A STOMACH-DROPPING PARABLE crammed into a slim hardback graphic novel, James Sturm's Market Day distills anxieties about art and commerce, supporting a family, and how precarious life in a market economy can be.

The book opens on rug-maker Mendleman, as he hauls his cart of hand-woven rugs to the market to sell—his rugs have "16 ends per inch!," he proudly insists, not 12 ends like other rug makers. On the way, he marvels at the sunrise, tries to imagine using its colors in a rug; and later, mentally translates the clamor of vendors and shoppers into a rug pattern. (Sturm shows off a little on these full-page spreads, allowing the colors and geometries of reality to slowly bleed into Mendleman's rug designs.)

The rug-maker's optimism is shot, though, when he realizes that the vendor to whom he usually sells, a man known for selling quality products, has retired. Suddenly the market for Mendleman's rugs has disappeared—and with it, the means by which he'd planned to support his wife and imminent child.

Market Day is grim but not entirely joyless, and Sturm renders Mendleman's optimism and despair efficiently, in a palette of murky grays, greens, and browns. The ultimate question posed, though, is a heartbreaking one: What happens when the market has no room for beauty and care in craftsmanship—no room for "16 ends per inch"?