/article/41575-a-shelf-of-one-s-own-shelvinggraphic-novels-in-bookstores-.html

Rizzo, F. (2005). Collection offers perfect chance to appreciate. The Atlanta Journal.

Rubin, R. (2008, April). Amass appeal. Retrieved from http://www.aarp.org/entertainment/leisure-activities/info-01-2008/amass_appeal.1.html

Spurgeon, T. (2006, May 20). Preview: art out of time, dan nadel. Retrieved from http://www.comicsreporter.com/index.php/briefings/commentary/5040/

Taylor, c. (2005, July 24). Funny how life goes on. The Sunday Star Ledger, pp. 10, 5.

The comic book database. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://comicbookdb.com/publisher.php?ID=14

The library of american comics. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.libraryofamericancomics.com/about/

Unesco institute for statistics. (2004, February 17). Retrieved from http://www.uis.unesco.org/ev.phpID=5096_201&ID2=DO_TOPIC

Wolk, Douglas. (2007). Reading comics and what they mean. Cambridge: Da Capo Press.

 

 


INTERVIEWS

Burns, Peggy (Associate Publisher, D&Q). 2011. Interview with Author, January 5.

Campbell, Jessica (Designer, D&Q). 2011. Interview with Author, January 5.

Devlin, Tom (Art Director, D&Q). 2011. Interview with Author, January 24.

Oliveros, Chris. (Publisher, D&Q). 2011. Interview with Author, January 20.

Seth. (Cartoonist and John Stanley Library designer). 2011. Interview with Author, February 5.

 


Gekiga into English: translating the words, images, and culture of Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s A Drifting Life

 

By Andrew Wilmot

ABSTRACT: This project report examines how the editorial process of a graphic novel can turn conventional practices of editing text in English in entirely new directions, not only incorporating traditional text-editing techniques, but also applying these familiar principles to meet the rhetorical and spatial demands of a visual narrative. This process is explored in depth by detailing the editorial process used by Drawn & Quarterly, a literary comics publishing company, in bringing Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s Japanese-language graphic novel A Drifting Life to an English-speaking audience, particularly with respect to the visual, textual, and cultural differences that must be respected when translating a graphic novel from Japanese to English, and how the different reading and comprehension needs of the two audiences have affected the physical, visual, and textual structure of the book.

 

 


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

This project report would not be what it is without the aid and generosity of Chris Oliveros, Tom Devlin, Peggy Burns, Jamie Salomon, Alison Naturale, Rebecca Rosen, Jamie Quail, Jessica Campbell, and Kit Malo of Drawn & Quarterly Publications in Montreal. I listened and learned from each one of them, and I owe them all a great deal of thanks.

I would also like to extend my gratitude to Dr. John Maxwell and Senior Lecturer Mary Schendlinger, for helping to nurture and shape this report into its final state; Don Sedgwick, for helping to provide the spark that this project report needed in order to take shape; and the Master of Publishing class of 2007–2008, for their energy and inspiration throughout the past year.

Lastly, I would like to thank Julia Horel for her amazing friendship and unmatched editorial skills; and Darrel and Ross Wilmot, for helping me through every step of my educational journey.

 

 


CONTENTS

List of Figures

Part 1: AN INTRODUCTION TO COMICS, GEKIGA, AND A DRIFTING LIFE

Part 2: A BRIEF HISTORY OF COMICS AND COMIC-BOOK PUBLISHING

Part 3: EVOLUTION AND REVOLUTION

Part 4: CHRIS OLIVEROS AND DRAWN & QUARTERLY PUBLICATIONS

Part 5: THE TRANSLATION AND EDITORIAL PROCESS FOR A DRIFTING LIFE

Part 6: TEXTUAL DESIGN AND IMPLEMENTATION

Part 7: THE HOME STRETCH

Part 8: CONCLUSIONS

Notes

Bibliography

 

 


LIST OF FIGURES

Figure 1: A Drifting Life, page 376

Figure 2: A Drifting Life, page 369

Figure 3: A Drifting Life, page 308

Figure 4: A Drifting Life, page 454

Figures 5 & 6: A Drifting Life, page 590 (English & Japanese versions)

Figure 7: Sample from Volume 3 of the Translation Word Document 36

Figure 8: A Drifting Life, page 513

Figure 9: Samples of the “Tatsumi” fonts

Figure 10: Samples of the altered “Tatsumi” fonts

Figures 11 & 12: A Drifting Life, page 393 (English & Japanese versions)

Figures 13 & 14: A Drifting Life, page 763 (English & Japanese versions)

Figure 15: A Drifting Life, page 567

Figure 16: A Drifting Life, page 778

Figure 17: Sample page from the Editorial Summary

Figure 18: A Drifting Life, page 570

Figure 19: Proposed Cover Image for <em>A Drifting Life

All images © Drawn & Quarterly Publications, 2008, used with permission

 

 


1: AN INTRODUCTION TO COMICS, GEKIGA, AND A DRIFTING LIFE

If people failed to understand comics, it was because they defined what comics could be too narrowly! A proper definition, if we could find one, might give lie to the stereotypes and show that the potential of comics is limitless and exciting![1]

–Scott McCloud, author of Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art

Since the late 1960s, the comic-book publishing industry has progressed at a rapid clip, quickly maturing beyond the multi-panel strips and serialized works that defined it in its infancy. It has burgeoned into an industry that is at once a powerhouse of business, with the factory-floor fervour to produce thousands of titles per month from creators around the world, and a prominent medium for the author/artist storyteller, working either as an independent or as part of a team. As this corner of the publishing universe has developed beyond what was once regarded as its limitations, so have its needs and methods of production. New artists and authors are cropping up from around the world, and the comic book and graphic novel publishing industry has expanded beyond large corporations to include smaller, independent publishing houses with focused mandates and methodologies that match the intent and execution of their more traditional counterparts. One such independent publisher is Drawn & Quarterly Publications in Montreal.

Though it is a relatively small company, Drawn & Quarterly has made a prominent mark on the industry, publishing independent and artistic comics and graphic novels from around the world, all with an extremely high – and seldom seen – level of quality. They have done so by maintaining a strong aesthetic mandate: each book’s physical appearance, from its cover and binding to the style in which its interior is laid out, reflects the nature of the work itself. As a result, every book in their stable has a unique look and feel that eschews the conventions and more traditional perceptions of what a comic book or graphic novel should be. It is this focus on quality that has consolidated Drawn & Quarterly’s strong reputation as a groundbreaking publishing house.

In Spring 2009, Drawn & Quarterly will be publishing Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s graphic novel, A Drifting Life. First published in Japanese, the 820-page book is an illustrated memoir of Tatsumi’s life as a writer and artist working in the post-war Japanese manga and rental-book industry. To bring such a work to an English language audience, a myriad of editorial techniques have been applied, turning traditional text editing principles and practices in new directions, and applying said principles as needed to satisfy the unique spatial, rhetorical, and illustrative demands of the book. The purpose of this project report is to further illustrate the strength of Drawn & Quarterly as a publisher by examining how the company has incorporated and advanced the definitions of the traditional editorial process, exhibiting a superior commitment to editorial work while respecting the cultural, visual, and narrative integrity of the original book.

From May to August 2008, I interned at the Drawn & Quarterly office in Montreal. In my second week I was given the initial draft of the English-language translation for A Drifting Life and was tasked with completing the first editorial check. Working together with Drawn & Quarterly publisher Chris Oliveros, Tatsumi editor-in-chief Adrian Tomine, and translator Taro Nettleton, I quickly became involved in the project on a personal level and have stayed with the company to see its production through to the end. The translation and editorial process, which I have documented in this report, took four months from the first editorial check and through to the working first draft of the English-language edition of the book.

 

 

2: A BRIEF HISTORY OF COMICS AND COMIC-BOOK PUBLISHING

Certainly, the more one studies graphic narrative, the more apparent it becomes that the medium deserves to be examined as a powerful art form in its own right, albeit one that has experienced a sometimes difficult and contested evolution.[2]

–John Bell, author of Invaders from the North: How Canada Conquered the Comic Book Universe

Comic books, as a medium, have frequently been denied the benefit of the doubt. Culturally, they have been targeted and persecuted as a degenerate art, a potentially corrupting medium that threatens to irrevocably damage the youth of the world. From their inception, comic books have had no shortage of detractors. As comics have developed over the last century, organizations have formed to keep the industry in check with assumed social and political ethics of the time, trials to threaten or condemn the purveyors of the medium, and even, right after the Second World War, makeshift book burnings in American schoolyards. Despite all of this, comic books have affected our culture in innumerable ways, changing how we read and comprehend literature, and facilitating the worldwide transition to a more visual culture.

 

2-1: Development of a North American Industry

Evidence of the early origins of comics can be seen around the world, in such ancient forms as Egyptian hieroglyphics and traditional Japanese Narrative Scrolls. William Hogarth, an eighteenth-century engraver, painter, and cartoonist, is acknowledged to have pioneered western sequential art through his politically satirical engravings, which were titled “modern moral subjects.”[3] Following Hogarth, Rodolph Topffer, a nineteenth-century Swiss cartoonist, is one of the earliest known creators of modern comics. His first work, which was produced through autography, “a variation of lithography that allowed him to draw on specifically prepared paper with a pen,”[4] was a thirty-page illustrated narrative titled Histoire de M. Vieux Bois (The Story of Mr. Wooden Head), published in 1837 (and published in the United States as The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck in 1842). In North America, the first newspaper strips appeared in the 1890s. Though an exact date is difficult to identify, “its origin is most often associated with Richard Felton Outcault’s Hogan’s Alley (later The Yellow Kid), which debuted in New York City’s World newspaper in 1895.”[5]

However, it is Maxwell Charles Gaines (aka M. C. Gaines) who has been widely credited with pioneering the form of the modern North American comic book in the 1930s. Gaines, a salesman with an American printing company, Eastern Color Press, developed the comic book as a means of driving the company’s sales during the Depression. Using pulp magazines and novelettes as inspiration, Gaines produced a ten-cent, sixty-four-page magazine that reprinted, in one volume, many of the Sunday newspaper comic strips that had previously been published by Eastern Color Press. After the success of this project, Gaines partnered with Jack Liebowitz, the co-owner of National Allied Publications, to create All-American Publications, and under this new banner they began to publish original stories in the comic-book form. Several successful superhero icons were developed under the All-American brand, but it was National Allied Publications’ Action Comics No. 1, published in April 1938, that changed the industry forever. It was this issue that introduced the world to Jerry Siegel and Toronto-born Joe Shuster’s creation: Superman. Soon after, Action Comics were selling at a rate of close to 500,000 copies a month. The following year, National Allied Publications, the precursor to the modern day DC Comics, created a separate syndicated Superman strip. “By 1940, Superman comics were selling 1,250,000 copies per month, and the daily strip was appearing in three hundred cities. Newspapers were following the comic books’ lead.”[6]

In just a few short years, Gaines’ modest endeavour had turned into big business, and the so-called Golden Age of comics had begun. By 1941, gross revenues for the comic-book publishing industry had reached upwards of $12 million, with seven to ten million comics moving off the shelves each month.

Once superhero comics had made their mark, the narrative structure of comics began to evolve. As the characters developed into recognizable icons, their stories diverged from the newspaper strip format, where each strip was a single, isolated tale, and narrative arcs that continued through several issues became commonplace. As these stories became more widespread through the early 1940s to the end of World War II, characters were given enough additional space to become more than simple archetypes, and readers were provided with the opportunity to understand and empathize more with the heroes they came to admire.

While many American titles had also found success in Canada prior to World War II, the War Exchange Conservation Act that took effect in December 1940 effectively altered the parameters of the industry. It restricted the importation of all non-essential goods from the U.S. into Canada – including all pulp, newsstand magazines, and comic books. However, it was this sudden cessation of imported materials that helped pave the way for the development of a national Canadian comic-book industry. “Working independently of one another, four publishers rushed to take advantage of the vacuum created by the sweeping economic legislation. One company, Maple Leaf Publishing, was located in Vancouver; the other three – Anglo-American Publishing, Hillborough Studio, and Commercial Signs of Canada – were all based in Toronto… The voracious appetite that Canadian kids had developed for funny books was about to be assuaged by new heroes.”[7]

The sudden boom in the Canadian comic-book publishing industry showcased a sense of independent Canadian nationalism that had not yet been seen in comics. Several monthly titles, such as Better Comics, Big Bang Comics, and Lucky Comics, were quick to assert themselves in the marketplace, along with several soon-to-be-iconic characters of Canada’s Golden Age. The most notable of these was Adrian Dingle’s “Nelvana of the Northern Lights, the first Canadian national superhero.”[8] Like all things, though, the Canadian Golden Age was temporary, lasting only until 1946, when American titles once again made their way across the border.

 

2-2: The Evolution of Comics in Europe and Japan

The comics industry in Europe was decidedly different from that of North America in its development. Whereas North American comics were seen as evolving and separating themselves from their newspaper origins in terms of size and content, eschewing independent week-to-week stories in favour of longer multi-issue narratives, European comic supplements were never entirely removed from their association with newsstand magazines.

European comics also incorporated longer narratives that spanned several instalments as early as the 1920s – almost twenty years before North American comics did. A perennial favourite, Herge’s Tintin is considered to be “one of the most popular comic book series in Europe,”[9] and an early example of proper Belgian comics and a predominance towards extended narratives in European comics. It is also an example of a BD, or bande-dessinée (“drawn strip”), strictly a Franco-Belgian form at the time.Another watershed bande-dessinée, Rene Goscinny and Albert Uderzo’s Asterix le Gaulois (The Adventures of Asterix), first appeared in October 1959 and is still in production in 2008, at which point thirty-three books in the series had been released. Though more popular in European countries than in North America, Asterix le Gaulois has become a world-renowned example of the bande-dessinée and has been translated into more than one hundred languages since its creation. Unlike North American comics, though, European weeklies also continued along the path of the ongoing story, with characters and events continuing in each successive newspaper comic supplements as they would in a separate monthly publication.

In the first half of the twentieth century, boys’ adventure comics were the most successful in Britain. The paper shortages caused by the First and Second World Wars led to a ban on the creation and publication of new comics, which allowed for existing series, namely the 1930s creations The Beano and The Dandy, to dominate the British comic marketplace.

Concurrent with the evolution of comics in both Europe and North America, manga (“whimsical pictures”) was quickly taking over the Japanese publishing industry. Illustrative narrative techniques had long been a part of Japanese culture, but it was the development of the manga style in the years following World War II that defined the contemporary comics environment in Japan. Currently a multibillion-dollar industry, manga has become an identifying style of both illustration and storytelling in Japanese comic books. However, the manga periodicals and book-rental shops that grew to prominence in the years following the Second World War were the force that changed the face of the Japanese publishing industry.

Manga rental shops worked like today’s video rental stores, offering a wide selection of both books and manga that could be rented for a small fee. As manga shops grew rapidly in number and developed a strong post-war presence, they formed the basis for the intense competition and growth that the manga industry underwent after World War II. These shops also led to the alternative subsets of manga that began to emerge in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

The four-panel strip, a cornerstone of manga preceding and immediately following the war, began to fade from prominence through the evolution of periodicals such as Manga Shonen, which had a nearly unrivalled readership among the country’s youth, and further diverged in content through publications such as Shadow Detective Book, City, and Skyscraper. Manga quickly developed beyond simplistic comedy strips and into extensive narrative works. The most prominent creations of the post-war years came from Osamu Tezuka, a manga legend who, it has been said, wrote and illustrated more than 150,000 pages throughout his decades-long career. Tezuka’s work is still popular today, and collections of his work have found a strong North American audience as well as a readership in Japan.

 

2-3: Fear of the Unknown

As comic-book publishing continued to evolve and face challenges around the world, so too did the public’s perception of the medium. More and more children began to take an active interest in comics, and as a result, many parents, schoolteachers, politicians, and community leaders across North America took notice of what children were devoting their time and money to. Fearful that the nation’s youth would be swayed into a life of delinquency and degeneracy by the vivid depictions of sex, crime, and violence in so many of the popular comic books that were aimed at teenage audiences, American politicians and educators founded several organizations aimed at suppressing the emerging comics industry. One of the more prominent of these organizations was the National Organization for Decent Literature.

Founded in 1939, the NODL was created to continue the work started by the Vatican with the Index Librorum Prohibitorum in the mid-sixteenth century: to “not merely keep Catholics from patronizing evil literature, but to keep it out of the community so that it will not be accessible to any, Catholic or non-Catholic.”[10] In very little time, M.C. Gaines found his comics appearing on the NODL’s list of banned materials, specifically Sensation Comics No. 1, published in January 1942, which introduced the world to Wonder Woman with her first comic-book cover. The character was in conflict with the NODL’s “Code for Clean Living” due to her sexually charged appearance and the themes of sexuality presented in each issue. Specifically, the NODL targeted the revealing nature of the Amazon warrior’s outfit and her weaponry: a golden lasso of truth, and bracelets of submission.

The comic-book industry continued to thrive into the Second World War, despite increased pressure from organizations such as the NODL. The Nazi menace provided an antagonist that appealed to an even larger readership, and publishers took advantage of the situation by producing tales of Superman, Captain America, and other superheroes fighting Hitler and the Nazis for the good of the world.

In the aftermath of the war, however, comics once again found themselves on the defensive. In a 1948 radio panel discussion, New York drama critic John Mason Brown labelled comics “the lowest, most despicable, and most harmful form of trash… their word selection is as wretched as their drawing or the paper on which they are printed.”[11] But, as sales of comics continued to rise, several more titles emerged in the late 1940s and early 1950s, many focussing their narratives on tales of crime, horror, or romance, to catch the attention of readers through shock and curiosity. Writers and artists like Will Eisner, whose comic The Spirit began to experiment with darker imagery and a “curious moral neutrality of the noir hero,”[12] attempted to take comics into more adult realms, themselves understanding the potential of the medium and hoping to attract a more respected audience who had already grown up reading comics. By March 1949, fourteen states were preparing laws designed to regulate the sale of comics to children and minors, worried that these titles would glamorize crime and depravity.

The continued success of horror and romance comics led to the formation of a special committee of the House of Representatives whose mandate was to decide whether or not these comics should be considered immoral, offensive, or potentially dangerous. “The witch-hunt psychology was starting to spread, and comics were right there in it.”[13] With the threat of communism and the McCarthy hearings taking over American society in 1953, the sense of fear and disgust tarred the writers, artists, and publishers of comic books. It soon became a point of contention for someone to admit to working in comic-book publishing. Attacks on the industry increased, thanks in no small part to Fredric Wertham, a psychiatrist and author of the 1954 book Seduction of the Innocent. “Comic books are definitely harmful to impressionable people, and most young people are impressionable… I think Hitler was a beginner compared to the comic-book industry.”[14]

In response to Wertham’s campaign, and while it was in process, the Comics Magazine Association of America (CMAA) created the Comics Code Authority (CCA) and its seal of approval in 1954, to reassure the public that it was controlling the offensive content in its members’ comic books. In 1955, Operation Book Swap gained momentum among conservative religious groups across the United States and Canada, and the resulting bonfires presented a reversal of the horrors depicted less than two years earlier in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451: “In the philistine dreamscape of Fahrenheit 451, a fascistic government institutionalized book burning, banishing all publications that expressed ideas or had artistic merit. The only volumes left unscathed were those deemed of practical value or those beneath contempt: trade journals, pornography, and comic books.”[15]

The CCA had done irrevocable damage to the North American comic-book publishing industry. While the group held no legal sway, the public’s negative perception of comic books was so strong that many distributors would not accept any titles that did not carry the CCA’s seal of approval. At first the CCA focussed on forbidding crime and horror titles to be distributed, arguing that these titles were damaging to the moral fabric of the country, but the CCA quickly grew into a culturally authoritarian group, going so far as to disapprove of issue number 33 of EC Comics’ Incredible Science Fiction because the hero of the science fiction tale was black. The legal push against comics intensified in 1955 to include Canadian distributors of American titles, a push fuelled in part by a murder in 1948 in Dawson Creek, British Columbia, and another in 1954, in Westville, Nova Scotia – both cases reportedly involved comic books as potential motivating factors. By 1956, many North American writers and artists were without work, with worthless portfolios in a climate of public mistrust of the comic medium and those who worked in it. Carmine Infantino, a comic artist and editor who came to prominence during the Silver Age of comics, a period starting in 1956 with the publication of DC Comics’ Showcase No. 4 and its introduction of The Flash, and extending into the early 1970s, summarized the situation as thus: “It was like the plague. The work dried up and you had nowhere to go, because comics were a dirty word… If you said you drew comic books, it was like saying you were a child molester.”[16]

The climate of fear and censorship in the comic-book industry was not unique to North America. In 1949, the French Communist Party sought to ban most American comic publications, those that were “more adult and violent than the classical European ones.”[17] In addition, several Franco-Belgian publishers who had continued to produce during the German occupation faced accusations of collaboration with the invading forces and potential prosecution from French resistance parties. In the end, most were cleared of charges, though many publications did not survive into the years immediately following the war. As a result, the French comics-publishing industry underwent a dense restructuring.

In August 1959, only a few years after the severe persecution of the North American comic-book industry, the Yamanashi Book Renters’ Association of Japan targetted several manga artists and publications, citing several depictions of juvenile crime and amoral behaviour, which were considered reprehensible in a predominantly children’s medium. The group blacklisted many manga artists, such as Masaaki Sato, as purveyors of filth. Some authors, Yoshihiro Tatsumi included, challenged the threats of the Book Renters’ Association and similar groups by creating subsets of manga that would differentiate their work as material exclusively for adult readers. The most successful and influential of these subsets, gekiga, emerged at a time when Japan’s rental comic-book market was especially susceptible to change.

 


3: EVOLUTION AND REVOLUTION

I knew how to keep it simple… We wanted to give kids a good time and give them something positive to enjoy. We didn’t want to change the world.[18]

–Stan Lee, former publisher of Marvel Comics

The comic-book publishing industry in North America began to recover in the early 1960s by shifting the focus of the stories away from crime, horror, and romance titles, and once again embracing superheroes as their bread and butter. Martin Goodman’s Timely Comics, founded in 1939, grew through these characters’ success and became Marvel Comics. A new roster of superheroes, including Spiderman, The X-Men, and The Fantastic Four, emerged onto the field alongside up-and-coming industry talents like Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. However, by the tail end of the decade, a new trend was beginning to take shape on the heels of the hippie movement in the United States. It had the potential to become enormously popular and to subvert the established industry icons. It was the underground comix scene.

 

3-1: The Spark

In 1965, technological advancement in the offset printing process changed the structure of the industry, allowing for small runs of tabloid papers to become economically feasible. Across North America, several small independent groups began releasing their own publications. The Los Angeles Free Press, the East Village Other, and the Berkeley Barb debuted one after the other. Within months, several more independent artist-run publications followed. The origins of the movement remained in San Francisco, but publications of this nature quickly spread across the United States, as far as Chicago, Detroit, and New York.

These independent publications differentiated themselves from mainstream comic-book publishing by providing an outlet for expression and experimentation through counterculture ideas. They rejected many of the taboos enforced through the Comics Code Authority and the national political and religious groups that had risen to prominence in the last few decades. By 1968, underground comix had gained momentum, though their impact was still small overall. The opportunity for free expression for many artists and writers while simultaneously subverting the established codes of ethics that had been enforced until now by the moral right, and they used the spelling “comix” to differentiate their work from that of the mainstream:

Zap Comix was the spark that brought together a nucleus of artists and publishers in San Francisco in 1968. Within five years, there were more than 300 new comic titles in print and hundreds of people calling themselves underground cartoonists. Print Mint, Rip Off Press, and Apex Novelties couldn’t print comic books fast enough to satisfy their customers. Even after their popularity peaked in the mid-70s, many of these artists continued to produce highly personal and potent work. Their unrelenting insistence on complete artistic freedom revitalized the comic medium, and broke it loose from the repressive Comics Code Authority. Comics, long stereotyped as kid stuff, aggressively reclaimed their adult audience with explorations of provocative subjects.”[19]

In 1969, following the American lead, several independent Canadian comics emerged on the scene. The first noted underground comic was SFU Komix, published at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia. In the four years that followed, many more underground Canadian titles were published, including Flash Theatre, Bridge City Beer Comix, and The Time of the Clockmen. Similar to the American underground comix, though not as widely successful, the Canadian titles “explored the major preoccupations of the counterculture, namely, drugs, sex, rock, and radical politics.”[20]

The late 1960s and early 1970s brought a similar underground scene and counterculture rebellion to British comics. While some of the American underground comix and alternative magazines were regularly exported to the U.K. and the rest of Europe, similar publications developed on local soil. Of particular note was the French publication Metal Hurlant, which brought to light many European artists in much the same way that Zap Comix did for the Americans in the underground scene around San Francisco. However, unlike the American underground comix and their success overseas, the European alternative publications had “little impact in the U.S. Despite the success of the American version of Metal Hurlant, translated into American English as Heavy Metal, few other anthology periodicals have appeared in the U.S. market.”[21]

Several American artists rose to acclaim through the underground comix scene: Robert Williams, S. Clay Wilson, Robert Crumb, George Metzger, and Art Spiegleman, to name a few. Their work, and the works of many others from the late 1960s to the mid-’70s, came to define the culture of the time. They changed the direction of the comic-book publishing industry, not only proving the viability of small-press comic runs, but also instilling a need to break from the norm and to challenge the medium and the industry to be more than simple tales of heroics that entertained and placated the mass audience. A particularly strong example of this, Spiegleman’s Maus, a graphic memoir of his father’s life in Poland during the Second World War, was first published in 1972 as a short tale in Apex Novelties’ Funny Animals. Since then, it has been republished several times as a graphic novel, and it even won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992.

 

3-2: Of Gekiga and Graphic Novels

In 1958, Japanese manga was facing its own crisis of maturity. Gekiga, a term created in 1957 by Yoshihiro Tatsumi, and translated literally as “dramatic pictures,” was introduced “to describe the darker, more realistic style of cartooning that [Tatsumi] and his peers were pioneering.”[22] Perhaps best described as a style or subset under the umbrella term “manga,” gekiga was Tatsumi’s answer to the concerns that gave rise to the American underground comix scene and emergent graphic novelizations – the need to create a means of dividing the market into traditional manga on one side, and more adult, experimental gekiga works on the other. It was equal parts an attempt to broaden the readership of gekiga artists’ work and a means to discourage youths from buying titles that might contain offensive or obscene subject matter.

Tatsumi’s work disrupted the established manga culture of post-war Japan by infusing his storytelling with a variety of unique techniques. Heavily influenced by the film industry and the influx of American cinema, Tatsumi and his peers used gekiga to experiment with the physicality of manga, expanding on the origins of the style by moving beyond panel-based works that relied on humour and a minimum of dramatic movement. They created works that relied predominantly on a heightened level of movement and/or tension that would be sustained over multiple panels, often repeating images and quickly moving back and forth between angles in a scene so as to heighten the suspense and drama by drawing out a character’s actions, almost as if quickly cutting between camera angles or scenes in a film.

In subject matter, Tatsumi’s early gekiga works pre-dated the underground comix movement in the U.S., but they dealt with similar themes and examinations of character. In the 1960s, Japan entered a period of intense economic growth. Accelerating development and success in business began to take over people’s lives. It was this element – the personal lives of the country’s citizens, which was being ignored in the face of economic progress – that caught Tatsumi’s attention: “In place of one-dimensional heroes and villains, there were people: faces in a crowd, seemingly plucked at random and then examined down to their darkest, most private moments.”[23]

 


*Figure 1: A Drifting Life, page 376.

The excerpt above illustrates the quick cutting between angles and perspectives that Tatsumi experimented with in early gekiga works.

 

Chronologically following the development of gekiga in Japan, Will Eisner, creator of the 1940s comic The Spirit, sought to change the perception of comic books in North America. He was not the first to take comic books into a form more resembling the size and structure of more traditional books, but he was the first to give the new format a name. A Contract with God has been frequently cited as the first book to be described with the term “graphic novel” to distinguish it from a mere comic book. Published in October 1978, A Contract with God presented more mature subject matter, storytelling style and physical presentation than most comic books had previously done. Since then, publishers of many contemporary titles have adopted the term and modes of production, to present a more mature and serious product, and to add another layer to the industry rather than taking anything away from what had gone before.

In 1977, expanding on the precedent set by Eisner, the Ontario artist Dave Sim embarked on one of the most ambitious and significant comic ventures ever created. Sim titled the work Cerebus the Aardvark and created a three-hundred-issue graphic novel narrative that explored “not only the comics medium, but also other facets of popular culture and society at large, not to mention Sim’s personal life.”[24] Completing its run in March 2004, Cerebus the Aardvark has become “the longest-running original comic in Canadian history.”[25]

A decade later, the British duo of writer Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons unleashed what is widely recognized as one of the most important achievements in comics history. From September 1986 to October 1987, the twelve-issue Watchmen series was released by DC Comics, and the collection continues to be published to this day as a graphic novel. As a deconstruction of the superhero genre, Watchmen was designed to question the nature of heroes in an evolving society, subverting the concept of superheroes by placing them within a carefully crafted alternate history of the United States. In content, Watchmen deftly illustrated the maturation of the comic-book publishing industry by tearing down preconceived notions of what a superhero or a comic could be, in a dark and dense tale. The impact of the series has been far reaching, earning the distinction of being one of the few graphic novels to garner mainstream critical and commercial acclaim.

 

3-3: The Emergence of a Visual Culture

The continued evolution of comic-book publishing in the U.S. and around the world has helped to introduce several new modes of comprehension into our cultural fabric, particularly in regard to how we read, understand, and accept comics, books, and magazines as both textual and visual. In North America, comics have paralleled the rise of cinema and television to cultural centrality. From the introduction of mainstream comics in the 1930s and continuing through the evolution and proliferation of magazines, children’s books, and the Internet, all of which are increasingly reliant on creating a strong relationship between text and visuals in order to appeal to an ever-expanding and sophisticated audience, it’s no longer viable for us to be simply textually literate; rather we must also be multiliterate, employing visual literacy with the same importance as textual literacy.

As our culture continues to expand, we are absorbing aesthetic trends that dictate elements such as fashion and design that may be exotic to us from around the globe and incorporating them into our own unique cultural experience. Utilizing our abilities for pattern recognition in the evolution of a more prominent visual culture, comics have helped to instigate widespread social change by engaging our ability to fluently read a story with both images and/or text as the narrative structure. The counterculture aesthetics of the underground comix scene fuelled a departure from the restrained art styles of the Golden and subsequent Silver ages of American comics, allowing the public perception of comics to expand and offering new visual narratives. Similarly, the experimental, almost filmic styles found in many gekiga titles marked a break from traditional manga, compelling the genre to move forward. With increased visual, cultural, and narrative storytelling potential through the dialogues between images and text that are presented in our image-heavy social structure – whether foreign or domestic in origin – the nature of how we read, write, and edit must change as well.

Over the last three decades, evolving technologies in print production and image quality have made it possible to experiment further, and with the Internet providing users with easy and immediate access to a global village of information, the need has arisen for print products – particularly comic books and magazines – to offer something more than what the Internet can provide. As suggested by Ella Shohat and Robert Stam in their essay “Narrativizing Visual Culture,” “The visual… is ‘languaged,’ just as language itself has a visual dimension… The visual is simply one point of entry, and a very strategic one at this historical moment, into a multidimensional world of intertextual dialogism.”[26]

The comic-book publishing industry has continued to grow in recent years through the creative and experimental advancements of mixing text and images to tell stories, the quality of the illustrative work, heightened production values, and the increasing demands of a steadily maturing readership. The industry has found a strong foothold in another medium that shares a similar need for visual literacy – the North American film industry. The critical and popular success of many films based on superheroes and graphic novels has bolstered sales and interest in comics for nearly twenty years. Interest in superhero films began to take shape in 1989, with Tim Burton’s Batman. Though its sequels failed to live up to the quality or impact of the first film, and interest in films based on comics dropped off for a while, a more recent comic-film explosion has proven to be one of the most financially lucrative movements in contemporary film. The Spiderman and X-Men trilogies have consolidated Marvel Comics’ reputation as a major Hollywood studio contender. Christopher Nolan’s 2008 film The Dark Knight became the second-highest grossing North American film of all time with an estimated $528 million in box office revenue, behind only James Cameron’s 1997 film Titanic. The high interest in adapting comic books and graphic novels to film shows no signs of slowing down, with Watchmen, previously thought to be unfilmable due to density of its layered, multi-tiered story, set to premiere in March 2009.

The alternative comics scene has also had its share of successful film adaptations, two of the most recent being the 2005 adaptation of John Wagner’s A History of Violence, directed by Canadian David Cronenberg, and the 2006 adaptation of Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta, by director James McTeigue. The latter grossed more than $132 million worldwide, despite the controversy surrounding Moore’s desire to have his name taken out of the film’s credits due to the disappointing manner in which Hollywood had treated his work in the past. Several other films based on alternative or underground works – Ghost World, American Splendor and Crumb for example – achieved widespread critical success and have developed strong cult followings.

The underground subculture of the 1960s and ‘70s gave way to a more literary style of comic in the 1980s, one that focussed on the quality of writing and detailed, sometimes convoluted narrative arcs that even crossed over from series to series, as in Marvel Comics’ many iterations of the X-Men franchise. This trend has continued into the current marketplace. Despite the continued dominance of Marvel, DC, and the superhero books, many more independent publishing houses have emerged in the North American marketplace.

Several small, independent comic publishers have been given the opportunity to grow and carve out their own niches in the industry through indie or import titles, allowing for a greater variety of books on comic-book store shelves. In 1976, Fantagraphics Books in Seattle began publishing The Comics Journal, a magazine devoted to reporting on the comic-book medium from the perspective of “arts first.” The Comics Journal went on to become a respected trade publication and a valuable resource for the comic-book publishing industry. With comics demanding more respect as a literary medium in the 1980s, Fantagraphics Books established itself as an advocate for the integrity of comic books and graphic novels as a legitimate literary medium. In the years since, several independent comic-book publishers such as Fantagraphics Books and Top Shelf Productions have found success in the medium.

Due to the growing success and vitality of the comic-book publishing industry around the world, respected trade publishers such as Pantheon Books in New York and Jonathan Cape in the U.K., as well as more art house publishers such as Chronicle Books in San Francisco, have all begun acquiring and publishing graphic novels, either incorporating them into their company mandate or creating a special niche for them. Even DC Comics has created a separate imprint, Vertigo, to publish more author-artist-driven works. In Canada, however, this corner of the sky belongs to Drawn & Quarterly Publications in Montreal.

 

 

4: CHRIS OLIVEROS AND DRAWN & QUARTERLY PUBLICATIONS

In most cases, the best graphic novels published over the past 25 years reflect the… unique vision of each respective cartoonist… Quite frankly, the talents of an Art Spiegelman or a Seth… could not have been nurtured through the traditional channels of publishing.[27]

–Chris Oliveros, owner and publisher of Drawn & Quarterly Publications.

Moving beyond the counterculture works of the 1960s and ‘70s, and the renewed interest in mainstream superhero titles that dominated the ‘80s and ‘90s, independent comic and graphic novel publishers have been free to produce works of a more artistic and serious nature – titles that confront political and sociological issues like Palestine and The Fixer by Joe Sacco; or that depict a view of history seldom seen, like Jason Lutes’ Berlin series; or that take readers on a personal journey through places that few people will see first hand, like Guy Delisle’s Burma Chronicles. Since the 1980s, independent comic book publishers have become instrumental in creating and feeding a demand for comics and graphic novels, both mainstream and alternative in content, within the public sphere.

 

4-1: Chris Oliveros, Adrian Tomine, and Yoshihiro Tatsumi

In 1989, Chris Oliveros, a bike messenger and an struggling occasional cartoonist who had never worked in publishing, put together an anthology of underground and alternative comic artists’ work. The anthology, titled Drawn & Quarterly, set the stage for an aesthetic and conceptual drive that would help him in developing Drawn & Quarterly Publications. Conceptually, the Drawn & Quarterly anthology was heavily influenced by Art Spiegelman’s Raw, an alternative comics anthology published by Spiegelman and his wife, Françoise Mouly from 1980 to 1991. “The first issue of Raw was a big inspiration for me,” said Oliveros in a 2007 interview with the Montreal Mirror. “When it came out, I was about 15 and it was like an epiphany… It was the first time I discovered that a comic could be about more than just superheroes.”[28] Throughout the 1990s, Oliveros accumulated a highly respected collective of writers and artists, including Chester Brown, Seth, Joe Matt, Chris Ware, Lynda Barry, Jason Lutes, Gabrielle Bell, and Joe Sacco. These artists and many others in the Drawn & Quarterly stable have become influential and recognized names in the comic book publishing industry.

By 2008, Drawn & Quarterly had become the largest comic-book publisher in Canada. The company continues to emphasize alternative and foreign titles, publishing books such as the African-based Aya, from the Parisian creative team of Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie; the Finnish artist Tove Jannson’s successful Moomin series; and Rutu Modan, born in Tel-Aviv, whose book Exit Wounds has won wide acclaim for both the artist and Drawn & Quarterly.

With more than fifty artists from Canada and around the world on its list and a yearly output of more than twenty titles, Drawn & Quarterly has quickly become one of the more important comic-book publishers in the industry. The books are distributed in Canada by Raincoast Books, based in British Columbia, and foreign rights to many titles have been picked up by more traditional literary publishing firms around the world, including “Jonathan Cape and Faber & Faber in the U.K., Rizzoli in Italy, Podium in the Netherlands, and Mondadori in Spain.”[29] On October 19, 2007, Drawn & Quarterly, with the assistance from a grant from The Canada Council for the Arts, opened the first and only publisher-run storefront in Canada. Located in Montreal’s Mile End district, three blocks from the company’s main office, the Drawn & Quarterly bookstore has been designed from the ground up to emphasize the company’s commitment to promoting alternative, multicultural literature. As Oliveros describes it, “It is very much a curated selection… There’s no other bookstore in Canada that looks like this.”[30]

In 2003, one of Drawn & Quarterly’s artists, Adrian Tomine, approached Oliveros with the idea of publishing the collected works of Yoshihiro Tatsumi. Tomine, a writer and artist since the age of sixteen, Tomine began publishing his Optic Nerve comic as one of Drawn & Quarterly’s ongoing comics series in 1994. Since then, eleven issues of the series have been released, along with several collections of both his earlier works and his more recent Optic Nerve stories. The most recent compilation, Shortcomings, was released in Fall 2007 to extensive critical acclaim.

As a teenager, Tomine “experienced a crisis of faith,”[31] and had begun to doubt his passion for comics. In an effort to rekindle his love of the medium, Tomine explored alternative comics, and in the process he discovered Good-Bye and Other Stories by Yoshihiro Tatsumi, published in English in 1987 by Catalan Communications in New York. Tatsumi’s compiled short stories showed an unconventional style that combined a potent stark minimalism in both the illustrations and the esoteric writing. In the years since this discovery, Tomine has found success as one of Drawn & Quarterly’s premiere artists. His work has been translated into several languages and distributed around the world. In 2003, he journeyed to Tokyo to promote some of his work, and while he was there he managed to arrange a meeting with Tatsumi . Since that first encounter, Tomine and Tatsumi have been working with Drawn & Quarterly to bring more of Tatsumi’s work to English-speaking readers.

With the release of Tatsumi’s The Push Man and Other Stories in September 2005, Tomine assumed the de facto role of Tatsumi editor-in-chief for Drawn & Quarterly. Since then, two more volumes of Tatsumi’s work have been released: Abandon the Old in Tokyo, first published in September 2006, and Good-Bye, first published in May 2008. Each of these titles represents another year of Tatsumi’s work, starting with the material he produced in 1969 and working up to his works of 1971 and 1972 in the most recent volume.

Tatsumi was born in Osaka in 1935 and grew up in the shadow of the Second World War. As a boy, he developed an intense passion for manga, heavily inspired by the post-war work of Osamu Tezuka, such as the fantasy and science fiction pieces Lost World and Metropolis, and Tezuka’s first long-running serial, Jungle Taitei (translated as Jungle Emperor, but more commonly known in English as Kimba the White Lion), which was published in Manga Shonen from 1950 to 1954 and enjoyed immense popularity.

In post-war Japan, the rental comic-book publishing industry was booming, and manga lending shops did a brisk business throughout Osaka and Tokyo. Tatsumi and many of his peers were entrenched in the highly competitive manga-publishing scene, often producing works for several publications at once, and on occasion completing more than fifty illustrated pages in a single day for some manga periodicals.

Disturbed by their public attacks on manga in the late 1950s, and unsatisfied with the stagnant, somewhat less creative industry, Tatsumi and several others with the need and desire to nurture the growth of manga as a medium, set out to divide the industry into manga that was meant for children, and that which was meant for more mature audiences. The result was the “Gekiga Workshop.”

Though gekiga was a moderate success, it did not have nearly the impact on Japanese culture that the counterculture comics had on American culture in the 1960s and ‘70s. As the popularity of manga grew, the production became more commercialized. Alternative movements such as gekiga quickly faded into near obscurity, and were later replaced in ideology by the Nouvelle Manga movement. The Nouvelle Manga movement is an artistic movement focussed on uniting Franco-Belgian and Japanese comic authors and artists, to explore the potential for the bande dessinée to move beyond genre-based storytelling, and to assist manga that focusses on social criticism, works that are not often translated, in finding an audience beyond Japan.

Tatsumi, however, is still at work to this day. Though not as commonly recognized a name as Tezuka, he is still known for the impact he has had on manga and continues to produce original work to this day. For the past eleven years, he has worked on a single project, an 820-page graphic memoir detailing his career as a manga and gekiga artist, beginning with the end of the Second World War and continuing to 1959, when gekiga began to take shape as an independent force in Japanese manga culture. Titled A Drifting Life, it will be published by Drawn & Quarterly in Spring 2009, continuing their efforts to bring as much of Tatsumi’s catalogue of work to an English-language audience as possible. Though a far more complex and detailed undertaking than any of the three previous Tatsumi books that Drawn & Quarterly has published, A Drifting Life represents the continued efforts of Oliveros and Tomine to bring awareness not only to the quality and breadth of Tatsumi’s work, but to the impact that his career has had on the history of the manga industry in Japan.

 

5: THE TRANSLATION AND EDITORIAL PROCESS FOR A DRIFTING LIFE

And no matter what nationality, most readers will probably be able to relate to the emotions Tatsumi depicts. We may not like them, for some of them are ugly, and some of them are straight out of the collective human id. But we will probably recognize them, and we can probably learn from them.[32]

–Frederik L. Schodt, from the introduction to Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s Good-Bye

While editorial work has been a part of comic publishing since the 1940s, the specific role or roles an editor normally plays in this medium are decidedly different. There is a conceptual rhythm to most comics and graphic novels that demands an understanding of both a textual and an illustrative syntax when making editorial decisions, because even a small change can alter the denotative or connotative meanings of the work. In addition, significant editorial changes to a comic or graphic novel beyond simple proofreading are often impossible when the finished artwork is drawn and lettered by hand rather than digitally, or when an image moves out of one panel and into another, or panels are drawn to specific and unique shapes and sizes. In these situations, it is difficult or impossible to digitally move panels to accommodate editorial needs. Editing such work would be much like editing a painting.

The English edition of Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s A Drifting Life demanded heavy editorial intervention in several areas. Many of these are similar to traditional text-editing functions, but they are unique to this title because it is a graphic work and a translation, and also because Tatsumi has incorporated detailed political, economic, and artistic information to paint a cultural and historical portrait of Japan in the years following World War II.

 

5-1: Translating the Text

The first editorial demand was the most obvious: translating the text. At 820 pages, A Drifting Life is an enormous work that covers a fourteen-year time span – from 1945 to 1959 – and includes rich historical and social information throughout. The translation of a text this long and detailed had to be done in several incremental steps. The first and, one might argue, most important of these was fact checking.

To illustrate the period of time in which the story takes place, Tatsumi placed hundreds of real-life cultural references in the text: the films and music that were popular at the time; incidents and events that shaped the news; novels that inspired Tatsumi’s doppelganger in the book, Hiroshi Katsumi, and his peers; Shakespearean references; and of course, examples of manga publications that shaped the evolution of the industry.

It was the task of Taro Nettleton, the translator hired by Drawn & Quarterly for this project, to study every single sign, label, and bit of text in every panel in the book, researching and verifying the accuracy of everything, be it the historical information and discoveries that characterized the cultural transitions occurring in Japan in the wake of the Second World War, or references to the films, media, and other elements of popular culture that were shaping the consciousness of the country’s youth through the 1950s.

Nettleton, who lives in Japan, was a PhD candidate with the Graduate Program in Visual and Cultural Studies at the University of Rochester in New York, and was introduced to Drawn & Quarterly by Adrian Tomine. Though all three of Drawn & Quarterly’s Tatsumi collections had been translated by Yuji Oniki, who has also translated more than thirty Japanese titles into English, Nettleton had been brought in to the ongoing Tatsumi project during the most recent publication of Tatsumi’s work, Good-Bye, as an additional translator. Nettleton also translated Yuichi Yokoyama: Travel, by the manga artist Yuichi Yokoyama (2008). Following the completion of his work on Good-Bye, Nettleton was hired as the sole translator for A Drifting Life.

 

*Figure 2: A Drifting Life, page 369.

The image illustrates a movie billboard as presented on page 369 of A Drifting Life. The highlighted text next to the fourth panel is an example of the billboard’s information as it appeared in the translated Word documents.

 

With an overabundance of detail in each of the books’ forty-eight chapters, even something as simple as the title of a film carried a myriad of challenges. As a common example, foreign films released in Japan are given Japanese titles that, more often than not, have little to do with the original title. As a result, Nettleton was forced to discover the titles of many of these films, mostly English and French productions, by searching the peripheral details – what actors performed in the film, who directed it, when it was released, etc. A glance at the notational references in figure 2 on the previous page speaks to the difficulty of this task.

The next step in creating an accurate translation of the text had to do with dialect. In different parts of Japan unique dialects are spoken – an Osaka dialect, for example, is considered rough and heavily textured, much different in tone than a native Tokyo dialect. The cultural message in an Osaka dialect is that such an individual belongs to more of a “merchant class.” Finding an equivalent English-language tone or dialect to represent an Osaka dialect was deemed impossible without resorting to North American stereotypes (i.e. the Southern drawl, the New York Jew). By choosing not to employ a similar or comparable North American dialect, which would negatively affect the didactic cultural tone of the work, the editor allows the translated dialogue to present the inflections of the various cultural classes through word choice alone, relying on attitude and slang terminology to convey the differences between the social classes.

 

*Figure 3: A Drifting Life, page 308 (panel 4 isolated in frame).

 

Finally, a common difficulty in translating comics or graphic novels from any language is the issue of onomatopoeia. Comics and graphic novels often use illustrated and stylized sound effects to emphasize elements of a scene where drawings and dialogue alone do not suffice. This feature is especially prominent in manga, where the sound effects are often illustrated prominently, as an integral component to the artwork rather than an additional artistic flourish. However, the trick with translating sound effects from one language to another is that not every culture has a word to denote a specific sound. The clearest example in A Drifting Life is the sound of cicadas buzzing.

 

*Figure 4: A Drifting Life, page 454 (panel 3 isolated in frame).

The Japanese characters that denote the sound of cicadas buzzing.

 

This particular sound effect was used on several dozen pages in the book to help invoke summertime and the sensation of heat, and it was also a sound effect that had no comparable English equivalent. If translated directly it would read incoherently as “MIIIIN MIIIIIIN MIN,” which would be more confusing to an English reading audience than the original Japanese. In the case of cicadas buzzing, and several other sound effects that had no English equivalent, Tomine decided to retain the Japanese sound effects in the artwork so as to maintain the integrity of the work, but also to give an explanation and perhaps a direct translation in the accompanying appendix.

 

5-2: The First Editorial Check

Once Nettleton had completed the translation, the information was compiled into three separate Microsoft Word documents. Volume 1 covered pages 1 to 272; volume 2, pages 273 to 548; and volume 3, pages 549 to 820. All told, there were 448 typed pages of translation notes that needed to be checked. This was the first part of the process that I had been tasked with. The completion of this first English-language check proved to be a three-part process.

The first step, which I found to be the most difficult, especially since I do not speak Japanese, was determining which translated text belonged in which panel. Although Nettleton had translated every page of the text, he had broken up the translation notes into page-by-page blocks, not panel-by-panel ones. Therefore, I read through the translation notes with a photocopy of the original Japanese product beside me, and figured out which text in the translation matched up with the actions or events in the panels on the corresponding page. The task was made more difficult by the fact that it was done without the assistance of Nettleton, who was living in New York at the time. The other complicating factor was the difference in the process of reading and comprehension between Japanese and English, specifically in the direction of reading. Japanese literature and manga are read from right to left, not left to right as with English. While Tatsumi, who does not speak any English, had taken it upon himself to rearrange many of the panels so that the progression would make sense when the reading direction was reversed, there were still many panels that consisted of a conversation between people that had been left in their original positioning – in manga, the dialogue balloons on the right are the first to be read. These panels had to be considered carefully when identifying which selections of the English translation matched up with the corresponding panels of the Japanese original, so that I did not get confused by any disparities between the translation and the original.

Another notable difficulty in discerning which panels and text belonged together had to do with movie billboards; store signs and banners; comic book, magazine, and book titles; and maps and locations. In Nettleton’s translation, these details were lumped together in large blocks of text, again with only page breaks, no panel breaks. To identify the panel breaks on these pages, I took a flexible approach to the translation proof, beginning in whatever manner presented the clearest point of entry. On occasion, that meant beginning with the last identifiable sign or billboard and working backwards through the remaining panels, matching up the text as closely as possible.

Once this first task had been completed, the next step was to go through each page and decide which panels still needed to be rearranged or “flopped.” Flopping is the process of copying a single panel onto a separate Photoshop document, creating a mirror image of the original panel, and pasting the reversed image over the original. Ordinarily, flopping is avoided wherever possible to retain the original illustrations, but in panels where more than one person was talking, it was sometimes unavoidable. In these instances it was a necessary evil to accommodate the habits of English-language readers. While it may sound simple, there is much more to flopping than simply turning the image around. Comics and graphic novels are characterized by a certain amount of illustrative syntax. This illustrative syntax is apparent in the flow of one panel into another, whether on the same row, from one row to the next, or even from page to page. All the images on a page function in tandem with one another as a spatial and literary narrative, and if the physical positioning or direction of one panel is altered in any way, the change can affect the flow of the story, the aesthetics of the surrounding panels, or as in certain extreme cases, affect surrounding pages.

 

*Figures 5 & 6: A Drifting Life, page 590 (panels 4-6 isolated in frame).

Top image: the original Japanese.

Bottom image: the “flopped” English version.

 

The need to flop panels at this early stage occurred several times throughout the book, usually because conversational flow in the translation contradicted the images as they appeared in the original. The top image on the previous page is the untouched original. Hiroshi, the character on the right of the first panel, is the first to speak, introducing himself to a prospective publisher – the white-haired man on the left. To correct the conversation flow for an English-speaking audience, the top panel had to be flopped so that Hiroshi, now on the left, was visibly the first to speak. However, the two subsequent panels also needed to be flopped in order to maintain the continuity of the images in respect to the background details and the lines of sight for each character. Had the two bottom panels not been flopped from their original direction, the page would still make sense on a purely textual level, but the lack of continuity in the details of the images would have disrupted the carefully arranged composition of the page, adversely affecting the illustrative syntax. This is a relatively simple example; the necessity for more detailed and difficult flopping became apparent when the working first draft of the English-language version began to be constructed. Because of the size and scope of the project, as well as the immense variety and relative simplicity of design in the environments and backgrounds throughout the book, there was little concern about having to flop a panel or series of panels in one part of the book, only to have that same environment appear as a mirror image at a later point. The primary concern was the more immediate visual and textual needs of each scene.

The third and final step in completing the first check was to read through the story from start to finish, ensuring that the English translation read as a single cohesive narrative, and simultaneously checking the translation for grammatical and structural errors. At this point, less concern was paid to the historical and cultural accuracy of Nettleton’s translation, which was to be dealt with in the next step, and more to the basics of the language used. Because this was only a link in a chain of editorial passes by several people, all changes were tracked in the actual Word document. That way, Nettleton, Tomine, and I were able to work with the document more efficiently, and to keep the various stages of editing visible on one document.

*Figure 7: A Drifting Life, sample of the translated Word document.

The red and blue boxes on the right side track all editorial changes made on the first proof of the translation.

 

Finally, any significant problems were noted in a separate editorial summary, which listed all outstanding questions on the translation. These questions were to be sent back to Nettleton once the initial editorial passes had been made. For example, in a number of instances, I discovered that a single dialogue balloon on a page had been missed in the translation, or, in the most blatant situation, page 70 had been overlooked in its entirety. Once this editorial pass had been completed, the Drawn & Quarterly offices in Montreal sent the translated document and my subsequent editorial notes to Tomine in California, where, as editor-in-chief of the project, he would go over my work and complete his own editorial pass through it. He would make certain that there were no further questions or concerns on the translation of certain cultural and historical details, and that Nettleton’s translation fit stylistically with that of the three previously published Tatsumi books.

Until this point, much of the work that had been done on A Drifting Life was preparatory. With the translation and the first proof complete, the next step of the editorial process was in the hands of Tomine. His purpose, at this point, was twofold: to stylistically edit the manuscript, improving its readability by finding solutions to some of the more cumbersome Japanese-to-English aspects of the translation, and to match this text to the tone and voice of the three previous Tatsumi books published by Drawn & Quarterly.

 

5-3: The Second Editorial Check

Once Tomine’s stylistic edits to the translation had been digitally tracked onto the same Word document and e-mailed back to the Drawn & Quarterly offices in Montreal, the next step was for me to do a second check of the three documents, again looking for any grammatical mistakes in Nettleton’s original English translation and also checking the changes that Tomine had suggested in his separate editorial notes, not to mention what he had already inserted into the three translated Word documents. Many of Tomine’s suggestions and changes related to the readability of the text in terms of the cultural, historical and pop-culture references throughout the book. In some cases, it was necessary to clean up the translation to exclude some of the more detailed information, to make the book more accessible to an English-reading audience. This tactic was not used in names of famous individuals, but more for obscure information that would not necessarily be important enough to be included in the appendix. For example, the translation of the two panels on page 323 read as follows:

Panel: 1: On September 26th of that year, “Toya Maru,” a Japanese ferry that traveled between Aomori and Hakodate, sank in the Sea of Japan. It was the worst disaster in history to occur there.

Panel 2: The ferry capsized under torrential waves caused by Typhoon 15. It is estimated that 1,155 people aboard were killed or went missing. Sadly, only 159 were rescued.

The issue with this narration was not the name of the ferry that sank, but with the title of the typhoon, “Typhoon 15.” In much the same way that North America names its hurricanes each year, Japan names its typhoons. On September 26, 1954, Typhoon No. 15 – Marie – struck, sinking the Toya Maru ferry. However, rather than an explanation of the relatively unimportant nomenclature of the event in the narration or in the appendix, Tomine’s editorial suggestion was to alter the first sentence of the second panel to read: “The ferry capsized under torrential waves caused by a typhoon.” The change was subtle, but it was practical in keeping the narrative moving at a steady and comprehensible pace, as were many other changes of this kind that followed.

Occasionally, nicknames and slang terms caused difficulty in the translation by creating potentially awkward or uncomfortable moments for English readers. These elements were noted separately in the compiled editorial summary as requiring a second pass by Nettleton to try and find ways to work around these problems without adversely affecting the readability or cultural intricacies of the work. The most obvious example in A Drifting Life is in Hiroshi’s first genuine romantic tryst: Mama. “Mamasan,” a title usually given to the matrons of geisha houses, has come into common cultural use to refer to bar hostesses. This wouldn’t be an issue were it not for the Oedipal theme that blatantly but inadvertently presents itself in the following example:

 

*Figure 8: A Drifting Life, page 513 (panels 6 & 7 isolated in frame).

 

Another critical grammatical issue addressed in the second proof related to proper titles. Per Tomine’s instructions, titles of all books, magazines, manga anthologies, and films were to be italicized, whereas all short stories, comics and comic strips, and songs were to be put in double quotation marks. The difficulty with this step was purely a cultural one: Nettleton had translated all of these elements throughout the book in the same manner: in quotation marks. Because so little information about certain post-war magazines and manga anthologies exists today, there was no ready reference to help in discerning which titles needed to be italicized, and which needed quotation marks; this task could be accomplished only by undertaking multiple read-throughs.

After this had been completed, I created another editorial summary for Nettleton, Tomine, and Oliveros. In this document I compiled all notes, questions, and problems remaining from the previous editorial checks and Tomine’s own suggestions. This way, all parties could see the progress of the editorial work and the difficulties that still remained.

 

 

6: TEXTUAL DESIGN AND IMPLEMENTATION

The durability of Tatsumi’s work is impressive… In terms of tone and style, this work shares an obvious kinship with the ‘alternative’ or ‘literary’ comics that began proliferating in North America in the mid-1980s (and continue to thrive today), yet it predates much of that work by as much as three decades.[33]

–Adrian Tomine, from the introduction to Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s The Push Man and Other Stories

With the editorial work in full swing, production on the book continued to move forward. Photocopies of the manuscript had arrived in the Drawn & Quarterly office, sent by Tatsumi’s agent. Because there were no digital files of the work, the first step was to scan the pages into a computer one by one using a large-format flatbed scanner, a process that took weeks. Once scanned, the digital pages were transferred from the scanning computer, via USB memory sticks, to an external hard drive, where they were compiled in a folder labelled “Gekiga Raw Scans.”

 

6-1: Clean-up and Mute Files

One of the largest and most time-consuming aspects of the production at this early stage was the creation of the “mute” files. In comic-book publishing, a mute file is a page that has had all text – original dialogue, narration, and sound effects – digitally removed using Photoshop. Often this task is done in order to prepare an original English-language title for foreign publication. However, in the case of A Drifting Life, the purpose was reversed: all dialogue, narration, and sound effects were removed so that the translated English text could be imported into the digital pages, once all the editing had been completed.

Before a mute file could be made, the scanned images had to be cleaned up. Every page was scanned upside down, in grayscale, and at the scanner’s maximum resolution of 600 DPI (Dots Per Inch). To ensure a high print quality, four adjustments had to be made to each page. First, each page needed to be rotated 180 degrees. Second, each image would need to be doubled in size to 1200 DPI; at a higher resolution, the images on each letter-sized page would look cleaner and crisper when reduced to a smaller size for printing. Third, the threshold for each image had to be increased from the standard 128 to 144, which was discovered to produce the cleanest and crispest blacks, converting the grayscale of the scanned page into a high-contrast black-and-white image. And finally, each image’s mode needed to be changed from grayscale to bitmap in order to reduce the file to only two colours, a step that was critical to simplify the information, reduce the size of the file and remove the need for halftone screening when printing. Due to the limited capabilities of the scanner, the most efficient way to make these changes for all 820 pages was, using Photoshop, to program a set of Actions that recorded these four steps, and then to apply that set of Actions to an entire batch of files – in this case, those in the “Gekiga raw scans” folder – which would be automatically adjusted as directed, page by page.

Once the actions had been completed, each page was brought into Photoshop and all text was carefully removed from each page, one at a time. In many panels, the removal of the sound effects left a gap beneath the text that needed to be filled by copying another section of the same background and pasting it in place where needed. The new section of background would then be adjusted or redrawn as necessary, but minimally – only enough so as not to disrupt the integrity of the original artwork. The goal with this step was to make the artwork look as if there had never been a sound effect overlaying it in the first place. Once the text was removed, each page was saved in a separate folder called “Gekiga Sanstext.”

 

6-2: The First Draft

With the second check complete, the next part of the process was to produce a functional English-language first draft of the entire book. This would be done by importing the text directly from the three translation documents into the mute panels on the pages in the “Gekiga Sanstext” folder. Before starting, there were several factors regarding style and appearance to be considered.

Tomine, working directly with Drawn & Quarterly, had helped design both a custom font and method of lettering for the previous three Tatsumi books Drawn & Quarterly had published, and this design concept was also to be used in A Drifting Life. The font, called “Tatsumi,” has two faces: regular and bold italic. The regular “Tatsumi” font was the default, used for all dialogue and narrative text throughout the book. The bold italic font was reserved for names of books, magazines, films, and manga anthologies.

*Figure 9: Examples of the two “Tatsumi” fonts used in A Drifting Life.

The regular was used for all dialogue and narrative text.

The bold italic was used for all titles of works.

 

The second element of style that needed to be taken into consideration was the placement of the text in the individual panels. In the previous Drawn & Quarterly Tatsumi publications, the dialogue balloons had been designed with a large amount of white space, as a means of maintaining a strongly minimalist design sense. With these two aesthetic caveats acknowledged, I was ready to begin constructing the first draft.

With one of the three digital translation documents open, I highlighted a selection of text in the Word document – dialogue or narration – and copied it. Next, using Photoshop and the Text tool, I stretched a text box over top of an existing mute dialogue balloon, with all four corners of the box extending past the balloon’s perimeter. With that same tool still selected, I pasted the copied text of the translation into the text box, then manipulated it within the shape of the box so that the dialogue was centred in the dialogue balloon, leaving as much surrounding white space as possible without compromising the readability of the text or hyphenating unnecessarily.

Before deselecting the Text tool, I reviewed the dialogue or narration: first, for any titles that needed to be italicized or put in quotation marks; second, for any last-minute spelling or grammatical errors; third, for one last stylistic flourish: the upper case I. For both the regular and bold italic versions of the Tatsumi font, a variation on the design can be selected by holding down the shift key. This does not create an upper or lower case letter, as both Tatsumi fonts are uppercase by default, but it provides a slightly altered version of the letter.

*Figure 10: Examples of the normal and shifted variations of the two “Tatsumi” fonts.

The capital “I” of the first and third examples never appears in any Tatsumi book.

Instead, only the lower case variations are used.

 

The purpose of this special character is to retain a hand-drawn aesthetic throughout the book, by using a variation of the font whenever a letter occurred two or more times in close proximity in any direction. The one instance where this practice is discarded is in respect to the upper case letter I. As a lettering design choice, in all Tatsumi books the upper case I is discarded in favour of the more minimalist lowercase version. Therefore, in every segment of dialogue or narration that was copied and pasted into a panel, every capital I had to be found and changed into the lowercase character, to keep the stylistic parameters set by the three previous Tatsumi books.

This process, as illustrated by the examples on the following page, demonstrates how to import dialogue or narration into a fairly conventional page. Aside from the need to flop the final panel on the given example, nothing else severely complicated matters. On occasion, though, the need to flop an image could not be recognized in the earlier editing stages. When directly importing the text into the mute pages, it sometimes became necessary to flop a single panel in order to accommodate basic dialogue or narrative text that suddenly did not fit with the images in the panel. Usually this happened as a result of the translated text being reversed to read left-to-right; the artwork in its original form was drawn specifically to accommodate the Japanese text in its original placement, and as such the text would not fit among the images unless the panel was flopped. In a similar fashion, a panel might have narrative text on the right side and dialogue on the left, and if the narrative text were a preamble to the depicted scene, the panel would have to be flopped for the sake of comprehension. However, the instances where greater difficulties lay with flopping, and where the need could not be discovered until editing through the production of the first draft, were in respect to the details of specific page structures or individual illustrations.

 

*Figures 11 & 12: A Drifting Life, page 393 (final Japanese and English versions).

Note the white space in each dialogue balloon, the italicized font in panel 4, and the flopped fifth panel, done to accommodate the conversation’s direction.

 

When multiple panels of conversation were brought into the scenario, the complexity of the page dynamics and illustrative syntax became more complex. In a sense, importing the text into the mute pages was a dynamic editorial structure that relied entirely on visual acumen and the physical needs of the text. While not all of these complexities were obvious during the first and second checks of the translation, they became apparent when the English text was brought into the working document. Page 763 of A Drifting Life (see figures 13 and 14 on the following page) illustrated a prime example of this delicate situation in a conversation between the book’s protagonist, Hiroshi (with the toque), and one of his friends, Masahiko Matsumoto.

In the English first draft, panels 1 to 4 have been flopped, even though only one person speaks in each panel. The reason for this can be seen in a careful examination and comparison of panel 4 on each page. Matsumoto’s two dialogue balloons differ considerably in size. In the Japanese manuscript, the smaller balloon on the right had less dialogue inside, and the larger left balloon had much more dialogue. When translated into English, the smaller portion of dialogue would now be on the left, but the larger portion of dialogue would not fit into the balloon on the right. The panel needed to be flopped to accommodate the larger amount of text in the second dialogue balloon. But there was a catch – the continuity of the page. When the fourth panel was flopped, the lines of sight in the first three panels were altered. First, to compensate for the fact that Matsumoto’s eyes now faced to the right instead of the left, the second panel immediately above needed to be flopped. That way, Matsumoto’s line of sight remained consistent from one row of images to the next. Second, there was now a discontinuity in the conversation, as Matsumoto’s gaze had shifted, but Hiroshi’s had not. To compensate, the first and third panels on the page were flopped in order to “fix” the sight lines between the two characters.

 

*Figures 13 & 14: A Drifting Life, page 763.

Circled: the panels at the heart of the problem.

 

In some instances, an editor may have noted that a panel should be flopped to correct the conversational flow, yet a flop may not have been possible due to other details in the scene. For example, a background detail, most likely text, would be compromised if the panel were flopped. In figure 15 on the following page, the man on the right of the panel is supposed to speak first, asking Hiroshi, on the left, a question about the parcel he is mailing. Such a flop would seem simple, as this panel is isolated from the flow of the panels surrounding it. However, if the panel were flopped, the Japanese text in the background – which, as part of the artwork, is not to be erased and translated into English – would appear mirrored in the English publication. The situation in figure 16 is much the same, though it is the “Nakayamaso” sign at the far right of the panel that would have been compromised had the panel been flopped. While these examples may seem relatively benign, it is not so much a question of readability as it is of maintaining the integrity of the publication. Unless absolutely necessary, the artwork was to be left intact. Even if that had not been the case, in certain instances it would not have been possible to flop the background text. As with several examples throughout the book, the background text in question was often placed or illustrated in such a manner that it could not be separately flopped. This can be seen in figure 16 on the next page, where the “Nakayamaso” sign is obstructed by the vertical shading strokes.

To correct the flow of conversation in either of these two examples, a slight adjustment to the artwork had to be made – Photoshop was used to redraw the dialogue balloons. While interference with the artwork is usually to be avoided at all costs, this is a procedure only used when there is no other way to correct the flow of dialogue. Each balloon is intact, if possible, except that the tail of each that indicates which character is speaking is shifted so that it points to the other character, and then the dialogue in each balloon is swapped. If the swapped dialogue doesn’t fit in the new balloon, the parameters of the balloon are altered as needed, once again minimizing the collateral effect on the surrounding artwork. Any gaps in the background image left by the shifting of the tails is then corrected in the same manner as in eliminating the Japanese sound effects from the mute files. It isn’t the most elegant solution to the problem, but it solves it without compromising the background details.

 

*Figures 15 & 16: A Drifting Life, pages 567 (top) and 778 (bottom).

The circles indicate the Japanese text that prevented these panels from being flopped in order to accommodate their conversational flow.

 

The final task in constructing the first draft was to deal with the question of signs, banners, posters, book titles, and the like. When these elements appeared in a frame as individual objects or signs, with nothing else in the panel that required translation, the mandate was to copy and paste the direct translation immediately under that panel, as in figure 16 on the previous page: the caption “Sign: Nakayamaso” is a direct translation of the part of the panel that has been circled. When several of these elements appeared in a single panel, a caption would be ineffective. In these instances, the translated segments were noted in a separate file to be made into an appendix for the back of the book.

 

7: THE HOME STRETCH

I had a lot of frustration that I wanted to get out in my work, in a way. I wasn’t thinking of my readers. In a way, I succumbed to the idea that my works couldn’t be a big hit anyway so I might as well create the work that I wanted to create and express what I was feeling.[34]

–Yoshihiro Tatsumi, author of A Drifting Life

With the English text in place, there was now a working first draft of the book for all parties to use as the point of reference for all future steps. The bulk of the editorial work had been completed, but the project was still not quite ready to enter the design phase. A number of steps and editorial tasks regarding the English-language first draft still remained, specifically in respect to the changes that still needed to be made, and the material that simply could not be inserted into the individual pages.

 

7-1: The Editorial Summary

Compiled as a series of questions, concerns, and inconsistencies noted for Nettleton, Tomine, and Oliveros to address, the editorial summary for A Drifting Life had gone through several revisions since the beginning of the project. This version of the summary was intended to be a master copy that would pull together the notes taken from the first and second editorial checks, all of the notes made in Tomine’s edit of the translation, and all notes or problems that emerged during the development of the English-language first draft. The final summary was constructed as a Word document with every notation identified by page and panel, and then written out in full detail. The final summary was given a colour breakdown for ease of reference: all queries or notations for Nettleton to review were highlighted in red; all queries direct from Tomine to Nettleton were highlighted in blue; and all production notes, specifically in respect to panels or dialogue balloons that needed to be altered, were left black to be dealt with during the production phase by Oliveros and Tom Devlin, Drawn & Quarterly’s creative director.

 


*Figure 17: page 1 of the editorial summary for A Drifting Life.

 

The most pressing issues pointed out in the editorial summary were in reference to the translation. More specifically, several panels or individual dialogue balloons had been missed in the first translation, one entire page had not been translated, and the names of several characters and locations were occasionally spelled differently in a panel or on a page than they had been previously. Either my first check of the translation or Tomine’s edit had uncovered many of these. Whereas most of the points drawn out for Nettleton after the first proof were technical points – specific panels and balloons needing work – most of Tomine’s notes questioned the historical accuracy of certain events or names, and the viability of some of the more direct translations. Unlike my earlier example referencing “Typhoon 15,” many of these queries were specific to cultural or historical examples, such as magazine titles or certain types of food. On panel 1 of page 343, Tomine requested a more precise definition of “okonomiyaki” for the appendix, as Nettleton’s translation “Japanese pancakes” did not suffice.

Beyond these translation issues, many of the points raised were production-based: namely, which panels needed minor artistic adjustments, such as shifting an object within an image without flopping a panel to compensate for narrative text that would not otherwise fit; which dialogue balloons needed to be redrawn in panels that could not be flopped, and which dialogue balloons needed to be redrawn in shape simply to fit English dialogue that would not fit in any other manner; and which Japanese text that had been eliminated in the creation of the mute files had to be put back in place. This last point became clearer when we inserted the English text and discovered certain panels where the Japanese text enhanced the artwork, and where an English translation would actually have impeded it, such as the headlines or names listed in a newspaper or periodical, or a panel with only text in it and no illustrations, such as the handwriting of a letter (see Figure 18 on page 56). Similar circumstances, if translated into English, would have affected the work more on an artistic level, causing unecessary intrusions into the artwork where a captioned translation would suffice.

Once Nettleton and Tomine had both reviewed the revised editorial summary, it was sent back to me with the changes and corrections noted directly on the Word document. I then implemented the suggested alterations and corrections to the translation into the English first draft as needed. This task required another careful check, this time of the completed first draft. In a specific instance such as the oedipal nature of the bar matron, “Mama,” Nettleton and Tomine decided to use “Madam” instead. Therefore, every instance in the 820 pages where “Mama” was used had to be found and changed to accommodate the new translation. Once these edits to the first draft had been completed, I revised the editorial summary once again to list the problems and questions that had not yet been resolved, and to further delineate the separate tasks that were left to be done, be it translation, editorial, or design, and which party was responsible for their completion.

 

7-2: The Appendix

As previously mentioned, when possible, any sign, poster, billboard, etc., that appeared in A Drifting Life was translated as a footnote under the panel it appeared in. However, in numerous instances this method would not work. On many pages, there was simply too much background signage or information in a panel to fit any translation, even a condensed one, as a caption beneath the panel. Along this same line, many hand-drawn letters, charts, examples of comic strips, and lists of detailed publication information appeared throughout the book. To maintain the integrity of the artwork and the historical accuracy of the examples used, these panels remained unaltered and stayed in their original Japanese.

 

*Figure 18: A Drifting Life, page 570.

The circled panel shows a hand-drawn letter that has been left in its original Japanese for the English translation of the book. A notation below the panel will direct readers to the direct translation of the letter (shown at the right) in the appendix at the back of the book.

 

The solution to this question that Tomine suggested, due to the important historical and cultural information in Tatsumi’s book, was to separate all material that would not fit as a caption under a panel, and to compile that information into an appendix at the back of the book. After the English first draft had been completed, the translation documents were once more sifted through, this time pulling out all pertinent information that did not make it into the first draft and compiling it onto a separate Word document, identified page by page and panel by panel in the same manner as the editorial summary. The resulting 52-page document detailed, in point form, every necessary piece of information for inclusion in the appendix.

 

7-3: Proofing the English-Language First Draft

With the English first draft and the accompanying editorial summary and appendix notes completed, the next step of this project is for Oliveros to proof the pages. This is the first time the book will be read in English, with the text and images in place on the pages. As with the translation proofs, all dialogue and narration will be checked for spelling and grammatical inaccuracies, but a couple of extra elements have been added to the equation.

First, there is the need to check the English text against the translation, to ensure that all panels have been inputted correctly and none have been missed, save for those detailed in the editorial summary. Second, and of equal importance, is to check that all of the narration and dialogue has been inputted in an aesthetically responsible manner, keeping within the boundaries that were set in place before the first draft was started (i.e. all film and book titles in the bold italic font, all short stories, songs, and magazine articles in quotations; enough white space around the placed text), as outlined in part 6 of this report.

 

7-4: Production

After the proof of the English first draft has been finished, the next step will be to take the document out of editorial and into production. First, all of the pages of the first draft will need to be cleaned up in Photoshop. Every single page will be gone through with a fine-toothed comb: eliminating all excess marks in the margins; clearing obvious specks of ink from the interiors of the panels; and making sure that each page is free of all blemishes that can be seen by the naked eye.

To complicate matters, some panels might have been skewed slightly in the scanning process. To correct this, an individual panel will be copied into a new Photoshop document, changed from a bitmap into a grayscale image, and then rotated until the borders can be lined up with the remaining panels. Once that is done, the panel will be converted back into a bitmap and then copied back to the English page, in place of the original skewed panel. If the rotation introduces the risk of altering the in-place narration or dialogue, the text will be copied out into another blank Photoshop document, and then pasted back into the original once the panel has been straightened on the page.

By far, the largest and most time-consuming task of the production at this stage will be the implementation of sound effects. First, in respect to all sound effects that could not be translated because there is no English language equivalent, the original Japanese panels will be copied, cleaned up, and placed into the English first draft. Second, all translated sound effects will be input directly into the panels using a selection of custom fonts, and then placed in the exact same positioning as in the original Japanese document.

Once all sound effects have been put in place and all panels have been cleaned up and made ready for print, the final document will be imported into Quark Express page layout software, where the English draft of A Drifting Life will be constructed for the first time, from cover to cover.

*Figure 19: an early rendering of the cover for Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s A Drifting Life, to be published in Spring 2009.

 

8: CONCLUSIONS

No! I’ll never be done with gekiga![35]

–Hiroshi Katsumi, from A Drifting Life

The editorial process of A Drifting Life has been, to say the least, unconventional by traditional literary standards. Although the final steps in both the editorial revisions and production are yet to happen, the translation and editorial work that has been done to this point has already presented many challenges, with respect to both the difficulty and layered nature of the work, and the traditional methods of editing. This is a work that is representational of both another culture and another time, and the visual and textual editorial alterations taken to this point have been made with the utmost care and respect for the content of the original book. Though changes have been made to the original manuscript, none were done without first assessing the ramifications of such alterations or seeking other, less intrusive alternatives.

 

8-1: An Editorial Retrospective

Considering the size and scope of A Drifting Life, it was no surprise that the editorial design and implementation was as involved as it was. The process from the initial checking of the translation through the editorial and production phases took four months. It was very deliberate and organized in such a way that multiple parties were able to work on different facets of the project at the same time, and all toward the same end – the completion of the English first draft.

The most difficult part of the process was the first check of the translation. Reading it for the first time and having to discern which text belonged with which panel was difficult in itself, made more so because of dense cultural elements and points of reference that appeared on nearly every single page of the manuscript. However, it was the work of flopping panels at this stage that presented most of the early difficulties. Specifically, it was the need to engage foresight in the implementation of the dialogue and narration. We had to be able to see ahead of time not only which panels would need to be flopped for conversational comprehension and flow, but also which subsequent panels would need to be flopped to maintain continuity, and this was a detailed process. Some pages had to be read several times in the original Japanese manuscript, as well as in the proposed English- language version. Once production on the first draft had been started, we found that many of the suggested flops were not necessary, yet a great many others, which we had not identified, were necessary. In the latter cases, the necessity to flop was more often than not dictated by the size of dialogue or narrative text that had to fit spatially within the dialogue balloons or white space that had been reserved for narration. These instances were dealt with as efficiently as possible in the production of the first draft, often by flopping when there was no other alternative. In several instances, as noted in the production notes of the editorial summary, flopping could not help and the only option left was to suggest minor adjustments to the artwork.

Once the early checks had been completed, I found that the majority of the difficulties in producing and editing the book were strictly related to manual labour – specifically, the time it took to place all of the English dialogue and narration into the mute pages and to adjust all of it in accordance with the stylistic parameters of the project. Each page took between fifteen and thirty minutes to complete, so the biggest concern at this stage was the time it would take to complete the 820 pages. With a projected timeline of only a month to input all the English-language text, the completion of the English first draft went right down to the wire.

The editorial work done to this point, both textual and in respect to the visual integrity and comprehensiveness of the manuscript, has helped to produce an accurate representation of what the published book will look like. There is still much work to do in designing the physical look of the final book, and several pages require more translation work and subsequent editorial proofs before they can be brought into the design phases, but the final artifact has begun to take shape. As a unique product in a growing graphica marketplace, A Drifting Life carries a heavy weight of expectations for Drawn & Quarterly, and at the same time, thanks to the process of its publication, it presents a bevy of new possibilities for editorial education – literary, visually, and culturally.

 

8-2: The Changing Face of the Industry

To this day, the only Wikipedia entry for Yoshihiro Tatsumi is on the English Wikipedia – not even a Japanese one exists yet. Though he is considered to be the grandfather of gekiga, the first true alternative comic genre in Japan, his accomplishments have gone largely unnoticed in his homeland in recent years, largely due to the rampant commercialization and high export demand of more traditional forms of manga. A Drifting Life, for example, has never before been published as a single-volume work; in Japan, only as forty-eight installments in a manga periodical. Drawn & Quarterly’s publication of the book will mark the first time that this work has ever appeared in the manner in which the creator originally intended.

The changing face of the comic-book publishing industry, not to mention the growth of and comparative ease of access to obscure and alternative cultural depths only recently made available to English reading audiences, has been of tremendous benefit for both comic-book publishers and the evolution of editorial fields of study. Foreign works like those of Tatsumi and many other Drawn & Quarterly artists can now find their audiences in a broader world scope, rather than being relegated to a specific societal corner of the globe. With this broader spectrum comes a change in technological demands and production skill sets. Editorial processes in the comic and graphic novel industry are in the process of evolving to meet these needs, but the subset still requires far more than a traditional literary base of knowledge.

Most manga that sees publication today is translated and produced inexpensively for a wide audience. The market has quickly become saturated with titles that do not represent the best of what the manga industry has to offer. A Drifting Life, though, is no simple title. At 820 pages, it is a visual, literary, and cultural behemoth. The work being done by Oliveros and his staff at Drawn & Quarterly to bring this title to an English-language audience is pioneering in its scope. Their attention to detail and high production values are evident in every aspect of this title, as well as they are in every title produced by Drawn & Quarterly. Their work is without peer in the comic-book publishing industry, and it is these standards and their uncompromising methodology that have cemented their status as a world-class publisher.

As the visual component of cultures all over the world becomes more and more prominent, the nature of how we approach editorial functions is rapidly changing. For an editor to succeed in the graphica industry, he or she must develop an editorial sense that can comprehend both textual and visual organization at the same time – an artistic sensibility of sorts. The illustrative syntax that is becoming more and more critical to the production and reception of comic books and graphic novels as a legitimate literary art form has developed into a language all its own, starkly different from that of the purely literary world. Children’s books have carried this inseparable combination of image and text for years now, and visual elements have made their way into more traditional novels as well; titles like Steven Hall’s The Raw Shark Texts, Rivka Galchen’s Atmospheric Disturbances, and Umberto Eco’s The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana also employ images, not solely as aesthetic flourishes, but as integral elements that push the story along in a manner that text alone could not do. Because of the accessibility and abundance of information on the Internet in recent years, even magazines have been forced to evolve along a more visual path. By adhering to more experimental and striking visual conceits, they can still provide something unique: an experience beyond text-based dialogue, one that represents a changing attitude toward the structure of language and visual presentation through intertextual dialogism, the idea that as we progress and incorporate more social context into our media consumption, we open up a greater forum for dialogue between the various forms of media. And as they have done since the 1940s, comic books and graphic novels represent a significant potential for growth in this area, one that affords our culture the opportunity to evolve creatively and in unexpected ways, to explore elements of foreign cultures that may not have been accessible previously, and to expand our definition of what editorial work entails in the face of a continuously evolving visual society.

 

 


NOTES

1 Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art (New York: Harper Perennial, 1994), p. 3. RETURN

2 John Bell, Invaders from the North: How Canada Conquered the Comic Book Universe (Toronto: The Dundurn Group, 2006), p. 18. RETURN

3 “William Hogarth,” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia, (Wikimedia Foundation Inc.), available from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Hogarth, accessed November 9, 2008. RETURN

4 “Rodolphe Topffer,” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia, (Wikimedia Foundation Inc.), available from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rodolphe_Topffer, accessed on November 9, 2008. RETURN

5 Bell, p. 21. RETURN

6 David Hajdu, The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008), p. 31. RETURN

7 Bell, p. 44. RETURN

8 Bell, p. 47. RETURN

9 “Tintin and Snowy,” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia, (Wikimedia Foundations Inc.), available from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tintin_and_Snowy#Tintin, accessed 9 November 2008. RETURN

10 Hajdu, p. 77. RETURN

11 Ibid, p. 92. RETURN

12 Ibid, p. 50. RETURN

13 Ibid, p. 209. RETURN

14 Ibid, p. 6. RETURN

15 Ibid, p. 304. RETURN

16 Ibid, p. 326. RETURN

17 “Franco-Belgian Comics,” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia, (Wikimedia Foundation Inc.), available from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franco-Belgian_comics, accessed 9 November 2008. RETURN

18 Ibid, p. 330. RETURN

19 Patrick Rosenkranz, Rebel Visions: The Underground Comix Revolution 1963–1975 (Seattle: Fantagraphics Books, 2008), p. 15. RETURN

20 Bell, p. 110. RETURN

21 Chris Couch, “The Publication and Formats of Comics, Graphic Novels, and Tankobon,” Image & Narrative, December 2000, available from http://www.imageandnarrative.be/narratology/chriscouch.htm, accessed September 27, 2008. RETURN

22 Yoshihiro Tatsumi, Abandon the Old in Tokyo (Montreal: Drawn & Quarterly, 2006), p. 197. RETURN

23 Yoshihiro Tatsumi, The Push Man and Other Stories (Montreal: Drawn & Quarterly, 2005), p. 5. RETURN

24 Bell, p. 124. RETURN

25 Bell, p. 124. RETURN

26 Ella Shohat and Robert Stam, “Narrativizing Visual Culture,” The Visual Culture Reader, ed. Nicholas Mirzoeff (London: Routledge, 1998), p. 55. RETURN

27 Alec Scott, “Editing Pictures,” Quill & Quire, April 1, 2007, available from http://www.quillandquire.com/news/article.cfm?article_id=7721, accessed September 27, 2008. RETURN

28 Sacha Jackson, “Setting Up Comic Shop: Drawn & Quarterly’s New Store on Bernard is a Multi-Purpose Space,” Montreal Mirror, October 18–24, 2007, available from http://www.montrealmirror.com/2007/101807/arts. html, accessed November 7, 2008. RETURN

29 Scott MacDonald, “Moving Pictures,” Quill & Quire, 1 April 2008, available from http://www.quillandquire.com/news/article.cfm?article_id=10034, accessed September 27, 2008. RETURN

30 Shaun Smith, “Drawn & Quarterly Opens Montreal Bookstore,” Quill & Quire, October 5, 2007, available from http://quillandquire.com/news/ article.cfm?article_id=8019, accessed September 27, 2008. RETURN

31 Tatsumi, The Push Man, p. 5. RETURN

32 Yoshihiro Tatsumi, Good-Bye (Montreal: Drawn & Quarterly, 2008), p. 7. RETURN

33 Tatsumi, The Push Man, p. 6. RETURN

34 Kai-Ming Cha, “Tatsumi’s Long Journey,” Publishers Weekly, August 1, 2006, available from http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA6358250.html, accessed on October 12, 2008. RETURN

35 Yoshihiro Tatsumi, A Drifting Life (Montreal: Drawn & Quarterly, 2009), p.820. RETURN

 


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