February 7, 2010

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Drawn & Quarterly Showcase Book Two

Written by Pentti Otsamo, Jeffrey Brown, and Erik De Graaf
Illustrated by Pentti Otsamo, Jeffrey Brown, and Erik De Graaf
Drawn & Quarterly

Drawn & Quarterly's second entry in their yearly anthology features three stories this time, two by European artists and one by another Panel Patter favorite, Jeffrey Brown.

Unlike the Kevin Huizenga entry from the first volume, however, Brown's entry did not wow me nearly as much. Overall, I found this edition of the Showcase pretty disappointing, given the publisher's usual high quality of comics.

Otsamo's story leads off, about a boy who is completely out of place, with a mother who doesn't seem to notice. He's drawn into the stories of a group of girls obsessed with death, neighborhood bullies, and a creepy man who desperately wants a date. I wasn't engaged by the characters at all, and when Otsamo killed the cat, he'd lost me. (I am not a big fan of any story that kills animals without a good reason.) Everyone in the story wanders aimlessly, which is fine if I want to see them wander. In this case, I did not.

If you really, really like Dan Clowes' work, this might appeal to you, as that definitely shines through as an influence in style and artwork. However, Clowes is far more skilled at making you want to see how things work out in the inevitable tragic conclusion. Otsamo just wasn't able to do that for me.

I had high hopes for Jeffrey Brown's contribution, as I really like his body of work. I was also looking forward to seeing something new, as his other anthology pieces came from books I'd read and this one appeared to be brand new to me. Unfortunately, this is not his best piece, and I hope that folks who've only seen him in this anthology will give him another try somewhere else. The story doesn't really go anywhere, centering around a strange truck driver who may have killed a little girl, but no one cares when Jeffrey (or at least his avatar) tries to make a big deal about it. It's meshed with dream sequences and some cruel actions by his friends and in the end, I think there's just too many things going on for such a small space.

It doesn't help that Brown's art on this one is not his best. Limbs are often deformed, his fingers made me wince, and backgrounds are all but non-existent. I've read enough Brown to see his art evolve over time, and he's definitely come a long way. This story, however, doesn't do him justice at all.

Eric De Graaf's story is the best of the three, and also the shortest. A young boy can't wait to see his grandparents in the country, especially their farm animals. The problem is that he's just a bit too attached, and when the inevitable happens to a rabbit, only a lie can save the day. I remember how hard it was for my dad to raise rabbits, because I kept naming them, so I was able to form a connection to the characters immediately. I wish this had been the longer feature story, as I think it was far stronger than the other two.

As befits the story, De Graaf's artwork evokes a children's book, with long, flowing lines that come together to form shapes that define the characters. It's an open-ended style that's quite different from Brown or Otsamo. I'd definitely be interested in reading more from him.

I know anthologies can be hit and miss, but this one whiffed pretty badly for me overall. While I like the publisher and some of the artists involved, something feels off about the Showcase series, at least so far. I have 4 and 5, so I'll see what happens after I read them. Overall, I'd have to say that it's probably okay to give Drawn & Quarterly Showcase Book Two a pass.