Market Day by James Sturm was a book I picked up on a whim while passing time at Borders, and I'm glad I did. As I am still new to graphic novels, I had never heard of Sturm (though he seems to be a Big Deal in comics-land). But I really liked the premise of this book, and it was a pretty slim volume, so I picked it up.
Market Day is about Mendleman, a Jewish rug weaver living in Eastern Europe right around the Industrial Revolution. He is a dreamer who loves his art, but with a pregnant wife, he also feels a lot of pressure to provide for his family. He sets off one morning to the town for market day, taking eight rugs with him to sell at one of the most respected shops in town. However, when he arrives, his buyer no longer owns a shop, and the new shopkeeper refuses to buy his rugs. This sets Mendleman into despair, and we follow as he tries to find another buyer for his rugs in town and then further afield. As the day turns into night, Mendleman becomes more and more worried about his plight and how he will manage to balance his passion for high-quality workmanship with his need to provide for his family.
There is a lot more going on in the story than just quality vs. cost tug-of-war, which I greatly appreciated. While Sturm wrote this story about the struggle for art in a manufacturing world (as he details in an excellent interview), he also makes it about the inability of some artists to see beyond their work to basic needs. He makes it about the pressures faced by a new father who struggles to provide for his family. He touches on Jewish culture in Eastern Europe at the time. Sturm also implies that there may be a sequel in the works, showing how Mendleman's looming decisions pan out in the future. That would be fabulous to see.
Note: He also notes that his artwork here was influenced by the photography of Roman Vishniac. I Googled this photographer and really enjoyed sifting through his photos! I suggest doing the same :-)