Peggy Burns has watched Drawn & Quarterly grow right in front of her eyes. When she joined the company in 2003 it was a small local publisher of graphic novels with indie cred. Still, it was interesting enough for her to leave a job at DC Comics in New York. Since then, the Montreal publishing house has flourished into one of the most renowned comics companies in the world.
The Mile End storefront, Librairie Drawn & Quarterly, has also become a mainstay in the city. “You’ve seen it go from the comic book shop to the Mile End bookstore. And now you’ve seen it go from the Mile End bookstore to being the premier English bookstore in Quebec to being one of the leading bookstores in Canada,” says Burns, who recently assumed the role of publisher. We met with Peggy at the Drawn & Quarterly offices to get her art-infused take on what to see, do and eat in Montreal.
BILLY: Do you think there’s a “Montreal style” when it comes to artists here?
PEGGY BURNS: I do not. I think that the language of comics in Montreal is more sophisticated than it is in other cities such as Toronto or Chicago because of the French influence. You can get someone like Diane Obomsawin, a Quebecois cartoonist whose comics are all about coming out as a lesbian and drawn with animals. Or you can get Pascal Girard, who is from Quebec City, and his comics are totally influenced by American comedy. There’s just such a wide range.
Are there any Montreal artists or graphic novelists who you feel particularly drawn to recently?
Pascal Girard. We’ve published him. He has a dark sense of humour; he’s very Larry David. He did a graphic novel about our bookstore. It’s about a man – who is obviously Pascal – who meets his girlfriend because he sees her stealing his book from the store. But the twist is that we know his girlfriend – who looks just like he draws her. We just hired her to manage the store.
What other bookstores in Montreal do you like to visit?
I love Librairie Le Port de Tête. It is the French equivalent of Drawn & Quarterly. I like their sensitivity: the store is not that big, it’s mostly comics, they have a gorgeous kids section. It’s basically the one bookstore I go out of my way to visit.
Are there any other local art businesses that stand out for you?
My friend Kiva Tanya Stimac has a press called Popolo Press and she does the most gorgeous letterpress posters. If you go to the music venue and restaurant Casa del Popolo, if you go to La Sala Rosa – both of which she started with her partner – they have a distinct design sense. You’ll see her at all the Puces POPs and Expozines with her gorgeous, gorgeous aesthetic.
What’s your favourite museum or gallery in the city?
My favourite is the Canadian Centre for Architecture. I love it. It’s not too big, it’s not too small and I like the exhibits that they have there. As a mom, they always do a very fun Nuit Blanche family activity. One year that I went they had white Legos to build with.
What about smaller independent galleries?
My friend Billy Mavreas owns Monastiraki, a what’s-it-shop-slash-gallery. He has the best shows. You just know it comes from Billy’s taste and point of view. You know it’s going to be something unique, it’s not going to be following a trend. He is definitely one of my favourites because he knows his clientele. When you go to an opening at Monastiraki, Billy knows every single person in the store – their name, what their up to, and he’ll talk to everybody.
Arts lovers in Montreal have to eat, too. Where is your go-to breakfast place?
I love Nouveau Palais. Especially their hamburger. I like how the restaurant straddles the neighbourhood vibe. You can go after 9 PM and just have drinks and there’s a DJ, or you can bring your kid there for lunch and they’ll serve them a pasta dish. I like when businesses understand that there are so many different people who call Mile End home, that you’re not just there to serve the 20-somethings. A good business has something for everybody.
What about other restaurants?
Dépanneur le Pick Up is basically our office kitchen. We all really like the vegetarian pulled pork sandwich. I like the very relaxed-but-fast vibe there. It’s a lunch counter, so they realize they have to get you the lunch quickly, but you go in there and you can relax and enjoy yourself.
And I like La Sala Rosa for dinner. I tell people “you’ll walk right by it because they don’t have a sign out.” It’s a tapas restaurant with flamenco dancing on Thursday nights. My favourite thing to get is the fried goat cheese.
What about coffee: do you have a favourite cafe?
I go a little out of my way to get to Le Falco. It’s a Japanese coffee shop and not your cookie-cutter bisto-y vibe with subway tiles and things like that. It’s just unique.
If a friend is coming to town, what is your “must see” recommendation?
I would say Parc La Fontaine. It’s my favourite park to walk around and you can go to the cafe in the middle. I feel that’s a very French thing to do: go get a cappuccino or a beer in the middle of the park. I also like that you can go there whatever the season. I’ve tried the walk up Mont Royal the middle of the winter. If it’s icy you’re not getting anywhere. But at Parc La Fontaine you can go ice skating in the winter or you can go there in the summer and just walk around the water.
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly, 211 Rue Bernard Ouest, 514-279-2224
Librairie Le Port de Tête, 262 Avenue du Mont-Royal Est, 514-678-9566
Casa del Popolo, 4873 Boulevard St-Laurent, 514-284-3804
La Sala Rosa, 4848 Boulevard St-Laurent, 514-844-4227
Canadian Centre for Architecture, 1920 Rue Baile, 514 939 7026
Monastiraki, 5478 Boulevard St-Laurent, 514-278-4879
Nouveau Palais, 281 Bernard Ouest, 514-273-1180
Dépanneur le Pick Up, 7032 Rue Waverly, 514-271-8011
Le Falco, 5605 Avenue De Gaspé, 514-272-7766