By James Sturm
Drawn & Quarterly
“How would all of this come together as a single rug?” Mendleman asks himself, wandering through the bustling rows of his local market, in search of some place that might purchase the hand-woven goods slung over his should. At this moment, it becomes clear that Market Day is more than simply a story about a struggling craftsman in early 20th century eastern Europe. It’s the story of an artist—an allegory, really, for the seemingly perpetual struggle of the artist community. It’s a struggle which author James Sturm—and, likely nearly every other 21st century cartoonist—has no doubt grappled with at some point in his career.
The next two pages form a spread, in which the market’s bodies and buildings melt away, forming a rug pattern. Mendleman draws the inspiration for his craft from the world around him, and his reward is the admiration of his peers-it’s a currency that serves little use when there is a pregnant wife to support at home—one whose physical shortcomings assure that she’ll never be able to contribute meaningfully to the economic well-being of the couple’s growing family.
“Why bring life into this world?” Mendleman asks himself in another internal monolog. He’s a worrier by nature, a man who clearly lives much of his life in his own head, with distressing thought processes that intensify in quiet early morning walks to work. Such internalization monopolizes much of Market Day, which is largely split between Mendleman’s narration, and wordless atmospheric spreads as the rug maker travels from one unsuccessful sale to the next.
In Mendleman we find a sensitive soul in the grips of depression, as it becomes ever more painfully clear that the job he was clearly born to perform will never be enough. “I keep moving, to what end?” the rug maker asks himself, slouched over, with an unsold rug on each shoulder.
Sturm offers no solutions for his protagonist’s plight, only more walking. For a solitary man in search of council, there is symbolism in everything—hungry dogs, crooked fortunetellers—but answers in nothing. Sturm’s own storytelling is sparse—both visually and textually, and while he offers up the possibility of emotional reprieve in certain objects, they are quickly deconstructed by his pessimistic narrator, who moves forward until he can walk no more.
For a brief moment, another world opens up to Mendleman. On the way home from an unsuccessful market day, a group of men huddle around a fire beneath bridge. Men without obligations, it seems. Self-proclaimed artists who revel in drink and dirty jokes. It’s an opening into a world in which Mendleman no longer belongs, and thus his walking must commence.
In the end, Sturm refuses to tie up unraveled ends. It’s not his style. He does, however, offer his character the sunrise of another day. Sometimes that’s the best anyone can ask for.