Market Day
by James Sturm (Drawn & Quarterly, 2011)

James Sturm is an excellent artist. His artwork has always been clear and clean, making excellent use of shadow and light, with great lettering and fantastic use of open spaces to draw the eye in. As the head of Cartoon Studies in White Junction, Vt., it's safe to assume he's got a good grasp of how to create a visually beautiful tale. The problem, however, is not with the art but with the lackluster story it showcases.

A Jewish rug-maker named Mendlemen is taking his exquisitely hand-woven rugs to the market. The time is the early 1900s, the place is Eastern Europe. His wife, Rachel, is expecting their first child. Upon arriving at the market, he discovers the merchant to whom he used to sell his rugs is gone, replaced by a dealer who only sells cheap-knock-offs. As he wanders the marketplace in search of a merchant who will help him sell his rugs, he realizes that the industrial age, the arrival of which is imminent, has destroyed his trade. He wanders around lost, forced to accept low pay for all his hard work. He meanders home in a haze of consternation and worry about how he will provide for his growing family.

The art is dark, moody and evocative, and the story itself thoughtful in certain places, but overall the feeling of hopelessness is unredeemed by any greater message. It doesn't end so much as trail off. Even if the point is that idealism has been lost, that hard lessons have to be learned and compromises have to be made, there needs to be a resolution. The picture Sturm is attempting to draw concerns the displacement of tradesmen, a factor as relevant in today's economy as it was at the turn of the 19th century; unfortunately, the story itself doesn't really follow any real sort of plot, which leaves the excellent art rather stranded on its own in terms of carrying the weight of the story.

Market Day's greatest strength lies in its recognition of how market forces affect individual craftsmen, but does not really explore the issue beyond the event itself, falling short short of its reach in its attempt to humanize the message. I wouldn't not recommend Market Day, but I wouldn't expect too much from it, either.

review by
Mary Harvey

15 September 2012

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