Capping off a big year at the house, noted indie Canadian graphic novel publisher Drawn & Quarterly announced an agreement with Canadian e-book retailer Kobo to release two acclaimed graphic works by cartoonist Chester Brown as e-books on the Kobo Vox tablet. The deal marks D&Q’s first digital venture. It is a nonexclusive deal and the books will be available for the holiday shopping season.

Long hailed as one of the best literary graphic novel publishers today, Drawn & Quarterly has not rushed into announcing a digital strategy for its list of highly regarded graphic titles. Now the publisher has teamed with Kobo to make its entry into digital delivery. D&Q/Kobo will release Chester Brown’s 2006 Harvey award-winning work of graphic nonfiction, Louis Riel: A Comic Strip Biography, a fictionalized biography of the 19th Century champion of French Canadian aboriginal people; and the controversial 2011, Paying For It: A Comic Strip Memoir About Being a John, a nonfiction account of his experiences with prostitutes. D&Q print titles are distributed by Farrar Straus Giroux.

D&Q publisher and editor-in-chief Chris Oliveros said that e-book proceeds will be split 50/50 between its authors and the publisher, citing rights recommendations from the Writers Union of Canada. “D+Q has always been an author-centric company, it is this ethos that has shaped us into who we are today,” Oliveros said, “it only seemed natural to offer the fairest proposition to our authors.”

While the first two titles will be released initially only on the Kobo Vox tablet device, D&Q associate publisher Peggy Burns said more devices will be added as well as more authors and titles in the coming year.

Like other literary graphic novel publishers such as Pantheon and Fantagraphics, D&Q is known for high production values and meticulous craftsmanship—not to mention equally picky authors—and many observers speculated about how long it would take D&Q to venture into digital releases. Burns said that they were impressed by Kobo and encouraged by Brown to move into digital.

“Many people assumed we would never do e-books,” Burns said, “we were open to the idea, but wanted to approach it cautiously.” Burns cited Brown for moving the digital effort forward. “This past fall, we had a fortuitous series of events that brought the project to the foreground. Chester voiced his desire for e-books, CBC Canada Reads shortlisted Louis Riel in its top-ten for its annual contest, and most importantly, fellow Canadian company Kobo inquired if we would consider e-books.”

Burns also noted the impact of the tablet devices which are much better at displaying comics than e-ink devices. Brown's comics are also black & white and “easier to translate to the digital readers,” she said. Kobo’s pitch was “very friendly and nonexclusive,” in addition, Kobo promotes the CBC Canada Reads titles. “They understood who we are and what is important to us. It all happened very organically which is how we prefer to do business,” she said.

This caps off a big year for D&Q. The indie house had five New York Times bestselling graphic novels, including Paying for It and Kate Beaton’s Hark! A Vagrant; two Publishers Weekly Best Books (Hark! A Vagrant! and Anders Nilsen’s Big Questions); and a New York Times magazine profile of cartoonist Lynda Barry. Beaton’s Hark! A Vagrant! is the fastest selling book in D&Q’s history with 55,000 copies in print after three printings and the house has inked more than 30 foreign rights deals for D&Q titles. And to top the whole year off, Dan Clowes’ Wilson was awarded the Eisner Award for the best graphic novel of 2011 (in an unusual tie with Archaia’s Return of the Dapper Men).