The Envelope Manufacturer (Drawn & Quarterly)

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CREDIT: Drawn & Quarterly

Rating: 3.5/5 – A Thought-Provoking But Challenging Story.
By ComicSpectrum senior reviewer Shawn Hoklas.

Over twenty-five years ago, Chris Oliveros created a publishing company called Drawn and Quarterly. Back then it published a lone anthology magazine by the same name before branching out into more long form comics and graphic novels. Over the course of almost three decades, Drawn and Quarterly has published works by Chester Brown, Daniel Clowes, Chris Ware and more. Chris Oliveros was there for it all, until last year when he stepped away as publisher to focus in on his own project and the first is titled ‘The Envelope Manufacturer’.

Although originally deciding to self publish the first couple issues, a couple of setbacks delayed subsequent releases and Oliveros re-worked the book and decided to publish the story as a graphic novel with the company he founded so many years ago. The Envelope Manufacturer isn’t a joyous read, but it’s thought provoking and a challenging work as you decide just what’s real, and what may be the main character’s stressed and breaking mind. Mr. Cluthers owns a struggling envelope manufacturing facility that’s struggling to get by with out of date equipment, a staff of two, debt collectors calling incessantly and to top it all off, Cluthers has a wife who has had enough. Cluthers continues to believe that he’s on the verge of a break with more orders coming in, which he constantly reminds himself and his staff of, but they never do.

Adding to the weight of the struggling business, there’s also a fascination with suicide. It’s here that the book challenged me as I tried to understand just what Cluthers is seeing or thinking. In a particular scene, Cluthers is walking down the street while off panel, someone is yelling to ‘Jump’ off a building we never completely see. This theme carries throughout the book and is handled in different ways by Cluthers and also one of his staff, Herschel. There are also scenes where the art we’re shown has caption boxes pointing to someone off page, giving us a feeling of not being in control, much like the characters Oliveros is presenting to us. I think the story will challenge you, like it did with me, but it’s intentional and accomplishes the feelings the work is trying to evoke. That challenge may frustrate some readers as it did with me at times, but that is also what makes this book unique.

What made me pick this book up was the cover art. I love Oliveros’ style. Lots of short lines defining shadows and textures make up a majority of the art. The interiors are black and white which makes the blacks all that more defining. Looking at Oliveros’ machinery, you realize just how simple his art is, yet it has a complex and heavy feel to it. The machinery is old with cranks, buttons and knobs, but Oliveros uses simple shapes with lines and dashes to give it all a weighted mechanical feel. He uses six-panel pages for most of the square shaped book and zooms the camera in, again, giving an unclear picture at times of just what’s happening in the scene, also providing a skewed perspective. It mostly works, but it’s not easy and I could say that ultimately it’s somewhat rewarding. It’s exciting to see Oliveros’ first work, and because of his appealing style, I’m eager to see what he has in store next.

Reviewed by: Shawn Hoklas
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