Written & Illustrated by James Sturm
Published by Drawn & Quarterly
James Sturm’s Market Day is my early favorite for Best of 2010, and it’s high on the short list for the best comic of the decade (whether ’10 marks the end or the beginning).
On the verge of becoming a father for the first time, Mendleman, a European Jewish rug weaver in the early part of the 20th century, packs up his meticulously hand-crafted rugs and travels to the marketplace to sell his wares. When he finds his most reliable buyer has retired, Mendleman searches vainly for another retailer who will appreciate the detailed and creative tapestries born from his loom.
Ultimately, a meditation on art versus commerce, Sturm’s Market Day allows readers inside the heart-crushing conflict between following one’s muse and the need to provide for oneself and one’s family. Deep and meditative, Market Day follows Mendleman into the depths of his soul, considering the allure of creativity, the burdens of family, and vice versa, the human connections needed to create great art.
Mendlemen confronts the harsh economic realities that people prefer to pay less for low-quality, mass-produced goods rather than receive a long-lasting, beautiful artistry for a premium cost. Mendleman’s pending fatherhood, an occasion filled with joy and white-knuckle terror, only underlines the tension between his attention to craft and his need to make a living. In slow, open passages, Sturm drives deep into Mendleman’s conflicted psyche, bringing internal turmoil out in simple captions accompanying austere images.
Carrying the narrative on his clean, understated illustrations, Sturm allows each page to breathe, using large panels to capture Mendleman’s solitude. The muted color palette also matches the protagonist’s internal mood, somber and reflective. Inspired by the photography of Roman Vishniac and Alter Kacyzne, Sturm captures a simple authenticity on each page, in the clothing, the postures, the bartering culture, leaving the reader with an indelible impression of having traveled with Mendleman on his market excursion.
Market Day is a powerful statement about the act of creation, the willful drive to bring something of value and importance into a coldly indifferent world. It’s heartbreaking and beautiful, drawn by a master of the form, brought to life against all odds because there are still important stories to tell. James Sturm knows, and shares his knowledge here. Read it, and be richer for it.