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Books What’s next for Canadian publisher Drawn & Quarterly after making the Booker Prize long list?

Comic artist Nick Drnaso's Sabrina has made the longlist of the Man Booker Prize, Britain's most esteemed literary award.

Chester Alamo-Costello

Drawn and Quarterly, having outgrown its offices in Montreal, moved into a bigger space in the city’s Mile Ex neighbourhood in the summer of 2015. Three years later, the comic book publishers might consider making room for a larger trophy case.

On Monday it was announced that one of D&Q’s titles, Nick Drnaso’s Sabrina, had made the longlist of the Man Booker Prize, Britain’s most esteemed literary award, worth £52,500 to the winner. The surprise selection marks the first time a graphic novel has been nominated for the main fiction category of the Booker. The acknowledgement is a major breakthrough – for Chicago’s Drnaso, for the genre, and for D&Q, a beloved independent publisher and champion of graphic literature that has always punched above its weight.

“We actually don’t have a trophy case,” publisher Peggy Burns told The Globe and Mail in an e-mail from California. “We need to start shopping for one.”

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Indeed, D&Q also just nabbed a pair of prestigious Eisner Awards at Comic-Con in San Diego. Tom Gauld’s Baking with Kafka won for best humour publication, while Toronto’s Jillian Tamaki picked up her third Eisner for her collection of illustrated stories, Boundless.

But while those awards are an awfully big deal in the speech-balloon world, the higher-profile Booker nomination (let alone a win) will have an immediate impact on D&Q.

According to Burns, a second printing of Sabrina was already planned. Now, with the graphic novel one of the 13 finalists for the Booker, a third printing has been ordered to ensure that demand can be met. “We will reprint in North America, and we have the title in stock,” said Burns, who took over as D&Q publisher in 2015 when founder Chris Oliveros stepped down to focus on his own comics career. “We are working with our U.S. distributor Farrar, Straus and Giroux to know how many to print.”

Drawn & Quarterly's Mile End bookstore in Montreal.

Dealing with a Booker bump in sales is an enviable problem for an operation that began ever so humbly in 1990 but which is now considered by many to be the country’s premium independent press and the finest comics publisher in the world. Its unparalleled ranks of comic creators include Lynda Barry, Chester Brown, Julie Doucet, Seth, Danile Clowes, Lisa Hanawalt, Leanne Shapton and Art Spiegelman, the first comics artist to win the Pulitzer Prize, which he received for his groundbreaking 1991 bestseller Maus.

Sabrina, the raved-about masterwork from the Chicago cartoonist and illustrator Drnaso, is the story of a disappearance, set in a modern world full of conspiracy and devoid of personal interaction and responsibility. Among the dozen other longlisted works of fiction up for this year’s Booker is Warlight by Michael Ondaatje, who not only won the prize in 1992 for The English Patient, but, this month, earned a special “Golden Booker” as the best winner in the award’s 50-year history.

Asked about the impact of the Sabrina nomination, Burns noted the U.K.’s historical embrace of graphic novels but wished to see the format gain respect on this side of the Atlantic. “Hopefully, in North America, we will see less reticence in the mainstream press about how to approach graphic novels,” Burns said. “There’s a preconceived notion that graphic novels can only be reviewed alongside other graphic novels and that cartoonists can only be on stage with other comics people. The medium is treated like a genre, where all comics are alike, rather than as a medium with many genres.”

More genres would conceivably mean more award categories. D&Q is ready (and perhaps leading) that kind of evolution.

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Know of an unsung arts and culture hero who deserves wider acclaim? Send suggestions to bwheeler@globeandmail.com

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