Before I started out as a comics publisher with Reprodukt in 1991, I was an avid reader of American “New Comics” of the generation of Los Bros Hernandez, Peter Bagge, Daniel Clowes. Following what was going on in the American comics scene at the time, I was struck by the first two issues of Chris Oliveros’ first version of the “Drawn and Quarterly” comics magazine. It was not as perfect as what Françoise Mouly and Art Spiegelman were doing in “RAW” magazine, not as far-out or deeply rooted in American alternative culture, society and cultural heritage as what Robert Crumb and Aline Kominsky were presenting in “Weirdo”. But still, the mix of personal and appealing stories, clear artwork and concept that Chris realized in “D&Q” was inspiring to me in the sense that it was something I felt I could translate into the environment of the German comics scene – it was much more universal in approach than what other US comics publishers were doing. In the end, I never got to publish a German comics magazine, but what both Fantagraphics and a bit later Drawn and Quarterly were doing, inspired me to do the translations of many of their artists work.
Reprodukt started out with publishing “The Death of Speedy” and “Blood of Palomar“ by Gilbert and Jaime in German language, soon followed by Daniel Clowes’ “Like a Velvet Glove cast in Iron” and “Dirty Plotte” – Julie Doucet’s idea for a German translation of a first collection of her early stories for “Dirty Plotte” was “True Housekeeping Comics” which then came to become “Wahre Haushaltscomics”. For me, the interest in the new alternative American comics was always a social curiosity. I was curious what sort of people were responsible for this kind of comics that in a way seemed to mirror my own perception of life and experiences: so I went to visit Gilbert and Jaine in Oxnard, Dan in Berkely and in 1994, I went to meet Chris and Julie Doucet in Montréal.
After following “Yummy Fur” into the strange and surreal inner landscapes of the mind of Chester Brown, it was Julie’s “Dirty Plotte” that struck me as the most powerful of the new comic book series at Drawn and Quarterly. The strength of Julie’s drawings in combination with the inventiveness and playfulness of both her stories and art, appeared strikingly new and unexpected. So it was especially great to publish a first book of her in German in 1994. When she moved to Berlin for two years we started a short-lived series called “Schnitte” featuring beautiful new cover artwork and a couple of short stories that also appeared in later issues of “Dirty Plotte”.
Reprodukt was still more of an alternative project then, a means to publish the comics I loved most, more an idea I wanted to follow than a means of making a living. Following Julie’s work we translated Geneviève Castrée, Debbie Drechsler, Adrian Tomine and many other cartoonists that were previously published by D&Q. In the middle of the nineties we tried to publish German comics artists in “pamphlets”, similar to the alternative comic book series in the US, based on real life experiences of the artists – Andreas Michalke and Minou Zaribaf on “Artige Zeiten”, Markuss Golschinski on “Krm Krm”. This was followed by opening up to French artists like Jean-Christophe Menu, David B., Killoffer and finally Lewis Trondheim from L’Association. Lewis’ “La mouche” became a big success, later followed by “Approximate Continuum Comics”. Much like in America the audience for pamphletes and autobiographical inspired comics seemed to run dry a bit, which lead to new formats.
The arrival and success of “Persepolis” and “graphic novels” in general changed the landscape after some difficult years. While Drawn and Quarterly reinvented itself with the appearance of Peggy Burns and Tom Devlin, the pool of talent was suddenly widened and the marketing became a bigger and much more important part of the publishing business. In a similar vein we opened the program to full color comics from the new French generation of comics artist: Christophe Blain, Joann Sfar & Lewis Trondheim’s “Donjon” and Manu Larcenet’s “Le combat ordinaire” became part of our portfolio. Following the relative success of the more popular series, we became more professional in terms of distribution into book stores, a newly arrived staff of sales people (that basically made their living from working for bigger literature publishers. Not unlike Drawn and Quarterly working with a bigger network of people means working and planning much more in advance to prepare the market for upcoming books.
Pretty much at the same time as D&Q we started releasing Guy Delisle’s reportage comics in German language which since then became the core of our success, followed by copying Tove Jansson’s “Moomin” series – in D&Q mastermind Tom Devlin’s layout – which proved to become a bestselling series as well. Long since we’ve started out with translating US comics into German we’ve grown our own profile. European (mostly French) comics make up for most of our program for many years, along with German and Austria based artists like Arne Bellstorf, Aisha Franz, Sascha Hommer, Line Hoven, Nicolas Mahler, Mawil or Barbara Yelin – most of which have been translated into English at one place or other.
Perhaps what is new in our generation of publishers is that we chose publishing comics exactly for that reason, unlike many others comic book publishing companies that run comics alongside children books, products aimed at youth or alternative culture, movie industry or any other. We chose publishing comics because we love comics – and with D&Q you can easily see the passion from the quality of their product – not just the art or the content. As for Reprodukt: We keep on translating books from D&Q like the new albums by Geneviève Castrée, Daniel Clowes, Adrian Tomine and many others though, Sarah Glidden being the newest to the list.
The vision and taste of Chris Oliveros remains a standout for publishing comics worldwide – and at Reprodukt we are both happy and proud for sharing ways – very far away in miles while very close in thoughts and ideals – for almost 25 years already.
[2015 marks the 25th anniversary of Canadian publisher Drawn and Quarterly. This essay was originally requested for the occasion in October 2014 and will be published in edited form in May 2015 in “Drawn & Quarterly: 25 Years of Contemporary Cartooning, Comics and Graphic Novels”]