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May 8, 2015

Chris Oliveros Moves From Publisher Position At D&Q; Peggy Burns To Assume Publisher Role


In a move announced in their 25th anniversary volume but that also became part of a weekend Globe & Mail story that broke on the Internet Friday, the longtime arts-comics publisher Drawn and Quarterly announced that Chris Oliveros would be stepping into a contributing editor role from his longtime run as that company's publisher. Peggy Burns will assume the publishing position. Tom Devlin will become the company's executive editor.

The Globe & Mail story describes the development of the move as starting approximately a year ago when Oliveros approached Burns and Devlin with his desire to step into this newer, reduced role. Both Devlin and Burns told the Globe and Mail the offer came as a complete surprise.

imageOliveros' move into another role should certainly add some oomph to the company's 25th anniversary, including the debut of a massive, celebratory book this weekend. Burns joins a select group of women with the publisher title and/or those responsibilities under another name, including but certainly not limited to Jenette Kahn, Vijaya Iyer, Cat Yronwode and Deni Loubert. Burns' work on behalf of Drawn and Quarterly in terms of their publicity and marketing is widely admired within the comics industry, and is frequently cited as a key to the company's success from the middle of the last decade onward. Before moving to Drawn and Quarterly, Burns was employed by DC Comics.

imageOliveros ends an extremely distinguished run as the company's initial driving force and longtime steadying hand and repository of wisdom. A cartoonist himself, Oliveros carved a path in comics that favored a rising aesthetic for alt-comics divorced in many ways from the underground comics of the generation past. His initial books, most notably an anthology of the same name, set a high standard for art direction in service to these new comics. From there, Oliveros built a company around talents that were at least Canadian-centric: Julie Doucet, Maurice Vellekoop, Seth, Chester Brown (who ended up at the company after a long run with Vortex) and transplant Joe Matt. With that group of cartoonist as his bedrock, Oliveros' company landed California resident Adrian Tomine at a time when any number of publishers showed interest in the just-graduate-from-college comics-maker. The company eventually became one of the vanguard for publishing uncompromised literary-tone comics to a discerning adult audience. With Peggy Burns and then I believe slightly later Tom Devlin added to the fold, the company became a full-service boutique publisher and literary force: reintroducing readers to Lynda Barry and Tove Jansson, introducing audiences to manga authors like Yoshihiro Tatsumi, and publishing top-line comic strip reprints with high-end presentation that helped raise the standard of such books. They have very recently started to work with some of the best post-alternative talents, such as Jillian Tamaki, Kate Beaton and Lisa Hanawalt.

Critic Jeet Heer put it to CR succintly. "Simply put, Chris's achievements as a Canadian publisher are unprecedented."

Coming to terms with Oliveros' publishing run may be best left to the recent 25th anniversary volume. It's certainly a significant career with which to grapple. "The other day I was trying to come up with jokes on Twitter about which prominent authors would be writing about the wackiest comics from Drawn and Quarterly's past in their 25th Anniversary book -- something like 'Jonathan Lethem on The Flames of Gyro.' But it wasn't long before I realized that there is no Flames of Gyro for D&Q." Joe McCulloch laughed while speaking to CR. "Instead, there is a frightening continuity of aesthetic, developing from alt-weekly/autobio-type early '90s fare into that tremendous, patent appreciation for bygone cartoon and book design quality we all now unconsciously recognize as the D&Q feel." McCulloch noted that one reason for how D&Q developed the way it did was because of Oliveros' background as a comics-maker. "Maybe it's because Chris Oliveros is himself a cartoonist that this feels more like a vision's refinement than a publisher coping with resources, connections and trends, although obviously those were active agents, and obviously Oliveros did not operate alone. But such was the certainty to this publishing vision that more than once it upset the very trajectory of how reprints and translations of comics should be presented -- those long, detailed Jeet Heer Gasoline Alley books with the Chris Ware jackets; the whole Adrian Tomine/Yoshihiro Tatsumi experiment -- through what still feels like gale force of taste."

Heer, who worked on some of Drawn and Quarterly's best known historical reprints, in turn praised Oliveros in terms of comics history, publishing history and within the more specific realm of Canadian publishing. "Chris Oliveros is one of the most important comics publishers ever, indeed along with Gary Groth and Kim Thompson one of the few comics publishers that deserves to rank with figures like James Laughlin of New Directions," Heer told CR. "Chris built the single most important Canadian comics company ever, giving Canadian comics a distinctive art focus that sets them apart from the United States. Drawn and Quarterly is almost alone among Canadian publishers -- comics or non-comics -- in having an international profile and the vast majority of its sales outside Canada."

While D&Q has had a handful of critics over the years, some of that might be described as misapprehension based on how Canadian publishing works. In his note to CR, Heer directly addressed the idea the Drawn and Quarterly might have over-benefited over the years from government support. "It's notable that government grants are a much smaller part of D&Q's revenue stream -- less than 10 percent -- than that of most independent Canadian publishers, where 50 percent to 90 percent is the norm. So Chris has really created a new model for Canadian publishing, one that is not likely to be replicated."


A cartoonist associated for more than two decades with Drawn and Quarterly, Seth gave CR the following while heading out the door to TCAF. "Chris Oliveros has been the best publisher, friend and shepherd that an artist could ever want. I have been proud to be associated with him all these years. He gave me the tools and the opportunity to become the cartoonist I am today. I am happy to see him resume his career as a cartoonist himself -- since he is one of the very best." The cartoonist, whose Palooka-Ville has been with the publisher since 1991, noted some melancholy about the situation while looking forward. "I will miss him at the helm... as the Chief. But all that said, I have faith in Peggy Burns and Tom Devlin to continue steering the ship of D&Q excellently -- as they have been already doing for years anyway. End of an era. Business as usual. Hard to say which."

imageFor Heer, the future looks bright. "The fact that Chris is able to pass along his company to a new generation is also a rare achievement in Canada, where many small presses tend to be one-generation affairs. Prior to Chris, Canadian comics publishers tended to be flaky and eccentric: Dave Sim, Bill Marks. Chris created an actual company that will have a long life past his retirement."

Jog, like Seth, predicts more of the same. "As to the post-Oliveros D&Q, I would expect some acknowledgement of how useful this rare continuity can be among major small press publishers, which is to say probably no massive shifts. Burns & Devlin I already associate with D&Q's pursuit of younger cartoonists and applicable webcomics: Kate Beaton's Feifferian knockabout and Jillian Tamaki's hardsell vulnerability. Even the Rookie Yearbook project wasn't a million miles off from Lynda Barry's scrapbook manifestos. I would expect more in that direction, of the young and fitting, and if I have been coaxed, perhaps, into projecting these connections, trust that D&Q will remain at least an agent of persuasion."

Oliveros also plans to make more comics work of his own, beginning with a self-published version of The Envelope Manufacturer. The January 2016 release will be distributed by D&Q. The Globe and Mail article lists Oliveros' age at 48, indicating a significant amount of time left for a variety of projects: those from his own hands, and those from others.

We'll continue with full coverage on Monday. I'm sure there are details yet to be released.

posted 4:00 am PST | Permalink

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