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D+Q at SPX 2013!

Updated September 6, 2013


Drawn & Quarterly is proud to announce our lineup of signings and panels at SPX 2013, taking place Saturday September 14 and Sunday September 15 in the Marriott North Bethesda Hotel and Convention Centre. We will be there with a whopping eight authors - Peter Bagge, Lisa Hanawalt, Rutu Modan, Anders Nilsen, Brian Ralph, Seth, Adrian Tomine, and Dan Zettwoch, so come on out!

SATURDAY SEPTEMBER 14
==========
11:30 - 1 pm Anders Nilsen signing
12 - 2 pm Adrian Tomine signing
1 - 3 pm Lisa Hanawalt signing
2 - 3 pm Life After Hate in the White Oak Room, featuring Peter Bagge!
2 - 3 pm Brian Ralph signing
3 - 4 pm Seth signing
3 - 4:30 pm Peter Bagge signing
3:30 - 4:30 pm Rutu Modan Q+A in the White Flint Auditorium!
4 - 5 pm Brian Ralph signing
4:30 - 6 pm Rutu Modan signing
5 - 6 pm Seth Q+A in the White Oak Room!
5 - 6 pm Dan Zettwoch signing
5:30 - 6:30 pm Carousel in the White Flint Auditorium, featuring Lisa Hanawalt and Anders Nilsen!
6 - 7 pm Illustration as Profession and Practice in the White Oak Room, featuring Adrian Tomine
6 - 7 pm Seth signing
9:30 pm Ignatz Award ceremony! Make sure to have cast your ballots!

SUNDAY SEPTEMBER 15
==========
12 - 1 pm Rutu Modan signing
12:30 - 2 pm Seth signing
1 - 2 pm What Makes Drawings Funny? in the White Oak Room, featuring Peter Bagge and Lisa Hanawalt!
1 - 2 pm Adrian Tomine signing
2 - 3 pm Peter Bagge and Lisa Hanawalt signing
3 - 4 pm For Kids/Not For Kids in the White Oak Room, featuring Rutu Modan and Brian Ralph!
3 - 4 pm Adrian Tomine signing
3 - 4:30 pm Anders Nilsen signing
4 - 5 pm Paying Tribute: Traditions of Style in the White Oak Room, featuring Seth!
4 - 5 pm Brian Ralph and Rutu Modan signing

Be sure to check out the full list of panels and participants on the SPX site!


 

Featured artists

Seth
Rutu Modan
Peter Bagge

          



  Canada Writes talks to Peggy Burns

Updated June 5, 2013


Caption This Comic Judge: Peggy Burns from Drawn & Quarterly

Canada Writes, June 3, 2013

Meet the judge of the Caption This Comic Challenge: Peggy Burns, the Associate Publisher of Drawn & Quarterly who has been keeping fanboys in check for over 10 years.

CW: What changes have you seen in the genre and the publishing side of the business since you started first at DC Comics, and then at Drawn & Quarterly?

PB: I started in comics in 2000 right before Persepolis, Jimmy Corrigan and David Boring transformed the entire industry for graphic novels. Over the past ten years, I have witnessed less of a reliance on stunts "let's review comics because there's a new Spiderman movie!" and comparisons "if you like Fun Home, you'll love this." Everyone from retailers to fans to press to librarians to professors now understand the depth and variety of the medium, and most importantly, that is it a medium with many genres.

CW: What characteristics make a manuscript jump out of the slush pile?

PB: We never, ever read scripts. We like to read fully formed comics. We mostly prefer to see mini-comics or pamphlets to truly read the cartoonist's storytelling abilities. For us the art and the words are one, and reading a script gives us no idea if we will like a comic. Most of the submissions that come to the office aren't in tune with our mission, it is more like the artist got out name off a website of comic publishers. We have published submissions, though, notably from Keith Jones of Toronto and Brecht Evens of Belgium. And reactions to their submissions were immediate. We received the package, opened it, were completely floored by their ability and immediately made plans to publish them. Otherwise, we rely on shows like TCAF in Toronto, Expozine in Montreal and SPX in Bethesda MD to look for new artists with new minicomics. (Minicomics are self-published comics, similar to zines.)

CW: You work with a lot of well-known comics artists. Are they different from other people? Is there any truth to the “comic-book-nerd” stereotype?

PB: Maybe in mainstream comics, you'll find a lot of Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons, but not in independent comics. You may be surprised to know how well adjusted and fashionable our artists are! It is true that cartoonists would rather just be working, and it is hard for them to be away from their drawing tables for a long period of time. And because they are often alone most of the day, we do often have to convince them to come out to do events, tours, festivals and press. I do think our artists turn down invitations more often than not!

CW: What is it that you love most about your job?

PB: I have been at D+Q for ten years, and I feel honored to be able to promote the work of the world's best cartoonists. The best thing is just being wowed every time you read a comic. I just read Palookaville 21 by Seth. Seth has been mostly working in fiction recently but this time, he shares stories from his youth, and you can see how his upbringing affects his art, which is similar to the book we just published by Gilbert Hernandez, Marble Season, but in opposite directions. Reading the comics just never, ever fails to knock you off your feet. Last Fall, I read an advance of our February 2013 graphic novel Susceptible by Genevieve Castree and I was sincerely moved by Genevieve's ability to tell her childhood story with a gentle and humorous yet serious touch, a careful balance not many authors can do with memoirs. Maybe the best example of being able to still be awe-struck is Building Stories by Chris Ware.
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Featured artists

Seth
Gilbert Hernandez
Genevičve Castrée

           Featured products

Palookaville 21
Susceptible




Spanish-language review of The GNBCC in the Periódico de Libros

Updated April 4, 2013


[English to Follow]

Cristian Soler
Periódico de Libros, February 2013

"La edad de oro de los comics"

En The G.N.B.C.C. un narrador anónimo, que por su figura y parecido bien podría ser un álter ego del propio Seth, realiza un recorrido por una enorme construcción que data de 1935 y que está ubicada en la calle Milverton. Este edificio es la sede de The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonist, que en espańol podría traducirse como “La gran fraternidad de caricaturistas canadienses del norte” y de la que el narrador es socio, por lo que su historia es una invitación a conocer cada rincón de esta construcción y a apreciar los tesoros que en ella se encuentran a la vez que se descubre la historia de los comics en Canadá.

El edificio en el que funciona esta fraternidad de caricaturistas cuenta entonces con una serie de espacios que por sí mismos relatan una historia y que poco a poco el narrador también ayuda a develar. De esta forma el lector pasa por el lobby, decorado con lámparas de estilo art deco y murales dibujados por algunos caricaturistas socios del club, conoce los salones en los que se celebraban fiestas bastante concurridas, visita las galerías en las que cuelgan los retratos de los caricaturistas que han pertenecido a esta fraternidad y también entra a las habitaciones que el club disponía para que sus socios pudieran vivir y trabajar en sus obras. Pero sobre todo el lector conoce a los personajes de las caricaturas, aquellos que dan sentido a la fraternidad y que se convierten en la razón de ser de los autores.

żPero cómo es posible que exista una institución de esta naturaleza? Como lo informa el narrador, Canadá fue el único país que a inicios del siglo veinte tuvo como política cultural incentivar las caricaturas y apoyar a aquellas personas que vivían de producirlas. De hecho, la sede que el narrador nos está mostrando en Dominion, es solo una de las cuatro sedes que la fraternidad de caricaturistas canadienses tuvo, siendo las otras las de Winnipeg, Montreal y Toronto. Igualmente, en un intento por preservar la historia de las caricaturas, se construyó una especie de Fortaleza de la Soledad (cfr. Superman), un archivo con toda la historia de las caricaturas canadienses en un edificio inspirado en los iglús y que está ubicado en un lugar frio y remoto. Y era tal el apoyo a las caricaturas, según cuenta esta historia, que los personajes de los comics aparecían cada ańo en los desfiles que se celebraban, igualmente los autores eran figuras públicamente reconocidas a las que se les citaba frecuentemente en los periódicos y que eran invitados a toda serie de eventos como entregas de premios culturales o galas de beneficencia.

Sin embargo, como es frecuente en la obra de Seth, hay también en esta historia un elemento de nostalgia. Al recorrer los salones en los que se celebraban las fiestas nos damos cuenta de que en ellos ya casi no se celebran eventos a no ser que hayan sido alquilados para conciertos o matrimonios. Casi todos los antiguos socios del club han muerto y los nuevos ya no visitan este lugar, la casa tiene seńales de deterioro y falta de mantenimiento y algunas de sus esculturas han sido víctimas del vandalismo. Las máscaras de los personajes de caricaturas más famosos que se usaban en los desfiles se encuentran guardadas en un cuarto, cubiertas de polvo. Finalmente, la sede que recorremos en el pueblo de Dominion, es la última sede de la fraternidad ya que las otras han sido cerradas. La edad de oro de las caricaturas parece haber terminado y lo que estamos presenciando en este libro es entonces un recuento realizado por alguien que conoce esta historia, un caricaturista pero sobre todo un lector de comics.

En el prólogo escrito por Seth se nos informa que esta historia nació de su cuaderno de bocetos, poco a poco él fue llenando los vacíos entre los diferentes dibujos y narrativas que se venían desarrollando y le fue dando forma al libro. Sin embargo en el producto final se puede ver que, si bien el recorrido por la sede de la fraternidad le da unidad a la historia, este recorrido no es más que una excusa para introducir toda una serie de narrativas y explorar varios temas y géneros que son del interés de Seth. Así, en la historia de las caricaturas canadienses, el autor incluye elementos que son tanto reales como ficticios: los nombres de los autores que Seth menciona como miembros del club y sus obras son en su mayoría una invención, sin embargo entre ellos también se encuentran algunos caricaturistas que realmente existieron, tal es el caso de Doug Wright a quien el narrador le dedica varias páginas para discutir su admiración por una de sus creaciones, Nipper, una historia enfocada en las dificultades de la infancia y la vida familiar y que poco a poco se convirtió no solo en una representación de la cultura canadiense sino también de sus paisajes. Igualmente aparece ChesterBrown, amigo personal de Seth y caricaturista canadiense, que en esta obra es mencionado como uno de los pocos ganadores del Journeyman, el máximo galardón entregado por la G.N.B.C.C. al mejor caricaturista de una década.

Las caricaturas que se discuten en este libro, igualmente en su mayoría una invención de Seth, tienen como eje común que de una u otra manera discuten o problematizan elementos de la cultura canadiense a la vez que hacen un recorrido por varios géneros narrativos. Kao-Kuk, por ejemplo, es una historia que recuerda a las óperas espaciales que se escribían a mediados del siglo XX, sin embargo en este caso el astronauta es un esquimal, alguien que en las soledades del espacio ha encontrado un lugar bastante parecido a su hogar. Otra caricatura que se menciona es la de Canada Jack, personaje cuyas cualidades lo hacen similar a los superhéroes creados durante la Segunda Guerra Mundial para incentivar el patriotismo, siendo el Capitán América otro ejemplo. En esta caricatura ficticia, que es descrita como una obra que muy seguramente fue producida por un amateur, el héroe rompe varias de las reglas del género de superhéroes imperante en esa época: se hace preguntas existenciales, discute sobre la construcción de carreteras e interactúa con una versión mal interpretada de Snoopy, el perro que aparece en Peanuts, la caricatura escrita y dibujada por Charles Schulz.

Una de las caricaturas que se discuten en este libro, dibujada por un tal Henry Pefferlaw, llama bastante la atención en cuanto serviría como espejo para entender el resto de la obra. El narrador nos cuenta que Pefferlaw, antes de desaparecer misteriosamente, dibujó una obra llamada The Great Machine (La gran máquina), una caricatura en la que un hombre que acaba de comprar un edificio abandonado por varios ańos descubre al recorrerlo que en cada una de sus habitaciones se encuentran diferentes maquinas extrańas y cuya utilidad no es del todo conocida. The Great Machine es calificada por el narrador como una obra experimental, bastante descriptiva y que parece casi un catálogo, igualmente es comparada con trabajos como “La colonia penitenciaria” de Kafka o la Máquina del tiempo de H.G. Wells. żSe podría, por lo tanto, entender al libro de Seth, The G.N.B.C.C, de la misma manera que The Great Machine, como una máquina narrativa, como una experimentación formal? Al igual que Seth o que el ficticio Pefferlaw, el escritor francés Raymond Roussel en su novela Locus Solus cuenta la historia de un científico que ofrece un recorrido a varios de sus compańeros por sus dominios en los que a cada momento se encuentran con una serie de máquinas e inventos extrańos. La descripción y la explicación en esta novela experimental dan siempre paso a realizar juegos con el lenguaje y su sonoridad; esto es de cierta manera lo mismo que realiza Seth y su ficticio Pefferlaw en The G.N.B.C.C, los catálogos de autores y narrativas le permiten jugar con diferentes géneros y estilos, reinterpreta las convenciones del cómic a la par que cuenta su historia a lo largo del siglo XX.

Al final del recorrido queda flotando, sin embargo, una pregunta: żes cierto que hubo un momento en la historia de Canadá en el que las caricaturas y quienes las hacían jugaron un papel central en la sociedad? Al parecer esto que el narrador nos había dicho al principio es, al igual que el pueblo ficticio de Dominion, una metáfora para contar algo que si bien no es cierto tiene algo de verdad. Hoy en día los comics son vistos como un mero entretenimiento popular, algo que sólo les puede interesar a adolescentes gordos, con gafas gruesas y la cara cubierta de acné, tan tímidos, tan torpes en cualquier interacción social que deben esconderse detrás de revistas que cuentan maravillosas aventuras de hombres musculosos y con superpoderes que salvan el planeta a la par que rescatan a hermosas doncellas. Sin embargo todo aquel que reniegue de estas aventuras, que las vea como demasiado ingenuas o simplonas, difícilmente puede negar el hecho de que sus primeros hábitos de lectura se dieron cuando esperaba el periódico de la mańana para leer las aventuras de Mafalda, de Snoopy y Charlie Brown, de Calvin y Hobbes o de Olafo el amargado; de que en algún momento compró en un supermercado las revistas de Condorito o que se dejó llevar a diferentes lugares del planeta siguiendo las peripecias de Tintín y su perrito Milú. Es probable, por lo tanto, que ese momento en el que las caricaturas jugaron un papel importante en la sociedad sí se haya dado pero no se encuentre en Canadá sino en algún lugar cercano a la infancia.




"The Golden Age of Comics"

In The G.N.B.C.C, an anonymous narrator, who by his figure and looks seems to be an alter ego of Seth himself, journey through a huge construction, built in 1935 and that is located in Milverton Street. This building is the headquarter of The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonist, of which the narrator is a member; Thus, this story is an invitation to know each corner of this building and see all the treasures that are found in it while at the same time one discovers the history of Canadian cartoons.

The building in which this brotherhood functions has, therefore, several spaces, each one with their own stories and which are also told with the help of the narrator. In this way the reader gets to know the entrance and the figures of several cartoon characters engraved in it, the lobby, decorated with an art deco lamp and with large murals designed by some old members of the brotherhood; he also gets to know dance rooms and the bars, which held crowded meetings and several parties, he visits the galleries with the portraits of the Canadian cartoonists that were part of this club and enters to the rooms that the brotherhood had so that the cartoonists could live and work in their stories. But, above all, the reader gets to know the cartoon characters, the ones that give a sense and a reason of being to this brotherhood and to the authors.

But how it is possible for such an institution to exist? As the narrators explain, Canada was the only country that at the beginning of the twentieth century had a cultural politic of supporting and promoting cartoons and the people that was involved in their production. In fact, the headquarter of the Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists that the narrator is touring in Dominion is only one of other three, which are located in Winnipeg, Montreal and Toronto. Also, for the sake of preserving the history of cartoons, a kind of Fortress of solitude was built (cf. Superman), an archive with a comprehensive material of the history of Canadian comics in a building inspired by the igloos and which is located in a remote and cold place. And was the support of cartoons so great, according to this story, that every year the most famous and important characters of Canadian cartoons appeared in an annual parade, likewise the authors were renown figures whose opinions were printed in newspaper and who were invited to public events such as cultural awards ceremonies or charity dinners.

However, as it is common in Seth’s work, nostalgia is a common element throughout the entire story. When we go through the dance rooms in which great parties were held we notice that nowadays they are not used for gatherings of Canadian cartoonists, instead, they are rent for events such as rock concerts or marriages. Almost all of the old members of the club are dead and the new ones no longer visit this place, the house shows visible signs of deterioration and lack of maintenance and some of the sculptures are victims of vandalism. The masks of the most famous cartoon characters that were used for the parades are kept in a room, covered with dust. Finally, the headquarter that we are touring in Dominion is the last one of the brotherhood for the others were closed. The golden age of comics seems to have arrived to an end and what we are seeing in this book is, therefore, an account of this past made by someone that was pretty close to this story, a cartoonist but, above all, a comic reader.

The introduction, written by Seth, states that this story comes from several ideas and drawings he had in his sketchbook, little by little he started to fill the gaps between the drawings and the different narratives that he was developing and gave an unitary form to the book. But in this final stage it is possible to see that, even though the journey through the Brotherhood’s building gives a unitary sense to the story, this journey is more like an excuse for Seth to explore and introduce different narratives and genres that are of his interest. In this sense, in the history of Canadian cartoons, the author includes several elements that are both, real and invented: most of the cartoonists that Seth mentions as members of this brotherhood and their works are invented, but among them there are also some people that existed or exists. That is the case of Dough Wright, to whom the narrator dedicates several pages for discussing one of his creations, Nipper, a history focused in the difficulties of childhood and family live and that was not only a representation of Canadian culture but also of its landscapes, becoming a praise of nature’s beauty. Likewise, in this story appears ChesterBrown, a Canadian cartoonist and personal friend of Seth, which is mentioned in this book as one of the few recipients of the Journeyman, the greatest award given by the G.N.B.C.C. to the best cartoonist of a decade.

The cartoons that are discussed in this book, in most of the cases an invention of Seth, have as a common feature that they discuss or problematize certain elements of Canadian culture while at the same time they make a journey through several genres. Kao-Kuk, for example, is a story that recalls the space operas written during the decade of the 50’s, nevertheless in this specific case the astronaut is an Eskimo, someone that has found in the vast solitude of space a place similar to his home. Another cartoon that is mentioned is Canada Jack, a character whose characteristics make him similar as those superheroes created during World War II in order to stimulate the patriotism among the citizens, being Captain America a good example of this phenomenon. In this fictional cartoon, which is described as a work probably produced by an amateur, the main character breaks several rues of the superhero genre of its time: he asks himself existential questions, discusses lengthy about road construction and interacts with a bad interpretation of Snoopy, the famous character created by Charles Schulz.

One of the cartoons that is discussed in Seth’s book, supposedly drawn by a certain Henry Pefferlaw, calls very much the attention as it works as a mirror that could allow the reader to understand better the entire work. The narrator tells he reader that Pefferlaw, before disappearing mysteriously, draw a cartoon called The Great Machine in which a man, who has bought a building abandoned for several years, discovers that in several rooms there are different and strange machines whose utility is not known. The Great Machine is described by the narrator as an experimental work, really descriptive and that seems to be almost a catalogue; likewise it is compared with literary works such as Kafka’s “In the Penal Colony” or The Time Machine by H.G. Wells. Is it possible to say, then, that one can understand Seth’s book, The G.N.B.C.C, in the same way as The Great Machine, as a narrative artifact, as a formal experimentation? Just as Seth or the fictitious Pefferlaw, the French writer Raymond Roussel tells in his novel Locus Solus the story of a scientist that offers to some guests a journey through his dominions, in this journey they will encounter a great number of strange machines and inventions. Thus, the description and explanation in this experimental novel turn into a play with language and its sonority; that is what, in a certain sense, Seth and his fictitious Pefferlaw are attempting in The G.N.B.C.C, the catalogues of authors, of machines and characters allow a play with different genres and styles, they give way to a reinterpretation of some comic conventions while at the same time they tell the history of Canadian cartoons throughout the twentieth century.

Nevertheless, at the end of the journey through the building of The G.N.B.C.C. still remains one question: Is it true that there was a time in Canada’s history when cartoons and their authors played a central role in society? It seems that what the narrator told us at the beginning of the story is, just as the fictitious town of Dominion, a metaphor to show something that, even though it didn’t happen, has a certain element of truth. Nowadays comics are regarded by many people as a popular entertainment, something that could only be interesting to fat teenagers, with big glasses and the face full of acne, so shy, so clumsy in their social interactions that they hide themselves behind magazines that tell the story of strong en with superpower that save the planet and at the same time rescue beautiful girls that fell in love with them. However, all those who complaint of these stories, who regard them as simple or naďve, could hardly deny the fact that their first reading habits were developed when he waited every morning for the newspaper to arrive in order to follow the adventures of Mafalda, Snoopy and Charlie Brown and Calvin and Hobbes; that there was a time in which they travel throughout the world following the great deeds of Tintin and his little dog Milu. Hence it is really possible that the time in which comics and cartoons played a certain role in society indeed happened, but it didn’t take place in Canada but somewhere near childhood.

 
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Featured artist

Seth

           Featured product

The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists




  CBC Books profiles Drawn and Quarterly

Updated January 15, 2013


Why Drawn & Quarterly is thriving despite tough times for publishers
Thursday, December 6, 2012
First aired on The Sunday Edition (11/25/12)

At the Montreal corner of St. Urbain and Bernard in the early 1990s, the rent was cheap and the neighbours were cool. From his flat on the second floor, Chris Oliveros started a small hand-made magazine. He wanted the comic strips that he and his friends drew to find a larger audience. At his kitchen table, he put together the first issues of Drawn & Quarterly. That was 23 years ago. Now, Drawn & Quarterly is the hottest publisher of graphic novels in the English-speaking world.

At a time when the future of the book itself is in question, and many independent publishers struggle to stay afloat, Drawn & Quarterly is thriving. David Gutnick produced this lovely documentary about Drawn & Quarterly's, ahem, colourful history and its current success for The Sunday Edition.

It all started in 1989, in Oliveros's cheap second-floor flat in Mile End. By day, Oliveros worked as a bike courier. By night, he read comics and hung out with his cartoonist friends, sharing work and filling notebooks with illustrated anecdotes from their lives. They were prolific, but they had no audience except each other. The comics being published were about Archie or Marvel superheroes, and there seemed to be no place for comics about the day-to-day lives of humans outside Riverdale (the setting of Archie comics). Then Oliveros had an epiphany: why not become a publisher himself?

"I wanted to start a comics anthology that would come out quarterly — hence the title Drawn & Quarterly — and I got a loan from my father to print this first issue," Oliveros said. "In the early days it was on the kitchen table because that was before computers...you would send everything to the printer and they would have these giant cameras to photograph artwork. So a lot has changed in the ensuing 23 years."

Chris kept his day job, but spent more and more time figuring out how the comic-book industry worked. He had never thought of himself as a businessman, but he started nosing around comic-book fairs, learning about distribution and markets. His instinct told him that his little quarterly magazine could become something much bigger.

His instinct was right. French-speaking Quebeckers have a long tradition of spending plenty of money on comics like Asterix and Tintin, and talking about beautifully published comics as if they're art. With Drawn & Quarterly, Oliveros has brought that respect for the medium to English Canada as well.

But Drawn & Quarterly's growth from quarterly comics zine to full-fledged publishing house and bookstore didn't happen overnight. "While I was searching for material for this magazine I ended up meeting other cartoonists, like Seth, and it turned out that many of them actually were just starting to do longer works that wouldn't fit into a magazine," said Oliveros. Seth had a comic book he was just starting called Palookaville and he was looking for a publisher. "So it was sort of a story of one thing leading to another."

According to Oliveros, "you can really do comics about anything." Drawn & Quarterly has been experimenting with material that isn't strictly comics-related, too — one of its major releases this fall has been the Rookie Yearbook, a collection of work from blogging wunderkind Tavi Gevinson's smart online teen magazine Rookie.

These days, Oliveros publishes some of the biggest names in graphic art and comics in North America, including longtime American heavyweights like Linda Barry and Art Spiegelman alongside Canadians including Seth, Chester Brown, and Kate Beaton. And now the team works out of a spacious loft.

Below, check out a few of the artists that Drawn & Quarterly is publishing now.
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Featured artists

Chester Brown
Seth
Tavi Gevinson

           Featured products

Palookaville 21
Rookie Yearbook One




Essay from The Awl on graphic autobiography, featuring Seth, Lynda Barry, Chris Ware

Updated August 27, 2012


Penis Rays, Self-Loathing and Psychic Voodoo: Autobiographical Cartoonists on Truth and Lies
Kim O'Connor | August 14th, 2012

...Exploratory autobiography is the specialty of my imaginary best friend, Lynda Barry (who was not, in real life, available for an interview). Barry is such an icon that just thinking about her makes me want to tie a red bandana around my head to get more awesome by association. I spend a disproportionate amount of time wondering what her dance moves are like, and if she's any good at Charades.

Barry is a shining light in the world of alternative comics, which can be a dark place. It's not that she hasn't known trouble. But unlike most of her peers, even when Barry's subject is grim, the world rarely seems bleak; her work has the same verve that animates her being.

Barry's graphic memoir One Hundred Demons is an episodic look at her life: short meditations on games of kickball, hula dancing lessons, and the way her neighbors' houses smelled. The book begins with a handwritten disclaimer: "Please note: This is a work of autobifictionalography." The tone is playful, not probing. What, exactly, she means is unclear, and that's by design. It's just something to think about.

Barry's other explicitly autobiographical book—What It Is, an array of collages and comics and guided writing activities—is more difficult to categorize. (The artist has said it was once sold by Amazon as science fiction.) It feels like a mystic text, which is not to say it's impersonal. In part, it's the story of how Barry's imagination helped her weather a difficult childhood. "We don't create a fantasy world to escape reality," she wrote. "We create it to be able to stay."

Memories of things that never happened, the long hours she spent exploring other (more friendly) worlds in books and TV shows—these non-events shaped Barry as much as her physical circumstances. As she excavates the layers of her imaginary past, readers are encouraged to do the same. When we think of our lives in terms of succinct entries on a timeline, we overlook a critical area of experience that's less logical and linear. A person's fictions can reveal as much as, if not more than, her facts.

The final section of What It Is is an activity book that's based on Barry's renowned workshop, "Writing the Unthinkable." (The cartoonist reinvented herself as a teacher after the market for syndicated comic strips dried up.) It contains exercises that explore the connection between memory and creativity—quirky writing prompts (your first phone number, other people's mothers) followed by questions that are designed to tease out sensory details. "We notice that when people tell the story of their lives it often sounds like an obituary," Barry wrote. "A lot of general information but almost no images." The real story of who we are is not in what we experience, but how we experience it.

...From his vintage suits down to his very name, which he gave himself in the 1980s, the cartoonist Seth (b. Gregory Gallant) comes across as a character. Like Amy Sedaris or Pokey LaFarge, he has a strong sensibility that seems rooted in a past that never quite existed. It's the sort of affectation that seems charming against all odds.

When Seth began drawing his long-running series Palookaville, a comic that is beautiful and subtle and sad, he worked in an autobiographical mode. "After my first couple of issues, I realized that the stories I was telling were more anecdotes than anything," he told me. "They were lacking something essential." He decided to try something different.

The storyline that followed, which was eventually collected as the graphic novel It's A Good Life, If You Don't Weaken, followed Seth as he pursued the cold trail of an obscure cartoonist called Kalo. While many of the particulars of that story (a sick cat, a weird breakup) were true, it turns out that Kalo, a sort of Keyser Söze figure, never existed—a revelation that left some fans feeling disappointed or even betrayed.

"If anything, it was simply a device to make the tale more engaging," Seth explained. "It was never my intention to put anything over on the reader. I was seriously failing in my earlier autobio attempts to get at the heart of my own life or personality. By adding a fictional plot, I ended up getting much closer to a true portrait. It was still a rough inaccurate portrait, but nearer than before.

"After Good Life I started to work in straight fiction—eliminating myself as a character entirely. It is in these works that I think I have gotten the very closest to showing my 'true' self."

Years ago, a profile for Toronto Life magazine described the way in which the line between life and art—between self and character—seems more permeable for Seth than for most people. In the apartment the cartoonist shares with his wife, "there is a whole shelf of trophies, all of them awarded by Seth to himself, the brass plates on the bases recording one disappointment after another—'Never Called a Boy Wonder, Seth, 1962–1987' is just one of them." The sign outside the door says "Palookaville."
What does autobiography mean to a man with a living room like that? Whatever it is, I don't think nonfiction has the capacity to capture it...

 
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What It Is




  An essay on Seth's G.N.B.C.C. from The Comics Journal

Updated July 25, 2012


Fact and Fancy in Seth’s G.N.B. Double C

BY JEET HEER
JUN 28, 2012

Everybody misunderstands Seth. Popular mythology has pegged the cartoonist as a nostalgist hankering over the lost past. In fact, Seth is a fantastist obsessed not with the world-that-was but rather the world-as-it-might-have-been. The past is interesting to Seth not for its own sake but as a stage and stockroom for his imagination, an amply furnished playground for his world-building activities. He is at his giddiest working in the blurry zone where between history and fiction where actual people and places interact with imaginative constructs, where fragmentary information opens up exciting hypothetical possibilities.

Of course, the myth of Seth as a nostalgist originates in the cartoonist’s own presentation of himself, both in his supposedly autobiographical works and in real life dress and deportment. But here again, there is a widespread misconception. That old-timey look is simply an easy way of being a dandy, which is to say someone who uses their outward carriage as an opportunity for entertaining display. Dandyism is a species of fantasy.

The key to Seth’s modus operandi was already present in his first graphic novel It’s a Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken. At first glace this book appears to be an autobiographical account of Seth’s search for a neglected cartoonist but as it turns out the autobiographical pretext was a smokescreen and a diversion. The book is actually a fable about how the search for aesthetic ancestors is a way for an artist to forge (in every sense of the word) a new identity.

I’ve written in the past about the process whereby cartoonists invent their ancestors. I meant by that something very banal and literal: the cultural recuperation of Frank King by Chris Ware and Doug Wright by Seth, both cases where the cartoonist being recovered can now be seen as a predecessor of their later-day champion. But Seth has been engaged in the task of inventing ancestors in a more imaginative way as well. In both A Good Life and in The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists (or The G.N.B. Double C) Seth very convincingly makes up cartoonists who serve as role-models for the type of work he wants to do.

An astute review of Good Life likened it to Borges, who invented fictions about fiction, making up stories about non-existent books found on the shelves of an impossible library and a dishonest encyclopedia that changes reality. Aside from Borges there is an entire cluster of authors that Seth could usefully be connected to, whose major commonality is that they fuse fact with fiction, creating fabulations that mimic historical reconstruction or autobiography. I’m thinking here of the Stanislaw Lem who reviewed books he himself had imagined, the W.G. Sebald whose novels read like essays, and the Guy Davenport who used his own notebook entries to substantiate his stories of a made up Dutch philosopher.

Davenport once described his stories as “assemblages of fact and necessary fiction” – a description that applies nicely to Seth and Sebald as well. The conflation of fact and fiction is paralleled by the mixture of the essay form with fiction, a gambit that Seth is increasingly fond of (as witness his “Jocko the Scotsman” story in Canadian Notes and Queries #82).

These writers all use tactics that have parallels in Seth’s work, although it’s a mistake to see them as influences. He only started reading a few of them after he had been long set in his artistic practice. In a sense, they too are invented ancestors.

One other literary legacy is worth pointing out: the tradition of the unreliable narrator. This is a venerable form of storytelling, with roots in Homer but more recently taken to a level of extreme complexity by Henry James, Ford Madox Ford, and Vladimir Nabokov. But, as Robert Fulford has noticed, Seth has added his own wrinkle to this hand-me-down narrative mode by creating unreliable narrators who freely admit to their own dishonesty or shaky grasp on reality. Such are the narrative voices of both George Sprott and The G.N.B. Double C. The raconteur who freely fesses up to his own fibs and foibles is an especially useful device if you are interested in exploring the no-man’s-land between real history and history- as-it-might-have-been, the exciting gap between the documentary record and the glimmers of suggestive and conjectural possibility that these records provoke.

The narrator of The G.N.B. Double C is a romancer who paints a too glamorous picture of the past, as he himself admits. As such, he both articulates and represents the way that history and fantasy can merge together.

Part of the fascination of The G.N.B. Double C is that we’re never sure what ground we’re standing on as we read it. It is never clear if Seth (or the Sethian narrator) is telling us the real history of Canadian cartoons or aspirational day dreams of what should have been. The weave of actuality and make-believe is surprisingly tight, with some seemingly absurd vignettes and improbable characters closely mirroring events and people who really existed.


Page 86 from The G.N.B. Double C
Here is a stellar examples: We’re told that the first comic book produced in Canada was created by Marquis Townsend, the third in command of General James Wolfe, the British military hero who conquered French Canada in the Plains of Abraham in 1759. By Seth’s account, Townshend did a little booklet called General Fox making fun of his commanding officer, a rare volume that was only re-discovered in the late 20th century.

Those not up on Canadian history might need to be told that James Wolfe was real. The drawing of his death that takes up the bottom three panels on page 87 of The G.N.B. Double C is an imitation of the well-known painting The Death of General Wolfe by Benjamin West. George Townshend was also a real British officer and was also a talented caricaturist who used his pen to mock his commanding officer. Townshend’s drawings are considered among the earliest cartoons in North America. So far, Seth’s account is completely in keeping with the historical record.


Page 87 from The G.N.B. Double C.
But so far as I can ascertain, no such book as General Fox exists in our world. But such a book could have existed and been lost, which is why this story excites Seth’s imagination. It’s the potential existence of this book, something that’s not real but not impossible, that gives Seth’s fancy room to play and a chance to conjure up an enticing volume that is just beyond our reach.

The G.N.B. Double C is neither history nor is it quite fiction, rather it is a world-building fabulation, the use of discrete elements of our world to create a plausible fictional reality with its own sense of the past.

Described in this light, The G.N.B. Double C can be seen as offspring of science fiction, an alternative history. Seth has long had a sci-fi side to him which generally gets neglected. It peeps up here and there in his praise for the “’60s futurism” of the Montreal Expo as well as his journeyman work on the Mr. X series. In keeping with his temperament, his interest in science fiction isn’t so much a matter of the future that will happen but rather the retro-future that was once imagined but never came to fruition, the future of moving side-walks and jet packs which is now itself a part of history.

The wonderful igloo-shaped archives of the G.N.B.C.C., which is almost impossible to get to because it’s so far north, is a perfect metaphor for the type of historical knowledge Seth is most interested in. He’s fascinated by the tidbits of the past that are just beyond our reach, the fragments of lost works that point to a richness we can imagine but never recover.


The Death of General Wolfe, by Benjamin West
If we accept The G.N.B. Double C as a world-building fabulation, it’s interesting to re-read it with an eye towards which aspects of history Seth has taken and transformed. Here are a few notes I made as I read the book:

1) The Kao-Kuk comic book on the inside front cover seemed very reminiscent of Kirby’s science fiction and monster comics from the late 1950s.

2) Page 10-11. This painting of the fathers of the “founding fathers” of the G.N.B.C.C., which is also on page 78, is a take-off of a 1884 Robert Harris painting of the fathers of Confederation.

3) The actual Laurier quote that gets played with on page 24 is, “The 20th century belongs to Canada.”

4) Page 25: Trudeau’s parting shot was actually a twist on a famous Nixon comment. Trudeau told the press, “I regret I won’t have you to kick around anymore.”

5) On page 42, the reference to Father Robert, a comic strip that ran in the large-circulation Quebecois farm magazine Habitant, is a play on the fact that Albert Chartier drew a lovely monthly comic strip Onesime for Le Bulletin des Agriculteurs.

6) The story of the “Death of Kao-kuk” told on pages 47 to 55 echoes a Superman story called “Captive of the Red Sun” (1963), apparently created by Edmond Hamilton and Curt Swan, from Action Comics #300.

7) Page 92-94. Thoreau Macdonald did keep a prose diary, which has been published, as against the unpublished cartoon diary mentioned here.

8) The avant-garde cartoonist Henry Pefferlaw seems to be a fictional counterpart to the real-life Martin Vaughn-James, who did some groundbreaking experimental comics in the 1970s and 1980s.

9) Sam Middlesex, the barber who becomes a cartoonist is of some biographical interest because Seth’s wife is a barber. Middlesex himself seems to be a mixture of Frank King and the Canadian novelist Hugh Hood, who wrote a twelve-volume roman fleuve called The New Age/Le nouveau sičcle tracing the history of Southern Ontario and Quebec in the 20th century.

10) The G.N.B.C.C. as a whole seems to operate very much like the National Cartoonist Society. The whole elaborate awards ceremony of the G.N.B.C.C. also prefigures the Doug Wright Awards that Seth would co-create (the book being conceived before the DWA), just as Seth’s fictional search for Kalo anticipated before the fact his actual research into the lives of sundry old Canadian cartoonists.

Individually these tidbits about the historical basis for The G.N.B. Double C are only of minor interest but taken together they help give us a sense of the game Seth is playing. He’s making up a history of things that mostly didn’t happen but he wants to build his fantasy on a bedrock of plausibility and facticity. History and fantasy are not polar extremes for Seth. They exist as a joined pair, in constant dialogue. What many see as Seth’s incurable nostalgia is in fact his way of fertilizing his imagination, of empowering his world-building activities with the inexhaustibility of the real.
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Seth's world "real and engaging": Hipster Dad's Bookshelf

Updated February 28, 2012


The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists (Review)

By Grant, the Hipster Dad
The Hipster Dad's Bookshelf
Feb.21, 2012

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists (Drawn & Quarterly, 2011).



Seth's latest release is another "sketchbook" story with which he tinkered for several years before finalizing it. As his earlier, similar Wimbledon Green suggested a world where the collecting of decades-old comics was a noble and bold pursuit, The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists illustrates that world. It's a place where Canada's supposed domination of the art form has led to the many and varied artists being held in the highest possible esteem, and a social club with branches in several cities and a library only accessible via a two-hour school bus ride north of the idiosyncratically-named Green Valley, somewhere up in Nunavut, I suppose.

I love the way that Seth adds layers and layers of fictions to his story, all told via a very unreliable narrator who eventually confesses that some of his tale is not entirely accurate. The story mixes in just enough real-world truth, including both a couple of namechecks for Chester Brown and about nine pages devoted to one of Seth's pet causes, a mostly-forgotten comic strip called Nipper by a guy named Doug Wright. In other words, there's just enough honesty to make the whole fundamentally dishonest narrative seem like it can be trusted. But it's not even set in a real place; Dominion is the small city seen in some of Seth's other works, notably the amazing George Sprott: 1894-1971. Naturally, a fictional city is a good place for a fictional club devoted to the (mostly) fictional art displayed here.

The tour of the club's facility leads into diversions where several key Canadian comics, both newspaper strips and funnybook pamphlets, are explored. My only quibble with The GNBCC is that the many excerpts are still drawn in Seth's simple sketchbook style. I do feel that it would have been a more entertaining and complete immersion had Seth explored some different styles for the many different comics.

That tiny issue aside, this really does work for me. I'd like to visit Dominion in the same way that millions would like to visit Hogwart's. It's that real and that engaging, and I'm always happy to follow one of Seth's little diversions there. Not bad for a town that, if we get right down to it, probably isn't all that much more impressive than Macon. Happily recommended.


 
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  "A truly compelling read": Seth's GREAT NORTHERN BROTHERHOOD OF CANADIAN CARTOONISTS praised

Updated February 28, 2012


Well of course there are Canadian cartoonists:
Cartoonist salutes his homeland

Feb, 2012

Most people in the States probably don’t know a whole lot about Canada, despite its proximity. Apart from a few small cultural differences, like free health care and education, our northern cousins seem more or less the same as us. This proves particularly true in the arts, where prominent Canadians seem to simply assimilate into the larger world of American pop culture, seeming to neither abandon, nor really represent their roots. Perhaps it’s this odd phenomenon that inspired the cartoonist Seth to pen his inspired blend of history and colorful fiction, “The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists.”

It might be a bit of a stretch to call “The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists” a graphic novel, as it’s a little short on traditional narrative. Seth opens the story by depositing us in the fictional city of Dominion and leading us to the building that houses the book’s namesake — a curious institution of the sort one might expect to find in a Wes Anderson film, with a long and bizarre history.

As Seth guides the readers on a tour of the building’s banquet halls and back rooms, all decorated with artifacts from a rich history, he leads us through that history. Seth follows the course of comics and cartooning over the last two centuries in broad strokes, but the little anecdotes and excerpts he offers are made up mostly of the colorful imaginings. Sowing confusion and paying homage in equal measure, Seth does pepper the tale with a handful of real-life Canadian cartoonists and glimpses of their work, including acclaimed cartoonist Chester Brown.

As the story develops, Seth starts working in layers, with a tongue-and-cheek meta-textual narrative voice above his playful fantasy world. From there, he occasionally delves another level down into the assorted cartoon works of his imagined history, including one extended segment late in the book where Seth seems to be commenting on his own work in progress.

By the story’s end, Seth pulls us all the way back, past the borders of the story’s central conceit. While still refusing to reveal where exactly the line between truth and fiction lies, he does illuminate the motivations and desires behind the playful dream penned across the preceding pages. It’s a warm and beautifully sad moment.

If you think Seth’s quirky approach and curious subject matter make the whole thing sound a little self-indulgent, you wouldn’t be alone. According to the artist, he never intended the story for publication. It was only due to the interest of publisher Drawn & Quarterly that he was thankfully convinced otherwise.

Let me assuage your fears and his. In spite of its the peculiarities, or more likely, because of them, “The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists” is a truly compelling read. And if, in his delightful blend of history and make believe, Seth has a little fun at the expense of American audiences not well-enough informed to tell the two apart, I for one don’t really care.
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Seth's fashion line on the Globe and Mail

Updated January 12, 2012


October 28, 2011
James Adams

Swedish retailer H&M announced this week that it’s preparing a line of clothes (“dark, urban”) inspired by Lisbeth Salander, the punky female protagonist of Stieg Larsson’s hugely successful Millennium trilogy. Since fashion can come from seemingly any source these days, we naturally wondered what would Seth do?

The Canadian cartoonist, recipient this weekend of the $10,000 Harbourfront Festival Prize, certainly knows his haberdashery, as evidenced by his own stylish retro attire and that of his comic characters. We asked the creator of the newly releasedGreat Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists to concoct a men’s line (“natty, classic”) inspired by such Seth creations as Simon Matchcard and George Sprott.


See his designs here.
 
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  IT'S A GOOD LIFE IF YOU DON'T WEAKEN and SHORTCOMINGS among the Guardian's 10 Best Graphic Novels

Updated January 12, 2012


October 30, 2011
Rachel Cooke

It’s a Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken

Seth (1996)

Seth - the pen name of the Canadian comic artist Gregory Gallant - is perhaps best known as the designer of the complete Charles M Schultz’s Peanuts (25 volumes so far). But he is a star in his own right, too. It’s A Good Life… was originally serialised in his comic Palookaville, and details its author’s obsessional quest to discover more about Kalo, an elusive New Yorker cartoonist from the 1940s (whether this is fact or fiction, I’m not telling). Wry, funny and shot through with nostalgia, Seth’s sepia tones have an autumnal, elegiac quality all their own.


Shortcomings

Adrian Tomine (2007)

This is the tale of Ben Tanaka and Miko Hayashi and what happens to their relationship when Miko moves temporarily to New York. Miko is a somewhat earnest political activist who is deeply involved in American-Asian cultural issues. Ben is a 30-year-old theatre manager who resents being boxed in culturally, and who has a wandering eye, especially when it comes to Caucasian women. Left behind in Berkeley, and egged on by his randy friend, Alice, Ben basically goes a little nuts. A fantastic book about race, sex and modern life, it’s as dry as a good martini.
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Dan Clowes and Seth at the International Festival of Authors

Updated January 12, 2012


Aww!

Daniel Clowes and Seth in conversation, Oct. 21
Photo: Sue Carter Flinn

Quill & Quire
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  Guelph Mercury talks with Seth

Updated January 12, 2012


By Jonathan P. Kuehlein
October 22, 2011

Collecting a $10,000 prize cheque is always sweet.

Being publicly acknowledged for having “substantially contributed to the state of literature and books in Canada” may be even sweeter — especially considering the winner of the 2011 Harbourfront Festival Prize is the first cartoonist to ever claim the honour.

Seth, whose award-winning and critically acclaimed work includes the classic graphic novels, It’s a Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken and George Sprott, said the prize, which he’ll be awarded on the closing night of the International Festival of Authors, offers a measure of validation to his chosen medium.

“It’s a pretty clear sign that graphic novels or comic books have actually reached a point where they can be judged on their content rather than on their media,” the 49-year-old Guelph resident told the Toronto Star from New York City.

He’ll be back in Toronto for his onstage appearance on opening night of the IFOA Friday, in conversation with fellow cartoonist Daniel Clowes on the opening night of the IFOA.

“I think it’s another stepping stone in seeing the graphic novel accepted as just another form of writing.”

The shift in perception that culminated in being awarded the Harbourfront Festival Prize certainly didn’t happen overnight, Seth noted.

“(Art Spiegelman’s) Maus came along in the late 80s and it was a book that got a lot of attention, a great book, won the Pulitzer Prize, etc., etc., but really anyone who decided ‘Alright, I’m going to read graphic novels,’ there probably wasn’t a lot of work they could turn to,” he said.

“Back in the 80s, you had to sell your work in the comic shops and it was palpable, the disinterest that people had for the kind of work we were doing.”

But alongside cartooning stalwarts like Clowes, Chester Brown, Joe Matt, Charles Burns, Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez, Chris Ware, Craig Thompson and countless others, Seth continued to chip away at the preconceptions of graphic storytelling.

“I think the real change is that over a 20-year period, there’s been kind of a slow building of a beachhead of cartoonists that are working toward the same goal, which is to use the comic book medium just as a form of writing like any other kind of literature — to break away from the usual genre concerns of fantasy and the typical subject matter that comic books have always had,” he said.

“As each year passes, another cartoonist comes along who produces a significant work and we’ve finally reached a point where there’s probably a whole bookshelf or two of actually good graphic novels that an adult reader could (enjoy).”

The subject of camaraderie in cartooning hits close to home for Seth, whose new graphic novel, The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists, revolves around a club for the likes of him — though he admits it’s not the kind of association he’d like to be part of.

“The truth is, you get together a whole bunch of cartoonists and it’s kind of like having a perpetual comic book convention — which is not something I want be part of,” he said.

Like Seth’s previous homage to comics and collecting, Wimbledon Green, his latest book began as a sketchbook exercise.

“You start on page one with a quickly thought up idea and then just start going and I think that’s the kind of stuff that comes right out of the information that floats around the front of your brain,” he said.

“For me, probably the first topics I would turn to for anything would be collectors or comic books. The history of cartooning, other cartoonists — it’s like right there on the edge of my consciousness.”

Next up, Seth said, is finishing his long-running story Clyde Fans, along with his ongoing design work on The Complete Peanuts and on a second volume of The Collected Doug Wright, highlighting the life and work of the Canadian cartooning icon.

Seth also extended his design repertoire to include creating logos for Guelph’s roller derby club, the Royal City Rollergirls, crafting distinctive looks for squads like Our Ladies of Pain, Violet Uprising and the Killer Queens.

“Basically I got involved because my wife joined the team,” he said. “She thought it would be fun to try out and they needed a crest.

“At first, it was just something I was doing to make my wife happy, but after I went to a few games, I really liked it so I’m quite pleased to be involved.”
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CBR reviews THE DEATH-RAY and THE GNBCC

Updated January 12, 2012


November 3, 2011
J. Caleb Mozzocco

The Death-Ray (Drawn and Quarterly): I have two distinct reasons to be exceedingly grateful to Drawn and Quarterly for republishing Daniel Clowes’ 2004 comic book Eightball #23 (originally published by Fantagraphics) as a bound hardcover album, bearing the title of the comic’s full-length story.

The first is highly personal. While I greatly enjoyed reading the issue in its huge, newspaper-sized, stapled format, as soon as I finished, I was faced with a problem: Where on earth do I put the damn thing? Obviously it wouldn’t fit in a long box or on any of my bookshelves, either laid flat or standing. If I simply set it on an end table or a coffee table, not only would it take up a lot of space, but it would collect dust and need regularly dusted. And it wasn’t like I had a lot of comics of similar size—only Lauren Weinstein’s Goddess of War, really—so I couldn’t stack it up with my other gigantic comics in a corner somewhere.

Ultimately, I stuck it in an oversized shipping envelope and hid it in the space between a bookshelf and the wall of my apartment, although even there it bothered me, as I knew it was there. And, of course, every time I moved I would pull it out, look at it, and realized I’d have to find a place to keep it in my new apartment as well, before I ultimately would decide to hide it behind a bookshelf in my new place. (It occurs to me now that while Clowes probably didn’t plan that experience for me, it does replicate the feelings of some of the characters in the story, who come into possession of something they can’t really get rid of, but can’t have others know about and have to secretly store for years).


But now that it’s got a spine and hard covers, now that it’s a book-book instead of a floppy, it can stand up on a bookshelf next to other similarly-sized books! The problem is solved! (Although I’m not quite sure I can bring myself to part with Eightball #23 just because I have the same story in an easier to store format now…)

The second reason I’m grateful for the re-release of this story in the new format is a more general one: It gave me another excuse to reread it, another excuse to write about how great it is and it will give a the world a new chance to read a truly great comic, one of the better superhero comics of the last decade, even though a lot of superhero comics fans probably didn’t consider it as such, given that it was published by two art/lit comics publishers and was created by the guy who did Ghost World and Wilson.

After a bold new cover of its star, wearing a Mike Allred-esque, vaguely Spider-Man like costume and clutching the titular weapon and a title page in which the tile glows in an explosion of pink radiation, we meet a middle-aged man named Andy in the year 2004. He talks directly to the reader, before he notices a man littering and confronts him.

When the man challenges him with “What are you going to do about it?,” the tale begins in earnest, as we learn the secret origin of Andy, aka The Death-Ray, who has the most terribly perfect weapon imaginable (Not only does it cause death, but it completely erases its target from existence, leaving not a molecule of physical remains for evidence, and it only works for Andy).

The panel-packed pages are mostly drawn in Clowes’ default style, in flat but brilliant colors that evoke maximum old-school superhero comics. The style gets looser or tighter here and there, but it doesn’t fluctuate as much or as intentionally as in some of Clowes’ more recent works.

The story does drift in and out of differently formatted comic strips though, so that the two page spread “The Origin of Andy” features him talking about his life and his default best friend Louie, the next page brings a series of headshot panels of Andy’s high school classmates following a title panel “What Do You Think of Andy?”, followed by newspaper Sunday strip-sized “Louie At Home,” in which we watch Louie have dinner with his family.

Andy’s story echoes that of Spider-Man’s and other post-Spidey relevant and relatable super-stories, as he’s the orphaned son of a famous scientist who secretly did experiments on him, and doesn’t discover them until he’s a put upon teenager just about to come of age.

The problems he faces are more real and more troubling though. He doesn’t have a single supervillain or rival superhero he ever has to trade blows with, but he does have to deal with a world full of damaged people hurting one another constantly, intentionally and accidentally, and figure out how to use his incredible power responsibly, or, at the very least, not make things all that much worse (“How the hell does one man stand a chance against four billion assholes?” is how adult Andy puts it).

It’s actually pretty terrifying, but it’s also pretty funny and a perfect example of a rather rare animal you probably here about all the time, but harldy ever encounter: A superhero comic book for grown-ups that is itself actually grown-up; one that doesn’t just add adult content like too much frosting on a child’s cake, or deconstruct superhero conventions in nihilistic or semi-sarcastic fashion, but is actually a piece of literature with aims beyond entertainment and time-killing.

Now in a more convenient format.


The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists (Drawn and Quarterly): Seth explains the province of this work in an introduction, an explanation alluded to in the banner along the bottom of the cover reading “A Story From the Sketchbook of the Cartoonist ‘Seth’.”

Apparently it began in his sketchbook, and it wasn’t something he had any intention of publishing, nor was it something he felt was entirely publishable at the time it began. He abandoned it to work on Wimbledon Green, a work with which it shares a worldview and tone, a fantasy version of comics in comics are the most exciting thing in the world; in otherworlds, a point of view that literalized the way a lot of us feel about the medium. In Wimbledon Green, it was the readers and collectors who were the focus; here it’s the creators.

Encouraged to publish, however, Seth returned to the story and finished it, reworking portions of it now that its audience was broader than just himself.

The resultant book is a guided tour—presumably conducted by Seth himself, as the few glimpses we get of our docent resemble the artist—of the The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists club headquarters. It’s an amazing place, something like the old 19th century explorers’ clubs of London and gentlemen’s clubs in the U.S., although it is devoted to Canadian cartoonists, and it’s a little too amazing in its conception and design.

Essentially, Seth has created a fantasy Garden of Eden for himself, one full of so many quirky details, from an elaborate history to the sorts of niggling political and interpersonal problems that you’d find in a real place rather than an imagine paradisical one, that it all sounds, looks and feels completely real—or at least just on the other side of the line between realistic and fantastical.

In the process, the Seth character also gives the reader—imagined here as a guest he is leading through the rooms of the club–a guided history of Canadian cartooning and comics, and again the line between what’s real and is invented is a bit blurry. Real names and characters are in there, like Doug Wright and his creation Nipper, but so too are a lot of characters that seem like they can’t possibly be true, and some, especially among the cartoonists, who seem like they have an equal chance at being real and being invented by Seth for the purposes of this book. That’s how good he is at detailing and selling his fantasy world.

And it is a whole world. While the Seth and reader character never leave the grounds of the G.N.B. Double C. (as the club is called), it’s an entire world that is being imagined and evoked. It’s pretty much identical to ours, save for the place cartooning and cartoonists have in it.

I suppose part of the mysterious, almost magical effect of Seth’s blending the real and the ideal into such a convincingly told story, the appearance of a middle ground between obviously true and obviously not in which a reader is unsure of whether or not he is being told the true truth, relies on the Canadian setting, and the chance that the reader—like this particular reader—has never been farther into Canda than Niagara Falls, and thus it’s a place that is only slightly more real to me than, say, Narnia or Middle Earth or Metropolis and Gotham. “Canada” is a place I read about all the time, but never really see for myself.

I think this is at least a tiny, tiny part of the reason Scott Pilgrim hit as it did with readers—a Canadian could tell an American that Toronto magical land, and chances are the typical poorly traveled American can’t count on her own personal experience to refute it.

Basically, Seth could knock on my door and tell me that elves account for 2.5-percent of the modern Canadian population, and while I would be quite skeptical, I wouldn’t know for an absolute fact that he was lying, particularly if he lies as elaborately and convincing in person as he does in comics. (I can’t even look up some of the dubious-but-not-impossible characters and creators on the Internet as I write this, as I am doing so in a house without an Internet connection; I didn’t look anything up while reading the book for the first time in early October because I couldn’t put it down).

Beyond the considerable virtues of Seth’s abilities as an artist, world-builder and storyteller The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists should appeal to anyone who loves comics—for what they are, for what we wish they were, for what they could be and for what they will never be.

 
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Daniel Clowes

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The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists




  GNBCC is "pure enjoyment" says the Graphic Novel Reporter

Updated January 12, 2012


Josh Hogan

Before beginning Wimbledon Green, bestselling and highly revered artist and writer Seth began crafting The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists. As he explains in his foreword, he was mostly just dabbling in his sketchbook, not really sure what, if anything, he was planning to do with the extensive pages, images, and stories he was working on. When it grew lengthy and somewhat out of control, he took pieces of it to inspire Wimbledon Green, and he put TGNBCC aside. When he returned to that work, he had to redo much of the story and art, but what he came out of it with is pure enjoyment.

The book gives us a tour of the club, the brotherhood, and its headquarters. The main conceit is that this is a world where cartoonists are revered, make tons of money, and are seen as heroes. In page after page—mostly nine-panel grids on each page—Seth details a vivid Canadian fantasy land where artists are so honored that they have formed this brotherhood in order to catalog and honor their best works, and best people. It’s certainly not a self-serving honor that Seth gives here; instead it’s a warm, welcoming, truly cozy place that feels immediately accessible and wonderful to enter.

Seth himself narrates this cartoon history (most of it made up, some of it true, all of it engrossing). Despite not all being true, it’s a wonderful introduction to the works of some true great (notably, people like Doug Wright, for example) and it’s a welcome addition to the incredible library of works that Seth has already created.
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Miami Herald reviews GNBCC

Updated January 12, 2012


November 6, 2011
Richard Pachter

• The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists. Seth. Drawn & Quarterly. 136 pages. $24.95.

Gregory Gallant sounds like a saccharine radio character from the ’40s, but it’s the real name behind the nom de plume of acclaimed artist Seth. Here, he weaves fact and fantasy into an essentially plotless tour of a mythical Canadian cartoon museum and hall of fame. Being a Yank, I’m not familiar with most of the cultural references and in-jokes, but even an outsider can appreciate Seth’s deft commentaries and asides. It’s a fun diversion though one hopes that online annotation appears soon to deepen the enjoyment and appreciation of this neat and fun little book.
 
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  Vancouver Sun talks with Daniel Clowes about THE DEATH-RAY and more

Updated January 12, 2012


October 15, 2011
Ian McGillis

"It's a really difficult thing to do." Daniel Clowes is trying to describe the hard-to-name form - we'll call it the graphic novel for the sake of convenience - of which he is one of the undisputed masters.

"You have to be able to do so many different things well, and yet the actual storytelling of cartoons is something that you can't get from being good at any of the other fields, like drawing and writing and graphic design. It's got to be a specific cartooning gene that you have."

The 50-year-old Chicago native, now living in Oakland, is probably best known beyond the comics subculture for the much-loved screen adaptation of his graphic novel Ghost World. Visually, his work is on the rarely attained plain where cartooning meets fine art; thematically, his stories and characters pinpoint a certain Gen-X anomie with delicacy and dry, dark humour.

His newest book, the realist fantasy The Death-Ray, features a middle-aged man looking back on his adolescence, when he discovered smoking gave him the kind of supernatural powers that many a disaffected teen has dreamed of having. The book marks the first widely available release of a story Clowes first published in 2004 in his limited-edition Eightball comic.

"It was an obscure way to release something," he says. "So I thought, 'I've got to redo this in book form and try to get it out to people who don't go to a comics store every week.'"

Revisiting a seven-year-old work brought back a lot of memories for Clowes, personal and otherwise: "You actually remember things like what music you were listening to, what was going on in your life. I was reminded that I worked on that story during the buildup to the Iraq war. The story is not overtly political in any way, but you can see that the character, and the sort of hollow American jingoism that the character espouses, is informed by my frustration at watching that inevitable slide toward militarism."

Like two of Clowes's more recent protagonists - the socially hapless Marshall of Mister Wonderful and the misanthropic but somehow lovable title character of Wilson - The Death-Ray's hero, Andy, bears a certain resemblance to his creator, and marks a gradual drift toward more sympathetic figures in Clowes's work.

"I decided at a certain point that one of my goals is to find a way to connect with the characters no matter how awful they may seem or how hard they are to be around, to try to look at their humanity and find a way to love them by the end," he says.

"In The Death-Ray I mostly focused on the teenage version of Andy, but I wound up liking the older version, too. I liked the idea of this frustrated middle-aged man who had this terrible power. That led me to do Mister Wonderful and Wilson, who were versions of that, of myself facing middle age. Now I feel like I don't need to do that character any more. I can move on to other things."

For Clowes, who once felt part of a community of like-minded artists but finds that the old gang is breaking up, the tour that takes him to Montreal next week with fellow comics luminary Seth - whose new The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists is being launched along with The Death-Ray - is especially welcome.

"One of the main reasons I agreed to do this tour was to get to hang out with Seth for a couple of weeks. It's the only way we get to see each other. It's funny, I was just thinking of how The Death-Ray is a very American work, and how I really respond more to American artists than to international ones, and then it occurred to me how two of my five favourite cartoonists, Seth and Chester Brown, are Canadian."

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The AV Club talks autobiographical comics: the Chester, Joe, and Seth trio

Updated January 10, 2012


December 15, 2011
Sam Adams

The ’90s saw a boom in autobiographical comics, spearheaded by the Torontonian triumvirate of Chester Brown, Joe Matt, and Seth. Brown and Matt quickly became notorious for their willingness to portray their most unflattering characteristics, from penny-pinching to pornography addiction. Their recent books, Paying For It and Spent, bring that tendency to a boil, the former dealing with Brown’s extensive history of using prostitutes for sex, the latter with Matt’s compulsive masturbation. But a less forbidding route to their respective bodies of work can be found in I Never Liked You and Fair Weather, childhood reminiscences that are just as soul-baring and substantially less off-putting than their tales of adulthood.


 
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  Waterloo Region Record reviews GNBCC

Updated January 10, 2012


November 26, 2011

IN BRIEF . . .

THE G.N.B. DOUBLE C: THE GREAT NORTHERN
BROTHERHOOD OF CANADIAN CARTOONISTS
by Seth (Drawn & Quarterly, 133 pages, $24.95)
This unpolished story drawn from the sketchbook of the Guelph artist Seth is both a companion to his earlier graphic novel about the comic collector Wimbledon Green and a stand-alone guided tour through the last century of Canadian comics.
As so often in Seth’s work, the notion of the collector as a preserver of the past is wed to a
vision of Canada as a place almost frozen in time, his monumental city blocks as solid and seemingly eternal as the landscapes of forest and snow. But set against the heavy visual architecture is an abiding sense of mortality, the brevity of life and the transience of fame. The Brotherhood is an institution that offers a kind of reconciliation within its halls, at least for those who still want to visit.
— Alex Good
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SF Weekly calls GNBCC "entertaining, illuminating, and visually breathtaking"

Updated January 9, 2012


October 27, 2011
Casey Burchby

​Cartoonists command healthy incomes, respect, and wild public adulation. They have sufficient resources to establish their own secret society and protect their shared patrimony in a massive archive. Just kidding -- the world continues to be indifferent (and often cheerfully hostile) toward cartoon art. But the description above -- a cartoonist's deepest dream -- does apply in the world of the new book by the cartoonist known as Seth.
The hardest part of assessing a work you really like can be in its richness. Rather than just one or two shining perfect bits, a broad constellation of factors can overlap in a way that makes it difficult to locate which are the most important. I had this kind of response to Seth's The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists. Like Wimbledon Green before it, The Great Northern Brotherhood exists in a Canadian fantasia, where snow is always beautiful, coats are always warm, and buildings are lovingly appointed with elegant design details.

To read a book by Seth is to enter an oddly cozy, perfectly designed world where humor, nostalgia, and a gentle sadness pervade like the last autumnal rays of sunlight on a quiet afternoon. Seth's creations are hermetically ideal and totally absorbing, and this new one is no exception. In it, cartoonists live like kings -- or at least like Freemasons -- with a fellowship and a facility that rivals the luxury and amenities of the best-endowed university club. They also oversee the maintenance of an isolated bunker-like archive of Canadian cartoon art in the far north, hunkered beneath windswept snowdrifts the year round.

Told in 136 pages using a deceptively simple 9 x 9 grid format, a cartoon version of Seth himself narrates the tale as a guided tour of the Dominion, Ontario, branch of the titular brotherhood, and, by extension, of the (mostly fictionalized) history of cartooning in Canada.

​Much of the comedy is conceptual. There's inherent humor in a society of oddballs, geniuses, and hacks who are safely tucked away in the bosom of the brotherhood. Sequestered from the mainstream, they achieve great success, experience bitter jealousy, or live out their golden years in an alcoholic haze -- all without reference to reality as we know it. This points to Seth's great contribution to contemporary storytelling -- the idea that graphic fiction, often thought of merely as escapist entertainment, can best address and explore the nature of fantasies, daydreams, and wishful thinking.

​The brotherhood, its luxurious edifice, and its semi-secret archive of vast cartoon riches all exist to preserve the legacy of Canadian cartoonists. But that rich history is mostly Seth's creation. Although he does mention a handful of real compatriots (notably Doug Wright, creator of Nipper, which later became Doug Wright's Family), Seth is the prime mover behind what amounts to an extensive catalog of fictional cartoonists and the worlds they have created.
It would appear that Seth wishes comics had a historian with the zeal of his narrator/doppelganger. Yet Seth does something historians are not equipped to do: He parades a vast, fictional trove of comic art before us, suggesting the depth and breadth of comic art while adding something to it. He piques our interest in the medium by raising questions about its history and about the variety of content, form, and style it has to offer through its many creators. The Great Northern Brotherhood may not represent the true history of comics, but it does it an enormous service by contributing to it in such an entertaining, illuminating, and visually breathtaking way.
 
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  London Free Press reviews GNBCC

Updated January 9, 2012


October 26, 2011
Dan Brown


If I had to bet, my guess is that Seth’s The G.N.B Double C will go down in comics history as one of the Guelph artist/illustrator’s minor works.

And that’s a shame, because there’s some fascinating stuff going on in this book.

It may seem weird to start a Seth review by comparing the autobiographical creator to Marvel and DC, but just as the big two superhero publishers have their own imaginative universes, so, too, does Seth have Dominion.

Dominion, as Seth fans know, is his version of Canada’s past — a detailed history existing only in his imagination.

With his latest release, Seth lets that imagination run amok, offering a guided tour of the headquarters of the Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists — a fictitious organization, but one that is described with the full force of reality.

It helps when Seth leavens his imaginings with “real” history.

When he describes GNBCC member Doug Wright, for instance, he is remembering the actual Montreal cartoonist. On the other hand, Bartley Munn — from whose pen flow the exploits of Eskimo astronaut Kao-Kuk — is fashioned out of whole cloth.

All of this may sound familiar to those who have read Seth’s debut graphic novel, It’s a Good Life If You Don’t Weaken. Set partly in Strathroy, it set forth his search for Kalo — the New Yorker contributor of yore who, it turned out, had never actually walked this Earth.

With The GNB Double C, there are multiple fake histories, all of them illustrated and described in loving detail.

How is it possible for Seth to feel as much for his real predecessor cartoonists as the non-existent ones? Well, that’s part of the book’s fascination.

I’m recommending this book, even though I have found some of Seth’s previous work stuffy.

First of all, it’s audacious. It took courage for Seth to give free reign to his artistic powers. This is a creator at the top of his game. What an imagination!

Second, I just plain love alternative versions of Canada.

As a boy, I became a fan of Richard Comely’s original Captain Canuck run because it gave readers a positive view of Canada’s future at a bleak time in our history. As the 1970s came to a close, those stories showed readers the True North of the 1990s, home to intrigue, hover-cars, space stations and aliens.

Seth casts the same kind of spell by looking back at a Canada that never was — a place where Sir Wilfrid Laurier says “The 20th century will be the century of Canada’s cartoonists” and Pierre Trudeau’s only regret is how he was never a successful cartoonist.

Is it possible to be nostalgic for an epoch that never happened? Perhaps that’s Seth’s point about nostalgia — it’s a yearning for something unreal, eternally out of reach.

Seth’s recent work reminds me of the pull generated by another Canadian artist, Stephen Leacock. The GNB Double C is Seth’s love letter to Canada, and where Leacock expressed his love for this nation through the device of the imaginary Mariposa, Seth does the same by means of Dominion.

The revelation here isn’t anything structural — the artist sticks to the same nine-panel format on each page, never shifting gears. It’s that Seth, despite his misanthropic tendencies, has never penned such a fun volume before.

For Seth’s latest and all your graphic-novel needs, check out my favourite comic store, L.A. Mood. You’ll find it a few doors south of City Lights on the same side of Richmond. Tell ’em Dan sent ya!

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Seth is "the model of a modern Canadian cartoonist" says the National Post

Updated January 9, 2012


October 28, 2011
David Berry

Perhaps the best summation of the place cartooning holds in the Canadian cultural scene came from Pierre Trudeau. Recall that, upon his retirement, the closest prime minister we’ve had to a rock star commented, “My only regret is that I was never a successful cartoonist.” Italians have painters, Russians have novelists and Canadians, well, we have cartoonists.

OK, well, no, obviously. That quote and its attendant sentiment is just one of the fanciful notions cheekily inserted into The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists, a mostly fictional tour of a decidedly imaginary institution by Seth, the closest Canadian cartooning has ever had to a prime minister. A quintessentially Sethian tale, full of history both real and imagined, fuller-than-life characters and a lingering feeling of wry melancholy, The GNBCC imagines a world in which Canadian cartooning is coming out of a golden age, its arctic archives and turn-of-the-century clubhouse the vestigial pieces of a scene that once produced everything from gag strips to 15-volume familial histories, voyageur tales to Inuit astronauts.

“There’s some real truth to the idea that it gives me the opportunity to do stuff that I would like to do but never will,” Seth explains, sitting rigidly in a hotel chair, wearing a three-piece wool suit like armour against a world he’s still not entirely comfortable with. “In this current book, there’s one section about this 15-volume series that covers an Ontario family, and it runs from the 19th century to now. That’s the kind of project I would love to do, but it’s never going to happen, because it’s just too much work. Describing something is so much easier than doing it.”

However much it may be an exercise in wish fulfillment, The GNBCC also feels like a bit of an ironic lark, a sort of way to work out an artistic world that is decidedly different from the one Seth stepped into. Canadian cartooning is quite likely in its own golden age right now, if evidenced only by the plaintive man in front of us. Seth is the first ever cartoonist to take the Harbourfront Festival Prize at the International Festival of Authors, as good a sign as any that cartoons — comics, graphic novels, what have you — have come a long way in the public eye.

“Things really have changed, in ways that were not imaginable then, too,” he explains in his careful, almost studious, manner. “Back then, you were selling your comics through the comic-book store, because it was the only way, and it was a complete barnacle on that system, because the people coming into the store were not coming in for your work, they were coming in to get Batman or Superman or whatever. In those days, you realized that you would never get the people you want to read this work into this store.”

And though he can’t exactly pinpoint why the perception has changed so much, Seth has an evident gratitude for the attention. Particularly since, it seems anyway, that cartoons have maintained their highly idiosyncratic nature, their sort of raw, unfiltered insight into the mind of one — usually decidedly unique — individual. The GNBCC is something distinct not only to Seth but to the medium, a winding, essay-like work that feels less like a story than a long walk with an interesting stranger.

“I do think the purpose of being an artist is simply to try and relate some sense of what your own life feels like to other people,” Seth explains. “Sometimes I think being a writer gets mixed up with the idea of trying to create a compelling story that follows the right rules on how a story has to be to make other people think it’s a good story.

“I think any kind of art form, people start out with an idea that they want to do their own thing, but very quickly you get wrapped up in the idea of wanting to do something that people think is good,” he continues. “But try and steer away from that.”
 
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  Seth interview with CBR

Updated January 9, 2012


November 10, 2011
Alex Dueben

The cartoonist known as Seth is widely recognized as one of the major cartoonists to emerge in the nineteen-nineties because of his long running series "Palookaville" and graphic novels, most famously "It's a Good Life If You Don't Weaken." Earlier this year on ROBOT 6 blog, Seth was the subject of "Comics College," a month detailing his work and career. He was one of a handful of cartoonists who contributed to the short-lived "Funny Pages" section of the "New York Times Magazine" and the book that emerged from that project, "George Sprott, 1894-1975," is arguably his finest work.

Seth also has a career as a designer and illustrator. In comics, he designed Fantagraphics' "Peanuts" collections and the Drawn and Quarterly published "John Stanley Library." Outside of our beloved artform, Set is responsible for the look of various CDs like Aimee Mann's "Lost in Space" and DVDs like the Criterion Collection edition of Leo McCarey's "Make Way For Tomorrow."

Last year, Seth resurrected "Palookaville" as an occasional series of hardcover volumes. #20 included a new chapter of "Clyde Fans," an autobiographical story about his recent installation project, and a sketchbook section. #21 will be released next year.

In 2005, Seth showed a more playful side with "Wimbledon Green," his graphic novel telling the story of the world's greatest comic collector. His new book is one that he describes as a companion to "Wimbledon Green," and one that also began in his sketchbook. "The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists" (or "GNBCC") is essentially an extended essay that tells the story of a club composed of both real and fictional cartoonists and their work. Seth took time to talk with CBR News about his new book, how working in his sketchbook has changed his work, and what fans can expect from future volumes of "Palookaville."

CBR News: In the introduction to "The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists," you write about how you started this book years ago in your sketchbook. How does this differ from how you work on other projects?

Seth: With more realized works, like "Clyde Fans" or "George Sprott," I generally have a very good idea of the whole scope of the story before I begin drawing it. Sketchbook stories tend to start on the first page with just a vague notion of what it is all about. I don't usually know where the piece is going until about the halfway point.

I probably wouldn't have the confidence to dive in like this on a more "serious" story. The sketchbook has a kind of freedom to it that allows you to take bigger chances. If the story fails you don't have to publish it. That's the case with more finished works -- it's such a laborious process to make that artwork I want to be sure it's publishable!

I'm curious about the casualness that comes from sketchbook work. How does help as far as making "Wimbledon Green" and "GNBCC" and has it changed your work since then?

It has changed my work. Working in the sketchbook has certainly loosened up my artwork a lot. I think my drawing is freer and more cartoony than it used to be. Narratively, I think "Wimbledon Green" was a turning point for me. It taught me that a story can be told more interestingly in a non-linear fashion.

Maybe the most important thing I've learned from working in the sketchbook is that there is a place for humor in my work. I like to laugh in real life but that hasn't always been terribly obvious from my work.

"GNBCC" is, in some ways, an extended monologue about Canadian cartoonists and cartooning. You touched on this a little in your introduction, but what is the challenge in trying to give that a narrative structure and to make it visually engaging?

It's a book about description. Really, more a kind of imaginary essay rather than a story. Description is always challenging to a cartoonist. You don't want to just draw pictures of what you are describing. The trick, if you can pull it off, is to give a life to the drawings that is separate from the narration. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. More and more I'm growing interested in this kind of storytelling. To make it work, you have to think more in terms of graphic design and sequence than in simple character motion. Often, the page is just a series of buildings, faces, etcetera. It's tricky to maintain the cartoon language and not end up with just a page of unrelated pictures. I find extending drawings through a series of panels is a good trick to keep a sequence of descriptions alive.

You mention that you redrew a section of the book, I'm curious -- how much of that was just a question of you being unhappy with how it looked, did you have to completely rewrite it, or what was it?

The work was redrawn primarily because I had originally crammed too much information into each panel. It was hard to read. There is a kind of perfect ratio between words and pictures in comics and for some odd reason I seem to have forgotten this fact when I drew those pages. Redrawing them meant I basically spread the information over a larger number of panels. In effect, one page would become two pages. The writing stayed pretty much the same but the storytelling (what I was doing in the panels) changed quite a bit. Those pages read much better now!

You talk a lot about different cartoonists in the book. Doug Wright is one who's well known, but as an American, I feel the need to ask, are any of the other cartoonists in the book real?

Oh, a handful of names in there are real. Feyer, Dingle, Simpkins, etcetera. Wright is the only one to get the extended treatment, though. Certainly, I could have written a lot more about several of these fellows, but I chose Wright because I had a lot to say about him back them. Brad Mackay and I hadn't published the Wright book then. If we had, I might have devoted that space to one of the other somewhat forgotten Canadian cartoonists of the past.

In "Palookaville" #20, which was released at the end of last year, you published a new chapter of "Clyde Fans." Why has it taken you so long to return to it?

God knows. "Clyde" has been a long project. Probably I should have finished it long ago rather than letting things like the "New York Times" strip or a million other such projects get in the way. It will be finished. In fact, that's what I am working on right now. But it's still a year or two from completion.

I have no excuses. I feel bad about it, though. I want to finish it. I'm sure when it is finally done, it will be a disappointment to people. I can hear the complaints already, that it was a waste of a decade or more!

What can we look forward to in "Palookaville" #21 next year and in future volumes? And what kind of material is "Palookaville" material, because of course you're still putting out books like "GNBCC?"

It's still too early in the game to see what will become of the "Palookaville" hardbacks. I love the idea and hope I can turn out one every year or so, but we will see how it goes. "Clyde" will finish up in the next two volumes. The end of part 4 in #21 and the entirely of part 5 in #22. I have a long sketchbook story I am working on that might appear in a future issue. I have a few articles I might like to write on old cartoonists. Who knows? I expect the books to evolve naturally.

I may not serialize my next long story after "Clyde." It's hard to say. I suspect that I will need to think of the form a bit more like Chris Ware is -- meaning, a satisfying book experience that is somewhat self contained. I think "Palookaville" #20 didn't have a long enough "Clyde Fans" sequence in it. #21 should be a bit better (probably twice the length of comic). #22 should be just what I want -- a complete chapter within the book (and probably other material as well). I do know I want the books to have as much of my personality to them as I can. I would have put "GNBCC" into "Palookaville" if it hadn't so perfectly belonged as companion volume to "Wimbledon Green." It almost demanded to be in a matching volume. Other sketchbook material will likely not have that same quality and can easily be folded into the annual hardback.

On a related note, I'm curious, will we ever see a compilation of the uncollected short stories from "Palookaville?"

Probably not. I hate that work! Too early. However, I do have some vague plans on what I might do with those comics. A way of recycling them as part of a new work. Whether this will ever happen is debatable, though -- it all depends of what projects get done in life. I always have about 20 projects in mind, but only about 5 will probably make it to fruition before I kick the bucket!
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Seth wins Toronto International Festival of Authors' Harbourfront Festival Prize!

Updated January 9, 2012


November 17, 2011
Nathan Watson


On October 29, the Toronto International Festival of Authors awarded its $10,000 Harbourfront Festival Prize to Canadian cartoonist Seth for having “substantially contributed to the state of literature and books in Canada.” After starting his comic series Palookaville in the early ’90s, many of Seth’s stories have since been collected and published as novels. He also illustrates for various magazines (such as The New Yorker and The Walrus) and is in the process of designing the packaging of a 25-book collection of Charles Schulz’s Peanuts strips.

In his acceptance speech, the Guelph-based artist argued that comics are a form of art just as much as other media. Seth and the many other artists who write “alternative comics” for adults (R. Crumb, Chris Ware and Daniel Clowes are among the most popular) aim to show the versatility of the medium. They communicate more nebulous narratives when compared to the fantastic elements in cartoons and superhero comics.

Seth’s winning the festival prize is a step toward general recognition that comics are as capable of describing the human condition and what experiences feel like as other art forms are.
Reading Seth’s comics can be a heavy experience. Time plays an important role in Seth’s work, so it’s not surprising that he is often described as a nostalgist. In his novel, It’s A Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken, Seth returns to the town where he was born to meet family members of a deceased New Yorker cartoonist. He dresses in 1940s fashion, decorates his home with antique knickknacks, and rants to Chester Brown’s character that he believes our culture hit its high-water mark decades ago.

Seth’s early work explores his own identity, such as his decision to change his name from Gregory Gallant in an effort to reinvent his personality. As narrators, Seth’s characters look back on the past, but it is always through selective memory, making an accordingly unreliable narration. Since recollection is often distorted, Seth feels that “nostalgia” doesn’t suit the use of memory. He views “nostalgia” as a pejorative term. In an interview with The Walrus, Seth suggested that though his characters at times dwell on the past, isolation plays a greater role in producing the melancholy of his characters.

Seth argues that the creative skills required to create comics are particularly similar to those employed in other media. For example, comics are easily compared to film because they can visually show you something instead of having to describe it. However, in an interview with Carousel Magazine, Seth mentioned that despite this clear link, he prefers to compare comics to poetry. The carefully thought-out process of arranging panels and writing dialogue is equivalent to choosing line lengths, style, and form. Comics are animated when the reader imagines what happens in the space between panels; the rhythm of the panel’s action and its dialogue convey a weight that amounts to more than merely being a “storyboard.”

It’s exciting to see more cartoonists being invited to participate in literary festivals like the International Festival of Authors. Their inclusion not only shows that the medium is growing in popularity, but that the definition of “author” is also changing. At the ceremony, Seth explained what it was like to witness the transformation. “I recall back in the early ‘90s talking to fellow cartoonist Chester Brown about the future of our medium, and our hopes of its literary acceptance. We weren’t optimistic. Frankly, the idea of winning something like this was not within the realm of possibilities at that time, so it goes without saying that I am deeply honoured.”

 
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Featured artists

Chester Brown
Seth

          



  The Comics Journal reviews GNBCC

Updated January 9, 2012


January 4, 2012
Rob Clough


The G.N.B. Double C, or The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists, is perhaps Seth’s strangest book to date. In terms of its spontaneity and sketchbook origin, it resembles Wimbledon Green, but it’s also like George Sprott in its resolute Canadianness and lack of plot. It’s mostly a work of fantasy as Seth takes the reader on a tour of the Dominion, Ontario branch of the G.N.B.C.C., a cartoonist’s organization slash lodge that previously existed only in Seth’s mind. Indeed, Dominion itself is another product of Seth’s imagination as the setting for several of his comics. Seth apologizes to Dylan Horrocks for inadvertently biting his concept of the Hicksville lighthouse library, containing all of the great comics that were never published. Somewhat like Horrocks, Seth creates his own alternate history (of Canadian cartooning here), but there’s an important emotional difference between Hickville and The G.N.B. Double C.

Unlike in Hicksville, where Horrocks uses the lighthouse library as a device representing all of the great comics that could have been (but were never published because of an apathetic industry), the fake cartoonists and comics Seth introduces in The G.N.B. Double C are frequently second-rate, uninspired, populist hacks and hackwork. Even in his own sketchbook fantasy, Seth can’t quite commit to Canada as a land of comics milk and honey. Instead, the G.N.B.C.C. houses work and memories that represents a warts-and-all approach to the history of comics. A number of these previously popped up in Wimbledon Green and are emblematic of a certain kind of popular comic, like the Inuit astronaut Kao-Kuk or the gumball machine character Jocko. There’s even a Fletcher Hanks-type cartoonist named Sol Gertzman who “drew” a bizarre character named Canada Jack, who was more mouthpiece for civic and philosophical issues than a superhero.

Seth does talk about the work of real cartoonist Doug Wright at length; this was his first such foray into publicizing the legacy of the Canadian cartoonist prior to the huge coffee table book and series of paperback reprints from D&Q. There are a few other Canadian cartoonists he discusses by name, like Jimmie Frise, Arch Dale, and Peter Whalley. The best parts of the book involve the most fanciful and unusual projects, like the icebound G.N.B.C.C. archive containing all sorts of rarities. Unlike the lodge, the archive has all of the good stuff: original art, rare comics (like a fake 18th century comic about a real general, done as a lampoon), and a fantasy setting for any comics researcher. One can imagine the late Bill Blackbeard having taken a trek up there and staying a season or two.

One of the more interesting side plots of this comic concerns the Journeyman award, the club’s highest honor. Awarded just once per decade, to the best cartoonist of that period, only nine such honors have been “dealt.” Some of the winners are invented, such as Isadore Lameque and a couple of others that I’ll discuss in a moment. Others, like Frise, Whalley, Wright, and Chester Brown are real and represent the cream of Canadian cartooning. Intriguingly, Seth never names who won the 2000-2010 award (Dave Sim? David Collier? Julie Doucet? Seth himself?) nor does he name the winner from 1940-1950.

The winners from 1970-1980 and 1980-1990 are Seth’s creations and deserve some mention. Henry Pefferlaw, winner in the first period, seems like an alter ego of sorts for Seth: a young, iconoclastic cartoonist who despised the status quo and who drew a strange work called The Great Machine that defies easy explanation. It’s a vaguely sci-fi-tinged work of formalism that feels like a momentary exploration of an area of work that Seth perhaps has thought about pursuing. (Indeed, many of the characters and stories in this book feel like spitballed and tossed-off ideas that sound better on a sketchbook page than fully explicated in a major work). The winner from 1980-1990, Sam Middlesex, is Pefferlaw’s opposite. He’s an older man who came to cartooning late in his life, after a career as a barber, and then churned out volume after volume about the solemn life of a Canadian family. This seems to be a kind of commentary on Seth’s own work, Clyde Fans in particular: “Narratively a bit staid. Even melodramatic in spots (though he stayed clear of soap opera )… he was no poet, yet he did manage to capture some sense of the profound.”

Toward the end, Seth unravels much of his false narrative. He tells the reader that there really isn’t a Mountie at the front of each clubhouse, and that cartoonists weren’t really revered by the greater Canadian public. Again, even in his own work of fantasy, Seth throws some cold water on his own dreams. Perhaps this is a reaction to some criticisms of his masterwork, It’s A Good Life If You Don’t Weaken, which was so emotionally powerful and involved a mystery so engaging that many people thought it was a work of pure autobiography. If so, Seth may want the reader to doubt everything he is saying in this book to shake off a similar critique. In any case, Seth here certainly appears unwilling to glorify mediocrity, even if it has social or cultural significance—even if they’re his own mediocre creations! I tend to favor this warts and all approach.

Perhaps the previous Seth work this most closely resembles is his Forty Cartoon Books of Interest, a small book of essays about frequently obscure and not always worthwhile collections of cartoons he’d come across in his lifelong hunt for unusual comics. There’s a tension in Seth’s work between being fascinated by comic-as-archival piece vs comic-as-art; there’s a sense that he feels he must be wary of overvaluing the former when it doesn’t measure up as the latter. That battle between nostalgic sentiment and discerning critical eye has always been at the heart of Seth’s work, even if he at times doubts he’s capable of making such a distinction in an objective manner. The G.N.B. Double C is a distillation of that conflict, and as such it’s his most personal work–even if the personally revealing details are oblique.

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Featured artist

Seth

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The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists




The Star calls GNBCC "a touching love letter"

Updated January 3, 2012


December 8, 2011
Jonathan Kuehlein

The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists

By Seth

Drawn & Quarterly, 136 pages, $24.95

You can picture all of our nation’s greats saddled up to the bar: Jimmie Frise, Doug Wright, Arch Dale.

What a wonderful place Seth has imagined in The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists.

Painting a poignant picture of a country that worships cartoonists as the highest of artists, the GNBCC is clearly, though unfortunately, a work of fantasy. It is, however, the kind of place any fan of the medium will embrace and easily, and happily, get lost in.

Seamlessly interweaving tales of real-life Canadian cartooning icons likes Frise (Birdseye Center), Wright (Nipper) and others with his own fully realized and compelling artists and creations, Seth delivers a touching love letter to his beloved medium and those who have blazed the trail for modern-day cartoonists.
 
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Seth

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The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists




  PAYING FOR IT, BIG QUESTIONS, GNBCC among best of 2011 according to Straight

Updated January 3, 2012


December 15, 2011
John Lucas

Paying For It (By Chester Brown. Drawn & Quarterly)
Even if you don’t agree with Chester Brown’s sometimes inflammatory rhetoric about the futility of romantic relationships and the practicality of viewing sex as a commodity, you have to admire his audacity for exposing one particular component of his personal life—his visits to prostitutes—in such a blunt and honest way.

Big Questions (By Anders Nilsen. Drawn & Quarterly)
When a military pilot crash-lands his airplane in a meadow, it has profound consequences for the local bird population. Some of the finches develop a vague theology around the pilot and the strange objects that he has brought into their world, forming a sort of avian cargo cult. The finches are indistinguishable from one another, but each has a sharply delineated personality. In this beautifully drawn parable, Anders Nilsen uses subtle gestures and glances to convey worlds of meaning.

The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists (By Seth. Drawn & Quarterly)
A great Canadian cartoonist in his own right, Seth imagines a time when those who toiled with pen and ink were central figures in this country’s public life. In this plotless but charming volume, he waxes nostalgic for a few of them, some real (such as Nipper creator Doug Wright) and some not (like Bartley Munn, who drew the Inuit astronaut Kao-Kuk).
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Featured artists

Chester Brown
Seth
Anders Nilsen

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Big Questions (paperback)
Paying For It
The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists




Chicago Tribune says GNBCC is one of the best books of 2011

Updated January 3, 2012


December 16, 2011
Julie Keller

"The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists" by Seth (Drawn & Quarterly); graphic novel: A made-up town and a lost era of cartooning nirvana, all set forth in tiny boxes with big ideas.
 
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Featured artist

Seth

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The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists




  Toronto Star names GNBCC and PAYING FOR IT among Top 10 graphic novels of 2011

Updated January 3, 2012


December 20, 2011
Jonathan Kuehlein

The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists

By Seth

Drawn & Quarterly, 136 pages

One of Canada’s most renowned cartoonists paints a lovingly detailed portrait of a world where he and his brethren are revered as the highest of artists. At times sweet and heartfelt, other times melancholy and moody, but always engrossing and thoroughly enjoyable.

Paying For It: A Comic-strip Memoir About Being a John

By Chester Brown

Drawn and Quarterly, 272 pages

The idea of trading cash for sex is still a shocking subject in any medium and leave it to Toronto cartooning icon Chester Brown to take the notion to the next level in graphic form. Brown’s astonishingly frank account of using the services of prostitutes in Toronto is a thoroughly engrossing look at a world most people would otherwise never know existed.

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Featured artists

Chester Brown
Seth

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Paying For It
The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists




The Stranger calls GNBCC "vibrant" and "alive"

Updated January 3, 2012


November 13, 2011
Paul Constant

One-named Canadian cartoonist Seth produced a comic book called Wimbledon Green a few years back. he drew it entirely in his sketchbook, so it wasn't as perfectly drafted as his other work. It felt a lot less affected, and it was an enjoyable lark. But it was also full of in-jokes about comic book collectors and so it wasn't very accessible to non-nerd fans. His new book, The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists, is also an inside joke—it's a book-length tour of a nonexistent Canadian cartoonist society's headquarters—but it feels alive in a way that Wimbledon Green didn't. Seth's love of the history of cartooning is on full display here, with riffs on old superhero comics and science fiction adventures (the spacefaring Eskimo is a special delight). It's a melancholy journey through nostalgia, but the sketchbook style makes it feel warmer, more vibrant than some of Seth's more serious stuff. If you've ever loved an old comic, this is the comic for you.
 
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Featured artist

Seth

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The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists




  LOUIS RIEL, GEORGE SPROTT among recommendations for the comic book novice

Updated January 3, 2012


December 8, 2011
Kenton Smith

George Sprott, by Seth

As celebrated comics writer Alan Moore pointed out, comics allow the planting of recurring motifs that acquire significance only later on, and whose meaning can be unpacked at the reader’s own pace.

Renowned Canadian cartoonist Seth makes adroit use of that approach here. His fragmented narrative asks: what life episodes make us who we are? That’s the underlying question as the artist examines his foolish, sad and possibly tragic titular figure, whose disappointments embody life itself. From story content to art to design, this is an affecting masterwork.

Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography, by Chester Brown

Named by Time magazine as one of its best comics in 2003, and now one of the Top 10 titles in CBC’s 2012 Canada Reads competition, this narrative of the Metis leader’s life is one of the most compulsively readable comics.

Canadian cartoonist Brown deliberately eschews pat explanations for what drove Riel. We’re left to decide whether he was a hero, madman or prophet. What’s fascinating is how anti-literary that approach is. Whereas prose fiction can take us inside characters’ minds, Brown uses visual devices — such as framing his figures from afar — to create distance. The book is a splendid illustration of what comics can do.
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Featured artists

Chester Brown
Seth

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George Sprott: (1894-1975)




Graphic Novel Reporter lists HARK!, PAYING FOR IT, GNBCC among best of 2011

Updated January 3, 2012


John Hogan

Hark! A Vagrant
by Kate Beaton
Drawn & Quarterly

You’ve never learned history like this. Kate Beaton is a wildly imaginative and hysterically funny chronicler of literature, history, and more in Hark! A Vagrant, which will make you laugh out loud at her wry observations and unique artwork.

Paying for It
by Chester Brown
Drawn & Quarterly

Once again, Chester Brown exposes his unique views on life and love—this time by chronicling his sexual history with prostitutes. Because of his honesty, his take on love and sex—whether you agree with it or not—is profound. You can argue, you can disagree, but what Brown presents is his truth, and because of it, it’s captivating.

Honorable Mentions
The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists
by Seth
Drawn & Quarterly
 
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Featured artists

Chester Brown
Seth
Kate Beaton

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Paying For It
Hark! A Vagrant
The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists




  GNBCC reviewed by Globe and Mail

Updated January 2, 2012


December 23, 2011
Kenton Smith

“Unlike other countries, Canadians (and their leaders) loved and supported cartooning,” declares Canada’s elder statesman of comics art, Seth, in his latest book. In this tale’s alternate timeline, even former prime minister Pierre Trudeau declares his only regret was never being a successful cartoonist.

The past in its dimensions is an overarching theme in Seth’s work, notably in 2009’s George Sprott. In The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists, it manifests primarily as a lament, for a fictional past that never was.

There’s no genuine wish being expressed by the artist for, say, the existence of a series starring an Inuit astronaut, Kao-Kuk. The point is to savour the melancholy in the characteristically human wish for things to have been otherwise.

The GNB Double C occupies a most distinctly imagined space in Seth’s fictional Canadian town of Dominion (also the setting for Sprott). From its entryway bas-relief featuring a “who’s who” of Canadian cartoon characters, to a lobby complete with brass brazier and enormous murals, to the communal Forest Room, with its copper-plated support column trees and “near-virtual history of Canadian cartooning on the walls” – the specificity of the artist’s imagination is key to the book’s spell. What’s visualized is the kind of place we’d like to visit, if it existed.

Similarly, some of the comics-that-never-were are so fantastically conceived, we wish they’d truly existed. Take a tale of fictional French-Canadian woodsman Jean Trepanier, in which the hero becomes lost in an indifferent wilderness. Then there’s the “final” adventure of Kao-Kuk, which circles back to Seth’s larger theme in suggesting the mundane may secretly be more fantastic than in reality.

Yet how impossible it is for any but the most damaged minds to block out reality altogether. Our otherwise possibly unreliable narrator can’t bring himself to gloss over unfortunate past social norms – such as unapologetic racism and sexism – that infected the GNBCC. Nor can he deny that, in fact, most of the member artists “had terrible taste and no understanding of art.” Many are either dead and forgotten, or equally neglected in nursing homes.

And there you have the full, melancholy measure of it: Most of us do nothing to matter a damn to history, and collective memory is equally indifferent to human creations of genuine worth. No wonder we learn the GNBCC rooftop has seen a few jumpers.

One line that happily reflects no kind of reality is a declaration that our national cartooning is “now in a period of decline.” By contrast, Seth recently became the first cartoonist to win the Harbourfront Festival Prize, and fellow Canadian Chester Brown’s Louis Riel was voted one of the top 10 for CBC’s 2012 Canada Reads competition. (This after yet another Canuck, Jeff Lemire, saw his Collected Essex County cut in the very first round in 2011.)

One hopes this keeps Canadian artists from suicide; at best, it’s a reflection of the continually growing recognition comic art is now enjoying. Given such often-wondrous output as The Great Northern Brotherhood, it’s no marvel.


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Seth

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The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists




Montreal Gazette highlights GNBCC, HERGE, and BLABBER BLABBER BLABBER for 2011

Updated January 2, 2012


December 29, 2011
Ian McGillis

Is Seth the P.G. Wodehouse of cartooning? The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists (Drawn & Quarterly, 136 pages, $24.95) makes a case for the claim. Like the English comic writer who located and obsessively mined a corner of the past that was at least partly his own creation – in his case, the gentlemen’s clubs and country houses of the Edwardian upper crust – Seth has his turf, and sticks to it. He is the great visual poet of the dying small towns of southern Ontario. His newest book sees him paying tribute to the fictional titular group, some of whose members are real – Seth’s salute to Doug Wright will give you a whole new appreciation for an artist easily taken for granted – and some the products of the author’s melancholy and forever backward-looking imagination. GNBCC is eloquent proof that a personal obsession can resonate by virtue of the conviction with which it is related. It moved me as few books this year have.

While it seems the jury is still out on Steven Spielberg’s cinematic take on Tintin – neophytes appear fine with it, devotees perhaps less so – the timing couldn’t be better for The Adventures of Hergé, by Jose-Louis Bocquet, Jean-Luc Fromental and Stanislas Barthelemy (Drawn & Quarterly, 64 pages, $19.95), a book that adopts the visual style of the Tintin books to recount the life of their Belgian creator. The decision to echo Hergé himself is a risky one, but it pays off in some effective ironic counterpoint: While his cartoon creation is off hunting yetis in Tibet, the artist is sneaking around on his wife and refusing to allow the names of any of his collaborators on the covers of his books. Newcomers to Hergé’s world may feel that a certain amount of background knowledge is being assumed, but the ready-made audience will ensure that this book finds plenty of happy homes.

As her Montreal appearance early this year showed, Lynda Barry inspires fervent devotion in her readers, who will no doubt line up to buy Blabber Blabber Blabber: Volume 1 of Everything (Drawn & Quarterly, 176 pages, $24.95), a gathering of her 1980s work, including the immeasurably influential Ernie Pook’s Comeek.




 
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Featured artists

Seth
Lynda Barry
Jose-Louis Bocquet, Jean-Luc Fromental & Stanislas Barthelemy

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Blabber Blabber Blabber
The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists
The Adventures of Herge




  GNBCC leads AV Club's Best Comics of 2011 along side PAYING FOR IT and MID-LIFE!

Updated December 29, 2011


December 29, 2011
Noel Murray

Top 10 Original Graphic Novels

1. Seth, The Great Northern Brotherhood Of Canadian Cartoonists (D&Q)
Seth’s latest “sketchbook novella” explores the 75-year history of a prestigious (fictional) professional cartoonists club by way of a tour through its headquarters, with Seth himself as the guide. Some of the work Seth describes is real, but most of it comes straight from his own head, and it reads like a wish list of comics he wishes he could read—or that he wishes he had time to draw. Where is that long-running series about the Eskimo astronaut? Or that impressionistic proto-graphic-novel about a building full of mysterious machines? In The G.N.B. Double C., Seth pays homage to the nostalgic appeal and seemingly limitless potential of old comics, while trying to create his own testament to how much wonder can be contained within a nine-panel grid.

3. Chester Brown, Paying For It (D&Q)
Chester Brown takes a detached approach to his recent history as a patron of prostitutes, telling his story in tiny panels populated by even tinier characters, positioned like figurines in a museum case. Brown attempts to argue that “possessive monogamy” is socially regressive, and that it makes more sense to separate companionship and sex, and whenever he crosses over from “this is an arrangement that works for me” to “this is the way everyone should live,” Paying For It becomes a little strange. But Brown finds the humor and the drama in his “dates,” and a late twist in the book calls into question a lot of what Brown’s trying to say about whether the traditional romantic order is corrupt. The advantage of Brown’s “watching from a distance” style is that it’s open to interpretation, allowing readers to re-raise the questions that Brown may think he’s answered.

7. Joe Ollmann, Mid-Life (D&Q)
John, the hero of Joe Ollmann’s Mid-Life, is a 40-year-old art director with two snippy grown daughters from his failed first marriage, plus an exhausted new wife and a toddler. When John becomes obsessed with a Laurie Berkner-like kiddie-music star named Sherry Smalls, he risks his family, his career, and his self-image to meet with her while on a business trip to New York. Ollmann works here with cramped nine-panel pages, conveying both the drudgery and the clutter of John’s life. But Mid-Life is remarkably nuanced within its own rigid parameters. The book approximates what it’s like to be at the halfway point of life, with memories and past regrets bleeding into daily interactions, even as middle-aged folks retain enough optimism about the future to keep pushing ahead.
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Featured artists

Chester Brown
Seth
Joe Ollmann

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Mid-Life
Paying For It
The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists




Daniel Clowes & Seth on Tour in October!

Updated October 19, 2011


Daniel Clowes & Seth hit the road to sign books, shake hands and talk comics in Canada and the USA. Don't miss what will be the liveliest and hands down funniest tour this year!

San Francisco @ Alternative Press Expo
October 1 and 2nd
No Seth, With Adrian Tomine, It will be just as funny!

Oak Park IL @ Unity Temple with Book Table Thursday October 13th

Boston, MA @ Boston Book Festival
Saturday October 15th

New York, NY @ Housing Works with Desert Island
Tuesday October 18th

Montreal, QC @ Ukrainian Federation
Wednesday October 19th

Toronto, ON @ IFOA
Friday October 21st


Miami, FL @ Miami Book Fair
Saturday November 19
With Adrian Tomine!
 
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Featured artists

Seth
Daniel Clowes

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The Death-Ray
The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists




  CBR lauds SETH as one of their necessary authors

Updated June 9, 2011


Comics College is a monthly feature where we provide an introductory guide to some of the comics medium's most important auteurs and offer our best educated suggestions on how to become familiar with their body of work.
This month we're going to take a look at the bibliography of the Canadian cartoonist called Gregory Gallant, better known to you and me as simply Seth.

Why he's important

Wimbledon Green
Along with such cartoonists as Chris Ware and Chester Brown, and Joe Matt, Seth was one of the seminal cartoonists of the 1990s, building on the work started by 80s-era artists like the Hernandez brothers and Daniel Clowes, and helping to bring attention to the medium by telling literate, emotionally complex stores that resonated with a variety of adult audiences. The cultural success that comics eventually received over the past 10 years is due in large part to the hard work that Seth and his contemporaries put into the art form.
Because he works in a style that so deliberately harkens back to the classic gag cartoonists of the early 20th century, and because his stories are frequently set in the past, some critics have made the assumption that his work is all surface nostalgia, a simplistic longing for a idyllic past that never really existed. It's not. If anything, a closer reading of Seth's work reveals that he is deeply suspicious of that sort of bygone wistfulness. More to the point, his work instead reflects a concern with the passage of time and mortality, and how our lives and memories can often quickly be swept aside by successive generations. More than just a valentine to the early 20th century, Seth uses that period to ask questions about how culture and the times influence and shape us, and vice-versa.

Where to start

Of all of his books, I think Wimbledon Green makes perhaps the best entry point, as it is easily Seth's most lighthearted and whimsical work to date. What's more, in many ways it marks a demarcation part for the artist towards a looser, more organic style.
Though a lark, the book, which tells the story of a mysterious, legendary comic book collecter who lives in a world where such characters can afford to have manservants and gyrocopters in their pursuit of that elusive issue of Green Ghost #1, carries a strong, melancholy undercurrent that keeps it from becoming too much of a trifle, and ruminates on a number of the afore-mentioned themes that resonate throughout the author's oeuvre.

From there you should read

Continuing on the ground laid by Wimbledon Green, George Sprott offers a portrait of an elderly TV personality in a small Canadian city, as viewed from the perspective of various people who knew him at different times in his life. I reviewed the book for Robot 6 back in 2009 so I won't repeat myself too much here except to say that it remains Seth's strongest work to date.
Seth came to national attention (or whatever the alt-comix equivalent of that may be) in 1996 with the publication of his first graphic novel It's A Good Life If You Don't Weaken, a seemingly autobiographical (but really completely fictional) account of the author's attempts to learn about an obscure New Yorker cartoonist. The good news is time hasn't dimmed this book's quality much. It remains a rich, evocative work and the next, logical step for those who want to continue to reading more of his comics.

Further reading

Since 1997, Seth has been working on Clyde Fans, the story of two brothers with diametrically opposite personalities - one outgoing and abrasive, the other meek and overly sensitive. Though still unfinished, the first half of the saga has been collected as Clyde Fans, Book One, and while it certainly remains an affecting work so far, you may be forgiven for thinking that you'd like to wait until the series is finished and collected under one cover.
For about a decade, Seth collected various stories his father told him during his childhood about growing up in rural Canada during the Great Depression and collected, lettered and illustrated them in Bannock, Beans and Black Tea. Occasionally harrowing, sometimes heartbreaking, these stories portray a real, true, bitter poverty that hopefully few of us will ever know. While more straight prose than comics, it remains a haunting book, and should not be ignored simply because it is not sequential art.
Ancillary material
Those who have developed a special appreciation for Seth's unique art style should definitely check out Vernacular Drawings, a lovely coffee-table sized culling of the author's various sketchbooks.
Both Clyde Fans and It's a Good Life were initially (and in the case of Fans, continue to be) serialized in Seth's ongoing series, Palookaville. Never collected in a book, the first three issues are worth tracking down, especially since they show the artist trying his hand at (one assumes) autobiography. The first issue recounts a time where he was assaulted (and apparently had long white hair) while issues 2-3 reveals of how he lost his virginity to an older woman.
If you want to track down even earlier work, I recommend searching the back issue bins for early issues of the first edition Drawn and Quarterly Anthology (i.e., the thin, magazine format) where you'll find him attempting a number of short, one and tw0-page fictional stories. If you want to see him trying his hand at a more mainstream type of comic, check out the Mister X Archives, where he does the art chores for a few Dean Motter stories.
Seth's illustration work abounds, and can be found decorating a number of books, advertisements, CD packaging (Aimee Mann's Lost in Space being a notable example) and DVD covers. He's also had a second career of sorts as a book designer, most notably on the John Stanley Library and The Complete Peanuts series. Some critics have complained that Seth's style is so overpowering that it tends to overshadow the work of the artist that's supposedly the focus of the book. It's a valid criticism as far as it goes, but I tend to feel that it's something that only rarely occurs and that on average his art does a more effective job of celebrating the artist in question rather than shouting them down.
Seth has always been something of an armchair historian and critic as well, as his attempts to bring artists like Doug Wright back into the spotlight show. It's a role perhaps best examplified by the little chapbook, Forty Cartoon Books of Interest, which was bundled along with issue no. 8 of Comic Art magazine. It's a charming little tour through some of the author's most treasured books, most of which you've probably never heard of before. You can still find new copies of that issue of Comic Art - chapbook included - on the Internet.
Finally, while he's been interviewed a number of times, the best is probably the one he did with Gary Groth in The Comics Journal #193 (but good luck finding a copy).

Avoid

Last year saw Seth become yet one more alt-cartoonist to abandon the traditional pamphlet format with the release of Palookaville Vol. 20. Designed as an annual as a small book, not unlike recent volumes of Chris Ware's Acme Novelty Library, the new format ostensibly gives Seth the opportunity to include different types of stories, art and writing and take more chances (in addition to continuing Clyde Fans).
Unfortunately, vol. 20 comes up a little short - the new chapter of Clyde Fans feels a bit to in media res even for those who've been following it all these years, and the concluding story, about a trip to Calgary, is the sort of self-loathing, solipsistic, navel-gazing nonsense that indie comics routinely and unfairly get flagged down for. It's certainly not a book to be avoided per se, and I'm have the utmost confidence that future volumes will show him knocking it out of the park once again, but this is definitely not the best place for newcomers to start their journey.
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Seth

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It's A Good Life If You Don't Weaken (HC)
Wimbledon Green
George Sprott: (1894-1975)




The Comics Journal reviews JOHN STANLEY's MELVIN THE MONSTER VOLUME 3

Updated May 19, 2011


The third volume of John Stanley's Melvin Monster is the last, and prints the final issues of the original series. As with all of the volumes in the Seth-designed John Stanley Library, it's aimed primarily at children, and packaged with them in mind. As such, it's designed to flow like a series of stories for anyone to enjoy, rather than acting to preserve a specific set of reprints. That has annoyed a number of collectors, particularly because of the publisher's decision to omit the original covers. Those same collectors will be pleased to know that all of the series' original covers are reprinted in the back of this volume, though eight of the nine covers are reprinted four to a page. While not ideal, Stanley's line is simple enough to convey each cover's gag quite adequately.
The main attraction of this series is Stanley's artwork. The beautiful simplicity of his character design makes each one a walking gag machine. Young Melvin, the kid monster who is a disgrace because he's nice and doesn't get up to mischief like all the other monsters, not only has a pointy head, but that pointy head is integral to any number of jokes. (The best is Melvin shooting himself at an animated totem pole.) A lot of the humor is driven by funny drawings, like a giant monster baby kept in a "crib" that is a cage with a huge padlock on it. When Melvin gets away from him, he's alarmed to discover that the crib has wheels. Another great repeated gag sees his friendly enemy Little Horror turning him into a series of part-boy, part-frog hybrids.
Stanley the writer isn't featured quite as prominently in this volume. Stanley's at his best when he takes a simple premise and is able to craft a complicated plot around it, throwing in gag after gag while escalating the circumstances of the story to hysterical levels before resolving it with a topper gag. Stanley even manages to keep a continued storyline going through a series of shorter stories, each with its own closing gag. You can see this in the fantastic Thirteen (Going On Eighteen), Tubby, and of course his classic Little Lulu comics. Those comics are far less high-concept than the Munsters/Addams Family style of humor found in Melvin Monster, but their stories flow out of the rock-solid characterization developed in each.
In earlier volumes, Stanley tried to develop longer and more complicated storylines surrounding Melvin's status as an outcast in his monster society. His journey to "Human Bean Land" in particular was a highlight, stacking gags as noted earlier. In this installment, Stanley stops attempting this type of story, sticking instead to a stock series of set-ups. Those involve the family's pet crocodile Cleopatra trying to eat Melvin, Melvin trying to enroll in the local school against the wishes of the teacher, and Melvin getting up to shenanigans with Little Horror. Stanley is quite adept at coming up with variations on a gag, but what's disappointing is that he isn't able to evolve the comic's stable of characters nor its stock set-ups over the course of the series. The stories get shorter and the gags get simpler in the last few issues of the original series.
The highlight of the volume is "Supermonster", a story that plays on the weird tension between Melvin and "Baddy," his father. In any other kind of story, the abuse and neglect Baddy heaps on Melvin would cast him as a villain; here, he's mostly just a buffoon doing what everyone else does. That said, Melvin is quite aware that his dad doesn't have his best interests at heart. In this story, Baddy prefers to put his son in harm's way of an all-devouring monster about to wake up from a long sleep rather than confront it himself. Indeed, he hopes to become famous as the father of the little monster who puts Supermonster to sleep! When Melvin enters the monster's cave, Stanley utilizes a series of enormous sound effects to get across the size of the monster and the peril he puts Melvin into. Stanley stacks the action of this strip's gags with a topper gag involving a "stretcher bird's" egg which, after Melvin confuses it for a sleeping pill, winds up attacking Baddy's nose.
The final gag of the series sees Melvin using a chemistry set to turn himself into an ordinary human boy (to his great delight) and then reversing the effect when he hears his father about to walk by. It's a gag that sums up the series. Melvin is a Candide-type innocent, a straight man in a crazy world who desires a normal life but is given nothing but chaos. I think Drawn & Quarterly was wise to market this so directly to children. The figures are simple, direct, and easy to understand. The colors are bright and border on garish (especially the backgrounds, which fill up negative space with non-naturalistic pastels). It features monsters doing silly things and mixes laughter and violence in a way that children always find funny. It's not the sort of series that generates the sort of affection for a character the way Little Lulu does, but it still features a cartoonist in Stanley who understands a trend and how to put his own stamp on it.
 
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Featured artists

Seth
John Stanley

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Melvin Monster Volume 3




  Newsarama calls MELVIN THE MONSTER terrifically clever

Updated May 12, 2011


Drawn & Quarterly brings readers another collection of John Stanley's terrific Melvin Monster comics, originally published in the late 1960s. Melvin's a young monster, living with his Baddy and Mummy in Monsterville, and he just doesn't fit it. He's very polite and wants to go to school - which makes him a very poor monster!

This third hardcover collects the final three issues of Melvin, and though the formula has become more obvious than ever (the increasing number of short gags suggest Stanley was running out of twists on his longer narratives), Stanley's strong cartooning and sturdy scripting keep the series engaging and fun.

While it's definitely a book for children, fans of quality cartooning will find plenty of reasons to appreciate Stanley's terrific work. He's able to move readers' eyes confidently through pages, and his quirky, iconic character designs capture the core essence of each character so immediately that little dialogue is needed to enforce their personality.

Drawn & Quarterly, working with designer Seth, continue to knock it out of the park in the design and assembly of the Stanley Library tomes. Sturdy hardcovers, sewn bindings, flat solid pages - you can actually give these comics to their target audience! I'm almost disappointed to get to the end of Melvin Monster; it's been a relentless fun, terrifically clever series. If you have kids, get all three books. If you don't, you still owe it to yourself see why Stanley's considered a master (I'd recommend the second book if you get only one - that's where I felt Stanley's voice felt strongest and freshest on this particular series).

Featured artists

Seth
John Stanley

           Featured products

Melvin Monster Volume One
Melvin Monster Volume 2
Melvin Monster Volume 3




TIME deems Free Comic Book Day a success with SETH's John Stanley Summer Fun Sampler

Updated May 12, 2011


John Stanley's Summer Fun: In the '50s and '60s, writer (and occasional artist) John Stanley was the force behind some of the most purely delightful kids' comics ever, a lot of which have reappeared in print in the past few years. This sampler from Drawn & Quarterly (with cover art by Seth, who's been designing their Stanley reprints) appears to include examples of Stanley's work on Thirteen Going on Eighteen and the Little Lulu spinoff Tubby, among others.

 
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Featured artist

Seth

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Melvin Monster Volume One
Nancy Volume One




  SETH's John Stanley's Summer Fun sampler the best of all FCBD offerings

Updated May 12, 2011


Drawn & Quarterly presents what will surely be the best, most rollicking and pleasure-filled FCBD offering, one that appeals to a myriad of readers; young or old, new to the genre or drowning in stacks of plastic covered pulp, John Stanley's Summer Fun will leave the reader smiling. Spotlighting the world's most loved all-ages cartoonist, John Stanley, and one of today's best contemporary cartoonists and designers, Seth, John Stanley's Summer Fun features stories from the John Stanley Library--Melvin Monster and Nancy--as well as Stanley classics Dunc and Loo and The Little King, making the collection as diverse as it is engaging. Not only will D+Q's FCBD issue appeal to the mainstream media, but its direct link to the John Stanley Library makes it relevant to what retailers have in store. Capturing the essence of FCBD while showcasing comics that are accessible to all readers, John Stanley's Summer Fun offers great value in an eye-catching package. How could you pass this up?
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Featured artist

Seth

           Featured products

Melvin Monster Volume One
Nancy Volume One




The Library Journal recommends PALOOKAVILLE 20

Updated March 11, 2011


A compilation of serial comic, autobiography, sketchbook, and gallery documentation, this first hardback publication of the long-running Palookaville comic series is captivating for both fans and newbies of Seth's work (George Sprott; It's a Good Life, If You Don't Weaken; and Wimbledon Green). An earnest introduction laments the end of a comic book format yet welcomes the opportunity for more comprehensive work. The ongoing series Clyde Fans opens this volume, depicting the decline of the Matchcard's family business through creative, fast-paced memory sequences. Readers are then invited into the author's world, literally, through photographs and an essay describing Seth's art installation Dominion City, a three-dimensional model city designed as a setting for his stories. Following are sketchbook images and an illustrated account of the author's humorous yet angst-filled experience at a book festival. A cartoonist for The New Yorker, Seth offers stylized illustrations that are well rendered and tell compelling stories.
Verdict This periodical style of serial publication is highly satisfying. Finishing the extensive "Palookaville" is analogous to watching DVD extra features of a favorite movie. Highly recommended.—Willow Fitzgibbon, Fayetteville P.L., AR
 
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Seth

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Palookaville Volume 20




  Worchester Mag reviews PALOOKAVILLE 20

Updated March 4, 2011


Palookaville #20 (Drawn and Quarterly)
Though it contains the fourth part of Seth’s “Clyde Fans” saga, it’s Seth the Fine Artist who stands out beyond his narrative works, thanks to a riveting account of his gallery show featuring a miniature cardboard version of fictional locale Dominion City that he built in his basement. It’s a wonderful work that brings to life what goes on inside of the head of one of the most vital creators in modern comics. His rich sketchbook work and an autobiographical tale of self-loathing round out this must grab book.
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Seth

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Palookaville Volume 20




The Globe and Mail talks JULIE DOUCET, SETH, AND CHRIS WARE

Updated February 18, 2011


Among diehard comics fans, news of a book by Montreal’s Julie Doucet is cause for celebration. There’s only one problem: Se hasn’t really produced any comics in more than a decade.

The creator of the influential series Dirty Plotte, Doucet famously renounced comics in 2000 to explore collage, printmaking and poetry. But her resolve has done little to deter her ardent admirers (which include Canadian publisher Drawn & Quarterly) from trying to persuade to come back to the party.

The results of these courtships have been intriguing and even beautiful (2007’s 365 Days: A Diary being a standout), but have lacked the exuberant qualities that fuelled such seminal comics as the autobiographical opus My New York Diary.

So what should one make of My New New York Diary, a collaboration between Doucet and Michel Gondry, the mercurial filmmaker behind Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Green Hornet?


The brainchild of Gondry (who admits to sweet-talking the reluctant artist into taking part), My New New York Diary is an attempt to revisit Doucet’s most enduring work, and the result is as fascinating as it is frustrating.

The book features Doucet’s distinctive black-and-white illustrations, which track her misadventures in New York with the impish, impulsive filmmaker. If she has a brave face, she surely had it on when she sat down to draw this book.

Under her pen, Gondry comes off like a slacker Stanley Kubrick: Ambitious and manipulative, he is willing to do anything to achieve his vision, even if it includes lying to his “star.” Over the course of 100 pages, Gondry feeds her burned pancakes, drags her to a strip club to sketch and leaves her to buy her own groceries and restock the beer fridge.

Gondry doesn’t fare much better in his 18-minute film, which features filmed footage of Julie interacting with her drawings. Though not terribly inventive, the film is sure to be a rush for any Doucet fan, as it does an excellent job of bringing her inimitable style to animated life (wait for the dream sequence featuring her original drawings). As captivating as it is, one can’t help but sympathize with Doucet, who seems ill at ease with the entire project. At one point in the film, she calls Gondry “a bastard” for persuading her to take part.

As a sort-of sequel to a more accomplished work, My New New York Diary falls far short of its title’s promise. In the end, this project ends up revealing more about the gregarious, high-profile Gondry than it does about Doucet.

A seismic shift has taken place in the field of comics since Chris Ware’s Acme Novelty Library made its debut more than 17 years ago. But Acme is still with us; a sturdy, reliable stage for one of the world’s most innovative and thought-provoking cartoonists to show his stuff. Though he has earned his greatest acclaim thanks to graphic novels such as Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth, he has always seemed most at home as an artist in the pages of Acme.


And for the landmark 20th issue of his flagship title, Ware refuses to disappoint, with a cradle-to-grave story of a hapless financial-services executive faced with a crumbling personal life, several crises of faith and a financial meltdown. The result is one of the best comics of 2010.

The story really begins with the cover, designed to like an old photo album or scrapbook, replete with embroidered blue fabric and an embossed gold “LINT.” That would be Jordan Lint, to whom we are introduced on the inside pages as an infant trying to make some sense of the world. Jordan retains much of the same facial expression and general disposition over the next 70 or so pages, as he frantically pursues – then falls under the wheels of – the American Dream. Like countless millions who have come before him, he is ever striving, yet, in the end, barely surviving.

In mining contemporary events – the ongoing financial turmoil in the United States – this feels like one of Ware’s riskiest stories. But it’s unspooled with such finesse and humanity that you can’t help but empathize with his philandering, felonious and ill-fated “hero.”

Of course, there are bravura moments as well. The pages featuring an excerpt from an autobiographical graphic novel by Lint’s son are unexpected and effective, while the final half-dozen pages that project us – and a feeble Lint – 10 years into the future are as complex and heartbreaking as any comic I’ve read recently.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Chris Ware is good friends with Canadian cartoonist Seth. They are both masters of their craft who share a nostalgic, deeply introspective world view. So it seems fitting that the landmark 20th issue of Palookaville, Seth’s long-running comic series, would hit the shelves at approximately the same time as Ware’s Acme Novelty Library. But somehow Seth’s latest seems like more of a milestone.

That’s probably because it also marks his departure from the familiar “floppy” format (i.e., traditional stapled comics) of the previous 19 issues, in favour of a more substantial – and more marketable – hardcover format. Like many lifelong comics fans, Seth harbours a strong emotional bond with the disposable four-colour comic books of his youth.


But the demands of retailers who require comics that are easily “shelfable” have rendered traditional comics extinct, save for a few holdouts. As Seth explains in the introduction of his handsome new Palookaville, he didn’t come to this decision easily, but did so with “no regrets.”

I don’t believe him for a minute.

Melancholy has always been an active ingredient of Seth’s best work, but with this issue he has doubled the recipe. From the apologia-as-introduction to the downhearted autobiographical strip at the back, Palookaville #20 is profoundly elegiac. On one page he reprints, in miniature, all 19 covers of his comic to date; as if they were old high-school buddies. In less able hands, this would be overwhelming, but Seth balances it all off by including a range of material, from a portfolio of his Dominion City art project to excerpts from his sketchbook.

But the main draw here is the latest instalment of his long-brewing graphic novel Clyde Fans. Set in the 1970s, this chapter switches from the delusional life of Simon Matchcard to the dilemma of Abraham Matchcard, the president of his family’s financially racked fan company. Faced with a strike by his workers and falling fortunes, Abraham sits in his office and contemplates the inevitable, as his mind wanders to hate-filled reminiscences of his largely absent father. Rendered in muted blues and blacks, it’s a stark tale of the dark side of capitalism.

As farewells go, Palookaville #20 is as bittersweet and beautiful as they come. If this is what the future holds for Seth – and for comics – I just might be persuaded to say goodbye to comic books as well.
 

Featured artists

Julie Doucet
Seth
Chris Ware

           Featured products

Palookaville Volume 20
Acme Novelty Library Volume 20




  The Comics Journal reviews PALOOKAVILLE VOLUME 20

Updated February 18, 2011


Seth, Chester Brown and Julie Doucet were three of Canadian publishing concern Drawn & Quarterly’s most important artists in their early days, but only Seth has continued to actually publish new issues of his comic book series. Once every year to eighteen months, a new issue of Palookaville would arrive, with his “Clyde Fans” storyline going since issue #10. Even Seth, an artist who loves comic books as physical artifacts more than most, could not escape the realities of the marketplace and so has retooled Palookaville as an annual hardcover. The result, not surprisingly, is a beautiful and somewhat antiquated-looking object that’s as much to be looked at as read. Seth’s nostalgia for lost, beautiful objects of yore made this kind of volume a natural. Indeed, it allows the cartoonist to stretch out a little bit and do a little of the sort of commentary that was so interesting to follow in his Forty Cartoon Books of Interest book. Like Chris Ware, Seth is one of our best talkers about comics.

Indeed, I see both cartoonists as not only having similar skill sets and interests, but they also process their neuroses and anxieties in a similar manner. The annual Palookaville hardcover seems to draw not a little inspiration from Ware’s own Acme Novelty Library annuals. While both contain segments of larger works to come, they are also meant to be individual art objects in their own right. Both sometimes contain interesting one-offs or ancillary material. Both find the artist struggling with themselves on a day-to-day basis, a struggle that is mirrored by the actions of their own characters. Seth takes things in a different direction, using an austere aesthetic that is very much his own. From his choice of colors to the drawings and designs he chooses for his endpapers, Seth aims to create a new object that at the same time evokes a nostalgia not for a real place and time, but the way we might dimly remember such times and places from the artifacts and photographs that are left behind.

That aesthetic yearning was made manifest in the art installation that Seth inadvertently created in his fictional town of Dominion. A series of beautiful but quickly constructed & painted cardboard buildings, Dominion was a way of using his hands to ruminate on a project that never quite came together. It exists as a sort of bridge to Seth’s imagination, a vessel for that nostalgia of the particular that haunts the artist. These buildings are a reaction to the mass-produced and cookie-cutter aspects of modern culture; they are notable as much for their aesthetic qualities as well as their quirks. The extensively-illustrated article he wrote about how they came to be an art exhibit was both exhaustive in its details and revealing of the artist, and it strongly informs the other pieces in this issue.

The latest chapter of “Clyde Fans”, a story about the ways in which memory deceives and destroys us, focuses on alpha male Abe Matchcard. The story is also all about failure, and this episode reveals that Abe may well be a greater failure than his anxiety-ridden younger brother Simon. It’s an interesting companion piece to Ware’s recent “Lint” issue of Acme, which is also about an alpha male (a character type very different from Seth and Ware’s usual put-up neurotics) who nonetheless winds up every bit as desperate and lonely as the weaker folk around them. “Calgary Festival” presents the author himself as a counterpoint to Matchcard: someone experiencing deep isolation, depression and social anxiety. It’s very carefully crafted to reflect a time and place now in the past, implying that this is either a rock-bottom state of being or a prior emotional steady-state that has now shifted. There’s a straightforward, emotional rawness to this story that’s surprising to see from Seth, given the way that he prefers to use images to convey emotion more than text. It’s an especially bracing story given that even someone as gifted, charming, respected and well-liked as Seth is capable of being reduced to such a state. I hesitate to speculate on whether or not putting these thoughts down on paper was in any way therapeutic for the artist, but I admire his unflinching and frequently unflattering honesty. It’s certainly a very different side to an artist whose work has a slick and sometimes mannered surface quality that demands some effort on the part of the reader to penetrate; here, Seth lays himself bare.
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Seth

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Palookaville Volume 20




Clyde Fans Book One on The Hipster Dad's Bookshelf

Updated February 15, 2011


January 18, 2011

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Clyde Fans Book One (Drawn & Quarterly, 2004).

Interestingly, this was not a book that I intended to buy just yet. I really like the great cartooning work of Seth, but I wasn't aware of Clyde Fans, the story of a long-closed seller of electrical appliances in yet another timelost Canadian town, until I actually saw a copy in the sadly now-closed Toronto bookseller Pages in the summer of '09. Since it is the first half of a story that Seth hasn't quite got around to finishing yet, I figured that I would wait until both volumes were available, eventually, and buy them both together. Then I found a used hardcover edition at McKay Books in Nashville for four bucks and went ahead.

It's written in a style that I'm not entirely used to from Seth. Rather than the fragmented storytelling that made Wimbledon Green and George Sprott so entertaining, the first half of this book - seventy pages! - are devoted to an old man in 1997 telling readers about the history of his old, long-closed business. It's an extended and, bizarrely, compelling story. I was just sucked right in.

The second half, set in 1957, sees the old man's incompetent brother Simon trying to fashion himself as a salesman, offering Clyde Fans products in the small town of Dominion. It's absolutely lovely cartooning used to illustrate a poignant and fascinating story. Simon's failures kept me completely hooked and Seth created a town so real that it only seems about ninety miles from anywhere. I'd love to see the remainder of this story one day soon. Recommended.
 
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Seth

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Clyde Fans; Book One




  Publishers Weekly reviews Palookaville 20

Updated February 9, 2011


Comics Reviews: 12/20/2010


Palookaville #20
Seth, Drawn & Quarterly, $19.95 (88p) ISBN 978-1-77046-018-8
The first volume of the long-running Palookaville series to be published in hardback, this gorgeous compilation underscores Seth’s status as a cartoonist, illustrator, and now installation artist. In part four of the ongoing Clyde Fans saga, set in 1975, the fan company--owned by brothers Simon and Abraham Matchcard--and its supplier are on the verge of bankruptcy. As workers at the Borealis Business Machines plant strike for higher wages, Abraham realizes that the company his father built decades ago is crumbling. The sequence of nearly wordless panels as Abraham leaves the plant, knowing the men have lost their jobs, is heartbreaking. Seth devotes the volume’s middle section to his own multiyear project creating a fictional Canadian city he dubs Dominion. Though it began in his sketchbooks, Dominion soon took the form of elaborate cardboard models, which were displayed at several galleries across Canada. The miniature streetscapes and enlargements of Seth’s sketchbooks detailing his planning stages for the city reflect the same elegiac tone as the lead story. The coda, an illustrated essay detailing Seth’s experiences at a Calgary author festival and his attempts to overcome his social anxiety, provides a strong finish to a memorable volume. (Nov.)
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Seth

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Palookaville Volume 20




Acme 20 and Palookaville 20 in the Globe and Mail

Updated February 8, 2011


Reluctant stars of the comix universe: new works by Julie Doucet, Chris Ware and Seth
REVIEWED BY BRAD MACKAY
January 21, 2011
The Saturday Globe and Mail

Among diehard comics fans, news of a book by Montreal’s Julie Doucet is cause for celebration. There’s only one problem: Se hasn’t really produced any comics in more than a decade.

The creator of the influential series Dirty Plotte, Doucet famously renounced comics in 2000 to explore collage, printmaking and poetry. But her resolve has done little to deter her ardent admirers (which include Canadian publisher Drawn & Quarterly) from trying to persuade to come back to the party.

The results of these courtships have been intriguing and even beautiful (2007’s 365 Days: A Diary being a standout), but have lacked the exuberant qualities that fuelled such seminal comics as the autobiographical opus My New York Diary.

So what should one make of My New New York Diary, a collaboration between Doucet and Michel Gondry, the mercurial filmmaker behind Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Green Hornet?

The brainchild of Gondry (who admits to sweet-talking the reluctant artist into taking part), My New New York Diary is an attempt to revisit Doucet’s most enduring work, and the result is as fascinating as it is frustrating.

The book features Doucet’s distinctive black-and-white illustrations, which track her misadventures in New York with the impish, impulsive filmmaker. If she has a brave face, she surely had it on when she sat down to draw this book.

Under her pen, Gondry comes off like a slacker Stanley Kubrick: Ambitious and manipulative, he is willing to do anything to achieve his vision, even if it includes lying to his “star.” Over the course of 100 pages, Gondry feeds her burned pancakes, drags her to a strip club to sketch and leaves her to buy her own groceries and restock the beer fridge.

Gondry doesn’t fare much better in his 18-minute film, which features filmed footage of Julie interacting with her drawings. Though not terribly inventive, the film is sure to be a rush for any Doucet fan, as it does an excellent job of bringing her inimitable style to animated life (wait for the dream sequence featuring her original drawings). As captivating as it is, one can’t help but sympathize with Doucet, who seems ill at ease with the entire project. At one point in the film, she calls Gondry “a bastard” for persuading her to take part.

As a sort-of sequel to a more accomplished work, My New New York Diary falls far short of its title’s promise. In the end, this project ends up revealing more about the gregarious, high-profile Gondry than it does about Doucet.

A seismic shift has taken place in the field of comics since Chris Ware’s Acme Novelty Library made its debut more than 17 years ago. But Acme is still with us; a sturdy, reliable stage for one of the world’s most innovative and thought-provoking cartoonists to show his stuff. Though he has earned his greatest acclaim thanks to graphic novels such as Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth, he has always seemed most at home as an artist in the pages of Acme.

And for the landmark 20th issue of his flagship title, Ware refuses to disappoint, with a cradle-to-grave story of a hapless financial-services executive faced with a crumbling personal life, several crises of faith and a financial meltdown. The result is one of the best comics of 2010.

The story really begins with the cover, designed to like an old photo album or scrapbook, replete with embroidered blue fabric and an embossed gold “LINT.” That would be Jordan Lint, to whom we are introduced on the inside pages as an infant trying to make some sense of the world. Jordan retains much of the same facial expression and general disposition over the next 70 or so pages, as he frantically pursues – then falls under the wheels of – the American Dream. Like countless millions who have come before him, he is ever striving, yet, in the end, barely surviving.

In mining contemporary events – the ongoing financial turmoil in the United States – this feels like one of Ware’s riskiest stories. But it’s unspooled with such finesse and humanity that you can’t help but empathize with his philandering, felonious and ill-fated “hero.”

Of course, there are bravura moments as well. The pages featuring an excerpt from an autobiographical graphic novel by Lint’s son are unexpected and effective, while the final half-dozen pages that project us – and a feeble Lint – 10 years into the future are as complex and heartbreaking as any comic I’ve read recently.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Chris Ware is good friends with Canadian cartoonist Seth. They are both masters of their craft who share a nostalgic, deeply introspective world view. So it seems fitting that the landmark 20th issue of Palookaville, Seth’s long-running comic series, would hit the shelves at approximately the same time as Ware’s Acme Novelty Library. But somehow Seth’s latest seems like more of a milestone.

That’s probably because it also marks his departure from the familiar “floppy” format (i.e., traditional stapled comics) of the previous 19 issues, in favour of a more substantial – and more marketable – hardcover format. Like many lifelong comics fans, Seth harbours a strong emotional bond with the disposable four-colour comic books of his youth.

But the demands of retailers who require comics that are easily “shelfable” have rendered traditional comics extinct, save for a few holdouts. As Seth explains in the introduction of his handsome new Palookaville, he didn’t come to this decision easily, but did so with “no regrets.”

I don’t believe him for a minute.

Melancholy has always been an active ingredient of Seth’s best work, but with this issue he has doubled the recipe. From the apologia-as-introduction to the downhearted autobiographical strip at the back, Palookaville #20 is profoundly elegiac. On one page he reprints, in miniature, all 19 covers of his comic to date; as if they were old high-school buddies. In less able hands, this would be overwhelming, but Seth balances it all off by including a range of material, from a portfolio of his Dominion City art project to excerpts from his sketchbook.

But the main draw here is the latest instalment of his long-brewing graphic novel Clyde Fans. Set in the 1970s, this chapter switches from the delusional life of Simon Matchcard to the dilemma of Abraham Matchcard, the president of his family’s financially racked fan company. Faced with a strike by his workers and falling fortunes, Abraham sits in his office and contemplates the inevitable, as his mind wanders to hate-filled reminiscences of his largely absent father. Rendered in muted blues and blacks, it’s a stark tale of the dark side of capitalism.

As farewells go, Palookaville #20 is as bittersweet and beautiful as they come. If this is what the future holds for Seth – and for comics – I just might be persuaded to say goodbye to comic books as well.

Brad Mackay is co-editor of The Collected Doug Wright: Canada's Master Cartoonist, to which he contributed a biographical essay.
 
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Featured artists

Julie Doucet
Seth
Chris Ware

           Featured products

Palookaville Volume 20
Acme Novelty Library Volume 20




  Palookaville 20 in Booklist

Updated February 8, 2011


Palookaville, v.20.
Seth (Author) , Seth (Illustrator)
January 1, 2011

The magazine-style comic book, the standard format for the medium since its birth in the 1930s, is inexorably giving way to square-bound books, published less frequently but with more pages. Love and Rockets and Acme Novelty Library have already made the switch, and now Seth’s Palookaville joins the trend. This first book-format edition continues the serialization of “Clyde Fans,” a decades-spanning saga of the slow decline of a family manufacturing business begun in Palookaville 10 years ago, which exemplifies Seth’s ongoing obsession with the past. Nostalgia also suffuses the cardboard models of Dominion City, an “old and faded” Canadian town lovingly fabricated by the artist and documented here.

Rounding out the volume, Seth returns to autobiography for the first time since the mid 1990s with an account of his appearance at a book festival: although drawn in a more casual style than his meticulously crafted earlier works, “Calgary Festival” is as painfully self-lacerating as anything he has ever penned.

Whatever the format, fans who’ve faithfully followed Palookaville over the past two decades will welcome its return.

— Gordon Flagg

Featured artist

Seth

           Featured product

Palookaville Volume 20




The Montreal Gazette lists ACME NOVELTY 20, PALOOKAVILLE 20 and MARKET DAY as top comics of 2010!

Updated December 14, 2010


Pictures help tell the story

Graphic novels and classic comics cover a wide range

By IAN MCGILLIS, The Gazette December 11, 2010

When it's done right, graphic literature combines the best qualities of books and film to produce a reading experience of unique immediacy. Here are some of 2010's best titles, suitable for adepts and newcomers alike.

Chris Ware's Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth was the Citizen Kane of graphic novels, breaking new ground in form and content, and creating a legion of followers for whom the latest Ware instalment is a bona fide event. The Acme Novelty Library 20: Lint ( Drawn & Quarterly, 72 pages, $24.95) follows the life of the titular Jordan Wellington Lint of Omaha, Neb., from the womb to his last ride on a hospital gurney. Ware is a chronicler of unremarkable, even stunted lives. Lint's story offers little if anything in the way of conventional redemption; the uplift comes with Ware's implicit statement that no life, in the end, is unworthy of close attention. While Ware doesn't make it easy on the reader -lettering sometimes shrinks to sizes requiring a magnifying glass, and the sequence of the panels is at times intentionally unclear -the sense of being in the hands of a master, and of holding a book that's a thing of beauty in itself, never wavers.

Guelph-based Seth, recognizable even to non-comics followers through commissions ranging from New Yorker covers to Stuart McLean book jackets, now presents the sumptuously designed Palookaville 20 (Drawn & Quarterly, 88 pages, $20.95), the first hardcover instalment in his long-running series of works-in-progress and sketchbook fragments. Seth's aesthetic, in person as on the page, is that of a 1950s man chafing in a 21st-century context. He's a poet of the things we tend to pass without a second look: dying towns off the main highways, doomed small businesses, ungainly loners. He can invest more character and poignancy in a drawing of a gas station than most artists can in a human portrait.

Market Day, by James Sturm (Drawn & Quarterly, 96 pages, $23.95) tells the story of the rug weaver Mendleman, a proud young artisan and father-to-be who arrives in his local market one day to find that his longtime buyer is no longer there, replaced by someone with no appreciation of his work. Sturm renders the lost world of early 20th-century Eastern European Jewry with sombre-hued economy; as a writer, he unfolds his narrative with the deft, unforced momentum of an Isaac Bashevis Singer story. A story of this time and setting carries the unavoidable and awful knowledge of what came not long after; Sturm lets that knowledge stand as given and presents a moving tale of one man caught up in historical forces beyond his control. Market Day gets this reviewer's vote as graphic novel of the year.
 
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Featured artists

Seth
James Sturm
Chris Ware

           Featured products

Market Day
Palookaville Volume 20
Acme Novelty Library Volume 20




  New Haven Advocate loves D+Q's approach to print, reviews ACME 20, PALOOKAVILLE 20 and PICTURE THIS!

Updated December 9, 2010


Winter Books: Montreal-Based Drawn & Quarterly Creates Books As If They Really Matter — 'Palookaville,' 'The Acme Novelty Library' And 'The Near-Sighted Monkey Book'

By Alan Bisbor

Picture this!

'Palookaville.'

A three-word response to those who believe the printed book is dead: Drawn and Quarterly. The Montreal-based publisher Drawn and Quarterly, distributed in the U.S. by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, produces books so artfully designed and packaged that one begins admiring them even before opening the covers. Their titles feel more substantial in the hand than most contemporary books. They even smell different, giving off a nice tangy scent of thick, high-quality paper stock. Each seems like a unique hand-made object, having the heft and feel of small treasures. Show me a Kindle that can provide such beauty and tactile joy and I will concede your point about the printed book’s demise.

Palookaville
88 pages. Drawn & Quarterly. $19.99

For all that, Drawn & Quarterly books still contain, for the most part, cartoons. Take the recently published 20th volume of Seth’s Palookaville comic book title. Seth (real name Gregory Gallant) is responsible for the design of many of Drawn & Quarterly’s volumes, as well as for the design of the (ultimately) 25-volume set of the Complete Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz for Fantagraphics Books. Seth is Drawn & Quarterly’s de facto house designer; others who do design work seem to follow the fonts, inking, style and high standards that he has established. So the release of the 20th volume of his Palookaville is an auspicious occasion. The cover features a cityscape in pink ink against a black backdrop, and the volume opens to regal-patterned endpapers. In his welcoming note, Seth explains why his former comic book — published in the pamphlet style familiar to all Spider-Man fans — is now a hardcover. His sense of loss over the comic book format is offset by new possibilities now open to him — exploited fully in this volume. In addition to the continuing saga of Palookaville — essentially, about a family business selling electric fans — Seth is able to include photographs, excerpts from his scrapbooks and sketch books, portraits, interviews and whatever flotsam catches his fancy. Palookaville might be with us for another 20 volumes, which is a good thing.

The Acme Novelty Library
108 pages. $27.50

Simultaneous with Seth’s red-letter volume, Drawn & Quarterly has published the 20th volume of The Acme Novelty Library by Chris Ware, best known for his Jimmy Corrigan saga. Like Seth, Ware publishes work regularly in The New Yorker and the New York Times. His latest installment takes us into the life of Jordan Lint, a tormented loser like his previous protagonists Jimmy Corrigan and Rusty Brown. It is as handsome as any volume in the Acme series, swaddled in Ware’s antiquarian touches, from the Victorian wallpaper-like cover to the wistful scenes of Midwestern homes, muted browns, blues and greys. Within these forms, however, Ware weaves a jarringly sordid plot, relying heavily on adolescent sexual angst. Even while one admires Ware’s genius for deconstructing and then meticulously reinventing comic art formats, his stories are unsettling. You get the impression, in fact, that he is a deeply disturbed individual who is playing out his paralyzed Portnoy-like inner dramas in his “novelty library.” He makes Seth’s wistful melancholy seem uplifting.

Picture This: The Near-Sighted Monkey Book
176 pages. $29.95

Finally, and the greatest cause for celebration, is the release of Lynda Barry’s second coffee-table-sized primer on the creative process, Picture This: The Near-Sighted Monkey Book. While offering quirky tips on unleashing your inner Picasso, Barry is really all about bringing joy into your life. Picture This — and even more so its predecessor, What It Is — is not just a how-to guide for making art, but nothing less than a how-to guide for living. Insights abound like haiku as she poses questions that force us to confront our fears (“What makes us start drawing? What makes us stop?”). Though perhaps a companion volume to What It Is, Picture This does not scale the same artistic heights as its predecessor. Nonetheless, it’s a far more coherent “how to” guide. The one thing the two volumes have in common is that you need both equally. Yes, need. Barry’s books meet needs, some of which you did not know you had until you picked them up. If that is not the mark of a true masterwork and potential classic, I don’t know, uh, what it is.
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Featured artists

Seth
Chris Ware
Lynda Barry

           Featured products

Picture This
Palookaville Volume 20
Acme Novelty Library Volume 20




The Onion A.V. Club reviews ACME NOVELTY LIBRARY #20 and PALOOKAVILLE #20

Updated November 23, 2010


November 19, 2010

By Zack Handlen, Jason Heller, Noel Murray, Leonard Pierce, Oliver Sava, And Christian Williams

Thematically, Acme Novelty Library #20 (Drawn And Quarterly) offers little that readers haven’t seen from Chris Ware before. This is the latest chapter in Ware’s serialized “Rusty Brown” graphic novel, about a sad little kid growing up in Omaha and the sad little people who drift in and out of his life. Acme #20 specifically tells the story of Jordan Wellington Lint, who appeared in Acme #16 and #17 as a cocky high-school stoner who bullies Rusty. Now Ware surveys Lint’s entire life, from birth to death—1958 to 2023—and considers how and why he became such an asshole. All the usual Ware hallmarks are evident: childhood trauma, the loss of a parent, mixed messages about race and morality, an almost crippling preoccupation with sex, an inability to forge lasting relationships, and an old house that keeps calling the protagonist back like a homing signal. But while Ware continues to work in shades of blue (emotionally speaking, that is), he’s become far more daring and varied in his storytelling. The last Acme followed Rusty’s father, a failed science-fiction writer, and included a lengthy story-within-the-story set on Mars; #20 spans 65 years and includes scenes set in churches, recording studios, football stadiums, frat houses, and mini-mansions. Formally, Ware’s work over the past few years—and especially in #20—has been as complex and playful as the early Acme strips and short stories that made him an alt-comics sensation in the mid-’90s. Here, Ware comes up with inventive depictions of how a baby Lint sees the world, how old man Lint feels during a doctor’s appointment, and how one of Lint’s sons writes about his jerk of a father in a bestselling memoir. The fragmented, time-skipping narrative can be hard to follow at times, but it fits together better when reread and when taken as a part of the “Rusty Brown” whole. What separates this work-in-progress from Jimmy Corrigan is that Ware seems to be working more intuitively, inserting rhyming images and structural parallels from chapter to chapter without overemphasizing their meaning. He’s showing how easily a shift in focus creates a shift in perception. In Rusty’s story, Jordan Lint is just a villain. In Jordan’s story, it’s not so simple… A-

...

For the new issue of Palookaville, Canadian cartoonist Seth abandons the pamphlet format—perhaps permanently—in favor of a hardcover anthology containing the latest installment of his graphic novel Clyde Fans, some samples from his sketchbooks and commercial art jobs, a lengthy photo essay about an elaborate model city he built in his basement, and a melancholy autobiographical strip about a trip to a Calgary book festival. The new format suits Seth; for much of the past decade, he’s been remarkably productive, but the work has been coming out in disconnected pieces, and hasn’t always been easy to find. (With a story as slow-paced and moody as Clyde Fans, waiting sometimes up to a year for another oblique piece of an unfinished puzzle had become less than rewarding.) That said, the material in Palookaville #20 (Drawn And Quarterly) isn’t Seth’s strongest. The Clyde Fans chapter is powerful, detailing the 1975 closing of a machine plant, with Seth using images of the plant’s significance in its community as a kind of Greek chorus in order to explicate the tragedy. But the chapter will undoubtedly be even more resonant when it appears in the finished novel, and the remaining pieces in the book—though engaging enough—feel too much like padding. (And in the case of the “I hate my life” autobiographical story, too much like whining, with little of the self-deprecating wit that Seth is capable of.) Given that Seth has had some real triumphs in recent years with mini-projects like Wimbledon Green, it’s disappointing that he doesn’t deliver a book that’s front-to-back essential. Still, as a first step to a new conception of Palookaville, this 20th volume shows lots of potential… B
 
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Featured artists

Seth
Chris Ware

           Featured products

Palookaville Volume 20
Acme Novelty Library Volume 20




  Jeet Heer examines SETH's PALOOKAVILLE 20, Canadiana and Stuart McLean

Updated November 11, 2010


Seth & Stuart McLean

By Jeet Heer
Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Seth, as I’ve said more than once, is an artist with many sides to him. It’s hard to see him “in the round” because he’s always off doing something odd in some obscure publication or out-of-the way museum. One of the nice things about the new incarnation of Palookaville as an annual modeled after the hard-covered, stiff-papered full-color luxury magazines of old is that it’ll make it easier to showcase the differnt strands of his work: his sketchbooks, photography, commercial art, card-board sculptures, essays writing and ad hoc ruminating can call be housed in one convenient location.

I hope in the future issues of Palookaville Seth will display his book designs and write about the process of making them. There are quite a few book designs and album designs out there that are largely unknown, I suspect, to most fans of Seth’s comics.

For example, in the last decade Seth has done several book and album covers for Stuart McLean’s Vinyl Cafe spinoffs. The Vinyl Cafe is a weekly storytelling and song show that runs on CBC Radio — for those who aren’t familiar with it, it is sort of like Garrison Keillor’s show but with a very distinctive Canadian lilt. In fact, I think it’s McLean’s Canadianness that explains his Seth’s connection to Seth. As mentioned earlier Seth has a strong attachment to a tradition of Anglo-Canadian liberal nationalism that flourished in the 1960s and 1970s.

But beyond nationalism, although not unconnected with nationalism, McLean is also part of a distinctively Canadian tradition of folksy story-telling. It’s the tradition that includes Stephen Leacock, W.O. Mitchell, Alden Nowlan, Hugh Garner, W.P Kinsella, Greg Clark, Peter Gzowski, and many others.

Seth has an intriguingly divided reaction to this tradition of folksy storytelling. On the one hand, Seth’s own work doesn’t fall into the folksy camp: he’s much closer to being a post-modern trickster than an avuncular fireside yarn spinner. But Seth is clearly fascinated by the personality and persona of these homespun cracker barrel sages. George Sprott is a good example, as to a lesser extent is Wimbledon Green. For that matter Seth’s dad John Gallant, from what we see of him in Bannocks, Beans and Black Tea, is also a storyteller, although perhaps a bit too bleak and blunt to be cosily folksy.

I’ve just written an article for the Walrus which talks about Stuart McLean and the folksy tradition, which can be read here.

An excerpt:

Oral storytelling isn’t equipped to deal with the minute or the internal. The very nature of telling a story aloud means you have to keep the plot moving; you have to paint in broad strokes; you have to appeal to your listeners’ sense of the familiar and the expected; you have to repeat certain distinguishing epithets (in Homer, Odysseus is always clever; in the world of the Vinyl Cafe, Mary Turlington is always Dave’s nemesis). If the lyrical strain in Vinyl Cafe is rooted in the oral tradition of preaching, the farcical humour and flat characterization of the tales echoes the oldest narrative tradition we have, the storyteller who wants to get a few laughs by appealing to images everyone knows: the mulish husband, the overprotective mother, the kids who won’t listen to their elders.

Much of the appeal of the Dave and Morley stories comes not from their actual contents, but from the voice of the storyteller: McLean has one of the great radio voices, always shifting tones, by turns quivering and confident, mildly sardonic and soulfully earnest. Jimmy Stewart is an obvious influence, but McLean has crafted a style of folksy elocution that carries his own tangible twang.

A full account of Seth’s work would have to take into account the tradition of folksy storytelling as well as the cartoonist’s quite complicated response to this Canadian heritage. But in the meantime, I think my essay will be of interest to those who want to explore the distinctly Canadian backdrop against which Seth works.
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Featured artist

Seth

           Featured product

Palookaville Volume 20




Sequential reviews PALOOKAVILLE 20

Updated November 11, 2010


REVIEWS OF DIARY COMICS, RUTS AND GULLIES, PALOOKAVILLE 20

Sequential
10.Nov.2010

...

Palookaville 20 (Drawn and Quarterly, $20), the first book length instalment of the Guelph creator’s long running series, is broken up into thirds: Clyde Fans, the construction of Dominion and an autobiographical story. The selections complement each other well, each capturing a Seth theme nicely while having hints of the other. The middle section on Dominion details the author’s fascination with the paper engineering of his imagined Ontario town. It’s a great way to see Seth’s interests at play; it combines his passion for design and Canadiana with his sense of nostalgia. In Dominion, Seth gets to construct his own memories and contruct the ultimate Upper Canada town in his own image.

Things aren’t so idyllic at Clyde Fans. Although Dominion touches that world (however briefly), it’s framed by the change that defines King St., where the Matchcard brothers’ business is based. And change isn’t good in the fan business. Part four of Clyde Fans focuses on fractured relationships caused by a broken business. Memories surround the story. In one sequence, as Abraham Matchcard pulls out of the factory in his car and drives past a group of employees picketing, panels of faces surround the depressed businessman near the center of the page. The faces aren’t uniform. Rather, each tells their own story. It’s vintage Seth, with an eye for detail, top notch draftsmanship and a knack for finding those meaningful moments.


From the new Clyde Fans installment

The last third, a rare autobiographic comic from Seth, is much less artistically exact than the first two parts. Here Seth positions himself as another individual working his way from one awkward moment to another.

In Alberta for a book festival, the reader sees Seth like many of his characters: isolated, hesitant, and in search of something fleeting. Unlike Harbin and Girard, Seth doesn’t use exaggerated humour to defuse situations. That would defeat the purpose. The story builds up tension with consistently dark and constrained 9 panel grids on a small page. This makes sense; for the reader to understand why Seth finds the nostalgia of Dominion so appealing a view of himself and how he fits into the world must be seen, however bleak that may be in moments like this autobiographical comic.

Through different means- bleak honesty, the observation of a foreign observer, and the humourous introspection, Seth, Girard and Harbin apply their own interpretation on the diary of their life.
 
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Featured artist

Seth

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Palookaville Volume 20




  Book By Its Cover reviews PALOOKAVILLE 20

Updated November 11, 2010


PALOOKAVILLE 20
Seth

by Julia Rothman
Book By Its Cover
11.11.10

The notorious Canadian comic Seth has released volume 20 of his Palookaville series and this time it comes in as a beautiful little hardcover. This book has comics that continue his acclaimed Clyde Fans story line, but it also includes images of his sketchbook and images and commentary on the amazing fictional 3-d cardboard town Seth created named Dominion City. It’s truly spectacular looking! Each building has so much detail with painted signs and little cardboard architectural details. Just quickly reading about it, it turns out Dominion City was originally going to be the setting for his new graphic novel. He started sketching buildings and writing up the history hoping to fully create a setting for his characters. But as he continued to work on it, he realized he was more interested in the city and its history than the characters that were supposed to occupy it. That’s when he began making these small cardboard versions of the buildings he had drawn up. These look like his comics come to life! He made 50 models and thought of it as a “basement project”(!) until some curators wanted to display it as an exhibition. You can see more in the new book here.
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Featured artist

Seth

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Palookaville Volume 20




The Excerpt reports on the CHARLES BURNS, DYLAN HORROCKS and SETH round table at the 2010 IFOA

Updated October 27, 2010


I’m happy to report the IFOA roundtable of Canadian cartoonist Seth (George Sprott 1894-1975, Palookaville), New Zealand cartoonist Dylan Horrocks (Hicksville), and American cartoonist Charles Burns (Black Hole, X’d Out) Saturday afternoon lived up to the high expectations.
Getting three master cartoonists at the height of their respective careers together in one room (the Brigadier Room to be exact) to discuss the past, present, and future of their craft with an experienced and entertaining interviewer such as CBC Radio 2 personality Bob Mackowycz, created a wonderfully warm and familiar, at times almost confessional atmosphere. It felt at times as if a few old friends were getting together again to get reacquainted in someone’s living room rather than professionals on a stage sitting in front of a packed house of admirers.
Over the course of the hour the artists spoke about the struggles of balancing their commercial and paid work, ; issues around adopting comics to the screen; the different approaches to being a painter and cartoonist; and what may be in store for the next generation of cartoonists.
The artists also spoke about the fact that, because North American comics have only grown into a truly adult medium in our life time, almost all mature comics artists hail from a background in which the comic medium was expected to be written for kids. This transformation means that there is often a residual of that child-based tradition lingering in even the most adult work. The work of younger and upcoming cartoonists will not necessarily be steeped in work for children, a change that should make for new and interesting comic-art forms.
I think the most startling revelation during the afternoon was made by Dylan Horrocks. He did a four year stint working for DC (the company that owns Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman), writing stories for Batgirl, in order to make ends meet. He made the observation that today’s superhero comics have moved away from a younger readership to those in their mid- to late- teens, with the story lines becoming quite dark, narrow, brutal, and depressing. So much so, he said, that he had to give up working in that sub-genre.
 
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Featured artists

Dylan Horrocks
Seth
Charles Burns

          



  The Walrus interviews SETH on his cover art

Updated October 21, 2010


RBC Cover Artist Gallery: Seth
An interview with the creator of The Walrus’s July/August 2010 cover

As we began planning our annual fiction issue, Scott Nelson in our sales department had an inspired idea: give The Walrus’s readers two options for the cover, then let them pick their favourite for publication. For the project to succeed, I knew that the artist who would produce multiple covers needed to be really amazing. Enter Seth.

I have always wanted to have the opportunity to work with the author of Palookaville, and with this concept, the ideal opportunity presented itelf. Seth produced dozens of great sketches on the subject of summer reading, from which we picked two candidates. He then worked those up and sent over art.

Even eight years ago, it was not unusual to receive physical art from an illustrator by courier; in fact, when I was very briefly at Saturday Night in 2001, we received boxes of slides from the Mary Evans Picture Library, an photograph and illustration archive in the UK. Now, though, virtually everything arrives via email or file transfer. The Walrus’s lightbox sits idle, and even photographers who still shoot on film routinely scan their images themselves and then tweak the results in Photoshop before passing anything along to us.

So it was a delight to receive actual art from Seth — a large cardboard envelope containing a set of layered drawings on tracing paper, with frames and outlines drawn in blue repro pencil. Way back when, this is the type of material that one would have shot in a copy camera: the blue pencil would not have been recorded by the litho film that such cameras used.

Seth’s originals were about one-and-a-half times larger than the printed cover, so scanning and making sharp positives was easy, although it did take some time. And Seth sent along pretty precise instructions for the assembling and colouring of the resulting image; I think the final art shows all of this work. Both covers, but particularly the winning choice, demonstrate his commitment to his craft.

For this issue we also commissioned Seth to create a set of illustrations for the fiction section, a series of short stories that took on (sometimes dissing, sometimes embracing) the notion of Canada. What he produced for us was a love letter to rural and smalltown Canada. Beautiful pines, open roads, and regional courthouses, all bathed in the melancholy light of early evening.

BRIAN MORGAN After we spoke about the commission, what were your initial thoughts about the story?

SETH I assume by this you mean, “What were your initial thoughts about the cover.” Honestly, I imagine my only thoughts were, “I’m going to do a cover for The Walrus — how excellent.” I like The Walrus. I respect The Walrus. I’m happy it’s a Canadian publication.

It’s nice to do work for a magazine of quality. Not to shoot down other publications I’ve been involved with — but I have certainly hacked out many a soulless drawing in my time! I always feel real gratification working on any project that has some integrity to it. To tell the truth, much of my career has been divided quite clearly between my commercial work and my real work (art done primarily for myself). It’s nice when occasionally these two worlds meet and I can do work (that has a fee attached) that isn’t produced entirely for the paycheque!

How did you first approach this? And what is your typical process for generating ideas?

That depends so much on the project. Whether I’m doing a commercial illustration, drawing a picture in my sketchbook, working on a comics story — that’s all very different in approach.

Sometimes it’s a very slow process. A comic might come together in my mind over a span of years — just ideas randomly colliding/combining until some magic synthesis happens and a story develops.

Sometimes it’s very quick — a drawing is required and the idea instantly pops into your mind (this happened the other day when I was working on a book cover — the idea came together in one second). Other times it might be more methodical — looking through books for inspiration — doing a lot of little doodles and seeing an idea slowly coalesce.

So, it really varies. If I am totally stuck on something I will go up the embankment next to my house and walk around on the railroad tracks until an idea comes together. That always works. Something about walking frees the mind to think deeply. I am genuinely amazed how the brain and the feet will do the work for you — it’s like magic. The problem gets solved.

In the case of these covers I approached the idea quite mechanically. Since it was a straightforward theme, “summer reading,” it did not take a genius to recognize that the two images I should focus on were “summer” and “reading.” From there I jotted down any image of summer that might pop into my head (ice cream trucks, swimming pools, etc.). I flipped through old magazines and books to spark any other summer images (old general interest photo magazines are excellent for this process). Then, when I had a sufficient list of rather typical summer locations/activities, I simply started doodling up any “clever” combination of summer and books. People reading in little wading pools, ice cream men reading on their break, urban dwellers reading on the hot roof of a building — you know the kind of thing. This produced a large number of images: maybe fifty ideas or so. From there, I winnowed out the lamest of the bunch (probably about forty of them!) and then rethought the few that survived. I think I submitted about twenty cover ideas to the magazine, which you folks trimmed down to six. I’m not too sure of how the decision process worked at the magazine, but eventually two ideas were selected for the contest.

Just to be clear here. I don’t usually submit twenty ideas for an assignment. This one was a bit unusual — it generated a lot of possibilities because the theme was rather wide ranging (and fun). Often I submit only a couple of sketches — sometimes just a single idea. And sometimes that is the only one I think that will work. It really depends what the project is.

In general terms, how do you create your work?

Making a drawing of this sort (in my usual style) is down to a science at this point. Forgive the boringness of this description — it is so familiar to me that I can barely work up the enthusiasm to type it out!

I start by roughing out a loose arrangements of elements on the page — horizon line, bear, man, trees, etc. Then I rather ploddingly tighten up every element of the pencil drawing, getting every line and shape exactly how it will be in the inked version. I work on a light table, so that means there is a tremendous amount of tracing and re-tracing until there is a very tight, “perfect” pencil version.

Next, I tape this pencil drawing onto the back of some nicer paper (Strathmore 2 ply, plate finish or Arches hot press, 90 pound) and, using the light table again (to see through the good quality paper), I ink the final art using india ink and a no. 4 brush.

If the drawing is going to be coloured mechanically (i.e., with process colours put in during the printing phase), there is usually a whiteout stage as well. I painstakingly fix up every line to make them more perfect. This can take longer than the inking. It’s a pain in the ass and a sign of foolish perfectionism, since most people can’t see the difference in the art before or after I “fix” it.

If the artwork is going to be coloured directly on the paper in watercolour, I can’t do this “fixing” stage because the artwork obviously cannot have whiteout all over it (whiteout fucks up the watercolours). That means (unlike the previously described process-colour method) when I ink for watercolouring, I simply don’t make any mistakes that need whiting out. It’s a trick of the mind. If I can do this for the watercolour drawings, why can’t I do it for the mechanical method? Who knows. All I know is that if I am allowed to make mistakes I will make them — if I can’t, I won’t.

With these covers I did the colour mechanically using a series of hand-drawn overlays to indicate where certain pantone colours go on the finished artwork. This method is entirely pre-digital and a nightmare for anyone in production that works with me. I have stubbornly refused to enter the modern world and know almost nothing about using a computer for art. This means others must suffer to convert my prehistoric art skills to a modern digital format. You remember the nightmare of colour revisions we went through on that man and bear cover! Possibly the most ill-conceived, endless set of colour changes I ever inflicted on anyone!

What was your inspiration for this final image?

As described above — the inspiration involved in these two covers was necessity. Summer and reading.

I suppose that’s being overly simplistic. There is another quality I generally look for, something hard to describe — a tone of “charm” — that I usually like to get into a drawing. Something slightly funny. Not actually funny though. I never try to do anything that would actually make someone laugh (I doubt I could), but I do like that old-time New Yorkerish quality of a wry cover image. Something amusing, or sweet, or a cute juxtaposition of some sort. The gothy girl who is trying to avoid the sun, or the bookish man with his shoes off unaware that the bear is behind him — these are hardly knee-slappers. They are simply meant to have some sort of off-kilter charm to them. A pleasing sweetness that stays on this side of the saccharine.

I suppose the The New Yorker has a lot to do with this desire for such an image. Those old covers from the ’20s to the ’50s were a very formative influence on my thinking at a young age. The old New Yorker had a rather loose unwritten formula on how they put an image together — a gentle tweaking of some recognizable element of modern life (say, a department store Santa smoking in the back alley) or a quiet moment with some real sweetness to it (perhaps a doorman sweeping a leaf out of a lobby). I assimilated this formula early on and I find it has an enduring appeal to my mind. The old Dell Little Lulu covers had a lot of this in them as well, and are also deeply loved favourites of mine.

Later on (around the late ’30s I think), The New Yorker started to do quieter images — scenes without a twist to them (perhaps a Hopper-ish night scene of a parking lot or a single red cardinal in an all-white snow scene). These had a lasting impression on my thinking as well. These two approaches probably form the binary of my thinking on how to compose a cover. One approach or the other will almost always do.

In fact, in this issue of The Walrus you see both of these approaches. The covers represent the first approach and the interior illustrations (especially the full-page opening shot of the post office) illustrate the second method.

Whose work has influenced you the most? Who or what has shaped your style, and what is your relationship to comic history?

That is a huge question. Far too complicated to answer in detail (I could easily write a hundred pages on the subject). Especially because I have been influenced by so many artists and writers. I am a real sponge and soak up influence from all over the place.

However, I’ll try to scribe a simple flow chart of cartoonists who have shaped my thinking and drawing.

Charles Schulz would be the first — beginning in early childhood. Later in my teens it would be Jack Kirby. In my early twenties I discovered Robert Crumb and the Hernandez brothers — huge influences that utterly changed my thinking about comics. Then comes Herge (Tintin) and the artists of the old New Yorker (Arno, Addams, Hokinson, Steig, etc.). Lynda Barry fits in here somewhere, and later on my best friend Chester Brown had a tremendous effect on my work and my thinking. In the last ten years I have been deeply effected by the work of Ben Katchor and Chris Ware. Both of them greatly inspirational in making me think about how to tell a comic story.

Of course, a list like this leaves out the rich veins of influence and interest that come from every field of the arts — Alice Munro, Glenn Gould, Thoreau MacDonald , Norman McLaren, Henry Darger, Edward Hopper, Stanley Spencer, Ozu, Tanizaki, Kawabata, Mike Leigh, Nabakov... I’m just rattling these names off the top of my head but I could go on and on. Everyone of those names has had a profound effect on my thinking. In some ways I suspect that we are drawn to specific artists not so much for the originality of their vision (though that is certainly a big part of it), but because they are confirming our own unrealized thoughts or visions. They touch something in us we wish we could have articulated ourselves. We envy their works because they are works we feel connected to — thoughts that resonate. I certainly think this is the case for me. I am drawn to the artists, writers, filmmakers, etc. who have produced the work I most wish I had done.

What was your experience with the cover contest: did you have a personal favourite? And how did it feel ceding control of the decision to readers?

My favourite lost! I preferred the gothy girl.

Truthfully, my favourite probably lost much earlier in the process — I think I had an image or two I liked better in that early group of twenty submissions. I can’t even remember which ones they were, but there was certainly one or two of them I liked best that vanished early on in the winnowing process.

It’s no big deal though. I recognize right at the beginning of an project of this sort that the final decisions are not generally mine. The art director or the editor will have final say. Adding the readers into the mix was an interesting idea but not one that caused me any more worry than usual.

With a collaborative project like this I don’t have any problem ceding to another’s point of view. It’s only when working on my comic books that I become a total dictator — insisting that every element be my way. I think as a working artist you have to recognize when other people have valid input and also when that input is not welcome. In this case I was curious about the reader reaction. I expected the gothy girl to win simply because it was a simpler image — a more striking graphic design. Quickly on, based on reader comments I saw that I was wrong. I think people found the other image more pleasing — more summery.

I can live with that.
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Featured artist

Seth

          



Alex Carr writes on SETH, JOHN STANLEY and The Best American Comics Criticism

Updated September 14, 2010


Graphic Novel Friday: Seth, John Stanley, and The Best American Comics Criticism

by Alex Carr
Omnivoracious
September 10, 2010

The Best American Comics Criticism isn't entirely true to its title. For example, not all of the contributors are American (notably Alan Moore), and not all of it is criticism--see the transcribed conversation between Jonathan Lethem and Daniel Clowes (!). But the book is a worthwhile resource: a go-to supply of top-notch comics writing, split into five sections: “History,” “Fans,” “Appraisals,” “Reviews,” and “Interviews.” Naysayers exist, though, and publisher Fantagraphics bravely hosted a roundtable on the book over at The Comics Journal, the lengthy results of which are must-reads.

A few weekends ago, I read cartoonist Seth’s piece in BACC, entitled “John Stanley’s Teen Trilogy,” which is an updated version of the original essay first published in 2001. Seth is the writer and illustrator behind George Sprott: (1894-1975), one of our picks for Best Comics of 2009, among several other great works, and the designer of Fantagraphics’ Peanuts collections. I was fairly ignorant of John Stanley’s catalog, having read Little Lulu and Nancy a few times but never registered the connection. As it turns out, there is a wealth of material from the man, and what better way to get acquainted than a 20-page essay?

Seth covers a wide swath of books from Stanley, but what struck me most was his unabashed love for a 1960s “teen comic” called Thirteen Going on Eighteen, written and illustrated by John Stanley.

“To prepare for the writing of this article, I reread all 26 issues of Thirteen and it was a good experience…It begins weakly, builds to competence, then to inspired competence and finally the strip takes on a life of its own where it sparkles with the same sort of brilliance that Little Lulu did…I was laughing out loud and remembering why I so thoroughly love this comic. I really do.”

Sold! I immediately sought out Thirteen Going on Eighteen, which is newly published by Drawn and Quarterly as part of The John Stanley Library--all volumes designed by Seth, of course. I am happy to say that the book, which collects the first nine issues, lives up to the hype.

Thirteen follows Val and Judy, two young friends, Val’s older sister Evie, and a slew of would-be and would-not-be suitors and crushes. Imagine Betty and Veronica if they had actual personalities rather than two-dimensional traits not too far beyond mannequins (and I say this having read and loved many Betty & Veronica digests). Val and Judy are true friends. “They mock-betray one another and snip behind each others’ backs--but there is a genuine love between them….”

Val is the blonde, hopelessly boy-crazy and self-centered in the most teenage of ways. During a bad rainstorm, Val seeks shelter in the doorway of a nearby shop, but she is unable to leave without an umbrella for fear of ruining her hair, her clothes, and well, everything.

“Will it ever let up,” she asks no one and then immediately ramps to: “Do I have to spend the rest of my life in this miserable doorway?” This type of hyper-drama is typical of both Val and Judy, who can turn from happy hysterics to doomsday woes in the span of two panels.

The brunette, Judy, starts off as the overweight sidekick, who handles the barbs aimed at her size with unusual ease. In one scene, Val asks Evie for help in finding a gift to cheer up Judy.

“I want to bring her something nice, but I don’t know what!”
Evie suggests, “Flowers are the usual thing…,” but Val is quick to roll her eyes and make a joke at the expense of her friend:

“Too bad there aren’t edible flowers…”

Ouch. My favorite moment is in that same panel, when Evie exits the scene and casually looks over her shoulder as she says, “How about a cauliflower?”

This is the first page of the collection. Within the span of five panels, Stanley has already established the personalities of two characters: Val (the caring but cruel teenager) and Evie (the clever and aloof older sibling). As Seth notes, Judy soon sheds the extra pounds for reasons that are never addressed, and while a few of the easier gags are therefore cut short, the series benefits from dropping the obvious foil and giving Judy a personality removed from her weight.
I do disagree with Seth on one point, however. He is an obvious Stanley acolyte: “I’m a genuine fan of his clear, loose, brushwork and his sparse use of background detail.” Yet, the first two issues feature an artistic collaboration between Stanley and the unknown Tony Tallarico. Seth minces no words in his assessment of this dilution of Stanley’s contributions.

“This artist [Tallarico] is so incompatible that he effectively kills every gag…it’s as if everything is poured in concrete. It’s horribly stiff and dead…I feel bad knowing his name because I still can’t find a single nice thing to say about his work here.”
I opened the book expecting to slog through a few pages before I got to the issues that were 100% Stanley, but I really liked the collaboration. Tallarico’s work now looks very retrospective and dated in a nostalgic way. Evie is every bit the prim prom queen, while Val is expressive and elvish. Once Stanley takes over, yes, I can see the improvement and appeal, but it does lose some of the softness in favor of a much more kinetic angularity. No matter where your opinion lies, though, the stories only get better from there.

These nine issues are handsomely sewn into a sturdy hardcover, featuring Seth’s trademark fonts and simple cover image. This is the heftiest of all the volumes in The John Stanley Library and it is priced higher than the rest. But it’s worth it. The pages are never garishly remastered but remain faithful to the originals, with an occasional blurring of colors or lines. It feels like these pages were saved just in time and now carefully kept on sturdy stock. I read it over the course of a week and would have loved to crack the next nine issues if they were available. Seth fans will note that his aforementioned essay is condensed into the front matter of this first volume--it’s kept to the section devoted to Thirteen, whereas the full piece in BACC focuses in far greater detail on Stanley’s body of work.

Other volumes in The John Stanley Library include Nancy, Tubby, and Melvin Monster, the last of which I plan to start next. I'm not sure I ever would have stumbled across these if not for Seth and The Best American Comics Criticism.
 
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Featured artists

Seth
John Stanley

           Featured products

Melvin Monster Volume One
Thirteen Going on Eighteen




  Canadian Art studies the art of comics through the D+Q catalogue

Updated September 7, 2010


The Art of Compression: Comic Conversations

by Kenton Smith
in Canadian Art, September 2nd

Towards the end of Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s mammoth comics autobiography A Drifting Life, his artist hero experiences an epiphany: “There are still expressive methods left for gekiga [dramatic pictures] to explore.”

Such “dramatic pictures” go by various names—comics, graphic novels, graphic narratives—but the point remains. Like all media, comics enjoy a perpetual state of self-discovery and reconsideration: even as scholarship and critical theory continues to amass, contemporary artists continue to fracture established conventions. Bruce Grenville, co-curator of the Vancouver Art Gallery’s 2008 "KRAZY!" exhibition, says that comics is a medium that is by no means exhausted, and indeed “does not seem to lend itself to stability.”

Indeed, comics have perhaps never been as diverse, vibrant and exciting as now—for they are no longer possible to pigeonhole. Comics publisher Chris Oliveros, founder of the Montreal-based publisher Drawn & Quarterly, says “the work today is so diverse—everyone has a unique vision.” Insofar as comics can be considered a literary medium, there seems to be no category they’ve neglected, whether memoir (A Drifting Life), journalism (Joe Sacco’s Palestine) or fictional biography (Seth’s George Sprott). Chester Brown wanted to do Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography because, well, who else was doing history as comics? And besides, he explains, “comics’ visual dimension makes a story more engaging, and keeps history from being dull.”

But are comics simply a matter of providing pictures for the reader intimidated by text? According to Grenville, “the language of comics is neither that of prose or the visual. There are aspects of both, but one doesn’t read comics in the same way as either. Comics are a unique form of visual communication.” As Seth points out, one absorbs visual information completely differently from text; hence, says Jillian Tamaki, artist of the Governor General’s Award–nominated Skim, “people still need to learn how to ‘read’ comics.”

How unique are comics? Opinions vary among friends and fellows. “It’s a given,” says Seth, “that a medium always does something that others don’t.” On the other hand, argues Brown, “I think it’s more that comics are simply able to do certain things well.”

A definitive aspect of comics, according to Seth, it’s that it’s a narrative art form. This consequently determines its characteristics in numerous ways. For one thing, it means the image cannot be divorced from its narrative context—every panel has to be well composed, but can’t necessarily be isolated. “If the image is gorgeous but doesn’t communicate the story, it’s not good comic art,” declares Tamaki.

Furthermore, Seth continues, excessive visual detail distracts in a narrative context; the best comic art reduces the images on the page to a minimalist essence (although there remains an aesthetic beauty to the overall page design). It’s the reductive choices an artist makes, he says, that define the artist’s style.

At a deeper level, the very form of comics is suited to particular narrative techniques. Seth favours presentation of disparate elements, letting viewers make connections as they will. His recent George Sprott is a perfect example: the titular character’s life is related in episodic, fractured fashion through the memories of various characters. Carefully planted within the juxtaposed words and pictures are recurring motifs—such as a painting of an Inuit girl—that initially seem inconsequential but acquire later significance. As celebrated Watchmen writer Alan Moore has repeatedly pointed out (as in a 1988 interview from Strange Things Are Happening) the reader can flip between pages to unpack at his or her own pace the dense information contained in both image and text. Comics, says Seth, are about compression.

This characteristic makes comics a highly individual reading experience. “They really can’t be shared,” Seth declares. “You could say that about a novel, but even novels lend themselves to readings before an audience.” For the same reason, Tamaki “feels funny” about situating comics in a gallery.

If comics are intimate for the reader, Seth and Brown do agree upon this: comics are also extremely conducive to personal expression. “Comic artists spend a lot of time working alone,” Seth confides. “And isolation is conducive to introspection and interior reverie. For me, comics and self-expression go hand in glove.” How interesting, he continues, when one considers that comic characters have in fact been mostly extroverted throughout history—most prominently in the superhero genre.

That one story comes from a single artist means one can tell stories of a more personal nature, declares Brown: “For artists who want to tell such stories, comics are perfect.” As per Seth, D&Q has the most clear-cut catalogue of the former approach. His own work in Palookaville exemplifies this, as does that of Brown (I Never Liked You), Lynda Barry (What It Is) and Adrian Tomine (Shortcomings).

Yet, according to Seth, the younger generation of artists hasn’t always embraced these aims; what’s coming back is more visually oriented work. The D&Q catalogue is becoming increasingly characterized by such work as well: examples include titles from the Petit Livres imprint, such as Montreal-based artist Matthew Forsythe’s Ojingogo, nominated twice for an Eisner Award and winner of a 2009 Doug Wright Award for Best Experimental Comic. An almost completely wordless picture narrative, Ojingogo also dispenses with other established conventions, such as panels. Likewise, “The Tapemines,” included in Tamaki’s first book Gilded Lilies, is an 80-page textless comic that often resembles a picture scroll.

“Comics are really just sequential art,” says Tamaki. “They don’t even have to be panels on a page.”

So words aren’t necessarily so important. For that matter, are comics even really all about the narrative? Take the “Gustun” comic included in London, Ontario-born artist Marc Bell’s Hot Potatoe. Bell sees it as falling somewhere between comics and stand-alone drawing—a “quasi” or “open” narrative that nonetheless more resembles a diagram. For that matter, he says even his “ahtwerks” sometimes contain extremely loose narrative threads (albeit highly esoteric and perhaps impenetrable ones). Such play on form is reminiscent of the cubists’ visual “games,” in which the line between two- and three-dimensional was straddled as much as possible.

But what is Bell’s angle, exactly? He says his M.O. is to deconstruct and make novel use of “comics language” for his drawings, collages and mixed media works. Whether it’s the drawing style, the inclusion of text or use of grid forms, the influence of comics is fundamental and pervasive. “I see comics and drawing as all the same thing, anyway,” Bell says. Yet he insists he’s no Warhol or Lichtenstein: “I’m a cartoonist creating art, not the other way around.”

What all this means, according to Oliveros, is this: “The whole medium is growing. There’s more experimentation now—many artists don’t seem to feel as constrained.” As a trained illustrator and designer, Tamaki remains unconditioned to thinking that comics necessitate a certain style; for that matter, she cites non-comic influences like impressionism and expressionism in addition to Japanese manga. After all, Tamaki argues, comics aren’t a style, they’re a medium—and for that matter, a medium in transition. “I’m still figuring out my own approach to comics,” she concludes.

Perhaps the last word belongs to Seth: “There’s a lot of changes that are taking place in the comics medium that no one could have anticipated. And this will probably continue to be the case.”
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Featured artists

Chester Brown
Drawn & Quarterly
Seth

          



St. Louis Post Dispatch reviews GEORGE SPROTT: (1894-1975)

Updated May 12, 2010


Graphic biographies Browsing graphic literature • Four very different books expand the range of 'comic books' with dramatic stories of love and death.

by Cliff Froehlich

‘GEORGE SPROTT'

Seth's "George Sprott (1894-1975)" (Drawn and Quarterly, 96 pages, $24.95) lacks the Joycean scale of "Asterios Polyp" - it's modestly billed as "a picture novella" - but its accomplishments remain as impressive as its oversize physical measurements. A surprisingly moving meditation on mortality, the book recounts the full life and final hours of Canadian George Sprott, minor Arctic explorer, lecturer and provincial TV host.

Seth offers perspectives from co-workers, fans, acquaintances and relatives while exerting strong authorial control as an omniscient but oddly discreet narrator. Vastly expanding from his original New York Times Magazine serial, the artist adds revelatory vignettes, spare but evocative illustrations of land- and cityscapes, cardboard constructions of key buildings in Sprott's life, even a massive foldout that imagistically encapsulates George's childhood.

Using muted tones of greens, blues, browns and grays, Seth wonderfully captures bygone days and wintry emotions, and his elegant, "old-timey" art manages to amuse and sadden simultaneously - just like Sprott himself, a flawed, comical, complicated and deeply human creation.

A quartet of recent graphic biographies - two factual, two fictional - offer more proof, if any is required, of comics' impressive range, their capacity for both breadth and depth. All four books focus on singular individuals and tell dramatic stories of love and death, of calamity and danger, of outsize egos and transformative events. But each takes a unique path to that common ground.
 

Featured artist

Seth

           Featured product

George Sprott: (1894-1975)




  Sequential deems SETH "Newsmaker of the Year" for 2009

Updated April 6, 2010


2009: The Year in Review

by Bryan Munn

Well, here we are a few weeks into 2010 and our annual look back at the past year in Canadian comics news as seen through the Sequential blog. This time around, a shorter review than 2008.

2009 was an eventful year for us at Sequential. Although Max and I both had lots going on with outside projects (little things like relationships, paying the bills, and staying sane), we did our best to keep our fingers on the passionate pulse of comics, as well as maybe contributing in a small way to the overall flow.

The year started with the news that long-running French-language Mensuhell was closing down; in February, we found out that Canadian artists make peanuts; in March, we learned that Guy Delisle was in Israel for his next book; and on and on. (You take a month-by-month tour of Sequential by checking out the links in the sidebar.)

May was the Toronto Comics Arts Festival and for this event we published the first print issue of Sequential, a landmark for this site that hopefully contributed to the discussion in this country and internationally about our favourite artform. Sequential was also on hand for the Toronto Word on the Street event in September, shining our brilliant spotlight on new work by Evan Munday, Willow Dawson, and Jeff Lemire. Hopefully, we’ve helped get the word out about some worthwhile comics over the past year, be they digital or print, free or not-so-free.

For all the talk of recession and economic hard times, the actual effect on the business of comics and comics sales has been hard to gauge in Canada. I’m sure individual retailers have a handle on the numbers, but for the most part, they aren’t talking. Besides a spate of store closings, the news has largely been balanced out with tales of new openings and generally rosy reports from the convention floors. In other retail news, we had comic shop owners as alleged voyeurs and eternally optimistic promoters. (label: comics retailers)

Despite lingering and urgent (I kid, I think) international economic questions such as the pricing controversy, overall, the major comics news of 2009 is that there are so many comics still being published. The predicted apocalypse of print hasn’t seemed to find the publishers of Canadian graphic novels. Conundrum Press and Mecanique Generale are still pumping out small runs of new books by interesting young talents, people still make minicomics, and hundreds of people still work as cartoonists, writers, and artists of some sort in the comics biz. Graphic novels are still a hot publishing story and many Canadians remain at the forefront of the artform. Which brings us to…

1. Newsmaker of the Year: The Cartoonist Seth

Rather than countdown a list of top stories, I’ve tried to choose one story that exemplifies the kind of year it was in comics and Seth fits the bill both because of the amount of coverage he received this past year and what that says about the current state of affairs. Now, as a friend of the artist (full disclosure) as well as fan, I’m tempted to discount the impact he continues to have on comics, but thinking and writing about the subject as I do on an almost daily basis for Sequential, I find it hard to deny that, far and away, 2009 was Seth’s year. A book of the year in George Sprott, combined with several important design and reprint projects, and a touring art show, made it hard to ignore the cartoonist and his work. To begin with, Seth had a monster critically-acclaimed graphic novel on his hands with George Sprott: 1894-1975. Originally serialized in the New York Times, the episodic story of the final hours in the life of an obscure 1970s Canadian television host was expanded into a much longer (and larger) book that had everyone singing its praises. My views on the book are already on record, but the book also made many best of year and best of decade lists, became a relative bestseller, and was well-reviewed in the mainstream press. The subtext of all this attention is that Seth is currently one of the more exciting cartoonists internationally and the attention given to this book really functions as a sort of barometer for the success of graphic novels in general and Canadian comics in particular. The triumph of George Sprott is also the triumph, for better or for worse, of the narrative of Seth as the ne plus ultra of Canadian cartooning: just as Ernie Bushmiller’s Nancy became the dictionary definition of comic strip, so too has Seth come to stand for the entirety of the artform in this country. Is his prominence a bad thing for comics? As a spokesman for comic art and ambassador of the Canadian graphic novel, Seth is an articulate double-threat, but his cred often seems to eclipse younger artists and points of view, especially for mainstream journos and lazy bloggers (mea culpa). On the other hand, his position has made him an enthusiastic and effective champion of new comics he finds deserving and for causes, like last year’s Skim controversy, that require an outspoken (and Seth can be very outspoken) figurehead or ringleader. Furthermore, his dedication to all aspects of comic art, beyond his own output, has guaranteed that the disdained and neglected work of several generations of cartoonists has become part of our current cultural dialogue, in turn inspiring and educating modern readers and creators. And I’m not just talking about what something like the Wright Awards, co-founded by Seth, does to highlight the work of young cartoonists. Witness also the ongoing Peanuts repackaging and the new John Stanley Library from D+Q –if not for Seth, would we even be tempted to consider Thirteen Going on Eighteen as one of the greatest comic book series ever? And let’s not forget the ultimate example and vindication of Seth’s diligent advocacy over the past decade, the Collected Doug Wright, a project that neatly sums up of many of Seth’s characteristic strengths and preoccupations, including his cultural nationalism, his care in design and love of great cartooning.

Whether you view his own thoughtful, painstakingly beautiful comics and larger than life character as artistic genius, as carefully cultivated careerism, or a mixture of both, there’s no denying that Seth prismatically represents the current state of comics in Canada. If Seth didn’t exist, it would be necessary to invent him, if only so we could talk about the rise of the newest generation of Canadian comics superstars like Jeff Lemire and Bryan Lee O’Malley.
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Featured artist

Seth

           Featured product

George Sprott: (1894-1975)




SETH, SIKORYAK, WRIGHT, TATSUMI, BELL, and BROWN make the Torontoist 2009 best of list

Updated February 9, 2010


Warning: Graphic Content

by Dave Howard

It’s late December. You haven’t done your holiday shopping and you’re surrounded by happy loved ones you’d like to indulge with a gift. You’d like to get them a book they would really enjoy but probably never think to buy for themselves. A little surprise that is indulgent, luxurious and even a little decadent. A gift that gives them permission to spend a little time on themselves, and when they’re done, have the option to re-gift…I mean…share with others.

You’re in luck. You’ve just fallen into the world of the graphic novel. The form’s non-verbal, dreamlike-yet-self-aware text most closely imitates cognition, and can hold moments indefinitely – ready to be revisited again and again. Lovely.

But which ones to choose? And for whom? Fortunately for you, 2009 was a stellar year for comics publishing. Let’s start.

Absolutely Brilliant Graphic Novels To Impress The Hell Out Of People

George Sprott 1894-1975, Seth

This is certainly the best book yet in the internationally revered Canadian artist’s career – and that’s saying a lot. Collecting Seth’s existential strip, which appeared in New York Times Magazine in 2006, George Sprott is a serendipitous depiction of a small town celebrity filled with Canadiana both sad and unsentimental, accessible and far-reaching, a fun light read and a poignant tolling of the bell. It is also a simply beautiful book: oversized, hard cover with silver foil lettering, colour glossy pages, and gorgeously designed endpapers.

The Book of Genesis, Illustrated by Robert Crumb

Probably the most anticipated book to come out this year, the irreverent, controversial, neurotic grandfather of underground comix has given the first book of the Bible an unexpectedly straight treatment with his mighty pen – and to the surprise of all, it really works. It turns out the Bible has enough racy story material that can be told without embellishment and still satisfy the aesthetic of an artist credited for defining the comics underground.

Asterios Polyp, David Mazzucchelli

The author of probably the second most anticipated book for this year, David Mazzucchelli is half the genius behind Batman: Year One, one of the key books to revive the Batman franchise and the basis for the Batman Begins movie. Mazzucchelli dropped out of superhero comics and famously re-emerged to translate Paul Auster’s City of Glass into comics, garnering widespread critical and literary acclaim just before he disappeared from comics for a while. Asterios Polyp marks his long-awaited return. An examination of meaning and identity, it is simply a beautiful book, rich in formalist comics language experimentation that would make even Scott McCloud blush.

Luba, Gilbert Hernandez

Hernandez is one of the brothers behind Love and Rockets, the complex, beautifully drawn and multi-storied anti-middle-American soap opera rooted in Latino California. Luba is one of the vast cast’s matriarchs – a force to be reckoned with – and this book collects her stories in one enormous volume. Very much worth it.

Masterpiece Comics, R. Sikoryak

An artist who can trace his roots way back to Art Spiegelman’s RAW, R. Sikoryak has achieved the near impossible: mashed famous literary works with superhero tropes to create an enormously clever reductionist viewpoing that makes us re-examine our feelings of both genres. With mock covers like “Action Camus,” the work is laugh-out-loud funny.

Gifts For Your Sometimes Angst-Ridden Young Adult/Older Teen

Skim, Mariko Tamaki/Jillian Tamaki

This is a beautifully drawn piece of work that I highly recommend, told through the eyes of Skim, a teenage girl struggling with her own identity as she works though the rituals and limitations imposed upon her by her friends and peers and herself. Drawn in a lovely familiar pencil line that feels like it could have come out of a diary.

The Complete Essex County, Jeff Lemire

Winner of many awards, including a 2008 Joe Shuster Award for Outstanding Canadian Comic Book Cartoonist and a 2008 Doug Wright Award for Best Emerging Talent, Lemire pays homage to his southern Ontario upbringing with this critically acclaimed farmland tale. Over the years a community is forced to deal with a damaging and long-standing deception – and to try to heal from the fall out.

GoGo Monster, Taiyo Matsumoto

Originally released in Japanese, this much-lauded story dabbles in magic realism – a new student sees ‘monsters’ wherever he goes and his new friend must decide if they are a figment of his imagination or a real force to be reckoned with. Emotionally resonate, sometimes sinister, and ultimately adventurous.

Far Arden, Kevin Cannon

A great deal of fun, Far Arden is Cannon’s tale of a noble young man who sails into the Canadian Artic to find the utopian tropical island of Far Arden, only to be thwarted by one after another ridiculously impossible set of people and circumstances. Clever and funny – very much like life, yes?

Scott Pilgrim Vol 1-5, Bryan Lee O’Malley

Young Canadian cartoonist star and Doug Wright Award winner Brian Lee O’Malley continues to unravel his charming, autobiographical coming-of-age story set in Toronto. Addictive and very likeable – also soon to be a major motion picture, shot in Toronto.

True Loves, Jason Turner and Manien Bothma

Set in Vancouver, True Loves is a light-hearted romantic comedy about True and Zander, by one of my favourite underground Canadian cartoonists.

The Complete Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi

This now famous two-book collection of a girl’s emigration from Iran to France to escape the oncoming cultural revolution has been repackaged into one set. A not-atypical Middle-East-meets-West conundrum showing a family’s high expectation and a girl’s rebellion as she is lured by a once-alien culture she has been sent into for her protection.

Gifts To Intimidate the Budding Cartoonist

The Collected Doug Wright 1, Doug Wright

One of the Canadian grandfathers of the cartoon form in the 1950s and 60’s, Doug Wright was once a household name. Now gone, he is the person behind the prestigious cartoonist award that bears his name. Drawn and Quarterly has done well to collect this master’s work. Lynda Johnson says “I don’t think I’d have had the basics needed to do a syndicated comic strip had it not been for Doug Wright.”


Yoshihro Tatsumi’s A Drifting Life

Tatsumi is well regarded as the grandfather of alternative manga for adults – the precursor to the “graphic novel.” This enormous tome is a fantastic autobiography that has taken 11 years to create. It is indulgent and illuminating, both in terms of his life, and in terms of Japanese comics history.

The Art of Osamu Tezuka: God of Manga, Helen McCarthy

The Japanese creator of Astro Boy has had an enormous impact on manga and comics the world over. His life and work are collected here in this lavish biography for new readers and those familiar with his work.

Hot Potatoe: Fine Ahtwerks, Marc Bell

Canada’s own Marc Bell has earned a reputation for groundbreaking work, effectively blurring the distinctions between art and craft, of unique art object and print piece, of comics and fine art, of associative and linear narrative. Here his labyrinth-like creations are bound in a single beautiful book.

The Complete Calvin and Hobbes (Calvin & Hobbes) (v. 1, 2, 3), Bill Watterson

This box set is the last appearance of Watterson’s comic and it contains the whole strip in it’s entirety. For those who are fans of the strip, this is a real find. You can cast off all you dog-eared, incomplete collections of the strip, and keep this one on the bookshelf. Finally.

Sundays with Walt and Skeezix, Frank O. King (Author), Peter Maresca (Editor), Chris Ware (Editor)

This oversized book reproduces the legendary Sunday pages of Frank King’s “Gasoline Alley” in it’s heyday, the 1920s and 30’s, in their original newspaper broadsheet size. Certainly the book and art are absolutely beautiful – large and lush – but they are difficult to handle. I was worried the book would become ruined or worse – forgotten. To my surprise, it became one of my eight-year-old’s favourite books: she lays it out on the floor and pores over every corner. Now what parent in the world would stop their child from reading?

Walt and Skeezix: Books One, Two and Three

These are beautiful and well crafted hardcover editions of Frank King’s “Gasoline Alley.” After reading a few strips you realize they are more than simple jokes or gags, they create a complete quiet, poetic world, against which you may see reflections of your own. These are when the dailies were at their height.

Gifts For Impressionable Kids

BONE, Jeff Smith

Every kid I’ve known who started to read this series could not put it down. Now colourized beautifully, the book is at times slapstick, funny, poetic, poignant – it is the rare breed of comic that is not full of superhero power fantasies that still holds your seven- to eleven-year-old’s attention. Oh, and it’s Canadian.

The Toon Treasury of Classic Children’s Comics, Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly

These are the classics from the masters of the 1940s and 50’s – those who laid the brickwork down for the graphic space we now inhabit. Chosen by New Yorker art director Mouly and her Pulitzer Prize-winning husband, the legendary Art Spiegelman, in one book you have the best of the best of the cream of the crop, of the silliest, funniest, craziest kids’ comics ever made from the Golden Age.

Jellaby, Kean Soo

When Toronto’s Kean Soo showed preliminary samples from Jellaby around, the work was quickly snatched up by Disney’s graphic novel imprint Hyperion, and for good reason. I often read comics and books to my daughter, and this is one of the few she really took to and really wanted to read again and again. Try it out.

Historical, Journalistic, Biographical

Footnotes in Gaza, Joe Sacco

Joe Sacco’s Palestine and Safe Area Gorazde pretty much defined comics journalism as a complete, legitimate, and independent genre. His latest work looks at the history of Gaza and the notorious massacre in 1955 of 111 Palestinians by Israeli soldiers. By placing this in context to events since then, we are reminded how precious life is, and how easy it is for people to become statistics.

Drop-In, Dave Lapp

Dave Lapp splits his time between teaching art to kids in drop-in centres in some of the most dangerous neighbourhoods in Toronto and relentlessly pursuing his dream to create great comics stories. With Drop-In, Lapp has found a way to combine the two: a series of unflinching short stories unfettered by judgment or useless commentary about some of the most damaged people living in some of the worst situations you can imagine. You think you know Toronto? Not for the light hearted, but still recommended reading.

Louis Riel, Chester Brown

Chester Brown created this biography of Louis Riel many years ago yet it still shows up on Canadian bestseller lists. Why? Because its the kind of timeless book you can refer to again and again. Consider Canadian history’s treatment of this enigmatic personality, as well as how our government treated an “unwanted” people. Now – compare that treatment to today.
 
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Featured artists

Seth
R. Sikoryak
Doug Wright

           Featured products

George Sprott: (1894-1975)
The Collected Doug Wright Volume One




  The Comics Journal deems GEORGE SPROTT:

Updated February 9, 2010


Rich Kreiner’s Yearlong Best of 5

A book that’s sure to be on many “Best of 2009” lists is Seth’s George Sprott: 1894- 1975.

This volume represents a significant, sensitive enlargement of a story Seth originally composed for weekly, single-page installments in The New York Times Magazine when that publication was flirting with comics. George Sprott was undoubtedly one of the more satisfying and successful serials the magazine ran and the collected book expands and enhances the narrative in just about every any way you’d care to name.

Start with something as obvious as physical size. This volume inflates page dimensions beyond those of the magazine, to a whopping 12” x 14”. Yeah, it’s a relatively superficial quality and a scale rarely exploited by Seth, but he plays it like a maestro. With this extra room the reprinted pages get the titles they look like they always deserved. Edge-to-edge graphic devices become full-fledged artistic Statements. Double-page tableaux become sprawling visions more perfectly fit to and more evocative of their theme. Ice fields, seas of floating bergs, moonlit panoramas of broad, frozen expanses roll out in gestural, painterly, thick lines. In technique and subject they are a kind of Expressionistic Minimalism, tastefully marrying a stark, restrained representation of the emotional terrain with a steely concentration on the contextual matters at hand.

The numerous other slight and noteworthy alterations in this text could occupy students of the form for quite a while. The occasional face is refined toward the more overtly cartoonish. Colors are uniformly more worn, faded, outmoded. There’s a more natural place for cussing; ditto nipples on figurines. Given Seth’s skill and discernment, none of the changes can be considered casual.
And of course there is that generous addition of new pages. By and large, these take two forms. The first are those great, barren visions. As a category, these would include a pair of opposing, double-page fold-outs that represent Seth’s version of the life-flashing-in-front-of-you experience alleged to unspool at the moment of death.

More telling still, the second group of added pages is new comic episodes revealing pivotal moments in the life of Sprott. These go rather directly to fleshing out the portrait of a man relative to his time, an identity cast as a dichotomy on the edition’s paper sleeve: “arctic explorer, television host, raconteur, beloved uncle? Or opportunist, philanderer, deadbeat father, self-centered bore?”

This book’s depiction of Sprott’s existence sharpens and deepens that question, even as it makes the answer more self-evident and humane (it doesn’t take a close reading to notice that there’s very little mutually exclusive or inherently contradictory between the two sets of Sprott’s possible roles).

But beyond that, this expanded work more carefully sets Sprott’s life within a broader history, a grander portrait of people, place and, especially, time. It harkens back to when television could be imagined as a local industry, when it spoke of, rather than dictated, communal interests … hell, back to when “community” was the relevant unit of diversion and culture. Back, too, to when the snowfields to the north were exotic, humbling vastnesses instead of shrinking, besieged environmental bellwethers. George Sprott is a moving, understated elegy to the disappearance of such an era and such a world. It successfully stirs a nostalgic ache that haunts even as we acknowledge that such a time and place never existed outside the artist’s mind, never apart from the realized object we hold in our hands.

With all due respect to Crumb’s Book of Genesis and Mazzucchelli’s Asteros Polyp (and foreseen for Campbell’s promised Alec: The Years Have Pants), George Sprott: 1894- 1975 is the “comic of the year” that I could most readily hand to an adult without either introduction or proviso.
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Seth

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George Sprott: (1894-1975)




The Newspaper interviews SETH

Updated February 9, 2010


Drawn together: Seth and the newspaper

by Amy Stupavsky

Seth, a.k.a. Gregory Gallant, a.k.a. my hero, has been a mainstay of the indie comics scene for over a decade as a graphic novelist, cartoonist, and illustrator. His most recent book, George Sprott: 1894-1975, is a series of reminiscences about a TV host woven together from the unreliable, contradictory memories of those who knew him.

Seth dropped the newspaper a line to talk about his love for the past, the art of cartooning, and unfortunate name choices.

the newspaper: A lot of people sit down with a graphic novel and expect the pace and style of a comic book. Your books, however, are more about inaction and reaction than the action itself. The characters seem to internalize a lot more than in comic books, where emotions are readily apparent on the surface. Is there a common thread among your works as far as character development? What kinds of messages are you hoping to convey through your characters?

Seth: A long time ago I decided that I was more interested in portraying the interior world of an experience than the exterior one. That is a bit misleading because as a cartoonist you are always drawing the outside of things; you can only hint at the inside of experience. That said, I try to keep my comic books quiet. I'm attracted to things that are slow and contemplative. To be honest, I am attracted to a lot of things that are downright boring. I know that my work is always teetering on the edge of that kind of boredom. I try to keep it from being boring, but I don't worry too much about it. I can only hope that what I find interesting will interest some readers as well. Most comic books are about action because of their pulp origins. That approach has defined the medium. I don't think regular life is much about "action". Quite the opposite, really. Most people's lives are slow in pace. I'm trying to get some of that into the work. All my work is about this is some manner. I'm especially concerned with that profound schism between our inner lives and our outer lives. I don't have any "messages" in my work, but I am trying to convey some sense of "being alive." Disappointment, sadness, regret, and death figure prominently in my stories, but that's probably because I tend to write about old people. I'm a pretty melancholic person, but I'm also generally a very happy person. I don't think sadness and happiness cancel each other out. They complement each other. Depression is another story. That cancels happiness.

tn: How did George Sprott come about?

S: It came about simply because The New York Times called me up and asked me if I would do a "graphic novel" to serialize in their magazine. I was really trying to finish up my Clyde Fans story, but I couldn't turn them down. I gave them three possible choices for a story. Choice number one was to continue and finish a story I had begun in Toro Magazine but had left unfinished due to an editorial conflict. Choice number two (my favorite at the time) was a quiet, meditative study on a block of abandoned buildings. I looked over my first two choices and instantly knew that I needed to give them a third. It was pure strategic thinking. They were not going to pick number one; they wouldn't want to continue something begun elsewhere. Number two was a shot in the dark, but probably too "poetic" for them. Too artsy. It seemed obvious that there had to be a third option that was a more traditional story and had some human characters in it. Sprott - a rather unformed idea at that point - was what was currently floating around in the back of my brain, and Sprott it was. I figured they would pick it, but I was still hoping against hope that they would go for the second option. In the end, they were correct. Working on Sprott was the more challenging choice, and ultimately the more rewarding for me. I had no specific plans to turn this serialized piece into a book, but when Drawn & Quarterly asked me what I was planning to do with the work, I decided to expand on it and make it into its present form. This was another lucky accident. Expanding the work deepened it to some degree. I like the strip much better in its final form than in the original magazine run.

tn: Many of your works (Palookaville and It’s a Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken) seem autobiographical, or at least semi-autobiographical. Is the Seth in your books the Seth from real life? How are you the same and how do you differ?

S: Well, the easy answer is no. The character in the strips isn't really like me, mostly because it's difficult to create a reasonable facsimile of yourself without putting more effort or time into it. When I use myself in a comic strip, it is usually for a straightforward purpose: to capture some moment or to relate some thought. There's not usually enough complexity to the character to really transmit my personality. The Seth in the comics is probably a lot more one-note than I am in real life (I hope). Lately, I've been working on some strips in my sketchbook in which I've been trying to write a memoir of sorts. I'm hoping to dig a little deeper into my own character, but it's hard to say. It's pretty impossible to present an objective view of yourself. Just trying to know yourself is difficult enough, but to put it down on paper accurately is a daunting task. The character of Seth that shows up in my strips certainly represents aspects of my personality. He is just a little more consistent in his behaviour than I am. Real human beings have more contradictions.

tn: Your characters are obsessed with the past, reaching back to days gone by in a search for meaning. Your own dress sense and style of drawing are also quite anachronistic. Why do you continually revisit that theme in your works? Why is it important?

S: Mostly, it's the aesthetics of that period. I am very drawn to the look and design of the early twentieth century. It was an era - say, 1890 to 1950 - when things were designed with a great deal of care. You can look at almost any common item from that time and see that it is superior to an equal item from today. In the fifties our culture started a downhill slide into cheapness. The current North American landscape is shoddy and ugly. This is the direct result of a culture that has consistently undermined the value of beauty. I am not saying that nothing of beauty is created today, but it is the exception, not the rule. In that earlier period, the ratio was better. I am also not saying that 1920 was a superior time to live in than 2010. That would be an impossible statement to make. The changes are too complicated, some good and some not so good. On a sheer level of aesthetics, however, this time period loses. I'm drawn to the beauty of what was left behind. It almost seems as if that time never even existed, like a dream world. It seems utterly unconnected with today's world. I also find the past fascinating for the simple reason that it no longer exists. There is something about the process of the present fading into the past that is profound and sad... and strange. I think about it constantly. I feel hyperaware that I am moving through time, and that as I pass from one moment to the next those experiences have become inaccessible to me. In some ways I cannot really accept that the past is gone. I feel like it still lives on somewhere, and that I could step into it again if I could just turn the right corner or put certain objects into the right arrangement. There is something about the early twentieth century that has a fetishistic quality for me. Whenever I hear any date from the 1920s or 30s, I get a little thrill. It probably comes from growing up with old parents.

tn: My childhood died a little bit when the ROM renovated its dinosaur exhibit. I kept thinking of the scene in It’s a Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken when your character visits the museum. I have to ask: what was your reaction to the ROM’s alterations? How do you feel about the changing face of Toronto?

S: I felt that way as well. I actually haven't been back to the ROM since they changed it. It depressed me tremendously. I think the new exterior is an absolute abomination: the typical, ham-fisted, shoddy show-offishness of certain kinds of modern architecture. A sad piece of work. I have a lot of fond feelings for Toronto because I lived there for 20 years - 20 formative and important years in my life. That said, I don't think of Toronto as a very beautiful city. So much of what was wonderful was knocked down before I even moved there in 1980. It's a city with little interest in its history or the charm of the past. Toronto is about the present, always trying to be "world class." I always found that kind of embarrassing. Still, everytime I go back I feel a mixture of joy and sadness when I look around. Joy when I notice some restaurant or shop that I use to love that is still in business, or sadness when I see just the opposite: some well-remembered place that is gone. I think this is pretty normal for people as they grow older. They watch the landscape of their lives vanish. Bit by bit the city they knew becomes a city of memory, existing only inside the body. It can be depressing. It really causes an ache when you think that the Dinosaur Room from the ROM isn't there any longer, that it's only there in your mind. I can see it so perfectly in my memory. I would like to believe that it still exists somewhere in a concrete form, but you simply cannot get there.

tn: Has your fan base changed since you started writing?

S: It's hard to tell for sure since I don't have that much contact with them. I suspect my readers have grown older along with me. In the earlier part of my "career," my core audience was made up of young hipsters. But that was back when comics were more "underground" or "alternative." They've been "mainstreamed" in the last decade. I write a lot about older people, and I suspect that a 20-year-old might not be all that interested in a story about an old fat man rambling on about his life. Who knows, though. Very young people still come up to me at book signings. When I was 20, I was interested in such topics, so maybe I am selling 20-year-olds short.

tn: Who is your biggest inspiration?

S: That changes from year to year. When I was in my early twenties, I would have said Robert Crumb, Woody Allen, and J.D. Salinger. Out of that group, only Crumb would still make a top ten today. He's still a powerful inspiration. In recent years, I've been influenced by the Canadian book designer and illustrator Thoreau MacDonald. Alain Resnais's film Last Year at Marienbad has left a tremendous impression on me. Nabokov has also been in my thoughts lately. In cartooning, Chris Ware and Ben Katchor are artists I enjoy and learn from. Both these men have opened my eyes in ways I can't even begin to describe. I am a cultural sponge, taking in great amounts of influence from other artists and writers. Some influences are short-lived while others remain active for decades.

tn: Do you find it easier to draw or write? What is the process of crafting a book like for you?

S: Drawing is easier. It uses a different part of the brain than writing. Writing requires a kind of laser-like focus. I can do several things while I am drawing. I like the process of drawing because it is busy work. It keeps me busy all day long and gives my life focus. That's one of the pleasant things about cartooning. The "writing" period, where you work out the content and storytelling of a strip, is relatively short. Then you have a long period where you draw it. This long period is mostly made up of drudgery. It's not taxing in the same way that writing is. I am grateful I am not a "real" writer. I would not like concentrating like that every hour of the day. It's stressful. Putting together a book is a joy. It's all aesthetics, pure beauty. Yes, ideas are behind every choice, but the main point of it is to create something of beauty. I love books, and juggling the various elements that make up a book design is a pleasant task. The actual process changes from book to book, but there is no mystery to it. It's a simple job of taking the subject matter of the book (say, a poetry book) and finding the visual key that describes it (say, landscape) and then building an aesthetic framework for the text to sit inside. Every decision (What will the endpapers look like? Are there illustrations in the book? Is there a dust jacket?) is then made toward making that framework appropriate and as beautiful as possible.

tn: What are the freedoms and constraints of working within your medium compared to prose novels and conventional comic books?

S: That is a very complicated question. It could take hours of talk to answer. Let me simplify by saying that comics and prose have similar abilities to capture life, but different tools. The main difference between the two is, of course, the drawings. In comics, the drawings supply all the description you would find in a novel. In some ways the drawings are superior to description because it can be a subtler way of presenting information. You don't have to tell the reader that a character is wearing a red sweater, you simply see it. However, the drawing style of the cartoonist can be a drawback. A cartoonist must render the world, and a prose writer can allow his reader to visualize his own reality. In some ways the prose writer has a more direct access to "reality" since the cartoonist can only present visual symbols for the reader to translate into real objects. The drawings are a plus and a minus. I will say this for comics: They are one of the only mediums that cannot be experienced by a group. Comics are an entirely singular experience, meant to be read alone. The words and pictures can only come together in the mind of a solitary reader. Prose can be read aloud to an audience. Doing this with a comic just emphasizes how fragmented its various elements are. Comics are meant to be experienced inside the body. As for mainstream comics, I think they serve a different goal than mine. I am aiming to describe the real world in some manner. Mainstream comics are about escapism and genre thrills. We use some of the same cartooning language. As I grow older, I see that there is less and less common ground between these two worlds.

tn: Chester Brown figured prominently in It’s a Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken. Are you friends in real life? Is there a rivalry between the two of you? Are you planning any collaborations?

S: Chester is my best friend and has been for years. I have learned a lot from him over the years. He's a real inspiration, a great cartoonist. There is a real rivalry between us, especially because we are both pretty competitive. Especially Chet!! We rarely collaborate. I'm not a collaborator. I like to work alone. We have been doing a long "jam-strip" for a few years in a sketchbook, but I have let it languish over the last year. It is sitting on a shelf growing dusty. I should get back to that.

tn: Why did you choose Seth as a nom de plume?

S: It's a boring story. It goes back to my youthful days as a punk. I wanted a scary pseudonym and I made of list of names. I picked Seth. I shudder to imagine what else was on that list. Thank God that Seth is, at least, a real name. It could have been much worse.

tn: If you were a character in a book, who would you be and why?

S: That's a tough question. I'm not too sure I would want to be in many of the books I read. I love The Stone Angel, but I wouldn't wish to be the central character. I recently read Nabokov's Pnin, and again, I do not wish to be Pnin. I am probably thinking of the wrong books. I wouldn't mind being Badger from The Wind in the Willows. He has a nice home: secluded, quiet, and comfortable. Plus, he is sensible and wise. Or perhaps Charlotte from Charlotte's Web. She was smart, kind, a good friend, and a good writer.

tn: How do your graphic novels reflect the style of the prose novelists who’ve influenced you?

S: I am a great fan of Alice Munro, but I doubt that I have taken much stylistically from her. I don't think you can. It's easier to take stylistic influence in drawing. However, I think I have learned a tremendous amount from her about characterization. You can't absorb another writer's insights, but you can learn where to look inside yourself for such insight. I have been reading Nabokov lately and I am really responding to the cleverness of his narrative structures. Great writers offer something to aim for, even if it is beyond your reach.

tn: You’ve done a lot of design and illustration work for various books and publications (artwork for The New Yorker, Mark Kingwell and Joshua Glenn’s The Idler’s Glossary, the cover art for The Portable Dorothy Parker reissue). How do you choose your commercial projects?

S: They usually choose me. I can think of a million books I would love to design, but the problem is that it isn't up to me. I'd love to do a deluxe edition of Margaret Laurence's The Stone Angel. I love that book, but no publisher is calling me about it. That kind of leaves me out in the cold. Truthfully, I pick the work that comes to me. That's not to say I will do just anything; I have to feel some affinity for the subject. A lot of the time people come to me to supply some sort of whimsy or urbanity to a project. I don't mind that. It's an element of my work, but I prefer to be offered something where I might be able to go a little deeper. It's a tightrope walk between surface style and deeper content. I like it when both elements come together in a project. That's the kind of job I leap at. Just recently I designed the package for the Criterion reissue of Leo McCarey's wonderful thirties film Make Way for Tomorrow. A perfect job: wonderful, moving content and a 1930s context for the design. Heaven!
 
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Seth

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George Sprott: (1894-1975)




  The Telegraph-Journal shows that GEORGE SPROTT is loved by all ages

Updated February 2, 2010


Young readers as literary critics

Books: Frye Festival event sees Moncton jury debate two Canadian novels tonight

by Mike Landry

Forget boring book reports - Moncton-area teens are making fiction fight.

First in the ring are Douglas Coupland's The Gum Thief and Hadassa by Myriam Beaudoin. A jury of 18 young readers from six regional anglophone and francophone high schools will discuss the books in a roundtable debate this evening at the Aberdeen Cultural Centre café in Moncton.

Organized by the Frye Festival's school youth program, the event is part of the inaugural Frye Academy Award. After a second roundtable in March, featuring Tarmac by Nicolas Dickner and George Sprott (1894-1975) by Seth, the jury will select a winning author from the four contemporary Canadian novels.

The competing books are notable in how hip they are. They are not young adult fiction. They're cool books any adult would read.

"Sometimes we might not give teenagers enough credit. It doesn't necessarily need to be a book about teens, or with teen-specific themes, to interest them," says Roxanne Richard, assistant director for the Frye Festival.

"They're mostly Grade 12 students, so they're just one year away from either entering the workforce, moving out of home or pursuing their studies. So it's not unusual to have them reading books that adults would be reading."

But cartoonist/author Seth found it was unusual to have his book included in the competition. George Sprott (1894-1975) first appeared as a serial comic in the New Yorker, and examines the life of a "charming, foolish old man."

"I hadn't really given any thought while working on it to any young people reading it, to tell you the truth. It's so clearly about an old man," says Seth from his home in Guelph, Ont.

"I'm curious how young people will even read it."

Douglas Coupland is pleased to see The Gum Thief included.

"I love The Gum Thief very much. I was glad to see others were liking it, too," writes Coupland, who's on holiday in Palm Springs. "It's set in the current world, so there'll be an immediacy to it they might click with."

Financed by Canadian Heritage's official languages program, the two English and French books were selected by a volunteer committee of university students and post-grad readers last summer. Richard specifically wanted them to choose books that you normally wouldn't see in a class curriculum.

"As much as all those classics have their merit and they should be read in schools, we wanted to do something different," she says.

Recruiting was done by teachers at selected high schools the festival had worked with in the past, but they're looking to expand to other regions in the future. The selected jurors this year all share a love of reading and an excitement to be part of the new project.

"My teacher had confronted two of my friends first. So I thought, why not join them," says Anna Nunokawa, from Moncton High School.

"We're enthusiastic about reading. We discuss books. If we do it on our time, why not do it with other students?"

Nunokawa was only aware of Seth's book before becoming a juror. She had never read any of the battling authors, and enjoyed branching out. The competing books offered a "fresh perspective" to reading beyond deciphering universal themes in school books like Wuthering Heights.

"It's an easier read to get started and dive right in, enjoy it and have a more visceral response to the reading rather than having to analyze and find themes. I really like that."

Samir Farhloul, who attends Mathieu-Martin High School in Dieppe and also plays football, basketball and volleyball, is one of the few male jurors.

Although the festival is going to up its recruiting efforts to get more boys, Farhloul says he doesn't mind the gender split. It's the books that are important.

"Reading is one of my favourite pastimes," says Farhloul. "I'm doing myself a favour by reading more books that I haven't read before, and would have never read if I hadn't joined the jury."

More important than gender, Farhloul liked that students from both English and French schools were on the jury.

He hopes it will help clear up any misunderstanding that comes when you're not reading in your first language.

Annie Crawford LeBlanc, from Harrison Trimble High School, is ashamed to admit it, but she was surprised French books could be as, if not more, interesting than English ones.

A voracious reader, Crawford LeBlanc counts Oscar Wilde, J.D. Salinger and F. Scott Fitzgerald as her favourites.

She's also read lots of Coupland, and is "super excited to discuss him further, in detail." Since finishing the book she's been passing it around to her friends and suggesting they read Haddas as well.

"I think it's quite an honour to be chosen," she says.

"To be part of something where people are valuing my opinion to the extent that it is a key element in a reason why a book would be set above others because I feel the author is superior. It's such a great thing to be a part of."
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Seth

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George Sprott: (1894-1975)




WHAT IT IS and GEORGE SPROTT are comics of the decade says Omnivoracious

Updated January 19, 2010


Graphic Novel Friday: Comics of the Decade

by Alex Carr

After a few years on the wagon during school, I came back to comics in 2000 and returned to my long-boxes just in time to witness a tipping point in the industry. In the 1990s, the top billing generally went to artists working with mainstream superheroes (and occasionally moonlighting as spokesmen for button-fly jeans), but in the past ten years, the industry made a marked shift in its spotlight on talent. This isn't to say that comics artistry has declined in importance--of course, where would comics be without pencils and inks?--but a balance has returned, and writers are once again held in as high of esteem. And this leveling of talent and emphasis allowed for the advancement of more personal storytelling both in and outside of DC and Marvel, producing some of the most literary projects yet in the medium. Add to these works the box office domination of capes and cowls, and all of sudden comics are reviewed on NPR, and no one bats an eye when the medium has a New York Times Bestseller List devoted to it.

For our picks for Comics of the Decade, we tried to find a similar balance between indie and mainstream, superheroes and comics lit--and a few cases where it all blended together. We narrowed this list by naming titles that set the bar for the next decade.

Black Hole by Charles Burns
Jimmy Corrigan by Chris Ware
Promethea by Alan Moore and J.H. Williams III
David Boring by Daniel Clowes
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
Planetary by Warren Ellis and John Cassaday
Bottomless Belly Button by Dash Shaw
Y: the Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra, Jose Marzan, et al.
New X-Men by Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely, et al.
What It Is by Lynda Barry
But not all that is great about comics is necessarily new, and there's no doubt that this decade saw a vast improvement in archival and collected editions. There was so much material that we had to break these objets d'art into their own separate category. Below are our picks for Comics Archives and Anthologies of the Decade:

Complete Peanuts (Fantagraphics)
Love and Rockets Library (Fantagraphics)
DC Comics's Absolute Editions (Sandman, Watchmen, Crisis on Infinite Earths)
The Complete Calvin and Hobbes (Andrews McMeel)
An Anthology of Graphic Fiction, Cartoons, and True Stories: Vol. 1 and Vol. 2. (Yale University Press)
Creepy and Eerie Archives (Dark Horse)
The Best American Comics (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Bone: The Complete Cartoon Epic in One Volume (Cartoon Books)
McSweeney's Issue 13 (McSweeney's)
MOME (Fantagraphics)
And just so I can sleep tonight, here's what the rest of the comics list would have looked like if this were a Top 25:

All Star Superman by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely
Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli
Astonishing X-Men by Joss Whedon and John Cassaday
Blankets by Craig Thompson
Clumsy by Jeffrey Brown
Criminal by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
Daredevil by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev
Eightball #23 by Daniel Clowes
Fables by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham, Lan Medina, et al.
George Sprott: (1894-1975) by Seth
Hellboy by Mike Mignola, et al.
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Scott Pilgrim by Bryan Lee O'Malley
Stitches: A Memoir by David Small
The Ultimates by Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch
The Umbrella Academy by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá
Ok, that's more like a Top 26, but we had to cut the list somewhere. Here's to another ten years of remarkable comics. Up, up, and away.


 
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Seth
Lynda Barry

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What It Is
George Sprott: (1894-1975)




  GEORGE SPROTT makes CBR's Top 100 Comics of 2009 list

Updated January 19, 2010


CBR'S TOP 100 COMICS OF 2009, #100-76

by Kiel Phegley

Each year, CBR wraps its coverage of the comics industry with a virtual nerd cage match to determine the very best comics of the year. Every single CBR staffer – from our news team to our all-star columnists, from CBR's many bloggers to our legion of reviewers – had the chance to chip in their favorite books of the year with only the highest vote-getters ranking up on our massive top 100 comics list, and this year neither the staff nor the comics disappointed.

2009 was a year bursting at the seams with big names, big releases and big news. Though the economy's been down and the business of comics has been changing, there was still an abundance of great comics last year to choose from, from the top flight superhero and genre periodicals of the direct market to the astonishingly varied manga and graphic novels ruling book store sales to the oh so independent comics of the festival circuit and the web.

And while it's nearly impossible for even the combined staff of CBR to have read every single ongoing series, miniseries, one-shot, graphic novel and web comic published in and throughout 2009, we are confident that you'll find no better indicator of the breadth and quality of the industry as it stands today than right here. So read on to see who ranked in spots 100 through 76, and head back each day this week for more of the Best 100 Comics of 2009!

#97. George Sprott
Written & Illustrated By: Seth
Published By: Drawn and Quarterly

Sad yes, but lyrical and lovely, and much more of a critique against nostalgia and its trappings than some critics would like to think.

– Robot 6 Contributor Chris Mautner
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George Sprott: (1894-1975)




SETH interviewed in The Link

Updated January 5, 2010


Northern nostalgia
Comic book artist Seth on old age, biography and Canadiana

by Madeline Coleman

To hear comic book artist Seth tell it, writing fiction might be the most revealing thing a person can do.

“I think it’s important to dig deeper when you’re writing. I’m not sure whether it’s important it be autobiographical when you put the material out,” he said. “I’m not sure why honesty is important, but it feels important.”

Seth, born Gregory Gallant, is the author of George Sprott, a fictional biography that questions the honesty of both the writer and his subject. The book begins as the protagonist, a fading television personality, unknowingly enters his last earthly hours. Brief snatches of Sprott’s life provide the tenuous framework for a biography that Seth says is as much about what we know as what we assume.

The Guelph-based artist questioned biographers’ ability to truly understand their subjects’ internal lives.

“It would be nice sometimes if [biographers] would admit they’re interpreting,” he said of the oft-unrealistic level of detail in most biographies. “I guess that’s one of the secrets of good biography: if you can get the reader on side with you, then they stop challenging where you’re getting your information from.”

Seth first garnered attention in the early ‘90s with a comic series called Palookaville, following with the graphic novel It’s a Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken, a fictional work that was widely mistook for autobiography. George Sprott, released last May, was originally serialized in The New York Times Magazine.

Sprott echoes the themes explored in the two books that preceded it, Clyde Fans: Book One and Wimbledon Green. All three star men well into the latter halves of their lives.
Seth’s interest in elderly protagonists hits close to home. He grew up with older parents that he called “very story-oriented.”

“I always knew I was very involved in them and very interested in them, but I didn’t realize that involvement was a primary thing,” he said. “Now when I think, ‘What’s an interesting story?’ I immediately start thinking about an old person talking about their life.”

His penchant for the past has earned Seth the label “nostalgic.” He recently brought his images of early 20th century architecture off the page in the form of a model city he calls Dominion, which he said he imagines to be “somewhere in northern Ontario,” and which may soon make an appearance at Montreal’s Canadian Centre for Architecture.

Seth may be interested in the days of yore, but he is far from faithful to it. Although George Sprott is primarily set in 1975, the year of Sprott’s death, Seth happily omitted bad suits and mutton chops from his drawings.

“It’s almost like it was not the same 1975 I was in, because in a way it was like just a strange little rarefied George Sprott world,” said the artist, who was born in 1962. “George is very isolated as a figure, so I almost made it point to keep his world always a bit dated, even for 1975. When you see him, it still feels like 1960.”

Sprott spends his early years undertaking—and filming—multiple arctic expeditions, something which later becomes the basis for his television show. Northern Highlights, as it’s called, is entirely based upon watching and discussing these films, reliving past glories over and over again. His image of himself as a “gentleman explorer” and his purported connection to the Great White North is, said Seth, based on figures who went north with what he calls “a kind of foolish imperialism.” It is also a direct reflection of the myths inherent in Canadian identity.

“We feel like we’re a country of the land, but we’re really a land of urban experience now,” Seth concluded. “In the ‘50s and ‘60s, all that kind of imagery of Canada—of the lumberjacks and the Mounties and the frontier, it all got modernized into a pop culture image. I think the imagery we have about Canada now is all souvenir images. We think of it all as something that could go on the back of a sweater. It doesn’t really have a meaning to us anymore.”
 
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George Sprott: (1894-1975)




  Fast Forward Weekly talks to SETH about GEORGE SPROTT

Updated January 5, 2010


Melancholic mining of the past
Seth collects the life of George Sprott into one beautiful book

by Bryn Evans

Seth is one of Canada’s most acclaimed cartoonists, with works like Palooka-Ville and Wimbledon Green part of the modern cartoon cannon. His latest, George Sprott, is one of his best. It’s a biographical tale, peeking into the life of its titular antihero — TV talk show host, deadbeat dad, Arctic explorer and unrepentant curmudgeon. The book is an expanded version of a series of strips that originally ran in The New York Times Magazine. “[Editor] Sheila Glaser offered the spot to me and I said, ‘Yes,’” says Seth. “I was very busy when she called and had sworn to myself that I would devote the next year to working on my book Clyde Fans, but the offer was too tempting to turn down. I’m glad I didn't, or George Sprott probably never would have been drawn.”

The serialized nature of the work presented some challenges for Seth, the worst of which, he says, was working on a strict deadline. “They asked me for three proposed ideas, and George was definitely the thinnest. However, after they expressed interest in it I had to resolve that situation — so I went out to a hotel with a typewriter and a pack of cigarettes and just hashed it out.” He then took the idea of the fragmentation resulting from a weekly publication schedule and built it into the book. “I wanted George to be a bit of a mystery to the reader. By breaking the narrative into a bunch of small pieces and allowing the reader to assemble it in their own minds, I hoped to create a fuller picture of a human being by actually giving them less information.”

Like most of Seth’s works, Sprott is a melancholic tale, though its preoccupation with the big questions (death, eternity) is buoyed by digressions on everything from the history of Canadian broadcasting to book publishing. “I think all my stories are kind of the same,” says Seth, who’s real name is Gregory Gallant and who currently lives with his wife and two cats in Guelph, Ont. “I always want to write about older people looking back at their lives. To me, this is the basic idea of a story. I don't know why — it probably comes from having grown up with older parents who talked a lot about their pasts.” He says stories of romance and modern exploits don’t interest him. “I'm always drawn to the idea of looking back. I guess I feel that death and old age are what add ‘flavour’ to life. They hang around in the background of our thinking, making everything sad, sweet or tragic. It's certainly not an original insight but I think it’s a true one.”

Additionally, the collected version of George Sprott is bursting with different visual styles, from newspaper strips to portraiture, landscapes and even photos of cardboard models Seth created to show George’s favourite haunts. It’s a wonderful blend of his unique mix of ’50s flair, commercial art and bouncy classic cartoon style. Seth says that in his early cartooning days, stretching back to the ’80s, he made a conscious effort to study certain cartoonists as a way of decoding their secrets. “At this point in my career, the influences and styles that are evident in my work have been absorbed long ago,” he says. “The newspaper strips or the magazine cartoonists that inform my drawing are so fully integrated that I no longer even think about them when I am working.”

Sprott also allows Seth to digress on one of his favourite topics: collecting. Along with cartoonist pals Chester Brown and Joe Matt, he has been collecting classic strips and books for years. “I am a collector by nature — there’s no doubt about it,” he says. “I go through phases of what I collect but the collecting is a constant. Looking for old things is my idea of fun — antique stores and junk shops are like museums of the mundane. I am always fascinated (and sometimes touched) to paw through the scattered remainders of other people’s lives. I am very aware that my own things will find their way to these spots as well.”

“As an artist you are tying to leave something permanent behind you — to explain how you felt when you were alive — but it’s a hopeless task,” he adds. “At some point in the future all record of your existence will vanish. I've often thought it would be an interesting story to follow all the fragments of a person's life into the future until that moment — 1,000 years hence when the very last fragment proving they were here finally disappears.”
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George Sprott: (1894-1975)




Spotlight on SETH in the Calgary Herald

Updated January 5, 2010


Graphic novelist seth finds nostalgic look at Canada through multilayered character

by Nancy Tousley

A sure sign that the graphic novel had arrived was the cover story on The New York Times Magazine of July 11, 2004, which was promoted with the tag line How Cool is Comics Lit? The simple fact of its existence answered the question: very cool.

The story, Not Funnies by Charles McGrath, turned the spotlight on the top practitioners of the genre in North America, among them Art Spielgelman, Chris Ware, Daniel Clowes, Adrian Tomine, Joe Sacco and two Canadians, Chester Brown and Seth.

Seth's next memorable appearance in the Times magazine was in The Funny Pages, where his latest book George Sprott 1894-1975, first appeared as a serial that ran on 25 consecutive Sundays from Sept. 26, 2006, to

March 25, 2007. Following the inimitable Chris Ware and Jaime Hernandez, the 47-year-old Canadian, based in Guelph, Ont., was the third cartoonist to appear on The Funny Pages, which actually is given over to just one page. Because of the limits set by its publication in a newspaper magazine, the serial strip with its staccato rhythms is one of Seth's most comic-like works.

His favoured form is the graphic novel, which George Sprott 1894-1975 gradually added up to. True to this genre of comics-like books, which is written for adults and has serious themes, Seth's picture novella is not a funny book, though it will provoke wry smiles from the conjunction of words and pictures, which in Seth's work often follow two different trains of thought.

"Basically the strength of the graphic novel in my mind is that you are working with visual language," says Seth in an interactive New York Times feature. "It allows you to sort of set up symbols that you work on the page that represent other things. You are not actually drawing a teapot, for example, you are drawing a symbol that represents a teapot. It's much like the way that letters in the alphabet are put together to form more complicated thoughts that the reader interprets. I think that's the way the graphic novel works, too."

Ideally, he says, the graphic novel is a distilled combination of poetry and graphic design.

George Sprott 1894-1975, the picture novella published by Drawn &Quarterly, is an "expanded and remastered" version of the Funny Pages serial. The story relates Sprott's life from conception to death from the perspective of 1975, the year in which he dies at age 81. Seth tells his story though a series of fragments, using the device of the unreliable narrator who fumbles and has to start again, Sprott's memories of the past, and interviews conducted after he dies, which are the recollections of people who knew him.

Given the fact that the narrator is not so omniscient and that people remember Sprott differently, the picture of him that emerges is multilayered and ambiguous. Was this former Arctic adventurer who became the TV host of Northern Hi-Lites and a lecturer on the North a failed seminarian, an opportunistic cad, philanderer and self-centred bore? Or is he a significant explorer, raconteur, beloved TV celebrity and loving uncle? Even as the countdown to Sprott's demise ticks by in hours and minutes, the jury remains out on his measure as a man.

Seth's reputation as one of our great cartoonists rests as soundly on the complexities he is able to bring to the genre as it does on his abilities as a designer of exquisite panels, strips and pages, rendered in his characteristic chiaroscuro. The artist creates a convincing, detailed world with rich textures and rhythmic pacing on pages that appear to emit their own light.

He adjusts the pace of the brilliantly designed folio-size novella with the "long notes" of double spreads of cold, silent Arctic landscapes that recall Lawren Harris and the Group of Seven and pop Arctic imagery. These spreads, which reflect the place of the North in the Canadian imagination, create pauses for reflection in the story. Single full-page photographs of cardboard models of three buildings from Seth's fictional town of Dominion, punctuate the flat pages with cartoon-like, three-dimensional objects.

Present time in the book, the mid 1970s, is the period in which Seth, who was born Gregory Gerrard in Clinton, Ont., was growing up in small town Ontario. Sprott is a compilation of several real people Seth encountered, who include a TV host whose Arctic shows Seth watched as a 10-year-old boy, Pierre Berton, Seth's father and even bits of himself.

"The texture of the time I grew up with is engraved on my mind," says Seth, who chose his nom de plume during his heavy-metal goth days later on in Toronto, where he lived for 20 years before moving to Guelph in 1999.

The elegiac tone of George Sprott 1894-1975 is set as much for the passing of an era in Canadian culture as it is for the passing of the novella's aged and rotund protagonist, who falls asleep during his own TV show.

The book charts Sprott's decline with the decline of his world, a time in the late 1960s and 1970s when, Seth says, "the idea of Canada and the pop culture of it was very strong."
 
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  GEORGE SPROTT review in the Calgary Herald

Updated December 14, 2009


Graphic Novels

by Nancy Tousley


32 STORIES: THE COMPLETE OPTIC NERVE MINI-COMICS

Adrian Tomine

Adrian Tomine (Summer Blonde, Shortcomings) started drawing credible mini-comics so early that this boxed set of eight booklets -- an introduction and seven facsimile issues of Optic Nerve -- could almost be considered juvenilia. He was 17 when he published No. 1, and graduated from high school and left home between No. 4 and No. 5. By No. 7, he was well on the way to developing the distinctive linear style and subject matter that have made him one of the top graphic novelists in North America. Watching him do it is cool.

GEORGE SPROTT 1894-1975

Seth

Few artists deliver as much complexity and artistry to a graphic novel as Seth. This stately, beautifully designed picture novella is the "remastered" version of Seth's serial of the same name, which appeared in the New York Times Sunday Magazine in 2006-07. The melancholic, bittersweet story of a not altogether likable man, it is also the evocation of a golden era in Canada's recent past, whose passage is marked by the passages of Sprott's life. Only Chris Ware lends as much feeling and atmosphere to a graphic story.

AD: NEW ORLEANS AFTER THE DELUGE

Josh Neufeld

This gripping book about hurricane Katrina is a non-fiction account of the storm and the life-altering experiences of seven diverse New Orleanians, gleaned from interviews, media reports, blogs and Neufield's experience in the storm's aftermath as a Red Cross volunteer. The story, which begins one week before the storm, captures horrors of the disaster along with the character of New Orleans. The doctor, who lives in the French Quarter, throws a hurricane party before the flooding begins, then helps everyone in the neighbourhood he can. AD: After the Deluge began as a webcomic at www.smith-mag. net/afterthedeluge/ that expands the story into a hypertext with a number of interesting links.

RED: A HAIDA MANGA

Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas

Red represents a new form of graphic storytelling, Haida manga, invented by Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas. The British Columbia artist melds a traditional Haida tale about Red, a leader obsessed with avenging his sister's kidnapping, and traditional Haida imagery, with graphic and mass-circulation aspects of Japanese manga. This beautiful, fullcolour book is read page by page, but the four-metre-wide assemblage of original watercolours, from which the book's pages are printed, becomes a rich overall image in which black Haida form lines connect to superimpose three symbolic figures over the whole. This view is printed on the inside of the dust cover. The artist advises you to buy two books and take them apart to arrange the big picture.

TALKING LINES: THE GRAPHIC STORIES OF R.O. BLECHMAN

The wiggly, broken, space-making lines, the well-honed wit and the wry ironies of R.O. Blechman's single panel cartoons are well known to readers of The New Yorker. But this great veteran innovator has done longer works, too, from one to several pages in length. They are compiled here and many several have not been published before. Among the latter is Magicat (1972), whose attempts to make gold with butter and heavy cream land him in a discussion of ethics and politics with his sidekick, Cornelius, a cockroach. Sounds like many a New York kitchen.

MOOMIN: THE COMPLETE TOVE JANSSON COMIC STRIP, VOL. 4

What seems at first like food for an acquired taste blooms on the palate with repeated exposure. Finnish writer and illustrator Tove Jansson has a fey sense of humour and gentle satire that relishes absurdities. Only the heartless could not fall for Moomin, Snorkmaiden, Mymble, Snufkin, and Moomin Pappa and Mamma. Jansson's wit and sophistication make Moomin a delightful read for children and adults. A delicious offering from Vol. 4, of an eventual set of five: Snorkmaiden Goes Rococo.

THE COLLECTED DOUG WRIGHT: CANADA'S MASTER CARTOONIST

Seth and Brad MacKay

More than a collected works, this oversized book with a candy-apple red foil cover is an all-out tribute to Doug Wright (1917-1983), who was the best loved and most widely read Canadian cartoonist of the 1950s and '60s. Wright's creation, a rambunctious little boy called Nipper, predates Charlie Brown and Dennis the Menace. Drawn in elegant verticals with innovative use of spot colour, Wright's strip about family life in the 1950s and '60s was frequently hilarious, and often fraught, and had a realistic ring.
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The Uniter interviews SETH

Updated December 14, 2009


Memory and looking back
Canadian cartoonist Seth reflects on his work and what makes comics art

by C. Jordan Crosthwaite

He is largely regarded as one of the best and most innovative cartoonists at work today, and he goes by one name only: Seth.

Known to his mother as Gregory Gallant, Seth has several volumes of his own work and has also edited an anthology of Doug Wright cartoons called Doug Wright: Canada’s Master Cartoonist. His most recent original work is George Sprott: 1894-1975.

The cartoonist, who lives in Guelph, Ont., was at the University of Winnipeg on Tuesday, Oct. 20 to give a lecture at the University of Winnipeg.

Seth has dedicated his life to the medium of cartoons, comics and graphic novels. He’s as much an artist as he is a comic historian and collector.

“The funny thing about collecting is that it has almost been indivisible from comic books and that I think has a lot to do with the fact that you had to collect things. Especially as a cartoonist, you had to collect things, if you wanted to discover the origins of your own medium,” the 47-year-old said during a wide-ranging interview at the Inn at the Forks, a few hours after his appearance at the U of W.

When Seth was coming into his own artistic practice and digging deep into the history of comics, he was forced to become an authority on comics as he dug a niche into the comic world.

“To find the history of your medium, there might have been only one or two reference books. And I know now they are full of inaccuracies. It meant comic book shops and second-hand bookstores,” he said.

Seth is turning his wealth of personal knowledge into a more solidified record of comics and cartooning. He is partially laying down a history of comics, as seen in his history of Doug Wright.

“I like the idea of bringing these things back into the world in concrete form. I like the idea of artists of the past getting their dues now. I have a real respect in the artists that came before me and a real interest in what they did.”

If there is anyone left in the world that doesn’t recognize comics as a legitimate art form, Seth gives an excellent defense. As comics have been celebrated in film, in the university and by literary and art critics, it’s hard to let them slide by as an inconsequential medium.

“I began to believe comics were art when I began to see they could really talk about the human condition,” he said.

Seth’s criteria are a result of the relatively recent development of the language used to discuss comics.

“I think a lot of other art forms have stopped worrying about whether the works are meaningful or whether they talk about human life. But comics are really behind. The best artworks really try to tell you what it feels like for that particular person in the world. It’s a limited definition, but when I see that in comics it’s proof that they can be art.”

Seth’s latest book, George Sprott, tells the story of the titular character in the final moments of his life. The book is full of his memories, his looking back and taking stock of his life. It’s a sad book, and George isn’t the most likeable character, either. The story is told in a series of short, disconnected episodes that build to a robust character profile of George.

I’m drawn to write about sadness. I’m so interested in the past, it always comes out as the sadness that is connected to the passing of time.

“George Sprott is really about fragmentation. At every stage I tried to make things more fragmented, so it was really up to the reader to recognize gaps and fill them in themselves. I wanted the reader to make their own decision about what they thought of George,” Seth said.

Seth himself is a reflective person and many of his books are about the process of remembering. The work is generally sad, as characters watch the past slip away from them.

“I’m drawn to write about sadness. I’m so interested in the past, it always comes out as the sadness that is connected to the passing of time. If I was more interested in human relationships it would be the sadness of loneliness. Sadness and loneliness are very distinct,” he said.

“A lot of my work is basically analogy. I feel human life has a sad basis, not that it is inherently sad, but it feels sad. The minute I am away from other people I am sad. The only thing that keeps me from being sad is the distraction of interacting with others,” said Seth.

For Seth, recollecting the past, and the sadness of remembering a life gone by, is very distinct from nostalgia. He said that nostalgia is often a derogatory term, used to label anything with content about the past.

“I don’t like the word nostalgia,” he said. “I’m trying to be aware of looking back - a character like George is actually not reflective enough to know why he is looking back.”

Seth quotes artist Thoreau McDonald on the subject: “As you get older, the world is not your own.”
 
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George Sprott: (1894-1975)




  Word Balloons includes GEORGE SPROTT and A DRIFTING LIFE on their Best graphic novels of '09 list

Updated December 14, 2009


Word Balloons: Best graphic novels of ’09 are innovators

by Mathew Price

The explosion in quality graphic novels continued in 2009. This longer format continues to innovate; any one of these 10 graphic novels might have been the best of the year 10 years ago.

This week, Word Balloons will look at the best graphic-novel format comics released for the first time in the United States in 2009; next week, we’ll look at the best periodical comic-book releases.

1. "Asterios Polyp”: David Mazzuchelli moved from literate superhero crowd-pleasers ("Batman: Year One,” "Daredevil: Born Again”) to more personal independent work ("Rubber Blanket”) and adaptations ("City of Glass”). Now, Mazzuchelli has released perhaps his finest work, a tale of an architect forced to change his world view. Asterios is a "paper architect,” creating brilliant constructions that can never be built. His hubris leads to his fall in a book that can be seen as an updated Greek tragedy.
Each character in the novel has his or her own particular illustrative style and color scheme; Mazzuchelli is using color to convey ideas in a way not attempted by most graphic novelists. The book is all about style, design and visual language, and Mazzuchelli is moving the discussion of all of these forward with "Asterios Polyp.”

2. "George Sprott (1894-1975) ”: Cartoonist Seth is a master of creating nostalgic longings, often for things that didn’t really exist. His examination of the (fictional) life of Canadian broadcaster George Sprott does so, even while exploring the many not-so-great legacies of his title character.

3. "A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge”: Nonfiction comics writer/artist Josh Neufeld follows the lives of six Hurricane Katrina survivors before, during and after the storm.

4. "Parker: The Hunter”: Darwyn Cooke ("The New Frontier”) adapts the first of Donald Westlake’s "Parker” novels, which he wrote under the name Richard Stark. The double-crossed small-time hood Parker is out to get revenge on those who did him wrong, and he does so with explosive consequences. Cooke is the perfect artist to adapt this 60s-era hard-boiled tale.

5. "The Big Kahn”: Writer Neil Kleid and artist Nicolas Cinquegrani create a book that explores identity and second chances. At the funeral of esteemed Rabbi David Kahn, his family discovers he was never Jewish, but an Irish con man. The rabbi’s wife and children must deal with the aftermath and find out what this deception will mean to the family’s legacy.

6. "Scott Pilgrim Vol. 5: Scott Pilgrim vs. The Universe”: Slacker 24-year-old Scott Pilgrim continues to battle the evil exes of his new girlfriend, Ramona Flowers, in pitched, video-game-style battles. But he also has to face up to his own insecurities and relationship difficulties. Writer-artist Bryan O’Malley’s anime-influenced art continues to improve, and "Scott Pilgrim” maintains its humor in this penultimate volume.

7. "High Moon”: Former Oklahoma resident David Gallaher and artist Steve Ellis created this werewolf Western that was one of the first Zuda.com contest winners. Now available in print, "High Moon” Volume 1 collects the first three Web storylines.

8. "Stitches”: Children’s book illustrator David Small’s memoir covers his difficult childhood, where excessive X-rays from his radiologist father led to the young man getting cancer of the throat.

9. "A Drifting Life”: Yoshihiro Tatsumi ("Abandon the Old in Tokyo”) details his post-World War II life in this graphic novel, published for the first time in the U.S. this year, by Drawn and Quarterly.

10. "The Photographer”: This graphic novel pairs Didier Lefevre’s photography with the artwork of Emmanuel Guibert ("Alan’s War”) to tell the story of Lefevre’s journey to Afghanistan in 1986 with Doctors Without Borders.


Read more: http://www.newsok.com/best-graphic-novels-of-09-are-innovators/article/3424054?custom_click=columnist#ixzz0Zg9GzJTW
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Yoshihiro Tatsumi

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George Sprott: (1894-1975)
A Drifting Life




Politics and Prose include SETH and ABOUET & OUBRERIE on their "Favorites" list!

Updated December 14, 2009


Favorite Graphic Literature of the Year, p.1

For the Literary reader: A plethora of choices,
from one part of the world to another, graphic storytelling of all sorts...

Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow?
By Fies, Brian, Fies, Brian
WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE WORLD OF TOMORROW? one of the most unique and effective graphic novels I’ve ever read. Brian Fies draws himself as a kid, giddy and amazed when, with his father, he visits the World’s Fair in New York in 1939. His excitement about the future reflects the world in which he grew up. As he gets older, attitudes around him change. Issues of “Space Age Adventures,” a golden-era style comic book Fies created, are inserted throughout and make you feel like you are rummaging through old comic books. Thad Ellerbe


George Sprott: (1894-1975)
By Seth

Originally serialized in the New York Times Magazine, GEORGE SPROTT is a masterly accomplished work of literary graphic fiction. Quite simply the life and death of George Sprott - adventurer, lecturer, and T.V. personality, it provides what many timeless works of fiction do: offering the reader a fleeting glimpse of a time past, while simultaneously stricken with the incongruities of life. Filled with subtle humor, short “interviews” with old friends and acquaintances, and the clean, well-wrought panel work of Seth, George Sprott is a must read for anyone concerned with serious, literary work, be it in graphic form or not. Adam Waterreus

Aya: The Secrets Come Out: Volume Three

is the third volume of stories by writer Marguerite Abouet and illustrator Clément Oubrerie about three girlfriends in 1970s Abidjan during a short-lived, “golden era” in Ivory Coast. Aya introduced us to the friends and family of Aya, Bintou and Adjoua, caught up in teenage romances. Aya of Yop City continued the girls’ stories and solves some mysteries about paternity. Aya: The Secrets Come Out raises the possibilities of faraway Paris. Abouet’s narratives are charming, and grounded in detail: we get an insider’s view on family, class, and the tensions between city and village lifestyles. Oubrerie’s richly colored pen-and-ink drawings bring the homes, night clubs, and streets of Abidjan to life. Each book has sweet bonuses: glossaries, proverbs, interviews, recipes, and even instructions on how to tie a pagne (with and without a baby on your back). András Goldinger


The Squirrel Machine
By Groth, Gary, Rickheit, Hans, Covey, Jacob

Every few years a graphic novel comes around that is so good you have to stop reading for a while, because if you read anything else you’d only be disappointed. A few years ago this happened to me with Tony Millionaire's Billy Hazelnuts. THE SQUIRREL MACHINE is a lot like Billy Hazelnuts, but surprisingly Hans Rickheit's work leaves Millionaire in the dust. This is a masterpiece of comic fantasy. When I finished this book, I immediately returned to the introduction and read the whole book again, and again. Read this book to see what heights serial art can achieve in narrative and in the creation of worlds that exist in one character's mind. Read it if you think you can handle it, for it abandons the typical narrative structure and accomplishes its ends as only serial art of the highest quality can. This is a fine, gut-wrenching book, written and drawn by a true master. Thad Ellerbe


West Coast Blues
By Manchette, Jean-Patrick, Tardi, Jacques

This graphic adaptation of Peter Manchette’s savage noir thriller of the same name, WEST COAST BLUES is a later work by Jacques Tardi. Especially when one compares it with You Are There, the looseness in this work is apparent and this quality perfectly compliments the gritty tale, lending his art brutality and malevolence. From the two assassins' hunt for George Gerfaut to the revenge he wreaks in the end, West Coast Blues is an unflinching story, perfect for any fan of the thriller. Adam Waterreus


A Good and Decent Man
By Tyler, C.

C. Tyler’s YOU'LL NEVER KNOW: A Graphic Memoir - Book One: A Good and Decent Man is a homage to Tyler’s father and his time in World War II, about which Tyler longs to discover the hidden details. But the book is also an impressive and beautiful history of the era; Tyler creates a panorama of images that sweep across the page as she documents her father’s childhood, her parent’s engagement, and her own young life. Her pen, ink, and color transform her creative panels (at times evoking a scrapbook) into vibrant memories intertwined by her restless imagination. Adam Waterreus


Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? Deluxe Edition
By Gaiman, Neil, Kubert, Andy

Neil Gaiman’s beautifully written BATMAN: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? is an ode to Batman and a capstone to the incredible events at the conclusion of Final Crisis. Bruce Wayne is dead, so what will happen to the figure known as Batman? Recounting past exploits, romances, near death experiences, and the extremely important part Batman has played in the DC universe, Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusaderis a wonderfully conducted eulogy to this iconic hero. Adam Waterreus


The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
By Shanower, Eric, Young, Skottie

L. Frank Baum’s original tale finds its way to Marvel readers through the artful simplicity of Eric Shanower’s adaptation which follows Dorothy and her friends as they travel all over Oz in their search for the Wizard. The imaginative visualizations by Skottie Young are sure to appeal to young and old alike. This edition of THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ includes alternate cover designs for the book and varying ideas for character representations. Meghan Tucker
 
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Featured artists

Seth
Abouet & Oubrerie

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George Sprott: (1894-1975)
Aya: The Secrets Come Out




  CECIL AND JORDAN IN NEW YORK and GEORGE SPROTT in The New York Times: Sunday Book Review

Updated December 9, 2009


HOLIDAY BOOKS
Comics

by Douglas Wolk


The style and tone of Gabrielle Bell’s comics are at the opposite end of the spectrum from Baker’s — flat, dry and understated — but they allow her, too, to get away with just about anything. The brief title piece of her collection CECIL AND JORDAN IN NEW YORK: Stories (Drawn & Quarterly, $19.95) is narrated by a young woman who’s just moved to the city with her filmmaker boyfriend; it’s a clear-cut tale of impecunious 20-something artists until halfway through, when the narrator abruptly transforms herself into a chair, gets taken home by someone who finds her on the sidewalk and decides that her old life won’t miss her. The engine of these mercilessly observed stories is squirminess: emotional awkwardness so intense that it can erupt into magic or just knot itself into scars.

The chubby, self-important protagonist of the Canadian cartoonist Seth’s GEORGE SPROTT, 1894-1975 (Drawn & Quarterly, $24.95) is the host of a local TV show built around documentary footage from his trips to the Arctic in the 1930s, which is to say that he’s the kind of person who’s been made extinct by modernity. Expanded from the much shorter version serialized a few years ago in The New York Times Magazine, this oversize, exquisitely designed volume is part scrapbook, part documentary about its fictional subject’s life and death. It approaches its subject from dozens of angles, from “interviews” with his intimates to immense, silent drawings of ice floes, all rendered in the painstakingly simple, bold brush strokes of midcentury illustration — a style of which Seth is the chief contemporary caretaker. As with most of his work, it’s a memorial to a lost age of localism and craft, even as it’s painfully alert to the dangerous allure of nostalgia.
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Seth
Gabrielle Bell

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Cecil and Jordan in New York: Stories by Gabrielle Bell
George Sprott: (1894-1975)




SETH, halloween, and the New York Times!

Updated November 3, 2009


Published: October 30, 2009

OP-ART | LIZZY RATNER AND SETH
Nightmare on Your Street
Even in this cheek-by-jowl town, the realm of other people’s apartments remains resolutely mysterious. Sure, New Yorkers share walls, overhear fights, inhale the sweet-spiced victories (and, all too often, failures) of sundry kitchen experiments. But the odd, unholy secrets of our neighbors’ homes remain hidden — and some of these secrets are very odd indeed. Voices whisper, spirits hover, stereos scream and stuffed animals rearrange themselves on beds. While we enjoy cozy, sleep-filled nights in our shoebox-sized sanctuaries, our neighbors toss and turn in the Gotham equivalent of Whaley House or Bly. And why not? New York is a city built on the dead, on mass graves and potter’s fields, old battlefields and spiffed-up shooting galleries. Surely some spirits are hanging around.

So this Halloween, when your neighbors open their doors for a quick trick-or-treat, take a peek inside, listen closely. They might just have a ghost story for you. — LIZZY RATNER

Click the link below to see Seth's accompanying artwork!
 
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Seth

          



  SETH reveals his writing process to The Star!

Updated November 2, 2009


How the writer's write: Seth

by Geoff Pevere

Star book critic Geoff Pevere asks authors at the International Festival of Authors about the creative process.

Guelph illustrator, designer and graphic novelist Seth, whose most recent title is George Sprott (1894-1975), will be interviewed with fellow cartoonist R.O. Blechman Saturday at noon in Harbourfront Centre's Brigantine Room.

How do you get started writing?

Being a cartoonist (or to use the dressed-up term, "graphic novelist") is slightly different from being a prose writer. A lot of your "writing" is actually done with a pencil and a pad, working out little thumbnail breakdowns of panel arrangements with jots of dialogue in the borders. However, there are also lots of times when you need to just sit down and pound out a script, especially if there are a lot of narration boxes in the comic. I have no fancy starting method. I just pull out the typewriter (yes, an old typewriter is still often employed) and get to it, though it is rarely a blank slate I am starting from – usually there are years worth of notes to work from.

How do you avoid getting started writing?

I can avoid it for a long time simply by drawing. Again, more than half my job isn't writing at all in the traditional sense, so there is lots of procrastination-drawing that can be done to keep you away from the "writing." There are sketchbooks to be drawn in, commercial illustrations to be finished, graphic design stuff to design and comic strips to finish drawing (ones you've already previously worked out the writing). There can seriously be months of this sort of procrastination before you get back to the "writing."

Where do you write?

In the past few years, I have found that going to a hotel room is a good way to get away from my studio. The problem with writing in the studio is that there are always lots of visual art chores that need to be done (see question above). When I seriously have to write, it is a nice luxury to go to that hotel room and just get it done!

What is the optimal creative atmosphere?

Autumn. Rainy and grey day. Quiet. No outside pressures (horrible deadlines or impending travel). A genuine enthusiasm for the particular story at hand. Inner peace.

Do you have any writing idiosyncrasies?

Well, I guess still using a typewriter for anything counts as an idiosyncrasy nowadays. I do write on the computer more than I did a couple of years ago, but generally that's more article-type writing. When I go to the hotel, I don't have a laptop so that's out, right there. I just take my old portable. I must admit though, I worry a bit that the typewriter is too loud for modern folk. Those keys make a lot of noise. The hotel I frequent is an old joint though, and in the smoking wing I don't think anyone cares about noise. Oh yeah – I often let myself fall off the no-smoking wagon if I have to do some real writing. Usually just for a day though, so it's no big deal. No worry of getting hooked again.

Do you actually like writing?

No, not straight prose-type writing. It requires too much concentration. That sounds odd (or maybe lazy), but cartooning is a very different mental process. When you are drawing you use a different part of the brain and it does not require the rigid mental discipline that prose writing does. Your mind is free to wander. It's a state open to digression and reverie. It leads to a lot of interesting meandering of thought, which often finds its way into the work at hand (or the next one). Writing a graphic novel does take real writerly focus (just like the prose writers), but you tend to do this kind of writing in short doses. The long stretches spent in making comics is always devoted to the drawing. A long laborious process.



Featured artist

Seth

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George Sprott: (1894-1975)




SETH in Montreal Mirror

Updated November 2, 2009


Seth and Sprott

by Stacey Dewolfe

“Cartooning is not drawing,” explains Canadian graphic novelist Seth in a recent Q&A with The Walrus, “it’s representational, but… the action of cartooning [is] intricately woven with the process of how the memory works.” That the artist’s work has long been informed by a love affair with the past will come as no surprise to his many fans, especially those familiar with the artist’s wire glasses and Bogart-esque attire.

Those new to the graphic novel may have inadvertently seen Seth’s work, as his cartoons have graced the cover of The New Yorker, and his newest book, the picture novella George Sprott, was recently serialized in the New York Times Magazine.

The poster for the slide show and book signing, entitled Brief Stories About Cartooning—which takes place at Drawn & Quarterly (211 Bernard W.) this Tuesday, Nov. 3 at 7 p.m.—makes reference to the greatest names in the history of the medium: Spiegelman, Crumb and Ware, to name just a few. But look at the fine print, and the wit which characterizes the artist’s work becomes clear; “Note: none of the cartoonists listed above may be discussed in any way—subjects vary.”
 
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Seth

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George Sprott: (1894-1975)




  SETH among CanLit's Who's Who says Guelph Mercury

Updated October 28, 2009


Guelph’s Seth settles in among CanLit’s Who’s Who

by Greg Mercer

GUELPH – Off all the literary heavyweights who will crowd Toronto for the International Festival of Authors this week, there’s probably only one who keeps a wall of fake trophies and Ookpik dolls in his living room.

He’s easy to spot on the list of CanLit’s Who’s Who—j

ust look for the guy without a last name.

There’s no doubting Seth, creator of Clyde Fans; It’s a Good Life, if You Don’t Weaken and the Wimbledon Green graphic novels sees himself as set apart from Canada’s contemporary storytellers.

Five minutes with the illustrator inside his time-trapped Guelph home will tell you that. He’s dressed, as always, in a tailored 1930s-era suit. You’re surrounded by ancient furniture, vintage appliances and pawnshop trophies from imaginary groups like the Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists. When his rotary phone rings, he answers it with a declarative “Seth!”

But with growing book sales, critical praise and high-profile jobs like editing a 25-book retrospective of the comic strip Peanuts, the 47-year-old is having a hard time remaining an obscure, eccentric outsider. His appearance at the authors’ festival, which runs until Saturday, says a lot about how far the genre of graphic novels has come as serious literature.

“I think we’ve finally raised ourselves away from the superhero comics and into the edge of the literary world,” Seth said, in a recent interview at his home. “It’s a better place to be.”

Not so long ago, the man born Gregory Gallant, but who insists on using his pen name, was drawing for an obscure Canadian comic book publisher called Vortex Comics, eking out a living doing commercial illustrations on the side. Today, he’s an author, billed by festival organizers among bestsellers like Margaret Atwood, Garrison Keillor and Alice Munro.

Seth’s work may still be called alternative cartoons, but he’s very much a part of the mainstream. He doesn’t need to sell his work through comic book stores anymore, where most buyers tended to be after something more Superman-esque than the broken, nostalgic characters he created.

Now Seth’s work appears in national bookstore chains and in the pages of New Yorker and the New York Times, on the covers of Stuart McLean books and in dozens of commercial designs. Sales, of course, are much better.

His latest book, the story of fictional Canadian TV personality George Sprott first serialized in the New York Times Magazine, further cemented Seth’s place as one of the genre’s masters. Earlier this summer, the book cracked the Top 10 on amazon.ca’s bestseller list.

In that sense, life is good for Seth, though he remains decidedly melancholy. He can afford to be picky about which projects he wants to do—but can stick to his oddball instincts, like building a parade float for the Niagara Wine and Grape Festival inspired by the cardboard model of the fictional town in his basement. That’s a luxury he didn’t have for so many years, when Seth would snap up any illustrating job he could just to pay the bills.

But at some point along the way, those who toil in front of blank sketch pads in basements began to be held in the same regard as novelists and non-fiction writers. For Seth, all the attention was good for income but awkward for the artist, who feels most at home working out of sight.

“It’s kind of embarrassing. I don’t really like the personal attention,” he said.

At first, Seth felt the attention graphic artists were getting as serious storytellers was a passing fad.

“Five years ago, I was feeling like it might just be a passing bubble,” he said. “But I feel secure now, as if the world of cartooning has entered the mainstream.”

He should feel secure. Graphic novels remain one of the fastest-growing segments of the book world, with more authors and publishers flooding in all the time. It’s now a $425-million market in Canada and the United States, according to Publishers Weekly. In March, the New York Times introduced a bestseller list exclusively for graphic novels, a sign the genre has finally arrived.

For Seth, all this new-found attention has got the cartoonist thinking about something that plagues many serious writers—the question of legacy. In that sense, you wonder if he worries about himself becoming a bit like the characters he creates for his stories: aging white guys bothered by nostalgic memories of the good old days.

“I think a lot about the passage of time, how everything is always moving out of reach,” he said. “Of course you want your work to survive . . . but at least I had my moment in the sun.”

Seth will appear at the International Festival of Authors in Toronto on Saturday at 1 p.m. He and American illustrator and graphic novelist R.O. Blechman will be interviewed on stage by Sean Rogers of The Walrus.


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Seth

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Clyde Fans; Book One
Wimbledon Green
George Sprott: (1894-1975)




GEORGE SPROTT on the Omnivoracious Top 100!

Updated October 28, 2009


Best Books of the Year Countdown: 80 to 61

by Tom

Welcome back to the show. What have we seen so far in our preview of our 2009 editors' Top 100? Three books by National Book Award-winning meganovelists that aren't meganovels. A collection of starkly beautiful photographs of mental hospitals in disrepair. A rare success at turning a blog into a book. A charming picture book full of warnings about dangerous animals. A celebrity memoir that's better than any celebrity memoir deserves to be. A history of the mob that upends most every mob cliche. And, yes, a novel composed entirely of questions.

What's next?:

80. Ad Hoc at Home, Thomas Keller

79. Toby Alone, Timothee de Fombelle

78. Robert Altman: The Oral Biography by Mitchell Zuckoff

77. Her Fearful Symmetry, Audrey Niffenegger

76. The Myth of the Rational Market, Justin Fox

75. George Sprott: 1894-1975, Seth

74. Juliet, Naked, Nick Hornby

73. Tears in the Darkness: The Story of the Bataan Death March and Its Aftermath, Michael and Elizabeth Norman

72. The Letters of Samuel Beckett, Vol. 1, 1929-1940, Samuel Beckett

71. Green Metropolis, David Owen

70. Mannahatta: A Natural History of New York City, Eric W. Sanderson

69. Columbine, Dave Cullen

68. A New Literary History of America, edited by Greil Marcus and Werner Sollors

67. Asterios Polyp, David Mazzucchelli

66. Await Your Reply, Dan Chaon

65. The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America, Douglas Brinkley

64. Lowboy, John Wray

63. Everything Matters!, Ron Currie Jr.

62. Shiver, Maggie Stiefvater

61. Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking, Michael Ruhlman


 
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Seth

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George Sprott: (1894-1975)




  R.O. BLECHMAN and SETH at the IFOA

Updated October 26, 2009


International Festival of Authors: Broken Social Scene, the Future of Cycling, Michael Ignatieff, the New Yorker and a Peep Show

by Maria Cortelluci

Writers from around the world have swung into town for the return of The International Festival of Authors, which once again brings an impressive array of all things literary to Toronto. This year's festival -- which started yesterday and runs until November 3rd -- jumps on the rebrand-wagon with a new sobriquet in celebration of its 30th anniversary: "IFOA XXX."

...Um, I'd be careful when you google that. Pretty sure it's NSFW.

Opening IFOA XXX at the Fleck Dance Theatre last night was the much lauded Canadian short story writer Alice Munro in conversation with the renowned publisher Diana Athill. And, no doubt, that was a wonderful way to inaugurate the festival (especially if you're an English teacher!). But if you missed this event, not to worry -- there's plenty of others to excite your inner reader.

It seems as if IFOA XXX wants to spice up it's image this year. In addition to the usual round of events -- including readings by Scotiabank Giller Prize, Governor General's Literary Award and Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize finalists -- this year's fest is introducing licensed happenings that start at 10 p.m. WOOOT, alcohol!

This Friday evening, for example, I'm checking out Toronto writer Hal Niedzviecki explore the pervasiveness of "peep culture" in an interactive social media extravaganza called the Peep Show. I'll probably stick around afterward, when Toronto's own dirty disco rockers Foxfire hit the Brigantine Room's stage.

The next night, I'm planning to catch pop culture columnist Stuart Berman talk about his novel, This Book is Broken: A Broken Social Scene Story, with actual members of the city's darling indie collective. The Toronto Star's music critic, Ben Rayner, will act as moderator and Jason Collett is also going to perform.

Cycling enthusiasts will find Cities, Bicycles and the Future of Getting Around worth checking out on Saturday October 24, at 1 p.m in the Fleck Dance Theatre. Now's your chance to ask former Talking Heads frontman-turned-author David Byrne, NDP leader Jack Layton, urban theorist Ken Greenberg and local bicycle advocate Yvonne Bambrick for advice regarding Toronto's bike lanes...or lack thereof.

I'm looking forward to talking more politics with Liberal party leader and smarty pants author Michael Ignatieff as he reads from his new non-fiction offering, True Patriot Love, on Sunday, October 25 (also in the Fleck Dance Theatre). Following the reading, the editor of The Walrus , John Mcfarlane will interview him, hopefully with questions more substantial then "how do you pronounce your last name?"

While I feel it necessary to let you know that "I-knew-graphic-novels-were-cool-before-they-became-blockbuster-movie-fodder," it's important to note that so did IOAF. The fest has been using graphic novelists in its program since 2004. Check out this interview of famous New Yorker cover creator R.O. Blechman & Palookaville comic book series cartoonist Seth (yes, in the vein of Cher, Madonna and God, that's one name only) by Seth Rogers on Saturday, October 31 at 12 p.m. in the Brigantine Room. Bonus: it's hosted by Peter Birkemoe, co-owner of my favourite "alternative" comic book store in the Annex, The Beguiling.

There's so much more to discuss, including a mini Ontario touring programme, a piping good tribute to Scottish authors, and a young authors fest. But you can find out for yourself by checking out the schedule. (Don't forget to pay mind to the random visual art exhibits set up in the York Quay Centre depicting less racy IFOA's of the past.)
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Featured artists

Seth
R.O. Blechman

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Palooka-Ville #01




Nigel Beales interviews Brad Mackay about THE COLLECTED DOUG WRIGHT VOLUME ONE

Updated October 21, 2009


Audeo Interview with Comics historian Brad Mackay: Cartoonists, Illustrators and the Graphic Novel

by Nigel Beale

Writer, journalist, comic reader, intermittent blogger, and over-tired family man Brad Mackay is the author most recently of a biographical essay which appears in The Collected Doug Wright Volume One (Drawn and Quarterly, 2009).

First of a two-volume set, the book – designed by well known Canadian cartoonist Seth - presents a comprehensive look at the life and career of one of the most-read, best-loved cartoonists of the 1960s. The work draws from thousands of pieces of art, pictures, and letters, plus the artist’s own journals, and provides a picture of the British-born Wright as both cartoonist and human being. It follows his artistic development from earliest unpublished works through to the introduction of his most enduring comic strip, Nipper. First published in 1949, a full year before the debut of Peanuts, it memorably captured both the humorous and frustrating side of parenting.
I spoke with Brad recently in Ottawa. We use Wright as a wedge to delve into the history of illustration, comics and graphic novels. Toward the end of our discussion Brad provides some tips for those interested in collecting comics and graphic novels on how best they might start their journey.

Please Click the link below to hear the interview:
 
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Seth

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The Collected Doug Wright Volume One




  GEORGE SPROTT reviewed by Comic Mix News

Updated October 20, 2009


Review: George Sprott: 1894-1975 by Seth

by Andrew Wheeler

Comics very, very rarely tell stories about old, fat, boring men, which most people probably don’t think is a problem. But no art form can ever become mature if it ignores large swaths of the world, and it’s indisputable that our world is filled with men who are old, or fat, or boring, or (even worse) all three at once. Maybe none of us would ever want comics to be only about the Sprotts among us, but the fact that there’s now room for comics about them is a good sign.

George Sprott: 1894-1975 is an expanded version of a story that originally appeared from late 2006 through March of 2007 in single-page installments in the New York Times Magazine’s “Funny Pages” section. (Which, by the way, seems to have quietly ended with Gene Luen Yang’s story “Prime Baby” a few months back.) In the Times serialization, each installment of Sprott was a single large page, essentially a chapter of the longer work. Those pages appear here, in the same sequence and not apparently changed, but they’re surrounded by new work – both Seth’s usually impeccable (if chilly, and in his typical blue tones) book design, with illustrations and decorations, and some new comics stories to expand that original story. Primary among the new work is a sequence of eight stories – each one three pages long, and each taking place on one particular day, in a different decade over Sprott’s long life, arranged from 1906 through 1971 as the book goes on. There’s also an impressive six-page fold-out, near the end of the book, that looks to depict Sprott’s scattered thoughts as he died. On top of those, there are short introductory and ending pieces: the first is thematically interesting, if mostly wheel-spinning, while the new two-page “Sign Off” from the fictional TV station that Sprott worked for is another slab of very provincial Canadian bacon added to a plate already swimming in maple flavoring and Timbits.

The story of George Sprott is slow and quiet, focusing primarily on his death and old age – Sprott himself had been a TV host and lecture speaker for about forty years at that point, roughly half of his life. His TV show and lectures were all based on a series of scientifically dubious trips Sprott had made to the Arctic during the ‘30s, primarily as a money-making scheme to exploit boys willing to part with their nickels to get crudely hectographed dispatches from the frozen north. But those lectures and TV shows aren’t shown in the book directly – we hear about them, and are told how dull and tedious they had become by 1975 (and decide, perhaps, that they were never all that interesting to begin with), and we occasionally see Sprott introduce them, but the core of his late professional life remains off the page.

George Sprott isn’t essentially about George Sprott the individual; he stands in for all of us, for anyone who accomplished something in his life (if not what he expected, or really wanted to) and is looking back at that life, or having someone else look back after his death. What makes that work is the fussy, ruminative tone Seth takes in the ever-present narration; we can never forget that we’re looking at the last hours of an old man, and looking back on his life from long afterward. It’s true that no life can take its real shape until it’s done, but Seth also deliberately confuses the matter in some of the early pages, throwing out red herrings and suppositions to leave those essential questions – who is George Sprott? What did he do? – as murky and unknowable as possible.

Sprott’s life, as I’ve alluded, is very Canadian, in that low-key, minor-league kind of Canadian-ness that Seth excels at depicting: Sprott went North…but for commercial reasons. Those trips made him successful…but only much later, and almost incidentally. He was a big star…for a while, on a small, minor TV station, doing something that became blander and less interesting to his audience as his life went on. Seth’s books are all about that kind of Canadian success – success at something almost not worth doing, or forgotten, or just far over at the margins where no one notices. By those lights, Sprott is the great Canadian success story, and so he’s forgotten almost as soon as he dies.

George Sprott can’t quite achieve the unity of effect and purpose of Seth’s great graphic novel It’s a Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken, due to its original publication constraints, but it substitutes a whirling, holistic view of its main character for the tight, unadorned narrative of Good Life. The large pages of George Sprott also give Seth’s creations more room to breathe and spread out, particularly in that fold-out section near the end. Sprott might end up being Seth’s second-best book to date – and I’m not entirely sure of that judgment, so soon – but it’s easily one of the best books of this year.
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Seth

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George Sprott: (1894-1975)




GEORGE SPROTT given stunning review by PopMatters!

Updated October 20, 2009


George Sprott: 1894-1971, A Picture Novella by the Cartoonist Seth

by Oliver Ho

Raymond Souster could be a creation of Seth. A prolific and enigmatic Canadian poet (who really does exist), Souster seems to share with Seth several key themes and motifs that he returns to constantly and obsessively throughout his work. These include observations and studies of people living on the margins, life during WWII, and musings about life, love and Canada (especially small-town Ontario, and Toronto).

This is Souster’s poem, “Mike White at the Westover”, from his 2000 collection, Of Time and Toronto:

“Honest to God, one night
with a final, rousing trumpet chorus,
he lifted the hair-piece
of a guy clean off—
some boozer at a table
real close to the bandstand.

“But don’t get me wrong,
he could lay down a ballad
like “I’m Through with Love,”
or maybe even “Sugar,”
with such a velvet-soft touch
that he reached the toughest heart,

“and each time it happened
in that crummy place
it got so quiet you could hear
the damn flies buzzing overhead.”

Reading Souster’s work, it’s easy to imagine the character of the poet, like one of Seth’s characters, walking the streets of his beloved city (which also manages to frustrate, puzzle and sadden him), and being overtaken with introspection. Despite their 41-year age difference (Souster was born in 1921, Seth in 1962), there’s a strong sense of kinship in the works of these two Canadian artists.

All of this comes to mind when reading Seth’s latest work, George Sprott, the publication of which provides an opportunity to review the work not just on its own, but also in the context of Seth’s other work over the past 15-plus years.

Many of Seth’s common themes and motifs seem to be pushed and expanded in George Sprott, and when placed in the context of his other work, this work seems to highlight well Seth’s representations of oppositions in pop culture, notably Canadian vs. American productions, and past vs. present pop culture artifacts.

An almost overwhelmingly beautiful book-as-art-object, George Sprott also tells an intriguing story with an intense and pervasive mix of melancholy, nostalgia, introspection and gags. Using as a narrative frame the final hours leading up to the death of the titular character, on October 2, 1971, the story attempts to tell the character’s life story, using interviews with other character’s (reminiscent of Citizen Kane), dream sequences, scrapbook fragments and more. It’s a gently non-linear technique that Seth has employed frequently in his work. It’s cinematic and poetic, and unmistakably work by Seth.

For more than 20 years, George Sprott hosted 1,132 episodes of Northern Hi-Lights, a local television show on CKCK-TV in the fictional town of Dominion, Ontario. Each show would focus on George’s time in the Arctic: he would talk about his adventures there, and show the silent documentary films he made over the course of nine trips there between 1930 and 1940.

As one character says, when George became older, sometimes he would run out of things to say, so the television crew would point the camera at “this terrible Eskimo painting” until he thought of something else to say. George was also famous (possibly even more so) for falling asleep on camera. Along with his TV show, George spoke every Thursday from 1941 to 1975 at the local lecture hall, also about his time in the arctic, to an ever-dwindling audience, the core of which remained loyal to the end.

“I’m so terribly sorry”:

Throughout the story, there’s an unseen narrator who addresses the reader, often to apologize about how little information he is imparting, and recognizing his own limitations in revealing George’s character.

“As your narrator, however, I must admit I have done a rather poor job of ‘setting things up’. I failed to tell you almost anything about the man. I apologize,” the narrator says at one point.

At another point, the narrator interrupts to say: “And he… damn! This is no good! I’ve entirely failed to give you any of the flavour of these events. I’m sorry. And once again, I’ve imparted nothing ‘real’ about the man himself. I’m so terribly sorry.”

“I am not entirely sure that the narrator of the strips is me. It might be someone else,” Seth says. “Whoever it is – the narrator was included because I liked the idea that the story was being told to the reader by someone who didn’t have all the facts.”

Interspersed through the story are interviews with friends, colleagues, family, fans, and these often reveal as much about the subjects as they do about George Sprott. A memorable early one takes place with a character known as “Sir Grisly Gruesome,” who had his own show on CKCK-TV.

“Sometimes you’ll be surprised if you take a closer look at a fellow,” Sir Grisly says, speaking about himself, at an interview conducted during a sci-fi/comic convention.

Despite the narrator’s protests, we do learn an awful lot about George:

He attended seminary school, leaving to become a “gentleman adventurer”;
During his trips to the Canadian Arctic, he fathered an illegitimate daughter;
He appears to be haunted by regrets and memories, especially over his philandering and his love for his wife, Helen;
For the last ten years of his life, Sprott lived in three rooms on the top floor of the Radio Hotel, amassing a roomful of personal (and suggestive) souvenirs and mementos, most of which are thrown out within a week of his death;
We’re even given direct interviews with George, where he reveals his thoughts (aphoristically, as a public persona and character, in the format of “George Sprott on…”) about various topics, including youth, fame, regret, loneliness and death;
We’re given scenes from George’s life, from childhood through teens and adulthood, into old age, and we’re privy to some of his dreams and nightmares.

At the same time that these personal details are given, there’s also a sense of the reader being held at a distance, mainly through the narrator’s voice telling us what he doesn’t know, and also what he simply refuses to show us. It’s an odd mixture: the interior views of a person’s life versus that sense of narrative distance). At times, the story seems to suggest there’s a mystery at play, along the lines of, “who was George Sprott?” Except it’s not clear why it’s so important to know.

“I wanted to hold George himself at some distance. I imagined that seen from the outside George might look bad but I also suspected that the reader wouldn’t be entirely sure what to make of him. I liked the ambiguity. I deliberately chose not to go “inside” him too much,” Seth says.

The Book as “Art Deco Cheese Plate”:

The events surrounding the creation of George Sprott (namely the tight deadlines and the physical format of the medium) may have pushed Seth as an artist and storyteller to stretch his familiar themes and motifs

The comics were serialized in The New York Times Magazine from September 2006 to March 2007 (see the original versions in PDF format here), and the process seems to have caused an unusual amount of stress on the artist:

“I enjoyed having a serialized story and I would do it again. However, I would never do it as a permanent position. It’s too stressful for producing ‘real’ work. You don’t have enough time to take a breather and really consider just what it is you are doing,” he says.

“After the strip started running I struggled to keep ahead of the deadline – penciling the next strip and sending it off to them for editing while I inked the previous one. It was close to the edge.

Following its magazine run, Seth added many new elements to the work before publishing it as a book. In doing so, he’s created an entirely new story, one that expands on the original serialized version.

“Making it into a book was an interesting process,” he says. “I approached it as an editor and a designer and really tried to figure out what could be added to make this material into a ‘real’ book. What was needed? How it had to be arranged and juggled. How could I make this pile of separate ‘things’ flow and read properly. How to make it ‘feel’ complete.”

And the end result is a glorious product. Before even starting to consider the artwork or the narrative, the reader encounters the massive dimensions of the book: 14 x 12 inches (or 35.6 x 30.5 centimetres in Canada). The size is so startling, one critic has even gone on to suggest “8 Practical Uses For The Giant Graphic Novel ‘George Sprott, 1894-1975’,” which include “Owl-Swatter” (#4), and “Art Deco Cheese Plate” (#5).

Seth’s Search for Meaning:

Many of Seth’s stories seem to be about searching for someone’s life story, looking for the key to solving the mystery of a person’s life, but never finding it (or realizing that the perceived mystery doesn’t exist). His work raises questions about how much we can ever know about someone’s life, and even if we had all of the “facts” would we still know anything about a person’s true self, and for that matter, after a lifetime of introspection, would the person know anything about himself?

“Searching for things is such a direct metaphor for searching for meaning… and that is just so clearly what most of my stories (most stories, in general, really) are about,” Seth says.

The nostalgic, meditative, musing, and reflective nature of Seth’s stories is also at work in George Sprott. Other family themes and motifs that recur throughout his work include:

Characters who collect, and who amass facts and artifacts on niche subjects;
Photo albums and scrapbooks;
A love of architecture from the 1920s-1940s, particularly in Toronto and small-town Ontario;
Telling stories from multiple viewpoints, especially through the use of interviews, either directly with a character, documentary-style, or by having one character deliberately interview another.

For example, in Seth’s Clyde Fans: Book 1, Simon Matchcard collects and obsesses over “novelty freak cards,” even going so far as to spend years researching and writing a book about them, only to be beaten to the punch and crushed when someone else publishes a similar book first. In Clyde Fans, Simon appears to be defeated by the expectations he and his brother Abraham (and others) set for him to be a success.

“Collectors are interesting because they seek out things that no one cares about and find out the vital information regarding those items,” Seth says.

Seth’s It’s a Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken uses the technique of reconstructing a person’s life story based on stories of other people, and the work that person left behind. The main character, Seth, tries to learn about a cartoonist for the New Yorker, Kalo. This also brings the main character to reflect on pop culture in Canada and the U.S., and the long tradition of Canadians seeking work and career significance south of the border. Seth (the character) collects old comics, and waxes philosophic about his sense of nostalgia, among many other things.

“I’m immersed in my past—wallowing in it,” he says at one point. “I look at my childhood like it’s some kind of golden key. If I just ponder it, sift through it, pick at it enough, I feel like I’ll find the answer to every goddamn thing that’s wrong with me now.”

Throughout his work, Seth as character/author always analyzes and questions his own obsessions, and what his thinks they may reveal about him, not only to himself but in terms of anyone else’s perception of him.

“Expectations and disappointments. If it’s obvious to me, I’m sure it’s obvious to everyone. This is what life’s all about,” he says.

“I thought I was a man in step with my times,” Abraham Matchcard confesses to the reader in Clyde Fans. “I didn’t realize I was looking backward.”

In It’s a Good Life, Seth manages to interview Kalo’s mother, who tells him what Kalo told her about giving up his career as an artist: “A little misery is good for the soul.” It’s a sad bit of truth that could apply to all of Seth’s work.

Supporting material at the end of the book include examples of Kalo’s work, and a black and white photo of him. Combined with the main character being named Seth, and the first-person confessional voice, this creates the feeling that the work is autobiographical. Alas, Kalo’s not real, but the effect remains just as strong without that knowledge.

A similar blending of the real and fictional takes place in George Sprott:

“There was a particular host [on Detroit television] of a travel show named George Pierrot that was the direct inspiration for George Sprott,” Seth says. “Some of his surface characteristics are similar – though none of the personal ones are. George Pierrot was famous for falling asleep on the air.”

In It’s a Good Life, as in George Sprott, there’s the question about how much anyone can ever truly be known and understood in the world. When Seth (the character) tries to reconstruct Kalo’s life, he says: “Piece it all together and it’s barely a quarter of the puzzle…just empty facts.”

These melancholy truths seem to resonate with Souster’s poem “All I’ve Really Learned So Far,” from his 1993 collection, Old Bank Notes:

All I’ve really learned so far
is that in the beginning
it’s a struggle to be born,
and then at the end
a worse struggle for all
but the lucky few.

In between
there’s the unequal fight to stay alive,
with always two questions left unanswered:
“All for what?” and “How many
did I maim or destroy in my blindness?”

The hope that more clues
may fall on us like a blessing,
seems to be the only reason so many
keep getting up every morning with the sun.


“Self-Deluded Fops”

Strangely, the story in Seth’s oeuvre that may have the most direct similarity to George Sprott may also be the one Seth considers to be the most tossed-off, Wimbledon Green: The Greatest Comic Book Collector in the World.

Published in 2005 (seemingly on a whim from his sketchbooks), the story and narrative structure seem like precursors to the one used in George Sprott, namely: telling the story through the use of several smaller narratives.

“I had been particularly interested in a certain kind of storytelling,” Seth writes in his introduction to Wimbledon Green. “It’s an approach wherein you tell a longer story through a variety of shorter, unconnected comic strips. Cumulatively, they add up to a bigger picture.”

Despite the similarities in structure between George Sprott and Wimbledon Green, there’s one interesting difference: there are direct mysteries to be solved in this story, among them: was Wimbledon Green really Don Green, and whatever happened to him/them? The puzzles that are hinted at create a drive that helps propel the reader through the book (and inspire much flipping back and forth through the pages to see if there are clues). A similar effect takes place in the story of George Sprott, but the narrative drive is distinctly toned down.

In Wimbledon Green, the supporting character of Jonah may be a stand-in for Seth himself (he looks like a caricature of the cartoonist), giving him an opportunity to poke fun at his own public persona. Another character describes Jonah: “These self-deluded fops are pining for a time before they were even born.”

And another: “He made an open display of his ‘eccentricities.’...This was just a pathetic bid for attention. Even this interest in the past was shallow—a reflection of his narcissism.”

Compare this with Seth’s weary-sounding self-awareness in interviews:

“I’m not really a nostalgic type so much as a melancholic. I spend a lot of time alone, and most of it is spent in a fog of self-pitying melancholy. It sounds pathetic, but it is so true,” he says.

Born Gregory Gallant in 1962, he described his name-change in the author’s biography included in It’s A Good Life in this way:“In the 1980s he changed it to his current nom-de-plume. Looking back, this may have been a youthful error…however, little can be done about it now.”

Known for dressing like a character from a 1940s film noir, Seth is often portrayed as someone who pines days long gone, although (as seen in his self-awareness both in interviews and in his work), this seems to oversimplify his persona.

“I have no illusions about the superiority of the past. People have always been miserable and life has always been difficult. However, I can honestly say that I don’t think much of this present time,” he says.

Along with the architecture and generally superior quality of goods produced in the past, Seth often returns to Canadian popular culture, especially from the 1950s. The character of George Sprott is a broadcaster, filmmaker and journalist of sorts, and the book is saturated with references to a seemingly lost era of Canadian broadcasting.

“Canada, as a nation, doesn’t seem very interested in its popular culture,” Seth writes in his forward to Invaders from the North: How Canada Conquered the Comic Book Universe. “[But] if you actually take the time to look back over the interesting pile of magazines, television shows, movies, records, comic books, et cetera, that Canadians have produced in the past hundred years, you’ll find there is a surprising amount of striking material—a real mix of the great, the clever, the beautiful, and the odd.”

In It’s a Good Life, the character of Seth muses that “Somehow or other the ‘50’s always seem very ‘Canadian’ to me. When I think of the States, I think the ‘40’s—but Canada—the ‘50’s. Why is that? I guess it could be all the CBC television I watched as a kid. Diefenbaker, Don Messer, Wayne & Shuster…so much of that footage appeared to be from the ‘50’s. These associations—they govern so much of our thinking.”

This love of regionalism is another quality Seth shares with Raymond Souster.

“I suppose I am truly an unrepentant regionalist,” Souster writes in 15 Canadian Poets X2. “As Emile Zola put it to Aul Bourget: ‘Why should we be everlastingly wanting to escape to lands of romance? Our streets are full of tragedy and full of beauty; they should be enough for any poet.’ All the experiences one is likely to encounter in Paris can be found in this city. Toronto has a flavour all its own…My roots are here, this is the place that tugs at my heart when I leave it and fills me with quiet relief when I return to it.”

The poetic element in Seth’s work is often brought up by critics.

“Among graphic novelists, Seth has emerged as a poet of the dispossessed, a man who brings an adolescent fervour to the attenuating joys of the old and disappointed and infirm, to the plight of the hapless and bewildered young,” one critic writes.

Compare this description of Raymond Souster by Gary Geddes in 15 Canadian Poets X2: “He searches out pockets of beauty and spontaneity in the rubbish heap of the century.”

Seth also refers to poetry when talking about his work, and comics in general:

“Cartoon storytelling is all about rhythm (much like poetry),” he says.

“You are not writing poetry in the traditional sense, but the way the writing is broken down in the panels and then how it is run through a page—the way it is paced in general—it is just all about how it sounds in the mind,” he says. “The brevity, the rhythm, the breaks for silence. These are elements that probably have more to do with free verse than they do with the traditional novel.”

Among those rhythmical elements in George Sprott, Seth includes photos of his absolutely charming sculptures, which depict buildings and streets of the fictional town of Dominion, Ontario, where George Sprott and Clyde Fans take place. In 2005, the Art Gallery of Ontario featured the sculptures in the exhibition Present Tense: Seth.

Made from cardboard and lovingly detailed, the sculptures seem to reflect the “austere” boxes of Seth’s comics, as he describes here:

“There is something very lovely about the stillness of a comic book page. That austere stacked grid of boxes. The little people trapped in time. Its frozen and silent nature acting almost as a counterpoint to the raucous vulgarity of the modern aesthetic. Of course, the drawings aren’t really frozen. When we look at them, we immediately invest them with life,” he says.

In writing about Raymond Souster, Gary Geddes seems to describe a similar disdain for the “vulgar” modern buildings:

“At times he displays a gentle nostalgia for the innocence and good times of the past, lamenting the passing of friends and shared interests and the disappearance of familiar landscapes under a jungle of concrete and cereal-box architecture.”

George Sprott as a character, story, and art-book conveys a love and melancholy that fits well alongside many of Raymond Souster’s poems. This excerpt, from “St. Catherine Street East” could be a description of Seth’s Dominion:

“Every face in every window
of each building watching as we go
down the steaming pavement, on, out of this jungle
where the dead are never buried by the living,
but crowd onto buses, sit late at bar stools, or wait
in the darkness of always airless rooms.”

 
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  Seth on Tour!

Updated October 16, 2009


Calgary Saturday, 10/17/09 3:30 PM WORDFEST Art Gallery of Calgary
(with Stitches author David Small)
Slide show and signing

Winnipeg Tuesday, 10/20/09 11:30 AM University of Winnipeg, Manitoba Hall
Slide show and signing

Vancouver Thursday, 10/22/09 8:00 PM Vancouver Intl Writers Fest, Waterfront Theater
"The Look of the Book" panel with Robert Bringhurst, Audrey Niffenegger & Anik See

Vancouver Friday, 10/23/09 7:00 PM Vancouver Intl Writes Fest Waterfront Theater
Slide Show and conversation with Douglas Coupland
SOLD OUT!

Toronto Saturday, 10/31/09 12:00 PM IFOA Brigatine Room
Conversation with R.O. Blechman and Sean Rogers of the Walrus

Montreal Tuesday, 11/3/09 7:00 PM D+Q Librairie
Slide show and signing


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GEORGE SPROTT reviewed by The North Adams Transcript

Updated September 4, 2009




"George Sprott 1894-1975" by Seth (Drawn and Quarterly)

As a meditation on loneliness -- and the inevitable decay of legacy as time moves on -- "George Sprott 1894-1975," which originally appeared serialized in the New York Times Magazine, might focus on one fictitious man, but the story it tells and the ground it covers includes eras and cultures long gone.

George Sprott is low level Canadian television personality who spends his later years as a fading non-star on his curiously outdated talk show. Sprott is a man who lives on a legend that he created for himself -- so-called explorations of the Canadian arctic that are far less spectacular in the reality of his memory than they are in his presentations on television.

Behind Sprott is not only a long line of other lives, local legends and personal haunts, but the spotty biographies that everyone boasts. Can we ever really know someone? Seth’s omniscient narrator appears to believe that impossible, so much so that slices of Sprott’s life are expressed as missing within the narrative and with no chance of inclusion. Sprott himself, even in a revealing examination such as this, clings to the meaning of his actions and turns a blind eye to what his dreams reveal. Like any one of us -- and like any portion of the culture to which we belong -- nothing is solid, everything operates with a varied, ethereal quality. What is corporeal to some will be faded, hard to
grasp to others -- and the truth of it is so elusive that we may never be able to hold it as something of form that we can describe with surety.

As George’s story jumps back and forth in his life -- and includes slices of moments from his seminary days, his career as a boy’s adventure magazine editor, his love affairs and loveless marriage, his later dependency on his adoring niece, his ineffectual local celebrity -- Seth also covers a world that has disappeared as well.

The quaint stories behind local television personalities, the way the public looked at the world of entertainment so long ago, our vision of outdoorsmen and explorers, it’s a more innocent age when depravity lurks only behind closed doors. If George Sprott is a life lost, his story encompasses an entire world that has gone with him, and one that is as alien to the children of the digital age as the Victorian era -- the tail end of which George was born in -- is to baby boomers.

Told in disjointed, episodic fashion, author Seth unfolds Sprott’s life in a series of interviews with his former associates that are interspersed with the histories of the locales he frequented, biographical rundowns of periods in his life, intimate glimpses of personal moments with Sprott and a graphic design that creates isolated imagery that functions as a mood in the atmosphere that will rest on your shoulders and heart as the biography unfolds.

In pondering the mysteries of George Sprott’s life -- and concluding he is, in essence, a summation of all the mysteries around him -- Seth achieves a profundity that will not please those who seek easy answers to the way people are. Seth seems to have a more nuanced understanding of our movements through time and "George Sprott 1894 - 1975" is a testament to the mastery of words and graphics working together to express something which can neither be said or shown, merely understood.

 
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  GEORGE SPROTT on Barnes and Noble's Long List

Updated September 4, 2009



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CECIL AND JORDAN, 32 STORIES AND GEORGE SPROTT reviewed by the Star Tribune

Updated September 1, 2009


Masters of melancholy ; Three new graphic novels to make you laugh, cry and feel everything in between.
23 August 2009

Loneliness, sorrow and sadness never looked this good.

In the hands of the comic-book world's top cartoonists, doomed relationships and daily doldrums are a sight to behold. Seth, Adrian Tomine and Gabrielle Bell do not disappoint with their latest collections from powerhouse publisher Drawn & Quarterly.

.

"George Sprott: (1894-1975)," by Seth. (Drawn & Quarterly, 96 pages, $24.95.)

The characters who inhabit Seth's stories are never terribly interesting. Typically, they are aging white guys plagued by nostalgic memories of the good old days.

Even so, Seth (the pen name of Gregory Gallant) is one of the medium's best. For him, it's the way you tell the story. And his latest graphic novel might be his most ambitious yet. First off, it's huge. Measuring 12 by 14 inches, the hardcover barely fits in your lap.

Over 96 full-color pages, Seth tells the life and death of fictional Canadian TV personality George Sprott, an oaf of a man who once fashioned himself an Arctic explorer.

The dimensions of the book are an essential part of telling this story. The traditional comic-book page contains no more than nine panels. Here, Seth sometimes packs in 30 panels to a page. Many of these pages feature interviews with people who loved and loathed George -- echoing "Citizen Kane." Most panels simply capture their changing facial expressions as they ramble on about the George they knew -- lover, cheater, idol, absentee father.

"George Sprott" was first serialized in the New York Times magazine. There, Seth's overstuffed panels let him tell a single, contained thread in one page. Now collected (and with added material), Seth's technique feels cinematic -- if at times, overwhelming.

At the very least, this is a sad story about a selfish man. At its best, it is a story about how comic-book stories are told.

.

"32 Stories: The Complete Optic Nerve Mini-Comics," by Adrian Tomine. (Drawn & Quarterly, 104 pages, $19.95.)

"The book you hold in your hands would not exist had high school been a pleasant experience for me." So begins Adrian Tomine's introduction -- one of two included in this collection of short stories. Today, Tomine is one of the biggest names in comics. His illustrations regularly appear in the New Yorker, and his 2007 graphic novel, "Shortcomings," solidified his place as one of the medium's most gifted storytellers. That 108-page story -- about a young man struggling with his Asian-American identity -- was a masterpiece of nuanced pacing and clean, realistic pencils.

"32 Stories" is a "special edition" of a collection first published in 1995. It collects Tomine's eight "Optic Nerve" mini-comics, which he self-published while still in high school. Drawn & Quarterly has manufactured replicas of those rare mini-comics and packaged them in a fancy box.

These old stories are a fascinating look at the roots of Tomine's obsession with everyday dejection. His stories are brief, just two to four pages, and often revolve around the daily miseries of ordinary people. They're also quite funny. For Tomine, even a trip to the barber can go awry. His black ink artwork was messy, but drawn with purpose.

These 32 tales are a far cry from the craftsmanship of "Shortcomings," but they give a unique glimpse at the genesis of a major talent.

.

"Cecil and Jordan in New York: Stories," by Gabrielle Bell. (Drawn & Quarterly, 112 pages, $19.95.)

In comics, the best art is sometimes the simplest.

Gabrielle Bell's minimalist pencils work wonders in her latest collection of short stories about youthful malaise.

Bell rarely frames her characters in close-up. Rather we observe from afar. It's an appropriate distance, because many of the situations Bell creates for her characters sting with the tension and awkwardness of real-life relationships.

Emotional truth is her objective. In "One Afternoon," a young woman learns that her husband has died in a plane crash. At first she is sad, but then quietly elated -- she's finally free of a relationship that bottomed out long ago. Days later her husband returns very much alive. He says he was bumped to another flight, when in fact he hadn't flown anywhere -- he was with his mistress. The two are once again stuck together, lying to each other.

These stories are all slices of life, but a couple wander off course into surrealism. Cecil (of the title) feels unappreciated by her boyfriend. Out on the street she transforms into a chair. She's picked up and brought into a stranger's apartment, where she concludes, "I've never felt so useful."

These dreamy pieces seem out of place among the rest of Bell's stories. But they still illustrate what is most interesting to her -- that we either triumph over daily rejection, or we allow it to consume us.

Tom Horgen


 

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  GEORGE SPROTT reviewed by The Globe and Mail

Updated August 27, 2009


The Globe and Mail

Books

Reviewed by Nathalie Atkinson

Last updated on Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2009 02:46AM EDT

According to the cartoonist Seth, the golden age of Canadian television lies between the Second World War and the 1980s, before airtime was centralized and homogenized with U.S. content. Regional programming loomed large and every Canadian town had an outsize local television personality whose fame extended just as far as the city limits, and for as long as they were on the air.

In the fictional town of Lakeside, the faded celebrity at CKCK (“Channel 10 on your dial”) is George Sprott: raconteur, some-time editor of Junior Woodsman, gentleman explorer, self-styled Arctic expert and erstwhile ladies man who dies shortly after the 1,132th episode of his show “Northern Hi-Lights”. “Cooking shows, kiddie shows, dance, curling, movie hosts, polka bands... you name it. Where else could a figure like George Sprott have thrived?” asks the narrator of George Sprott: 1894-1975.

The graphic novel builds on the material of Seth's fictional biography of Sprott, a local TV host past his prime, which was originally serialized in the New York Times Magazine's Funny Pages in 2006. Within the constraints of that assignment, each one-page instalment functioned as a self-contained story; now collected and expanded, the chapters of the character study add up to a sprawling, unsentimental exploration of memory.

How much of one's identity is made up of other people's perceptions and memories, however flawed? Many voices flesh out Sprott's life through a variety of local histories, testimonials and reminiscences (from friends, family, fans).The voluble host's own contemplative flashbacks are interspersed but he is mainly conjured in documentary-style conversations with other people and through tangents, like the illustrated CKCK viewer's guide for programming on Sprott's last day, October 9, 1975 (which offers a wink to the CBC: the national news anchor of the era is Nash Nolton).

The frequent shifts in point of view play with pacing. An interview with campy “Friday Fright Night” host Sir Grisly Gruesome distills their 12-year working relationship in a single page while the facing sequence uses the same economy of panels to linger on the small details of Sprott's final hour. Other chapters offer a glimpse into Sprott's mind through the elliptical images of his many dozing-off dreams – his first love, the mother he neglected, the daughter he never knew, the wife he betrayed. They hint at self-awareness and something approaching regret, if not remorse.

Hadrian Dingle, a young bellhop at the time, recalls how after Sprott's death he entered the man's suite of rooms at the Radio Hotel to take in the surroundings (and steal some of his papers). In his unsparing eyes, Sprott's precious mementos like a childhood stuffed bear and a heartfelt birthday card are no different than the discarded Flexi-Truss girdle and congealed cup of coffee nearby – all merely the detritus of a life lived and soon to be forgotten.

Another interview, with long-time “Northern Hi-Lights” viewer Violet Glow, includes a sequence of Sprott giving his signature farewell (“May the sun never melt your igloo”). Here, limited space inspires creative composition. Seth depicts the passage of time through the evolution of TV set model design from panel to panel and within each screen, Sprott mouthing the words while growing fatter, balder, older.

Though imaginary, Sprott's world is so fully realized that small-town settings occupy three-dimensions, sometimes literally. Photographs of Seth's painstakingly constructed cardboard maquettes of the narrative's important buildings are inserted, like pauses, throughout the story: the CKCK building, the Radio Hotel, the Melody Grill (once the stomping ground for the entertainers of the day) and Coronet Hall, home of Sprott's weekly lecture series. Later, the slow decay of this last architectural landmark as it passes from stately hall to strip palace, to inevitable dollar store then vacant lot, is accomplished in a succinct series of panels that are as emotionally affecting as the death of the title character.

As with all Seth's books, design elements are chosen with care, from the visual balance of Sprott's name and his rotund silhouette (recalling the cameo-prone Alfred Hitchcock) to the symmetry of the station's call letters. And not least the slim oversized album itself – matte battleship grey embossed with metallic stepped Art Deco lines and a made-up crest (because Sprott's grandiose “Institute of Polar Studies” would surely have its own heraldry).

The novella begins with an illustrated group portrait of CKCK's Stars of 1966 and ends with the station's elaborate broadcast sign-off, but most apt is its final image. The book's endpapers are of the one thing that outlives both bygone local personalities and future reality stars: the vertical colour bars of a TV test pattern signal.

In the Northern Ontario town where Toronto writer Nathalie Atkinson grew up, the local radio-TV station CFCL perched mythically on a hill overlooking the city, like the temple at Mount Olympus.

* George Sprott: 1894-1975, by Seth, Drawn & Quarterly, $29.95
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Seth interviewed by The Daily Cross Hatch

Updated August 12, 2009


Over the past half-dozen years, Seth has become nearly ubiquitous—as a cartoonist, as an illustrator, as a designer, his work has seeped into nearly ever aspect of the nebulous publishing world, from a his cover art to Fantagraphics’ Complete Peanuts, to his New Yorker covers, to serials for The New York Times Magazine. In terms of shear presence, his output is perhaps only rivaled by the likes of Chris Ware and Dan Clowes.

He’s been popping up a lot lately at comic conventions as well. Sitting at the Drawn & Quarterly booth in a vintage suit and pre-war style spectacles, he manages to stand out amongst the crowds of storm troopers and Jokers and Klingons all vying for the limited attention spans of over stimulated show goers. “I look for old things,” he’ll tells me later, as we conduct our interview on a subterranean flight of stairs out in front of the San Diego Convention Center—a momentary reprieve from the maddening, sweaty crowd.

As anyone even remotely familiar with his work can tell you, it’s the artist’s worst-kept secret. Seth wears a certain disdain from the trappings of the modern world on his sleeve—both figuratively and literally. The more we speak, the more it becomes clear that the Canadian artist’s first book, It’s a Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken, is, in certain respects, not so much a graphic novel as a lesson in his personal philosophy.

But while Seth’s work is something of a perpetual homage to the works of Schulz and a string of illustrators who have worshipped at the alter of Eustace Tilley, it’s hardly bound by the past. 2005’s Wimbledon Green, which was born as an experiment in one of his sketchbooks, soon grew into a fascinating exploration of non-linear storyteller later perfected in his most recent work, George Sprott.

Through his work Seth has managed the rare feat of straddling the thin line between constantly looking back and perpetually moving forward.

Do you enjoy coming out these sorts of shows?

Not really. I think I used to like it more when it was more about looking for old comics, but I don’t even have time to do that at these kinds of shows. I can’t find an hour to look around.

Do you still buy a lot of comics?

Certain stuff I’m chasing. Mostly I’m buying old horror comics at the moment.

Stuff that probably isn’t really here for the most part.

Yeah—well, actually, I just found a stack.

[It’s a Good Life If You Don’t Weaken] is based around digging up old books.

Oh yes. I’m a collector, pure and simple. That’s one of the main things I do for fun. I look for old things. So in that sense, I like to come to conventions, but this doesn’t seem to be about that much anymore. The comics section of this convention seems to be getting smaller and smaller like a collapsing star. A black hole.

Yeah, there doesn’t seem to be much of a place for this, unless you’re pitching a movie.

Yeah.

I don’t imagine you’re optioning anything for a movie right now, are you?

No, I’m not. I could see a movie being made of some of my stuff, but it would probably have to be an independent film.

I could see Wimbledon Green being turned into a movie.

Yeah, I think Wimbledon Green is the one thing I’ve done that I could see working as an animated film. If anyone came to me to do an animation based on one of my other books , I would likely say, “no,” because I don’t want my work to be perceived as ‘comic booky.’ They’re meant to be stories about “real life”–set in the “real world”–not a comic book world. I generally dislike films made from comics that make it a point to give it a stylized comic-y look. And I’m not too fond of the supposed connection between comics and animation either. They are always linked together simply because both are drawn–but honestly, what two mediums could be more different?

That said, Wimbledon Green is the one thing I could see working as an animated feature, and I would like to do it– probably. It could be fun.

You don’t strike me as somebody who would be comfortable letting someone take over something you created.

No, I would. I would totally just hand it over to the right people, if they were willing to pay me enough money. Because what I really don’t want to do is be involved in a project that uses up all of my time–time I need to put into my drawing. I love film, but I wouldn’t want to make a movie. Even if someone came along and asked me to direct a movie, I’d probably say, “no” because I’m interested in doing comics. But I would take the money from a film adaptation, and put it back into making comics. If the movie stank, well, that’s life. The book exists. And hopefully, because of the money made, another one exists as well.

And you’ve already removed yourself from it.

Yeah, It’s not your fault if it’s bad. I mean, It would be terrific if it was a great movie. I’d try not to have that sort of propriety feeling where you think, ‘I can’t allow them to wreck it.’ I hope I could be fairly flexible.

As long as you had some sort of say.

Yeah, I would hope it would be someone copacetic. I wouldn’t just hand it off to anyone.

Have you had offers?

Not in any serious way. I’ve had small offers — options. Never much money involved. Nothing that made me—like I know that Charles Burns has Black Hole optioned, which is seriously on its way to being made into a movie. And that seems like a good arrangement that he’s worked out there. From what little I know, It seems like he’s going to make a good amount of money off of it, the film may very well turn out to be good, and he doesn’t seem to be doing much work connected to it–I don’t think he’s writing the screenplay or anything like that.

Do you envision your books cinematically, when you’re working on them? Do you think like that?

Not generally. Some of my stuff is cinematic in the way the “camera”—if you want to call it that—follows the characters around. I call that naturalistic storytelling. Of course I don’t really think of it as a camera. I actually envision it as the reader following the character around, as if you’re a disembodied head. In Clyde Fans, you’re following the character walking through the house. I think of that as how you experience the world through your eyes. Above shots, close-ups etc. They are film terms but I think of them as simply techniques to mirror how we experience vision. Film, being the more popular, has created the vocabulary to label these things but they are not purely actions of a camera. It’s more about vision in general. In George Sprott, I use a more fragmented way of telling a story. It’s not naturalistic. You don’t necessarily follow the characters around. It jumps around more than that. Time is less smooth.

It seemed like it was Wimbledon Green that really started you along that path.

For sure.

And you didn’t really expect that to work out as a book, initially.

Yeah, it was just an experiment in my sketchbook—an experiment I was really enjoying. At a certain point, I recognized that it would probably be published. Though, pretty much right up until the end, I just figured I would publish it in my next sketchbook collection. It was only when I reached the very end that I thought, ‘maybe I should make it a book of it on its own.’ And that’s sort of when it became a singular thing for me–a complete thing–not just a section of a sketchbook.

Is that why it’s more cartoony than your other work? Because you didn’t expect to see it published?

Yeah, I think so. I actually did an 80 page story before Wimbledon that was about similar material. I kind of stopped on page 80 and started Wimbledon, because I didn’t like the structure of that story. And that freedom to just quit is why working in the sketchbook is so freeing. You don’t have to publish anything you’re doing. If it fails, no one need see it but yourself. Strangely, that usually makes the work better then the stuff you are carefully planning. It’s less uptight. My other books have been more calculatingly “serious.” Wimbledon was allowed to simply be for fun.

You’ve since done work in that structure for The New York Times Magazine. It works really well in serialized form.

Yeah, it does. This particular kind of story structure works really well in serialized form. It’s a method that I’m more and more attracted to. It helps you control the way you distribute the information into nice, easy chunks, rather than having to worry about creating a certain kind of flow for everything. Clyde Fans, which I’m back working on right now, is all about flow. Each scene has to flow into the next scene. It’s concerned with mood and atmosphere. But with that more fragmented approach, I can just have a little chunk that’s about a dream he had, and then cut to the next one is about, say, going to work. I don’t need to worry about make that transition from the dream–making it smooth. You know, showing the dream and then the character waking up, getting ready, catching the bus…

You do create atmosphere, though. George Sprott has definite elements of that—he travels to the arctic—

Sure, but I do it in a different manner. I want to say that I do it a bit more through design than through storytelling. By using those large spreads of landscape drawings etc.

Is that why you chose the arctic? So you could explore the tundra?

Yeah, exactly. I didn’t want to bombard the reader with symbols, but it was important that George have a certain kind of journey in his life where there was this expanse in his youth, and the rest of his life was in the little box of a city, and a television box.

[Continued in Part Two.]

–Brian Heater
 
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  GEORGE SPROTT reviewed by The National Post

Updated August 12, 2009



Remembrance of things never passed

The art of Seth evinces a nostalgia for the non-existent

Robert Fulford, National Post Published: Tuesday, August 04, 2009



George Sprott, a tired old fraud who habitually falls asleep even when hosting his own TV show, seems an unlikely hero for an ambitious graphic novel. But Seth, the prince of Canadian cartoonists and a storyteller like no other, has a way of surprising his admirers by pushing his art towards awkward subjects. He gives fresh proof of his talents in George Sprott (1894-1975): A Picture Novella (Drawn and Quarterly Publishers).

It began life as a series for The New York Times Sunday magazine in 2006 and 2007, but Seth has since greatly expanded both story and format. It's now a handsomely produced $29.95 volume with an Art Deco cover, larger than most art books.

Seth has always exhibited intense nostalgia for places he's never been. John Cheever said something like that about himself, but Seth goes a stage further: He's also nostalgic for places no one has ever been, because Seth invented them. For years he's been creating a Canadian past all his own.

He goes so far as to build his imagined world literally, in three dimensions, by making detailed models of small-town buildings that echo mid-20th-century styles. The new book has photos that are said to be five buildings intimately associated with the fictional George Sprott. They are obviously cardboard models, but when presented as authentic documents from the past they give the story an extra charge of realism. For Seth, buildings are characters. His models have been shown at the Art Gallery of Ontario and other museums.

He's constructed George Sprott (1894-1975) as a fictional version of a TV documentary. We learn that George was once a famous reporter in the Arctic, a successful lecturer and eventually the star of a TV show, Northern Hi-Lights. But by the time the documentary is made he's forgotten. One man interviewed for the program is a TV memorabilia collector who tells us that George's reputation has suffered a cruel, 21st-century fate: "I Googled George the other day and got only one hit."

George worked happily in a small-city private TV station, CKCK. A photograph of the station's stars as they were in 1960 (actually, one of Seth's beautiful, evocative drawings) depicts an accordion player, a puppeteer, a clown, a country singer and Sir Grisly Gruesome, host of the horror movies. Of course there never was such a station. Small-town stations always had tiny staffs and few original programs. But Seth, who loves local talent, believes such a station should have existed and now, thanks to him, it did, or does, in the alternate Sethian universe.

Viewers of SCTV may notice that CKCK slightly resembles the Melonville station, another fantasy of small-town media life, where stars like John Candy and Martin Short parodied TV stereotypes. Seth cites another source, a Detroit station he watched in his Western Ontario youth. (He was born Gregory Gallant, his pre-Seth name, in Clinton in 1962.) A man running a travel show on Detroit TV, George Pierrot, eventually inspired George Sprott. The Detroit George was also famous for falling asleep on air.


Sprott's life story appears in words that accompany Seth's drawings, but it's not clear who is responsible for these words. Seth? He's not sure himself. Apparently he's invented this offscreen voice to distance himself from the story. Whoever he is, the narrator apologizes for gaps in his knowledge. "Truthfully," he says at one point, "there are whole areas of George's life of which I know nothing. What can I say? I can work with only what I have at hand." He does add, however, that "In the time I've spent studying George, I've grown fond of him."

We learn that George was born in Chatham, Ont., and studied for the Anglican priesthood before becoming a journalist. After making his reputation in the Arctic he seems to have spent 35 years talking about what he did there, and showing his old films. Late in life he began calling his one-man office the Institute of Polar Studies.

As other witnesses appear, we realize there's more honesty here than in the usual TV biography. We learn that George once considered himself a good son to his widowed mother but realized, too late, that he neglected her. He was an unfaithful husband, and in fact an unfaithful lover too, as one of his mistresses proved when she caught him visiting another. His wife believed she never knew him but concluded that "He was so deeply afraid. He pushed his troubles away -- hoping they would vanish if he didn't look." In the Arctic in 1930 he hired an Inuit woman of 18 as a translator and guide, left her pregnant and never saw her again.

In a 2006 interview we meet their daughter, understandably bitter. We meet an artist who accompanied George in the North; Seth, a devotee of cartoon history, has named him Jimmy Freeze, in honour of the real Jimmy Frise (1891-1948), a cartoonist for the Star Weekly. Freeze remembers George as pompous and vain. Fred Kennedy, another CKCK host, a drinking companion of George's, says: "I hate to say it but George was a crashing bore."

On the last night of his life, before the sudden heart attack hit, George planned to lecture at the Coronet Hall. Once he attracted big crowds but now only half a dozen people show up, usually the same half dozen. We learn the Coronet will soon become a strip palace and then a dollar store before being torn down and replaced by a discount computer outlet. Before his lecture, George goes to the Melody Grill, once the hangout for stars like him but now the kind of place where no one can any longer recognize the names of the celebrities whose pictures hang on the wall. The Melody Grill, like George, is close to death.

Seth sees George's faults, but sympathizes with him. Among the many poignant lines in the book is George's reflection on his age, 81: "The saddest thing about getting old is how much you look forward to lunch." But I found the most melancholy of George's phrases the sign-off he delivered proudly when closing every one of the 1,132 TV shows he made in his lifetime: "I wish you good health and joy ... and may the sun never melt your igloo."

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32 Stories, Cecil and Jordan in New York and George Sprott reviewed by The Montreal Gazette

Updated July 27, 2009



Graphic Lit: Get Used To It

By Ian McGillis 07-19-2009 COMMENTS(1) Narratives

Filed under: Pavement, George Sprott, Adrian Tomine, comics, graphic novels, Chris Ware, Clyde Fans, comix, Kaya Oakes, Seth, Gabrielle Bell, Quarterly, Drawn &

I was drawn to Kaya Oakes’s Slanted and Enchanted: The Evolution of Indie Culture because of the title’s shout-out to Pavement’s debut album, a work that hogged my Walkman circa 1992-93 to the point where I’ll probably never need to listen to those songs again. (And I mean that in the kindest of possible ways.) But I’m glad Oakes pulled me in, because among her book’s many astringent perspectives on all things indie is a chapter that helped me crystallize why I’ve been feeling so evangelical about the increasingly ubiquitous but still frequently misunderstood corner of the literary marketplace tagged variously as comics/comix/graphic literature.

Tracing the form from its early-20th-century stirrings, Oakes eventually identifies the point where comics publishers (Fantagraphics being at the forefront) twigged that a whole new market could be opened up with a simple repackaging expedient: gathering serial comics into single-volume collections “that could be sold in any respectable bookstore.” That use of “respectable” is of course laced with deliberate irony on Oakes’s part, acknowledging as it does the long and tangled history of the form’s stepchild status within the wider literary world. Sometimes, as Oakes astutely points out, it’s a mere matter of labeling: “Calling comics ‘graphic novels’ also opened them up to an audience that accepted the idea of comics as ‘real’ literature more easily than it swallowed the concept of a comic book, which can carry an air of disposability except for an audience of collectors.”

Confession time: I was, from a very early age, one of those “real literature” high-and-mighty types. I didn’t grow up with comics. As a child I looked askance at my peers with their Archies and Green Lantern and Mad obsessions, occupied as I was with weightier tomes like Stan Mikita’s I Play To Win, Harry Sinden’s Hockey Showdown and Farley Mowat’s The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be. (Mowat was a near neighbor of my grandmother in Port Hope, Ontario; as a young boy I once espied him on the street and was convinced for years afterward that all writers had to smoke pipes and have big bushy beards and that therefore I would never be a writer. But that’s a whole other story, I guess.) It was only shamefully recently, with exposure to Chris Ware’s mind-bogglingly complex and beautiful Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth, that the richness of which this form is capable was made manifest to me. Suitably humbled, I worked my way back through Art Spiegelman and R. Crumb and forward to their inheritors. And discovered that one of the two or three most prominent proponents of this culture was Montreal’s own Drawn & Quarterly, who—wouldn’t you just know it?—have a varied line of spring and summer titles for our consideration.

32 Stories: The Complete Optic Nerve Mini-Comics by Adrian Tomine is the publishing equivalent of one of those finely curated demos-and-outtakes collections beloved of indie music labels. If you love the band, you need to have it; if you just like the band, you’ll be curious to check it out but will probably find you can live without it. Tomine’s Summer Blonde and Shortcomings are note-perfect portrayals of young educated urbans adrift: shitty service industry jobs, romantic disaffection, identity confusion, all depicted with crisp visual line, deadpan dialogue, and a willingness to look closely into seamy corners of life many would be content to leave private. Fans of those perpetually popular titles now have the chance to see Tomine working toward his mature style in 32 Stories’ seven facsimile editions, gathered into an attractive box, of the Optic Nerve mini-comics that originally drew him to D & Q’s attention. For review purposes, well, I couldn’t really put it any better than the author does himself, in his introduction:

“If you’re a ‘glass half full’ kind of person, you might say that these comics are youthful, energetic, and even enlightening in terms of the evolution they chart. If you’re feeling less charitable, you’d probably describe them as amateurish, scatter-shot, affected, and deeply derivative.”

I’m glass half full guy myself, but there you have it.

Working similar thematic and stylistic terrain to Tomine is Gabrielle Bell. Cecil and Jordan in New York: Stories divides roughly in two. The first half’s stories are set among the New York art world, where the struggling often rub up against the fabulously rich. In “Felix” a middling art student finds herself in the home of a famous sculptor, hired to give drawing lessons to the artist’s alienated adolescent son. Teacher and student form a touchingly awkward bond while the father develops a suspiciously noblesse oblige attraction to the young woman. Multiple layers of emotion and psychology are implied with minimal dialogue and spare visuals: the settings are almost exclusively interior, the characters defined and confined by their environment. Bell can convey all we need to know about a relationship by how far apart or how close she places two people on a couch. The second half, more autobiographical if Bell’s available bio is anything to go by, focuses on a teenage misfit in rural Northern California. Here Bell allows herself a more relaxed line and a broader emotional palette, even venturing, in the remarkable “My Affliction,” into the realm of full-blown surrealism. Readers may well be reminded of The Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind, and will feel an agreeable frisson on learning that Bell is now indeed collaborating with Michel Gondry.

Seth first came to my attention with his stunning design of Aimee Mann’s Lost In Space CD, a package that very nearly single-handedly redeemed the visual limitations of a format soon to pass away unmourned. Born in Clinton, Ontario in 1962, Seth is the established master of a subject he has made his own: the stultifying melancholy of past-their-prime small towns and the thwarted lives therein. It’s a world he’s able to depict so well because of his own clearly conflicted relationship with his subject matter. Here is a man not at home in the modern world, drawn instinctively to the mood and aesthetic of a fading place and time even as he puts that bygone world’s pathos under an unsparing spotlight. If you’re looking for a cinematic equivalent, think David Lynch, but without the gratuitous unpleasantness. The title character of the magnificent new picture novella George Sprott: 1894-1975 is of a type that will ring bells with readers of Clyde Fans, It’s A Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken and Wimbledon Green. Emotionally repressed, a distant ineffectual father, a serial philanderer, small-town TV host Sprott nonetheless manages for decades to pass himself off as a cuddly avuncular minor celebrity. That he’s an unknowing figure of fun to anyone with experience beyond his constricted world—that he is in many ways a deeply unlovable man—doesn’t compromise the sympathy with which Seth draws him.

Another favoured Seth theme, the unreliability and subjectivity of memory, gets a good airing here, as figures from Sprott’s life recall events in a contradictory tangle of accounts that only serves to underline the ultimate futility of any attempt to “sum up” a life. Visually George Sprott takes all Seth’s customary strengths—subtle shifts in framing, a limited colour palette that can render the slightest variation powerful in impact, dialogue and text-heavy pages melded seamlessly with wordless passages—and by dint of the book’s lavish outsized format, brings it all to a whole new level. Quite aside from its undeniable literary and artistic merits, George Sprott is a downright beautiful thing, an artifact you’ll like holding in your hands and having in your home. Which brings me to an x-factor about graphic literature, something I think of whenever I hear non-converts complain that graphic novels can appear a bit pricey. At their best, these books provide the strongest possible bulwark against the feared death of the book-as-object: they give us something that Kindle will never be able to duplicate.

In a near-future posting on this very blog, I’ll explore in some detail the world of the late Tove Jansson, the sui generis Swedish/Finnish writer-cartoonist whose complete Moomin comic strips are being gathered by Drawn & Quarterly in a sumptuous series that is now at four volumes and counting. Meanwhile I urge all good people to at least dip their toes into the pool of graphic literature—the water may feel cold at first but that never stopped you from learning to swim, did it?--and leave you, for old times’ sake, with something from a band who knew a thing or two about the bittersweet task of taking the underground to the masses.


 
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Adrian Tomine
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32 Stories: Special Edition Box Set




  SETH interviewed by The Onion AV Club

Updated July 21, 2009


Seth on classic cartoonists and illustrators

In addition to being one of the most acclaimed cartoonists of this era, Seth (It’s A Good Life If You Don’t Weaken, Wimbledon Green) has become renowned for his extensive knowledge of cartoonists and illustrators. Seth’s appreciation for the masters extends to an involvement with the reprint projects for Charles Schulz (The Complete Peanuts), kiddie-comics purveyor John Stanley (Drawn & Quarterly’s “The John Stanley Library,” featuring such titles as Melvin Monster and Nancy), and fellow Canadian Doug Wright (The Collected Doug Wright: Canada’s Master Cartoonist). In the tradition of The A.V. Club’s Random Rules and Random Roles features, we made a list of well-known comic-book, comic-strip, magazine, and children’s-book artists and fired the names off at Seth, who responded with his opinions of and personal associations with the artists in question.

Carl Barks (1901-2000, best-known for developing the Donald Duck universe in various Walt Disney comics)

Seth: Carl Barks is a strange case for me, because he’s such an important figure in comics, but I have no connection to him at all. I think the big stumbling block for me is that I’ve never liked those Disney duck characters. I’ve always felt a weird sense of alienation from them, even as a child. Back in the ’80s, when I got to know Chester Brown—Chester’s a huge Barks fan—we talked about it, and I made a strong effort at that point to understand why everyone liked Barks so much. Chester gave me one of those big Barks sets and said “This is his very best material, the most interesting and adult work that Barks did.” I read through those volumes, and the work did nothin’ for me. So that pretty much was the end of Barks for me. I said “Okay, I’ve talked to the expert, and I trust Chester’s opinion on just about everything except politics. If I don’t care for this stuff, then obviously this material is just not for me.”


Floyd Gottfredson (1905-1986, did for Mickey Mouse what Carl Barks did for Donald Duck)

S: Actually, I like Gottfredson quite a bit. I think it’s because Gottfredson has that same feeling of, say, Roy Crane to me. Maybe I just prefer those early Mickey Mouse characters, too. There’s something in the way they’re constructed that visually appeals to me. I enjoy the adventure strips that Gottfredson did with Mickey Mouse in the early years. There’s something about them that transmits a kind of charm of the 1930s, a lot like when I watch an old Laurel and Hardy film or something. And I do not get any of that from Barks.


Don Freeman (1908-1978, author/illustrator of a number of beloved children’s books, especially Corduroy)

S: I like Don Freeman, what I know of Don Freeman. Primarily what I like about him is his graphic novel from the ’40s called It Shouldn’t Happen. He’s not an artist I would have a great interest in if he hadn’t produced that one book. I know his children’s books, and I think he’d fall into that category of children’s-book artists that are secondary—maybe even third—in the hierarchy of ones I’d be interested in. But that one book of his is so interesting. Almost independently, every 10 years or so through the 20th century, someone seems to have invented the graphic novel. It seems a natural idea, especially for people who were working with things like children’s books or other kinds of narrative art forms. And Freeman was a lithographer too, doing those kind of American narrative WPA drawings of the ’30s. I think these works naturally led him to a “graphic novel”—since he was already doing street scenes and drawings of everyday life in the ’30s. It’s not surprising that he would take the next step and try to do an actual story—and a story with a social conscience, too. So I think it’s a very interesting book, and that makes him interesting to me.

After that, less so. He’s one of those guys where I think it was his ambition that I’m attracted to more than anything. It Shouldn’t Happen is really an interesting book and a good book too, but he never really followed it up with anything of a similar ambition—nothing that pushed his whole body of work into a higher category for me. Certainly he did some nice children’s books, but nothing that made me love him in the way I love Margaret Bloy Graham, who did all the Harry The Dirty Dog books. Those are really charming, and I like them just for themselves. With Freeman, I’m interested primarily because of that one book.


Syd Hoff (1912-2004, another children’s-book author/illustrator, best known for Sammy The Seal and Danny And The Dinosaur)

S: I did have a really strong attraction to Hoff’s work when I was younger, and it has kind of faded away. I think he had a great drawing style and a lot of charm. But again, his actual work ultimately kind of passed out of my main area of interest. I’d still like to read like a book of his gag cartoons; I think he was funny. What’s most interesting to me now about him is something I didn’t realize when I was younger. William Steig, the New Yorker cartoonist, pretty much hated Hoff, because when Hoff came along, he was kind of stealing Steig’s material. I hadn’t known this fact until I read it in that Lee Lorenz book from a few years back [World Of William Steig. —ed.], but when you do look back on those early years of The New Yorker, Steig was doing all these Brooklyn and Bronx ethnic types, this working-class humor with these potato-nose characters, and then Hoff came along and started doing pretty much the same thing. Steig moved on to such a wide, diverse career, whereas Hoff really stuck with that stuff, so Hoff ended up being the guy people think of when they think of that sort of material. Ultimately, that’s colored my viewpoint of him. It’s not that you can’t have influence, but I think maybe he was stepping on someone’s toes when he first appeared. Too much of an imitator.

Ultimately, his children’s books leave me a bit cold too. Children probably like them, but I don’t think there’s a lot to return to as an adult in, say, Danny And The Dinosaur. Recently, Art Spiegelman was putting together this anthology of good old-fashioned children’s comics that he’s going to release though Toon Books. He asked a variety of people in the comics industry to try and assist him in finding old comics that would be good to discuss as possible inclusions in the anthology. And at one point, we really did try to find some Syd Hoff work that would fit, and I sent him a story from a comic called Tuffy, and we really sweated it out trying to find a way to make this work fit, but the problem was that ultimately, it just wasn’t very good. As much as I love his style—it looks great and there’s a lot of that “smell of boiled cabbage,” as they say—unfortunately, I just don’t think that he produced a strong enough body of work to be of great interest to me.

The A.V. Club: You don’t actually have kids, do you?

S: No I don’t. And that does make a big difference in material produced exclusively for children. As I get older and I see all my friends starting to have children, I see them have different reactions to the material that was probably not of great interest to them when they were younger, because they’re re-experiencing it through their kids. I’ve certainly seen a lot of my cartoonist friends embrace Little Lulu in a much deeper way because their kids love it so much. But that’s not gonna be happening for me. There are no kids coming.


Harvey Kurtzman (1924-1993, best known for spearheading the creation of Mad magazine, and for his gritty war comics Two-Fisted Tales and Frontline Combat)

S: Kurtzman is such a great figure; it’d be hard not to like Kurtzman. He’s just so important, and a fabulous cartoonist. I think that’s one of the things that’s maybe starting to get more play now, what a great visual cartoonist he was. For so many years, he was mostly respected because he was such a driving force, intellectually, behind the comics he worked on. People were so influenced by Mad magazine and so impressed by his writing that I think he’d gotten short shrift as a visual artist. But it was the cartooning itself that drew me to him originally, because I’m from a later generation, and Mad wasn’t as seminal an influence as it was to the original underground guys. I didn’t even see Kurtzman’s work when I was growing up, except in small doses. When I was an adult and really experienced his work for the first time—well, it was his drawing and storytelling that seduced me. He was just so clearly head and shoulders above everyone else. When I read his war stories, I was just so excited by his compositions and brushwork. It was dynamic and smart. And the storytelling as well. A total lesson in smart cartooning. As I got older, I did come to appreciate more of the other work he did, specifically his satire, but I’m still mostly drawn to Kurtzman as a visual stylist first and foremost. The work has such a gorgeous finish. It’s beautiful to look at.

AVC: I don’t actually laugh much at Kurtzman’s gag strips, but I’m stunned by how good they look.

S: It’s true. I mean, the thing is, humor does date. I can recognize in that old Mad material why it was so funny—the absurdity is so evident—but I don’t think I actually laugh out loud at much of it. Maybe some of those Elder collaborations, like “Starchie”—I’ve always found that one pretty funny. Still—that’s one of the reasons old humor comics don’t hold as much appeal to comics fans as old adventure strips. In many ways, it’s hard to put yourself back in the mindset of what people found funny at different times. A lot of times, when I’m interested in old humor strips, it has nothing to do with the main point of them at all; I’m just enjoying the rhythms, or how they were put together, or how they were drawn. The gags become completely secondary to me, whereas that was probably the main concern of the cartoonist when he created it.

AVC: What’s been most impressive about all the John Stanley material that’s recently been repackaged is how actually funny it is.

S: Yeah, it’s surprising. He really was funny. And that’s not true of 90 percent of old comics. When I first started looking around at comics in the ’80s to educate myself on the history of the comic book, I thought there would be a lot of funny old comics out there, and there really aren’t. The truth is, there are almost no good old comic books out there. Those old comics turned out to be exactly as you’d expect: cheap junk produced quickly to sell to children. And a lot of it really does not hold up, on any level, at all. I mean, it depends; often you can like things because they’re bad. And there is a lot of charm in middle-of-the-road pop-culture junk. But if you’re really looking for top-notch work, it’s no surprise that it’s coming from the handful of names people have already heard.


Lynn Johnston (1947-present, creator of the newspaper strip For Better Or For Worse)

S: I wish I could say I liked Lynn Johnston more. She’s a nice person. I respect her body of work, but it’s not for me. I’m not the right audience for it. I wish the strip was more of a modern Gasoline Alley. They share some surface qualities. I certainly think the work was more ambitious than 90 percent of what else was in newspapers at the time, but the soap-opera nature of it just never spoke to me. At some point, I lost track of what was going on. Not that I really follow what’s going on in the newspapers much anyway. I think For Better Or For Worse is for a different audience, and clearly an audience that really connected to it. But it wasn’t my cup of tea.


Bill Watterson (1958-present, creator of Calvin And Hobbes)

S: I read all the Bill Watterson books, but they didn’t mean anything to me. In fact, I feel a strange disconnect from all that Calvin And Hobbes material—material that is obviously loved by a lot of younger cartoonists. I wanted to like it. I wanted it to be the new great strip. I’ve felt the same way about Mutts. I wanted to really like it, and I think it’s very nicely drawn, but the strip doesn’t have any great meaning for me. The last cartoonist in the newspaper I really liked was Gary Larson. But I don’t think of that as being a great strip in any way, I just think Larson was a very funny gag cartoonist, and I certainly enjoyed his work.

For me, the very last great strip is Peanuts. After Peanuts, there are a very few strips that I enjoyed for different reasons, but I don’t think they were great. I don’t think anything’s come along since Charles Schulz—and I mean since 1950—that I think rises above the professional or the eccentric into that realm of greatness. I think the first five years of B.C. were really nice, and that could’ve been a great strip. I think Andy Capp actually was a really great strip within its limited parameters, although certainly not in the same class as Peanuts. But really nothing else, beyond things that I think were clever diversions. I think Dilbert actually is a very enjoyable strip, but it falls far short of being great.

AVC: Have you read Cul-de-sac by Richard Thompson?

S: Yeah. Actually, that looks very promising, I’ve got to say. I bought the first collection that came out this year, and I was impressed, I thought it was really good. We’ll have to see where it goes in the long run. It’s funny, I really think there are only two strips in the history of comic strips that rise to the top of the heap, and that’s Peanuts and Krazy Kat. It’s hard for anything to get into that top pantheon for me. I’d have to see where Cul-de-sac goes, but I would say so far, it’s in the group right below that, which is the tier of the really good strips. I’m impressed. He seems to be far better than anyone working in the newspapers at the moment.

AVC: So no interest in Garry Trudeau or Berke Breathed?

S: No, but I think that’s because I’m a very apolitical type. The subject matter just doesn’t appeal to me. I’m sure there are people more geared toward that who’d put Doonesbury up much higher. Even on the level of just reading it as a strip, without the political undertones, it just never really excited me. I’m just not interested in how he constructs the work. I’ve never even read five strips by Breathed; he wasn’t carried in any papers that I read.

George Herriman (1880-1944, creator of Krazy Kat)

S: Herriman and Schulz are interesting to me, because I think they’re the two cartoonists working in a commercial vein who managed to infuse their own personalities into their strips in a much deeper way than anyone else has been able to do. I think modern cartoonists working in the underground or graphic novels have managed to do this in a more direct way, like Robert Crumb for example, because they clearly sat down and produced a body of work that is entirely personal. But in that old newspaper format, I don’t think anyone has done it like Schulz and Herriman. Sometimes when I look at their work, I almost think that having to turn out a newspaper strip made the work more powerful than if they had just decided to draw personal story-strips of some kind. I have a feeling that Schulz’s work wouldn’t have been as great if he didn’t have to filter it through that gag-a-day formula.

It’s almost like working in the haiku format, where you have to deal with a rigid, strict formula, to formulate your personal experiences, in some manner, through the imagery of the natural world. There’s something about the strict newspaper form that made the work really unique in some special way that nobody else has ever replicated. As much as I love Crumb—and he’s at the top of my heap—it’s an entirely different kind of cartooning. Both Herriman and Schulz managed to take those works that don’t appear to be directly autobiographical and make them entirely about their inner lives. I think they can both be read on the surface as enjoyable diversions, but read as an entire body of work, if you get to know the work deeply, it starts to have that much greater quality of very deep, meaningful works of art. There’s really nobody like those two cartoonists in my mind.


Frank King (1883-1969, creator of Gasoline Alley)

S: I think King’s great. King’s a different type of artist as well. He obviously put a lot of his life into Gasoline Alley, but in a much more direct, less poetic manner. I think Gasoline Alley is one of the great overlooked masterpieces of the newspaper strip. He certainly would be very close on that list behind Herriman and Schulz, but in a slightly different category. It’s almost as if he was doing a big pastoral novel of some sort. Although that might be overselling it, because I do think a lot of it does fall into the world of soap opera. Still, I think that because the work is so folksy, so breezy, it skirts the main problems that I have with the kind of soap-opera approach—like I mentioned earlier with Lynn Johnston. I think there was a wonderful unpretentious quality to Frank King’s work. It had a kind of naturalism that I don’t think you found in comic strips before that. It had, in the early years, a bit of that page-turner quality that Little Orphan Annie has, but I think the work is much wider in scope, which makes it a lot more appealing to a modern reader. It’s not so clearly based around an adventure model. I do think Gasoline Alley has a shorter lifespan than people think. I think by the end of the ’40s, it was pretty much played out. Maybe even by the beginning of the ’40s, it’s hard to say. But I do think there’s at least 20 years of really great work there. And I do think visually that King is also undersold. He really had a beautiful drawing style. A master cartoonist.

AVC: Do you feel on a personal level that King “belongs” more to Joe Matt, who’s collected a lot of Gasoline Alley, and Chris Ware, who’s designed the Drawn & Quarterly collections? Do you feel that you can’t “claim” King so much?

S: Yeah, this is something that does go on in the world of comics. There’s less of it in other mediums, because the work hasn’t been buried in the same way. As a cartoonist, you have to go out and find your own ancestors, because they’re not as readily available to you as they would be if you were a writer, for example. As a writer, you could just enjoy Nabokov and not feel like you have to stake any claim to him. With cartooning, the fact that it was all considered junk for so long—and that it was so hard to get hold of the old material—meant that you did kind of have to start picking who was important to you. You’re kind of forced to become a collector, which I suspect is a natural inclination for cartoonists anyway, but it’s out of necessity as well. If you want to learn your craft, you have to say, “Well I’ll go find this work and study it.” Especially if it’s anyone any more obscure than Charles Schulz. Even Schulz, I remember it took me about 10 years to track down all the books that reprinted his work, simply because most of his books were out of print half of the time. That’s not the case if you wanted to go out and read the complete works of Dickens; you’d just walk into a bookstore and buy them. Obviously, I’m simplifying here—I’m sure there are plenty of lesser-known out-of-print writers that you'd have to search out with the same zeal.

So I think there is some sense in staking out your own territory. And certainly this felt extra-strong between myself and Joe Matt, because we were living in the same town, and we were both collecting. And we certainly would run up against each other in fights. When we used to go into bookstores, we would both run to the humor section and immediately start scanning it as soon as possible, to make sure we found anything worthy before the other guy did. In fact, it got to be kind of a joke with us, where one of us would pretend to grab for something—reach out and go, “Oh! Look at what I found!” and reach out, just to see the other person’s reaction. I can remember there was an antique market in Toronto, and it was always a battle every weekend to see who got there first. You’d know that the other person had beat you there, because as soon as you got to those certain booths that had the right kind of stuff, the dealer would say, “Oh, your friend was here already.” And you’d know you’d missed your opportunity. At some point, we actually had to come to an arrangement where I said “Okay, you get these guys and I get these guys,” and we sort of traded off who we were collecting. At that point, he agreed to stay away from the Canadian cartoonists that I was pursuing, like Jimmy Frise and Doug Wright, and I agreed to keep away from Frank King. So I do feel some sense that I don’t have any proprietary interest in Gasoline Alley. It’s been taken away from me. But I am allowed to deeply appreciate the work.

AVC: Speaking of Doug Wright, there was some criticism when the book Doug Wright: Canada’s Master Cartoonist came out about the use of the word “master” in the title. Which I found strange, because in cinema studies, people use the word “master” all the time, and it doesn’t mean the absolute best, it just means somebody who’s extraordinarily good at their craft.

S: And that’s how I intended it to be understood. I actually don’t think there would have been any controversy about it if the publisher, Chris Oliveros, hadn’t, in my opinion, made a flub by overpraising Wright on the Internet. He actually compared Wright to… I think he compared him to Kurtzman and Crumb. I think what Chris was trying to do was imply that here’s a chance for the reader to discover a great pile of work by someone fantastic that they’d never heard of before—the excitement of finding a real master cartoonist where you’d never seen their work before, yet here it all is. I don’t think he was actually trying to imply that Wright was as important or as meaningful a cartoonist as either of those names. But the minute you pull out those big guns, it causes unfortunate comparisons. If that hadn’t happened, I think most people would’ve just seen Wright’s work and said, “Wow, this guy is really a good cartoonist.” But because of that comparison, people had to immediately start saying, “Well, he’s no Crumb.” And of course, he is no Crumb. It’s not his intention, nor is it the area of the cartooning world he was working in at all.

He’s a lesser cartoonist than some of the top names like Schulz or Crumb or Kurtzman, but then so are most of the great cartoonists you could name. He was a very good journeyman cartoonist, and he was a master cartoonist. Like you said, I certainly don’t see that as any kind of exclusive title. If I think someone’s a master potter, it does not mean they’re the only good potter. But for some reason, in comics, that word really got on people’s nerves, and they assumed he was being put forward as a candidate for greatest cartoonist. I guess “Canada’s Master Cartoonist” probably does imply he’s being promoted to the top spot. Who knows—when you’re putting a book together, you’re not thinking of those kinds of reactions at all. I merely wanted to honor the man.


Harold Gray (1894-1968, creator of Little Orphan Annie)

S: Gray is in there with about three or four cartoonists I can think of that I would consider really, really great cartoonists of the early period of comics. And they’re great because they are so incredibly readable. I would put him in there with Frank King and Chester Gould, for sure. I like those three for very different reasons, but the one common thing is, you can sit down and read an incredible amount of them and really enjoy the experience. It’s never a slog. Little Orphan Annie is a very charming strip. I love the way Gray has constructed the narratives. I love how Annie talks to herself endlessly; I think that’s so charming. I just think that kind of dialogue reads so well. It’s amazing how he can pull you through those stories, where you’ll have five days of basically just Annie talking to herself about the value of keeping the house clean, but it’s very, very engaging. He’s got a narrative style that’s really appealing, and it’s utterly different from someone like Gould, whose narrative approach is like a juggernaut in comparison—with everything utilized to simply pull you along with the sheer power of the plot. Annie’s plots are interesting too, but you’re really pulled along on the charm of the main character. Which is probably a little closer to what King is doing, as well.

Annie’s a very interesting adventure strip for that reason. In most of the adventure strips, I find the characters kind of boring. Somebody like Roy Crane… I love his work, but I don’t have much personal attraction to Wash Tubbs or to Buz Sawyer. They’re somewhat irritating or uninterestingly staid central characters. But Annie seems like a very fully rounded creation. Even though she’s clearly just a mouthpiece for Gray’s ideas and his political beliefs, when you close the book, you really feel like she was alive in some way. I sure don’t feel like Dick Tracy was alive. He was a very empty sort of character. Yet Dick Tracy was still a terrific strip, because it was so beautifully constructed, and such a page-turner. Not all old strips are that enjoyable to read. Even someone like Roy Crane, who I love, I don’t really want to sit down and read 12 volumes of Wash Tubbs. I tried it, but I didn’t make it past volume six, I think. It gets to be too repetitive. Whereas I do think those three cartoonists—King, Gould, and Gray—you could pretty much read their entire body of work.


Gil Kane (1926-2000, comic-book artist who worked on several Silver Age D.C. and Marvel superheroes, including Green Lantern and Spider-Man)

S: I think Gil’s work was very nicely drawn and composed, had a nice classical quality to it, but he was not one of my favorites as a child. I think the work was kind of cold, in some manner, to me as a kid. I was drawn more to the cartoonier cartoonists, which I think is obvious, because my work has ended up being more cartoony and stylized. The comic-book artists I was most drawn to when I was young would probably be Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. Later, I made some bad choices. I was really into John Byrne for a while. I actually think that ties into a love of cartoony artwork too; I think Byrne’s work is closer to Kirby than to Kane, for example.


Neal Adams (1941-present, a Bronze Age superhero artist who helped redefine the looks of Batman, Green Arrow, the X-Men, and other D.C. and Marvel favorites)

S: I never had any interest in him at all. It’s funny, because Chester Brown and Joe Matt had a real teenage fascination with his work. They were much more interested in his illustrative approach than I was. I can remember being left completely cold by the work. In fact, I don’t think I even thought about it as a teenager. I didn’t dislike it; it just didn’t enter that area where I pulled it out to look at or to copy from. It left me cold in the same way that other artists who I considered bad left me cold. I wouldn’t have thought about Neal Adams any more than I would have thought about, like, Don Heck.

AVC: You mentioned Byrne; were you looking at George Pérez at all?

S: Yeah, I liked both of them at that time, and in retrospect, I can look back and see what I liked. I don’t think they were bad cartoonists, I just have no interest in them now. I’m not interested in reading what they’re doing today, because I’m just not interested in those kinds of comics anymore. And, I must say, I’m not really all that interested in the work I liked then, either—I don’t have a great nostalgia for it. I wouldn’t pull out like an old Byrne X-Men or something, though it sure had potency to me as a teenager. I do think they were both doing a kind of Kirby-inspired cartooning that was really appealing at the time. I sometimes think it had a lot to do with how they were inked. It was really slick work, and something about that appealed to my teenage mind. Slick in a different way than Neal Adams was slick. There was something about it that… I don’t know why you’re attracted to things, but they both seemed very rounded and shiny to me. That work really pushed my buttons as a teenager. It was fetishistic in some way.

AVC: Perez even drew little reflections off of metal and starburst gleams… effects that made the art look even shinier.

S: When I look at the bad teenage comics, I was drawing at the time, I can see a lot of the stylizations that both of them were using: those shiny reflections on metal, or the way they would use a broken line to create effects when they were drawing musculature. I sometimes think maybe Terry Austin is who I really liked; I don’t know.


Jay Lynch (1945-present, one of the original underground cartoonists, known for a style that evoked old newspaper strips)

S: I liked Jay Lynch when I read his work in the ’80s, when I was figuring out who all the underground cartoonists were, but I don’t think I felt any particular attraction to him beyond his historical importance. I certainly went out and collected all the Bijou comics. I was interested in his work. Him and Denis Kitchen both had really nice cartoony styles. Both of them appealed to me, but they didn’t produce a big enough or interesting enough body of work for me to make that deeper connection. I certainly read all Lynch’s “Nard N’ Pat” comics and strips that were around, but this again falls into that category where there weren’t enough of them—or maybe it's just that the work didn’t leave a lasting imprint on me. It was very competent and appealing, but it didn’t have within it the qualities that raised it into the camp of someone like Crumb or Spiegelman, where the ambition in the work is so high that it changes how you respond to it. If Spiegelman had only done the work in Breakdowns, he’d still be high on my list. If he’d only done Maus, he’d still be high on my list. I have a feeling Jay Lynch could’ve done 200 more pages of Nard N’ Pat strips, and it just wouldn’t make it for me. They obviously had different goals as artists, but when it comes to the underground cartoonist, I suppose my sympathies lie with the more ambitious of the lot—the Crumbs and the Spiegelmans and the Deitches.

I think to really be important to me, there’s got to be some really greater ambition in the work that makes it have a longer, deeper connection to me. That’s why with someone like Don Freeman, that one book makes all the difference for me. That one ambitious book. That one thing that defines his career in a different way than if he hadn’t done it. This is sounding really unfair to Jay Lynch. I am certainly not singling him out as an unambitious cartoonist. Far from it. As one of the original underground artists, he certainly was part of a movement that made more seminal changes in comic books then my generation could ever boast. It's just that his work didn't speak to me in the same way that some of his peers did. It just didn't have some spark that put him in my personal pantheon.


Bill Griffith (1944-present, another of the original underground wave, who later found a niche with the newspaper strip Zippy The Pinhead)

S: Bill Griffith is unfortunately in some similar category as Doonesbury. I can recognize the ambition, but almost nothing in it speaks to me directly. He’s done a couple of pieces outside of the newspaper that I think were really great, and I kind of wish he’d never got involved with doing Zippy The Pinhead. That’s the work that I don’t feel any great connection to, but, what can you say? That’s obviously his life’s work. I know he did a couple of pieces in Weirdo that I remember as more personal, direct works, in the sense that they didn’t feel like they were part of the Zippy continuity. Those spoke to me a lot more. I think actually his work in the old underground comics, like Short Order Comics with Art Spiegelman, that was the work that made me think he would be one of the cartoonists I loved the most. It was smart, and had a hard edge that appealed to me. Zippy is the problem, and Zippy is what Griffith is about. But I have this feeling he could sit down and do a graphic novel that would blow me away.

AVC: With his syndicate income, maybe he could afford to take a break and create one.

S: It’s hard to say with these sorts of things. Sometimes I think the lone graphic novel that comes at the end of a career isn’t necessarily going to turn out to be the good one that cartoonist might have had in him. But with the popularity of the form, I think this is something we’ll be seeing more of now, where veterans who haven’t actually worked in the form before will produce their one graphic novel, and it may not be a good one. I think sometimes you have to do five or 10 books to produce anything of real worth. Producing a comic strip or a serial comic book is a different animal than a comic “novel.” But you never know; sometimes that first one is the great one.

Nowadays, you’ll occasionally see a mainstream cartoonist from the past sit down to try to do a more personal book, and it’s clear that they’ve had too many years in the salt-mines of commercial work to be able to produce this other kind of work and have it connect with the audience in the right way. For example, those Joe Kubert books. As much as I admire him for doing them, somehow he couldn’t break through 50 years of doing Sgt. Rock to produce something more personal. It’s like that earlier commercial work polluted the water. You can’t just filter it out when the time comes for the graphic novel. The stink of it remains. The most interesting book I saw in that vein was from Dick Ayers, an old cartoonist from the early days of Marvel. He produced a three-volume autobiography, and it really was a total mess, but it was so earnest and uncontrolled—almost like a piece of outsider art—that it may have been the most successful personal work I’ve seen from one of those guys who worked in the mainstream.


Steve Ditko (1927-present, veteran comic-book artist who brought an idiosyncratic style to a number of mainstream adventure comics from the ’50s through the ’80s, most notably the original run of The Amazing Spider-Man)

S: Ditko’s work is totally interesting for his continuing desire to communicate. The big problem is, the later work is simply unreadable. I’d like to appreciate everything Ditko’s done since he stopped working on Spider-Man, but the truth is, it’s just not that interesting to me. I’d rather sit down and read some of those pre-hero monster books he did. I think that stuff’s always a lot of fun to read, and it’s great cartooning. Obviously it’s just cultural junk, but that’s the stuff I’d rather look at than Mr. A, or, God knows, all the stuff that followed it.


B. Kliban (1935-1990, magazine cartoonist known for his aggressive surrealism and drawings of cats)

S: I like Kliban’s work a lot, actually. I think he may be the only gag cartoonist who managed to infuse an underground sensibility into his work. I would like to see a really substantial reprinting of his stuff. I’ve got all his books, but I’m still not sure that’s all of his work. It’s certainly not the best presentation for his work. I think he died fairly young, didn’t he? It’s hard to say where he would have gone eventually. You can kind of see that he paved the way for Gary Larson, but in some way, Larson is a much less interesting cartoonist than Kliban. I think Larson was consistently funny, and he had a really particular eccentric sense of humor. I think Larson may have popularized a kind of humor that perhaps didn’t exist as fully before him in our culture. But when you look back at Kliban, who was doing something similar a few years earlier, the work is just a lot more eccentric. I know he was somewhere on the periphery of that underground scene; he knew people like Crumb, and you can see it in the work. I think possibly after maybe 1965 or something, he’s probably the most interesting gag cartoonist to come along. It’s kind of a wasteland after the classic period of The New Yorker.

AVC: Where does Roz Chast fall in that continuum?

S: She’s probably the most interesting current one. Thinking about it, I should refine that wasteland statement I just made. I would say that there have been a couple of really good gag cartoonists to come along in the post-’50s period: Wilson, Gross, Kliban… a couple others. Chast is certainly the best cartoonist to come into the New Yorker since maybe 1955. She’s just great. Gag cartooning’s an odd world now, ’cause it’s pretty much dead. There’s no market for it at all. And Chast is great, because clearly she didn’t set out to be a gag cartoonist like Charles Adams or Peter Arno or someone of that ilk. She’s someone with a great sense of humor and a perfunctory drawing style, and it came together to create a really funny, entertaining, idiosyncratic artist who found her perfect niche. I really enjoy all her work.


Jules Feiffer (1929-present, a cartooning renaissance man who helped pioneer the alt-weekly cartoon at The Village Voice, and has also worked on superhero comics, newspaper strips, children’s books, graphic novels, plays, and screenplays)

S: Feiffer’s an interesting figure. I really like Feiffer, I certainly collected all his books back in the ’80s, and I read them all repeatedly. I think I liked his earliest work best: those first three or four books. But I think as he became a more political cartoonist, I started to lose interest in him, for much the same reason that I don’t care for Doonesbury. I don’t care for a lot of Feiffer’s mid-career work, where he’s talking about Nixon or Reagan or whatever. I do think he’s an important artist. He stands alone, in some manner. You don’t really see him listed with other cartoonists as part of a movement or school. He forged his own territory, kind of like Edward Gorey. They’re off to the side.

I know that when Art Spiegelman and I were curating a show for a gallery exhibit for the Vancouver Art Gallery, we were hashing out who would be in the show, and our big conflict came over Feiffer and Schulz. We had a limited number of people who could go in. We had one spot left. I personally could not let Feiffer in if Schulz couldn’t be in, and Art could not let Schulz in if Feiffer couldn’t be in. We were both pretty much entrenched in our positions. We each had a more personal connection to one than the other. Ultimately it had to come down to a handshake agreement that neither of them was going in, and we had to pick someone else, because neither of us would back down. I think it may be a generational thing. For people of Art’s generation, Feiffer was such an important cartoonist, in the late ’50s, early ’60s. For me, I didn’t experience that period of Feiffer at all. For me, it’s Schulz who was the seminal artist—the first cartoonist I recognized as using cartooning in a personal way. I just felt way too connected to Schulz to pick Feiffer over him.

AVC: That’s funny, because those two guys are essentially contemporaries, though Peanuts wasn’t pitched directly to Feiffer’s generation.

S: I think Peanuts had a period where it was considered very adult humor, probably in the early 60s. Probably college students really glommed onto it. It was seen as very black humor with all its psychological jargon, etc. But I don’t think the cartoonists of Art’s generation liked Schulz in the way that kids who came after them did. In some ways they thought of him as a real square, and they thought of Feiffer as the guy who was telling it like it is. In fact, Art has written about how he had to come to terms with Peanuts later and had to come to understand why others thought Schulz was so great. To him and many of his hippie contemporaries, I'm guessing they thought he represented a kind of establishment ‘50s mentality.

I have to wonder if Art’s lack of interest in Schulz is in any way comparable to my lack of interest in Watterson. The younger cartoonists coming up now—I mean the ones I admire—seem to have a deep appreciation of Watterson’s work. I suspect they may be revising the canon to include him. I can understand that. Like I said, as a cartoonist you have to create your own ancestors. You change the context of the work by looking back at it. That's inevitable.

Watterson’s okay. I can see the value in his work. But he’s no Charles Schulz.
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GEORGE SPROTT reviewed by Winnipeg Free Press

Updated July 3, 2009


Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Graphic novel 'biography' work of tremendous beauty
By: Reviewed by Kenton Smith

George Sprott: 1894-1975
A Picture Novella
By Seth
Drawn and Quarterly, 96 pages, $30

To see one's life with absolute clarity -- could this be considered hell? The title character of George Sprott fears it may be. After all, how much of how we see ourselves amounts to pitiable self-delusion?
Refining many of the same themes of his successful comic book Palooka-Ville, Seth digs as deeply affecting a well of existential melancholia as you'll find in contemporary fiction. He demolishes any notions that may still linger of comics being a sub-literary form.

Seth is the pen name of the Guelph-based graphic novelist and illustrator Gregory Gallant.
His protagonist here, once a No. 1-rated television personality in Toronto, is almost completely forgotten after his death: his niece discovers the station has destroyed his entire backlog of shows, and a collector of Sprott-related memorabilia finds but one hit upon Googling his name. One of the book's most affecting images is of Sprott's reflection in a pond shattered by a ripple, underlining his insignificance.

What solace Sprott finds resides in dreams and memory: he spends much time drifting off in his office, a comforting cocoon of memorabilia and nostalgia.

But he is also haunted by nightmares of the casual cruelty he inflicted on others, wrapped up as he was in perpetuating a self-image that short-circuited genuine human connections.

Not only is George Sprott a brilliant fictional biography and character study, it functions simultaneously on the level of metafiction, questioning the very concept of biography. What, after all, defines a life? Which episodes, which experiences make us who and what we are?
For that matter, how can we really know another person? What can we know, given what information we have? How much is only a matter of what we think we know?

Sprott's life is related in episodic, fractured fashion, pieced together from testimonials of those who knew him, as well as from his own memories. Seth has made excellent use of the very medium of comics, which is well suited to this approach.
As celebrated Watchmen writer Alan Moore has repeatedly pointed out, the comics page allows an artist to plant recurring motifs that may at first seem inconsequential, but acquire significance later on. That the reader can flip back and forth between pages allows him to unpack the included information at his own pace.

In George Sprott, one such motif is Sprott repeatedly falling asleep, even on air. What looks to other characters (and to us, initially) to be the doddering of a foolish old man gains in resonance as we come to appreciate the full, sad measure of the character's preference for dreams.

Perhaps the key motif, however, is an amateurish painting of a young Inuit, supposedly painted by Sprott himself. At first it seems a mere throwaway detail; its true significance, however, must be left to the reader to discover.

Seth, who is also a gifted book designer, has done a beautiful job putting this volume together. His love of retro design can be seen in the art deco front cover, as well as in his adroit rendering of the varying architecture, clothing and graphic design of the 20th century.

The crispness of the imagery, facilitated by the book's large format (30.4" x 35.6-cm), is immensely satisfying to the eye; it's no surprise why large format editions are popular among serious comics collectors.
For that matter, the density of information on many pages, with their multiple compact panels, would be imperceptible on a smaller page.

In both content and format, George Sprott is a work of tremendous beauty. If you haven't yet become acquainted with "serious" comics, let this be your introduction.

Kenton Smith is a Winnipeg freelance writer, critic and comics enthusiast.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 28, 2009 B7


 
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  GEORGE SPROTT reviewed by The Contra Costs Times

Updated June 29, 2009


"George Sprott: 1894-1975," by Seth (Drawn & Quarterly, $24.95, 96 pages). New York Times Magazine readers are acquainted with Seth the artist and his fictional character Sprott. If you haven't encountered either, you're in for quite the treat with this oversized book, which expands on the serial featured in the magazine.
Sprott is a TV host and former explorer who, similar to Mazzucchelli's Asterio, isn't a sympathetic protoganist — a self-centered man who treated women horribly and ultimately paid the price with loneliness. The inventive Seth fills in the details about this sad character through interviews, internal musings and scenes from the hours leading up to his death. You'll be seduced into Seth's vivid, nostalgic world, and feel the melancholic loss as the people and buildings around Sprott deteriorate and fade from memory. A
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GEORGE SPROTT reviewed by NPR blog

Updated June 25, 2009


8 Practical Uses For The Giant Graphic Novel 'George Sprott, 1894-1975'


by Glen Weldon

... Once you're done reading it, that is.

And you really should read it; it's pretty great. Mononimal cartoonist Seth delivers an intriguing, multifaceted meditation on the life and death of a fictional small-time television personality.

It's a thoughtful, quietly compelling read: His omniscient narrator keeps apologizing to us for getting the details wrong, while a parade of Sprott's colleagues and family members offer up eulogies that intersect in oblique, surprising ways.

George Sprott was originally serialized in the New York Times Magazine, but now that it's been bound in a handsome single volume, you can pick up on the momentum of the thing, the intricacy of its structure and the melancholic grace of the writing.

Seth mixes in flashbacks from Sprott's life as an Arctic explorer -- we turn a page, and a coldly beautiful blue-white landscape stretches before our eyes. Turn the page again, and we're back in the sepia-toned routine of television's golden age.

And then there's the sheer size of this great honking slab of a book. At 12 inches wide and 14 inches long, George Sprott is only the latest in a slew of graphic novels that seem to have been proportioned for natives of Brobdingnag. Last year's mammoth comic anthology, Kramer's Ergot 7, clocks in at a massive 16 inches by 21 inches. Seaweed, Ben Balisteri's loopy all-ages seafaring adventure, measures 12 inches by 15 inches; even DC and Marvel's regularly published Absolute and Masterworks collected editions are super-sized.

It's easy to understand the XXL appeal of it all, though, leafing through George Sprott's gorgeous pages. You'll want to pore over the artist's clean lines and cartoony shapes, and the sheer steroidal size of the volume makes it easy.

But what are we supposed to do with the thing after we've read it? Few of us own bookshelves capacious enough to accommodate art tomes this big unless we live on the Upper West Side or inside a West Elm catalog. We can slap it on top of the coffee table, sure -- but that's only a temporary solution, as a home has only so much surface area. Eventually we'll need to cede that precious coffee table real estate back to, you know, coffee.

Herewith, some repurposing suggestions.

1. Cutting Board
Not dishwasher-safe, duh.

2. Lap Desk
Also: TV tray.

3. Windshield Sun Reflector (Smart Car)

4. Owl-Swatter
In fact, a hearty smack with the broad side of this book would prove equally effective against most of the small-to-mid-sized creatures of land or air that may beset you in your travels, so let's go ahead and consider it a bat-stunner/mole-whacker/ocelot-basher/coyote-knocker/tapir-thrasher/hawk-paster/wolf-spanker/boar-clubber/puma-socker/basilisk-puncher/harpy-whomper/roc-smiter and, for good measure, a perfectly serviceable ROUS -cudgel.

5. Art Deco Cheese Plate
Your turn to host the book club? Set out the Monchego and Montrachet in a cheeky way that says, "I read books!"

6. Limo Driver's Sign for Airport Pick-ups
Given the cover design, it's obviously well-suited for those occasions when picking up clients named George Sprott. But it does prominently feature a large image of a fat bald white guy, so it's also likely to work when picking up auto executives, government officials or that one old dude from Cocoon.

7. Crawlspace Baby Gate
Show off your indie cred while keeping Junior out of the air vents.

8. Sushi Boat

 
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  GEORGE SPROTT reviewed by NOW Magazine

Updated June 22, 2009


The right Sprott
SETH'S LATEST IS SO PRECIOUS, YOU DON'T LEAVE HOME WITH IT
DAVID SILVERBERG

Let’s get one thing straight: Seth is an extremely talented artist.

The graphic novelist known for Palooka-ville and Wimbledon Green knows when to hold back on filling a panel with too much art. He’s the master of the subtle nudge, allowing empty space to say more than a dozen thought-bubbles.

In his latest masterpiece, Seth not only displays his artistic depth but also his penchant for storytelling.

George Sprott tells the tale of a host of a long-running Canadian television program. The show focuses on Arctic journeys and Inuit lifestyles, chronicling Sprott’s own northern adventures. The inventive part of the book is that the story is told through short interviews with those who knew Sprott, both on and off screen. It works well, even if an omniscient narrator becomes a bit annoying at times.

Sprott is a troubled man, and Seth makes him come alive through his nightmares and mumbled regrets. There are several panels where nothing happens, just Sprott staring off into the distance, as if the reader should fill in the blanks.

If you’ve ever seen Seth or heard about his home, you know the cartoonist loves anything before the 1960s. His passion for nostalgia infuses the book with honesty that can’t be faked.

A warning to interested buyers: George Sprott is not a slim book you can throw into your backpack and read on the subway.

As a large coffee table-type book, it gives Seth more breathing room and lets him craft panoramic scenes. It’s not the most portable graphic novel out there, but Seth’s latest is the kind of book you don’t want leaving your house. In a way, it’s much too precious.


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GEORGE SPROTT reviewed by Comic Book Resources

Updated June 22, 2009


Robot reviews: George Sprott
Posted on June 19, 2009 - 02:00 PM by Chris Mautner


My father in law passed away earlier this year. He was born in 1929, the son of immigrants, a first-generation American. I often wonder what it was like for him, watching his parents’ culture and way of life fade away as he grew up and then watching his own culture and everything he spent his adulthood embracing all but completely eradicated as he passed into old age.

That may be the great curse of the 20th century. Technology and the world has changed so rapidly that we often had little time to turn around and miss whatever was behind us before it got steamrolled over to make room for the new mini-mall. Not that there weren’t things that needed paving over, mind you, just that we rarely had time to reflect.


Nostalgia, loss and the unstoppable passage of time are just a few of the central themes to Seth’s latest book, George Sprott. Originally serialized in the New York Times in 2007, Seth has revised and expanded the original tale, and wrapped it up in a handsome oversize edition, ultimately forging a profound and moving .

The book focuses on the life of times of its title character, a Canadian TV host, whose sole claim to fame is a few trips he took up north to the cold Canadian wilderness, fancying himself an adventurer. Sprott managed to turn his adventures into a career and spent the rest of his life embellishing and rehashing them, either on his show or on the lecture circuit. By the end he was an obese, tired old man, given to falling asleep on camera and speaking to an increasingly dwindling audience.

We learn about Sprott mostly through the eyes of a variety of characters who talk directly to the reader, documentary style. Co-workers, family members, fans and acquaintances all offer up their stories, aided and abetted by a less-then-trustworthy narrator whose frequent apologies and forgetful lapses become something of a running joke (”As an omniscient narrator, I realize I leave much to be desired.”).

In between we get brief snippets from Sprott’s life, just enough to get a flavor of the man, such as when he receives the news of his father’s death. Sadly, Sprott ultimately comes off as a bore and more than a bit of a bastard. Though he engenders deep love from his niece and fans, his faults are plentiful and glaring (to list them would spoil the story).

It’s to Seth’s credit then, that Sprott remains a sympathetic and even at times likable character. He makes it clear how Sprott’s bad behavior arises from his own insecurities and unwillingness to allow any introspection or self-reflection. Plus, the guy has such a charming air about him that it doesn’t seem completely unreasonable that he’d be able to carry a TV show about the Canadian arctic for 30-plus years.

Naturally, a character like George Sprott would never have been able to become a minor celebrity today, a point Seth drives home again and again, reminding us how the modern world has rendered him all but completely forgotten. Sprott pays homage to a time when local TV was as essential as national, and kiddie shows and horror movie hosts were known entities.

Of course, a wistfulness for a bygone era is Seth’s stock in trade. He’s explored similar themes in works like Clyde Fans, Wimbeldon Green (which this book most closely resembles) and It’s a Good Life If You Don’t Weaken. I admired, however, how Seth was able to enrich and explore those themes more deeply this time around — this isn’t a retread of a familiar tune, but a song given full orchestration until it sounds lush and full of subtle passages you hadn’t noticed before.

Seth attempts a number of narrative tricks that are worth noting. I already mentioned the odd narrator. He also, as he did in the recent, oversize Kramer’s Ergot, divides up the page into little sub-sections, so that a rumination on the history of the TV station Sprott worked for will have a short, nine-panel interview over to the far right side, while the bottom strip runs portraits of various co-workers. It’s an interesting way to break up the page’s rhythm. Indeed, Seth seems to be obsessed with making your eyes pause and he tries a variety of tricks — different colors, different sized panels — to break your flow. He’ll even slow down the book to a near halt to offer a lovely two-page vista or a photograph of one of his cardboard models, built to resemble the buildings Sprott frequents.

It’s important to emphasize that this isn’t some simpering “oh gosh, life sure was swell then” nostaliga piece — his wisftulness is well tempered with the knowledge of how such feelings can easily lead to a pathetic bathos, sentimentalism or worse. No, more than anything, George Sprott is a simple and eloquent reminder of how impermenent everything is; how, in the words of Sprott “One day you’re 30 years old, and the next, you look up and there’s an old man in the mirror.” No doubt my father-in-law would have identified with that line. It’s a shame I never got to point it out to him.

 
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  Adrian and Seth in SF Weekly

Updated June 16, 2009


Adrian Tomine and Seth
Date/Time:Thu., June 18, 7:30pm
Price: Free
Contact Info: | Event Website

From Sacto, Northern Cal
By Michael Leaverton

Most writers hate their juvenilia: Adrian Tomine spends nearly the whole introduction of 32 Stories, a rerelease of his collected early work, slamming it. He uses the words “amateurish, scattershot, affected, and deeply derivative.” The title he picked “kills” him, because he put himself in the company of J.D. Salinger (Nine Stories) and Donald Barthelme (Forty and Sixty Stories). So, why is he putting it all out there again? Because he has a smart, persuasive publisher, Chris Oliveros of Drawn & Quarterly, and both of them had a great idea: Release the seven issues of Optic Nerve, which Tomine started self-publishing during high school in Sacramento, in the original Kinko’d, pamphleted form, then ship them out in a box. It’s like opening a time capsule from the early '90s, when Pavement ruled and everyone was tired. The copies, going from raw and dark to slick and clean as Tomine's stature rose, are faithful to the original works, right down to the letters, notes, ads, and Berkeley mailing address (which you should not use; God knows who owns it now). Today, at In Conversation: Adrian Tomine and Seth, he trades stories and pictures with a fellow now-aboveground hero (and fellow New Yorker illustrator) Gregory Gallant, to celebrate the release of five books between them.
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32 Stories: Special Edition Box Set




Seth interveiwed by Time Out Chicago

Updated June 12, 2009


Boring can be interesting: An interview with Seth
Posted in Books by Jonathan Messinger on June 10th, 2009 at 8:29 pm

Cartoonist Seth has built a career on writing about the quiet march of the everyday. In his new book (originally serialized in the New York Times Magazine), George Sprott: 1894-1975, he tells the story of a minor legend in (fictional) Canadian broadcasting history. In advance of his reading tonight, we chatted with him about nostalgia, tiny houses and why boring can be exciting.

JM: How did the story change, going from the New York Times Magazine to a book?

Seth: I thought the easiest way to tell the story in the magazine would be, especially since you don’t really know who’s reading it week to week or whether they’re really following it, to try and make each chapter or each page self-contained, yet linked of course to all the other pages. So that people could read a page and if they never picked it up again they would still have some sense of beginning, middle and end. But of course when you sit down to do a book that makes a very different reading experience. The good thing about it is, was that it was easy to add material in between because everything was already like a series of standalone pieces or roughly standalone. And once I decided it was going to be fragmented like that and basically allow the reader to add it all up themselves, that made it actually fairly easy to expand it out into a book.
JM: That fragmentary nature also lends it a documentary feel.

Seth: It does. It’s funny, having characters interviewed of course immediately makes you think of a documentary but the funny thing is like, I’ve had a few people comment or I’ve read a few things about it, where someone will say, they’ve wondered who’s doing the interviewing and who are these people speaking to. And that was like a thought that never even occurred to me. To me it’s almost like more of a ghost experience where you as the reader are sort of like a ghost floating into his world, sort of looking at the figments of his life.

JM: I was wondering about who was doing the interviewing. There’s the one part, kind of early on, where one of George’s colleagues from the TV station mentions there’s a lost video tribute to George. So I assumed that was where the interviews came from.

Seth: Oh, OK, that’s an interesting concept. I like to hear that sort of stuff because that never occurred to me in the least. But I like that idea. That’s actually pretty good.

JM: Well, good work.

Seth: Thank you. Sometimes people tell you stuff and after a while you do start to think you did it on purpose, but that’s just a good interpretation

JM: It seems like all of your books are really character- driven, you like to write about these single characters.

Seth: Yeah, actually I have a hard time even considering plot, to tell you the truth. It’s like I don’t think in those terms. Automatically, when I think of a story, like if I was to start planning another book, it starts immediately with I start thinking of somebody’s life and more that sweep of their life rather than a particular incident in it. I really think it all just relates to the simple fact that both my parents were very…they talked to me an awful lot about their lives. And they were both much older than me. They both were born like in the ’20s. so I grew up listening to these old stories all the time. And they were both storyteller types. And I think that kind of impressed itself in the back of my mind. I don’t think I realized this till about maybe 10 years ago, but I think that’s kind of why every story I do is sort of an old person relating their life, it’s my idea of what a story is.

JM: That’s interesting.

Seth: But sometimes I do feel restrained by it. I am planning a new graphic novel that I’ll probably start in a couple of years, and I immediately decided it’s got to have a wider range of characters, so I’m going to try to do a bit more of an ensemble piece with 6 characters, or 5 characters, but I have to say already they’re all old people. So it’s already in the same camp, I can’t get away from it.

JM: So you’ll start in a couple of years, is that because you’re working on something else now?

Seth: Yeah I’m finishing up my Clyde Fans story, which has been taking forever. I’m going to spend the next year and a half finishing it and that should put an end to that and then I can move on.

JM: That ought to feel good.

Seth: It will feel good. I think I might have a party at the end. It has taken so long. I think I’m actually going to have a banquet and invite a bunch of people. Sit down and have, like, a retirement party.

JM: That seems to fit in thematically with your…

Seth: Exactly.

JM: Reading about what people say about your work, there’s always this sense that your work is exploring nostalgia for decades past. Do you think that it’s nostalgia?

Seth: No, I don’t. I hate the word nostalgia, actually, and I see it every single time there’s any reference to my work. I’ve grown used to it but it always gets under my skin because I think nostalgia has a bad connotation. It always implies a sort of sickly sweet looking back towards a golden age of some kind, even if it’s in your life. Now I certainly think there’s a lot of longing for things in my work or, like, under the surface but it’s not necessarily for the past. And, you know, nostalgia’s tied up with longing for the toys you had when you were a kid or being interested in old TV shows or things like that. And that just seems so hopelessly shallow. Not that we don’t all do it. but it does seem like a shallow thing to be an artistic theme. So it does kind of wear me down at times.

JM: And you can’t really be nostalgic for 1935, you weren’t alive…

Seth: Yeah exactly. You could have, I’m not sure what you’d even call it, but you could certainly be looking at the past with rose-colored glasses. And I do have my own crank theories about what were better time periods and stuff like that. But it’s mostly just based on aesthetics. I do think that 1925 is probably, in my mind, somewhere around there is like the aesthetic peak of our culture. And it’s been kind of rolling downhill since then. But that doesn’t mean I think everything was even aesthetically was better back then. Some things got better, some things got much worse. But I certainly don’t think 1925 was a better time to live necessarily, especially if you’re not like a privileged white person.

JM: Throughout the book there are these sort of cardboard models of the building which I thought were gorgeous; can you tell me a little bit about how that happened?

Seth: Yeah, they’re part of a city I’m building actually. I have about 50 of them at the moment. I was planning a story, a graphic novel that actually will probably never happen. It was going to be set in the city of Dominion, which is where George lives, and it was going to be a bunch of characters with separate chapters on each one. So at some point I decided I needed to make up the history of the town. I thought 100 or 200 pages on the history of the town, before you get to the characters, would be kind of interesting.

But then I was like, how am I going to start that? So I thought I’d make up a business in my notebook and then roughly figure out some ideas about that. And for some reason I made a little model of the first or the second business maybe I was working on. And I liked the process. I just did it for fun. And I liked it because it gave me time to think what the building’s history was while I was building it. And so I made another and another. And after I had about five it just seemed like an idea to just keep going and so I did. (And the funny thing is that that plan actually really did work out. Now it’s like 9 years later, I know this town pretty well. At some point I eventually reached a point where a map developed and a history.

JM: And now they’re touring around as an exhibit; do you think that’s the extent of it then?

Seth: It’s hard to say. I go back and forth on it. Every once in a while I do think maybe I should just do the history of the town as a big book. Like just sit down and just pour out, try and come up with a quick drawing style and try to do it, like 6- or 700 pages. And just let it stand almost like those kinds of books you’d buy, like a town history. It crosses my mind. I like it because it sounds kind of boring, too. I am kind of interested in things that are boring.

 
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  Seth and Adrian Tomine in The Philadelphia City Paper

Updated June 4, 2009


Appearing at the Free Library on Tuesday are two frequent New Yorker illustrators and big clues that we are in a great age of the graphic novel. The new one by mono-monikered Seth, George Sprott (1894-1975) (Drawn and Quarterly), is the stylish and deceptively dark life story of a news anchor. Adrian Tomine 's Shortcomings (also D&Q) concerns the rocky relationship of Miko and Ben, twentysomethings whose flaws are likably typical. Tomine's a master of pouring real emotion into tight black-and-white panels.
- Patrick Rapa
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Seth and Adrian Tomine in The Chicago Reader

Updated June 4, 2009


Antiques Road Show
Young fogey cartoonists Adrian Tomine and Seth discuss their own work and some neglected masters at Quimby’s.

Seth George Sprott (1894-1975)
Doug Wright The Collected Doug Wright: Canada's Master Cartoonist (1949-1962)
John Stanley Melvin Monster, Volume 1
Adrian Tomine 32 Stories, Shortcomings
Yoshihiro Tatsumi A Drifting Life (Drawn & Quarterly)

By Ben Schwartz

t the height of his fame as America’s “happy hippy cartoonist,” Robert Crumb turned down an offer to do an album cover for the Rolling Stones. Though his artwork graced the sleeve of Big Brother & the Holding Company’s Cheap Thrills, Crumb had no interest in the Summer of Love, and especially not in its music. Janis Joplin was a personal friend and a comics fan, and anyway he needed the $600. But he considered the Stones insufferable posers—like Blueshammer in Ghost World—and found it lamentable that women preferred Mick Jagger to, say, your average underground cartoonist. A few years later he even formed his own band to play more authentic roots blues and country. Not that it slowed the Stones down any.

Crumb might’ve been the first cartoonist to wear his anachronism on his sleeve, but he won’t be the last: that gamut runs from Kim Deitch to Drew Friedman to Chris Ware to Jason. Two members in good standing of this society, Seth and Adrian Tomine appear this week at Quimby’s to discuss their most recent projects, all of which are backward-looking in one way or another.

The two have six “new” products between them. Seth’s plugging an expanded version of his serial for the New York Times, George Sprott (1894-1975), as well as the first volumes of The Collected Doug Wright, which he conceived, edited, and designed, and The John Stanley Library, which he designed. Tomine’s got reissues of his own Shortcomings and 32 Stories and a new autobiographical work from Japan’s Yoshihiro Tatsumi, A Drifting Life, that he edited, designed, and lettered.

Seth’s George Sprott is the “biography” of a fictional Canadian TV personality. “Arctic explorer, television host, raconteur, beloved uncle or opportunist, philanderer, deadbeat father, self-centered bore?” asks the jacket copy; it’s no spoiler to say the title character is all of the above. Sprott, inspired by an actual Detroit talk show host who had a habit of falling asleep as his guests droned on, dreams of his past as he dozes. The defining episode is an affair he had with an Inuit woman during his travels; though he fathers a child with her, he never sees her again. Framing his own memories is a Citizen Kane-style reconstruction of his life as retold by friends, family, and coworkers.

For the book version, Seth grew the story by half and even included photographs of Dominion, a fictional midcentury Canadian city he’s been building out of cardboard for the past decade that serves as the setting for Sprott’s life. He has a real gift for creating comforting locales and exteriors populated by emotionally collapsed (if well-attired) figures.

Tomine may not have built himself a 1950s city out of cardboard, but he’s immersed himself in the mid-20th century as seen through the eyes of pioneering Japanese cartoonist Yoshihiro Tatsumi. Readers know Tomine best from his New Yorker fiction-issue covers and his autobiographical Optic Nerve, which he began in high school as a series of minicomics xeroxed at a Kinko’s in Sacramento and from which both 32 Stories and Shortcomings were culled, but he’s also been editing and designing Tatsumi’s North American releases since 2005.

On the surface, there probably couldn’t be bigger gap between Tomine’s coming of age in sleepy Sacto and Tatsumi’s during the American occupation of Japan. Then again, the struggle to put out independent, literary comics in the North American market of the late 80s and early 90s—dominated as it was by direct sales superhero shops—has its parallels in Tatsumi’s story. Tatsumi more or less invented literary comics in Japan, a style he called gekiga (which translates as “dramatic pictures”) and in A Drifting Life sets his own struggle to break free of the boys’ world of manga comics against Japan’s struggle to redefine its identity after the war. He opens the story on the day of the emperor’s surrender in 1945, with his countrymen literally on their knees, and ends it in 1960, during the riots over the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty, which trigger in the cartoonist an epiphany about the nature of his own work.

To begin one’s career in literary comics when Seth and Tomine did also meant breaking your own ground. A young Jonathan Lethem or Rick Moody could read any number of new novels by his peers. But for an aspiring graphic novelist, there was Art Spiegelman, Will Eisner, the Hernandez brothers, Harvey Pekar . . . after that, the list got thin. If you wanted more, pre-eBay, you started scouring used bookstores and the dime bin at the comics shop. And once you’d done all that legwork, of course, you wanted to share.

Seth, for instance, ran across John Stanley’s mid-1960s work in the dime bins. Best known for scripting Little Lulu (currently in reprints from Dark Horse), Stanley quit comics, reportedly with some animosity, in the early 70s. But before he did he created several titles of his own, including Melvin Monster, Kookie, and Thirteen Going on Eighteen. Seth would eventually write a piece on this later work for the Comics Journal, under editor Tom Devlin. It was Devlin, now at Drawn & Quarterly, who contacted Seth about designing the new Stanley series.

An idiosyncratic humorist, Stanley often opened with a simple premise that he’d extend far beyond a one-dimensional joke. With Melvin Monster, publisher Dell surely hoped to cash in on the mid-1960s craze for sitcoms like The Munsters and The Addams Family: Melvin, the good little monster, is a huge disappointment to his evil parents, Mummy and Baddy. But Stanley pushes beyond the obvious gags, and Melvin becomes a somewhat disturbing mix of child abuse and slapstick, set in monster suburbia—a Monsters, Inc. without the Pixar sugar. In one story Baddy sends sissy Melvin to their horrific basement to make a real monster out of him, forgetting about the caged-up beasts that will surely devour his son—not that he tries to save him once he remembers. Melvin survives, then tricks his dad into going down into the basement himself.

Seth also designed The Collected Doug Wright: Canada’s Master Cartoonist, Volume 1. Wright (1917-1983) drew the perennially popular Doug Wright’s Family, aka Nipper— the name of the monkey wrench of a toddler thrown into the family’s postwar largesse.

Nipper’s sole focus appears to be destroying family property—toys, cars, clothes, food—at maximum inconvenience to his father. Wright drew the strips vertically, to be read from top to bottom, and without dialogue, and made trademark use of a single spot color, bright red, to compose panels, emphasize emotion, or simply identify the main character to the reader. One strip might have a red coat or hat, another red shadows, another a single red z over a snoozing baby.

Wright’s appeal to Seth is obvious—there’s his perfectly executed, light design and line, and then there’s the simple central conflict of a family just trying to do anything peaceably—picnic, shop, fish, eat dinner. The anachronists only wish life could be so simple. That’s the difference between them and the nostalgists, who believe it was.

In the introductions to both the 1995 and the new edition of 32 Stories, Tomine admits that many of his early minicomics still send a chill of embarrassment up his spine. For the ’95 edition, they were edited into a single slender volume, with “patterned endpapers, metallic Pantone ink, and what’s referred to in the book business as ‘French flaps,’” as if to give them more collective weight—which he now thinks just made things worse. When he reluctantly agreed to a reprint, Tomine made a compromise with his publisher, who wanted the book expanded: he would include everything, but in the original format—a box set of xeroxed pamphlets and minicomics. Nostalgic on the face of it—but from Tomine’s point of view, more honest. One thing it undeniably shows—this generation of literary cartoonists finally has a past of its own.


 
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Adrian Tomine

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George Sprott: (1894-1975)
32 Stories: Special Edition Box Set




  GEORGE SPROTT reviewed by The Oregonian

Updated June 4, 2009


George Sprott: 1894-1975
by Steve Duin, The Oregonian
Wednesday June 03, 2009, 5:33 PM

I'm at a loss as to where to begin.

Having proven that he could carefully box his genius for design and storytelling into the tight package of Wimbledon Green, Seth has let it all hang out in the gloriously oversized "picture novella," George Sprott.

The 12-inch by 14-inch book from Drawn & Quarterly is an expansive retelling of the biography the Canadian cartoonist fed to us in small bites in The New York Times' Sunday magazine, and a cinematic showcase for Seth's instinct for design. Every element -- the test-pattern endpapers, the chapter dividers, the full-page cardboard reconstructions of the radio station, the Melody Grill and the other major building blocks in George's life -- are so exquisitely timed and rendered that were I to win the next Powerball lottery, I would pay millions to have Seth fly down here and re-design my library, my waning years, my tomb.

But wedged in the folds of this novella are the pieces of an elaborate puzzle, presented as the interviews, reminisces and daily rushes of a documentary on the life of the corpulent, haunted Mr. Sprott. Those --- flesh out Seth's preoccupation with loss and nostalgia even if they fail to fully explain the host of "Northern Hi-Lights."

When we are introduced to Sprott in 1975, he is only hours removed from the heart attack that will kill him, attended by the niece, Daisy, who is the last person alive still under the illusion that George Sprott cares about anyone but himself.

I don't know that George Sprott is really about the power of illusion, given that the reader understands very early that the Arctic adventurer and Canadian media personality. Seth's interviews with CKCK's former weatherman, Sprott's daughter and the manager of the hotel where Sprott moved after his wife died casually pull the curtain back on the "fat old man at a desk, showing ancient silent films of the Arctic while droning on in a monotone voice."

But along the way, George Sprott also garners a degree of sympathy for the lost souls and squandered opportunities in his wake. When he was too young and stupid to know better, he fathered a child and abandoned her mother in the Great White North, and they come to symbolize everything that we surrender before we understood their value.

I suspect I'm sounding my age. The 24-year-old readers won't be as forgiving of the old man when they hear him speak on memory, "I have tried hard to live a life undisturbed by the past. However, old age has a way of bringing it all back to you. And with a potency that is completely unexpected."

In the end, George Sprott doesn't fit together quite as neatly as Wimbledon Green, largely because Seth is dealing with bigger issues and ambiguities ... and lives don't lend themselves quite as readily as books to a grand design.

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Seth interview in EnRoute Magazine

Updated June 3, 2009


Seth
The cartoonist discusses the real versus the imaginary and what keeps him up at night.

By Alexandra Redgrave
Illustration by Silja Götz

Have you ever taken a life-changing trip?
I’ve certainly had trips that have had a profound effect on me. About 15 years ago, I drove to Prince Edward Island in an old 1971 Chrysler Valiant, and there was some uncertainty as to whether the car would make it. It was a great experience. I just drove and drove all day.

Do you find reading is similar to travelling?
Of course, nothing’s really the same as travelling; first-person experience is something you can’t capture in any other way. But reading a book can be a rich and lasting experience. Just recently, I read Tolstoy’s very emotional and deeply profound The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Master and Man; they kept me up all night thinking.

Do you prefer to set your stories in real or imaginary places?
The earlier part of my life was about accumulating details from the real world and now I’m translating them into fiction.

For readers, you are a travel guide of sorts.
To some degree, yes. Recently I’ve become more interested in place over character. I almost feel like I could throw away the characters and just focus on the places. There’s something artificial about engaging a reader with a plot and pulling them through a story with drama. I’m intrigued when the description of the objects in a room tells you everything you need to know about a person. I’d rather read 100 pages about what’s in a character’s house.

Is taking a journey in your mind more appealing than travelling in reality?
I’m a homebody for sure. I spend an awful lot of time by myself because I’m a cartoonist. But sometimes even a walk downtown can turn out to be remarkably significant.

Age 46
Profession Cartoonist and graphic designer
Location Guelph, Ontario
Claim to fame Three graphic novels; has illustrated two New Yorker covers
Latest project George Sprott (1894–1975),a graphic novel
Last vacation Ottawa
Next vacation Prairies road trip
Travel essentials Victorian ghost stories
Favourite souvenir A page from a graphic novel given to him by cartoonist and friend Chris Ware in Chicago



 
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  GEORGE SPROTT reviewed by Comic Book Resources

Updated June 3, 2009


Chris Mautner’s pick of the week: George Sprott, 1894-1975 hardcover

Seth’s serialized story of the life and times of a psuedo-explorer turned has-been Canadian TV host won lots of accolades when it was serialized in The New York Times a year or two ago. No doubt more accolades will follow now that the story has been expanded and collected in an oversize hardcover volume, courtesy of Drawn & Quarterly. No doubt familiar readers will expect dollops of the nostalgia and longing for a bygone era that’s punctuated Seth’s work. That’s certainly here, but also explored here are regret, fear, the sorrow of old age and death, and the horrible mistakes we make trying to find our place in the world. I’m making the book sound like a slog through despondency, but really it’s about as lyrical and graceful and humane a comic as you’ll probably come across this year.
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Seth adn Adrian Tomine interveiwed by Newcity Lit

Updated June 3, 2009



 
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Adrian Tomine

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A Drifting Life
32 Stories: Special Edition Box Set




  Seth and Adrian Tomine interveiwed by Newcity Lit

Updated June 3, 2009



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Adrian Tomine

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A Drifting Life
32 Stories: Special Edition Box Set




Seth interview by The Gothamist

Updated June 1, 2009


Seth, Graphic Novelist

f you know graphic novels, you probably know Seth (born Gregory Gallant). The comic illustrator and writer's work has been on New Yorker covers, in the complete collection of Charles M. Schulz's classic comic strip Peanuts, on an Aimee Mann cd cover, in the NY Times magazine, and of course in his own works like Palooka-ville. This week Seth and fellow illustrator Adrian Tomine will bring their book tour through New York (Thursday at the Strand and Saturday and Sunday at MoCCA). He recently told us about what he's working on now, spending his last day on earth at the Whitney, and the dangers of changing ones name when going through a goth phase.

Your about to start a book tour, is there any one thing that fans ask you the most? The number one question I receive is "When is Clyde Fans, Book two" coming out. It is a deeply shaming question because I have been working on this book for years and I still have a couple of years work ahead of me to finish it. It makes me look bad. But honestly—I'm working on it right now!

Does everyone call you Seth? When/why the name change? Yes, Everyone. I changed my name for the most pretentious of reasons back in the eighties when I was punky/gothy youth and wanted a scary name. I forced everyone to use the new name—even my mother. I would relentlessly correct anyone who accidentally used my real name until it became second nature to everyone.

I'm not so crazy about the fake name now. Be careful what you wish for because you might get it.

How do you feel about comics and graphic novels becoming feature films—would you ever experiment with that medium? It's fine with me , but of no more interest that the novel to film path. The only important fact is whether or not it's a good film. Usually they end up as different animals. If someone wanted to film my work I wouldn't be opposed to the idea. Especially if they were a good director or had a lot of cash to give me. I wouldn't want to be much involved myself. I love film but I am not an aspiring filmmaker. I'd rather stay home and work on my comics.

What are you currently working on? The aforementioned "Clyde Fans" storyline. My comic book series PALOOKAVILLE will be changing format this year from an old style floppy comic book to a slick little hardcover book format (about 80 pages in length). I've been serializing CLYDE FANS in PALOOKAVILLE for years and that will continue but the book will also showcase other works of mine, as well—my sketchbooks for example.

Is there an era you haven't worked in yet that you'd like to set a future graphic novel in? Maybe the future. That often crosses my mind. Like everyone, I have a post apocalyptic story in the back of my mind. It contains no zombies or leather jackets though.

Are there any up and coming graphic novelists whose work you're excited about right now? There are lots of younger cartoonists that have come up in the last decade who I think are fantastic—Kevin Huizenga, Sammy Harkham, Jonathan Bennett, David Heatley, Ron Rege—a handful of others. I hesitate to make too tight a list for fear of forgetting someone important. I am quite enthused about a young canadian named Ethan Rilley who just published his first comic—POPE HATS.

If someone is just starting to get into the world of comics and graphic novels, where would you suggest they start? Mini comics, I guess. Just draw your own comics and zerox them and get them out there. There is a whole world of young minicomics artist s and it seems like a very supportive and vital place to tap into if you are just starting out. Comics fesitivals like MOCCA, TCAF, APE and SPX are good places for young cartoonists to get a feel for the medium and the "industry". If you are any good you will find your way. There is really no other way to be an artist then to simply do the work.

What was the experience like of seeing your work in the NY Times magazine and on the cover of the New Yorker? My first cover for the New Yorker was "killed" before it went to press and that was a pretty big disappointment. So when the next opportunity arose I was emotionally prepared for failure. When it saw press I think I ruined it for myself by being too guarded.

In retrospect though that was a major milestone for me. I have had such a deep and abiding love of the cartoonists of the old New Yorker that it was a very important moment to somehow "connect" myself with that tradition. It's nice to have accomplished it and not have that unfinished goal hanging over my head. Every new cover is just gravy on the main dish.

Being in the Times was a great thrill because it was such a prestigious venue for my work. It reached an audience that likely would never have seen it otherwise.

However being a cartoonist is not like being in a band. You don't get to see anyone read the work. At best you vaguely perceive the work going out into the world. You're still all alone in the studio. Nobody applauds.

Is there anywhere your illustrations haven't been that you would like to see them? Nothing leaps to mind. I wish I had had some comics in RAW magazine or in WEIRDO but both those magazines are long dead and I don;t have a time machine. I mean, I was alive when those magazines were published and I could have had something in them, I guess, except for the simple fact that my work was utterly terrible back them.

What influences your illustrations and novels? Everything. It's a bad answer but it is true. What I'm reading, what I'm watching. Art i look at. Other cartoonists.

When it comes to the writing I mostly look to my own life—to my past. Often things get mixed up with whatever I am currently interested in. With George Sprott much of the story came out of myself and the people I have known but I made him a local tv host because I was very interested in local tv history at the time I started the story. If I had been reading about lumberjacks, for example, he might have ended up working in the lumber trade.

My drawing takes less influence then it used to. When I was young every new favourite artist left some mark on my drawing. Now, as a middle aged man, I find the drawing is pretty set it stone. Mostly I am responding to my own work—refining or trying to simplify. It takes less inspiration from other works. But, that's not entirely true—every few years I come across someone that makes me rethink how I am drawing. You never know.

What music are you currently listening to? When i was younger I listened to a lot of Jazz and Blues but not so much lately. My taste is more scattered. I listen to a lot of Maritime fiddlers. Some folk music. Not long ago a friend gave me a sountrack album for CHARIOTS OF THE GODS and I listened to that for a couple of weeks pretty much constantly. However the main music I listen to is Glenn Gould. Everyday I listen to Glenn.

Please share your strangest "only in New York" story. I'm not sure I have really anything good that fits this question. I've thought long and hard about it and I can't seem to dredge up a good New York anecdote.

I do recall at one book signing there was a guy who refused to believe that I wasn't also the artist Maurice Vellecoop. I kept telling the guy that Maurice was a real person and not one of my pseudonyms . Our drawing styles are somewhat alike but that didn't seem good enough justification for this fellow's conviction. More bothersome was the fact that Vellecoop mostly draws pretty hardcore gay imagery. I'm not sure what signals I'm sending out unconsciously because it seems to me I'm the the person least likely to be doing such work—I'm really uptight! And it shows!

Which New Yorker do you most admire? God, what a question. That could cover anyone from Harold Ross to Joseph Mitchell to J.D. Salinger. I guess I will limit the question by sticking to comtempory cartoonists. Art Spiegelman's an obvious choice, I so greatly admire his masterpiece, MAUS and art is just such a smart and funny person. But I'd have mention Ben Katchor too. His work is so beautiful. So rich. I know you only wanted one—but I am picking those two guys.

In 24 hours the world will end, you are in NYC, what do you spend your last day on earth doing? Well—I might just spend the time in my hotel room on the phone with my wife. But if that's not possible I guess I'd head up to the Whitney and spend some time with Alexander Calder's Circus.

 
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  GEORGE SPROTT reviewed by The Onion

Updated June 1, 2009


Canadian cartoonist Seth had something of an epiphany a few years back, when he dashed off the quickie graphic novella Wimbledon Green in his sketchbook while he was still mired in the slow-developing graphic novel Clyde Fans. For years, his output had been limited, but lately the floodgates have been open, and while Clyde Fans still sits unfinished, the tide of sketchbooks, memoirs, sculptures, magazine covers, and anthology designs that Seth has turned out over the past five years have more than compensated. The latest project to roll swiftly off Seth’s drawing board is George Sprott 1894-1975 (D&Q) an oversized, hardbound graphic novella that expands on a series of serialized one-pagers Seth drew for The New York Times Magazine. The title character is a fictional arctic adventurer turned TV host, and the story presents a Citizen Kane-like series of reflections on the late hero’s life and times. Seth strains a little for poignancy in some places, but in an indie-comics marketplace glutted with memoirs, abstraction, and clichéd melodrama, its refreshing to see an artist construct a subtle, well-realized made-up world out of half-forgotten places and characters who might’ve-been. George Sprott’s subject is nothing less than mortality itself, and how a person, a place, an emotion, and even a memory can cease to exist. What’s wonderful about Seth’s current high level of production is that he’s working hard to assure his own enduring legacy, while also mapping out a lived-in vision of our collective past to supplant the one rapidly fading from the popular consciousness… A-
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DOUG WRIGHT reviewed by COmic Book Resources

Updated May 29, 2009


Robot reviews: The Collected Doug Wright

Posted on May 28, 2009 - 01:07 PM by Chris Mautner

The Collected Doug Wright Vol. 1
Edited by Seth and Brad Mackay
Drawn and Quarterly, 240 pages, $39.95.

The first thing you notice is the line. It’s usually rail-thin, although it will sometimes gracefully thicken when forming the back slope of a character’s head or traveling along someone’s back or legs. It’s simple, and seemingly unfussed, but it’s never less than assured, capable of rendering just about anything with clarity and aplomb, be it a typical 1950s suburban neighborhood, a mud-soaked little boy or the wood paneling on a corner table.

Were that all Doug Wright had to offer comics, it would be enough to merit attention. The medium is filled with great and talented artists, but few are capable of the charming effortlessness that’s on display in The Collected Doug Wright, the first of two volumes designed to bring a renewed appreciation to the Canadian cartoonist.

Indeed, one of the artists he most draws parallels with is his American contemporary Hank Ketcham, and not just because both are largely known for their strips about over exuberant little boys — Ketcham with Dennis the Menace and Wright with Nipper. The difference, however, lies in the substance behind the drawing. Ketcham is rightly revered as a superb craftsman, but one who nevertheless leaned heavily on a stock gag formula that over the years relied less on observation and human behavior and more on cute, rote situational comedy.
Not so with Nipper. In addition to being lovingly rendered, the silent strip overflows with knowing, true-to-life humor about the realities of parenthood. No doubt drawn from his own experiences as a father (at least in its later years, as Wright began the strip before he had children), the weekly strip doesn’t attempt to portray its lead as an innocent angel. Nipper frequently gets into trouble, and his parents are just as frequently exasperated (it should be noted that Wright’s knack for facial expressions are one of the selling points of the strip) but he isn’t a menace. More that he’s blessed with a curiosity and eagerness for play that has to be constantly stepped on by his parents (more so when Nipper is blessed with a little brother). It’s a situation that anyone who’s had to take care of a preschooler for more than two hours can relate to.

Much has been made by some of how Canadian the strip is and I suppose with the constantly changing seasons there is a particularly distinct northern humor and sensibility. I tend to regard the strip as a rather universal creation however, Wright’s milieu was one that any reader young or old can easily identify with, regardless of their country of origin.

While the Nipper strips make up the bulk of this volume (and continue no doubt into the next one) I don’t want to slight the other material collected here. Co-editor Brad Mackay provides an excellent introduction to the artist, delving extensively into Wright’s background and temperament. What’s more, the abundant magazine illustrations, gag cartoons, other strips and photos of the artist and his family help provide a well-rounded picture. And all bound in a handsome oversize hardcover that once again showcases Seth’s talents as a designer.

There’s been a tendency to place Wright in the upper eschelon of his contemporaries, alongside Harvey Kurtzman and Charles Schulz. I’m not sure that sort of overeager boosterism is really necessary, though he certainly does share some overlapping qualities with those creators. Wright’s work, at least what’s lovingly presented in this volume, is strong enough though to stand on its own and demand attention without the comparisons, however apt someone may find them to be. I’m content and grateful that a few people took the time and effort to re-introduce this artist to a new generation of readers like myself. That’s enough.
 
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Doug Wright

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The Collected Doug Wright Volume One




  DOUG WRIGHT reviewed by Comic Book Resources

Updated May 29, 2009


Robot reviews: The Collected Doug Wright

Posted on May 28, 2009 - 01:07 PM by Chris Mautner

The Collected Doug Wright Vol. 1
Edited by Seth and Brad Mackay
Drawn and Quarterly, 240 pages, $39.95.

The first thing you notice is the line. It’s usually rail-thin, although it will sometimes gracefully thicken when forming the back slope of a character’s head or traveling along someone’s back or legs. It’s simple, and seemingly unfussed, but it’s never less than assured, capable of rendering just about anything with clarity and aplomb, be it a typical 1950s suburban neighborhood, a mud-soaked little boy or the wood paneling on a corner table.

Were that all Doug Wright had to offer comics, it would be enough to merit attention. The medium is filled with great and talented artists, but few are capable of the charming effortlessness that’s on display in The Collected Doug Wright, the first of two volumes designed to bring a renewed appreciation to the Canadian cartoonist.

Indeed, one of the artists he most draws parallels with is his American contemporary Hank Ketcham, and not just because both are largely known for their strips about over exuberant little boys — Ketcham with Dennis the Menace and Wright with Nipper. The difference, however, lies in the substance behind the drawing. Ketcham is rightly revered as a superb craftsman, but one who nevertheless leaned heavily on a stock gag formula that over the years relied less on observation and human behavior and more on cute, rote situational comedy.
Not so with Nipper. In addition to being lovingly rendered, the silent strip overflows with knowing, true-to-life humor about the realities of parenthood. No doubt drawn from his own experiences as a father (at least in its later years, as Wright began the strip before he had children), the weekly strip doesn’t attempt to portray its lead as an innocent angel. Nipper frequently gets into trouble, and his parents are just as frequently exasperated (it should be noted that Wright’s knack for facial expressions are one of the selling points of the strip) but he isn’t a menace. More that he’s blessed with a curiosity and eagerness for play that has to be constantly stepped on by his parents (more so when Nipper is blessed with a little brother). It’s a situation that anyone who’s had to take care of a preschooler for more than two hours can relate to.

Much has been made by some of how Canadian the strip is and I suppose with the constantly changing seasons there is a particularly distinct northern humor and sensibility. I tend to regard the strip as a rather universal creation however, Wright’s milieu was one that any reader young or old can easily identify with, regardless of their country of origin.

While the Nipper strips make up the bulk of this volume (and continue no doubt into the next one) I don’t want to slight the other material collected here. Co-editor Brad Mackay provides an excellent introduction to the artist, delving extensively into Wright’s background and temperament. What’s more, the abundant magazine illustrations, gag cartoons, other strips and photos of the artist and his family help provide a well-rounded picture. And all bound in a handsome oversize hardcover that once again showcases Seth’s talents as a designer.

There’s been a tendency to place Wright in the upper eschelon of his contemporaries, alongside Harvey Kurtzman and Charles Schulz. I’m not sure that sort of overeager boosterism is really necessary, though he certainly does share some overlapping qualities with those creators. Wright’s work, at least what’s lovingly presented in this volume, is strong enough though to stand on its own and demand attention without the comparisons, however apt someone may find them to be. I’m content and grateful that a few people took the time and effort to re-introduce this artist to a new generation of readers like myself. That’s enough.
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The Collected Doug Wright Volume One




SETH interviewed by The Globe and Mail

Updated May 28, 2009


Canada's comic-book hero

His stories dwell on things vaguely remembered. His new graphic novel is about a has-been fifties TV star. Is it any surprise that Gregory Gallant, a.k.a. Seth, wears a fedora, collects Ookpik dolls and uses a rotary phone? James Adams reports

JAMES ADAMS

Guelph, Ont. — From Saturday's Globe and Mail, Friday, May. 15, 2009 03:20PM EDT

"I think I like the idea that the world could be more interesting than it is.” – Seth

You wouldn't notice the three-storey house by the railway viaduct unless you were looking for it. Tucked by the elevated tracks just a few blocks from this small city's downtown, its red-brick exterior is unprepossessing. The confusing confluence of roads and car traffic at its front means a driver's attention is likely going to be elsewhere. Accidents happen here, you think. But for the former Gregory Gallant, Inkwell's End – that's the moniker he has etched into the glass on the front door – is a kind of Shangri-la. Or, as this Citizen Kane fan would likely prefer, Xanadu.

Inside, it's surprisingly quiet, faintly hermetic. A train goes by five, maybe six times a day, but the vibrations are gentle, almost comforting, and, in tandem with the drowsy demeanour of Orange and Henry, two fat cats who also call Inkwell's End home, they only serve to emphasize the stillness.

Which is all to the good for the former Gregory Gallant. “I like the sound,” he says.

Let's dispense with Gregory Gallant – he hasn't been called that for more than a quarter-century, and he turns 47 in September. To Tania, his wife of seven years, to his friends, his brothers and sisters, even to his 92-year-old dad, a long-retired high-school shop teacher living in Prince Edward Island, he is Seth. Not Seth Gallant, mind you. Just … Seth.

“I changed it simply because I was looking for a pretentious-sounding pseudonym,” he explained during an interview at Inkwell's End one recent sunny day.

“In retrospect, I wish I hadn't done it. It's a stupid name.” But Seth it is and Seth it shall be, probably even after death hath parted him from Tania and the planet.

His real name, in fact, “sounds fake” to him now, and besides, it's too late for a Mellencamp/Cougar/Cougar-Mellencamp/Mellencamp switcheroo. Because, well, he's Seth, one of the world's most highly regarded and best-loved graphic novelists, illustrators and book designers.

He's the guy who's done three covers for The New Yorker; designed all 25 volumes of The Complete Peanuts ; is often spoken of in the same breath as Robert Crumb and Art Spiegelman; has just published, with Montreal's Drawn & Quarterly Press, his latest masterpiece, a $29.95 hardcover “picture novella” called George Sprott, 1894-1975 that The New York Times originally commissioned in 2006 as a 25-part weekly serial for its Sunday magazine.

Seth probably looked more like a Seth in the early 1980s. This would have been after he busted loose from the Ontario towns of his childhood (Clinton, Strathroy, Tilbury) to attend art college in Toronto and live as “a punky club kid with a scary pre-Goth look” who liked to drink and drug and “wanted a name to go along with all that.” Today, he's a decidedly dapper-looking gent – if, that is, you believe the fashions of 1937 represent the sine qua non of male haberdashery.

With his dark, brilliantined hair and round, horn-rimmed glasses, Seth clearly does. Shorts, T-shirts, jeans – the staples of casual 21st-century masculinity – are nowhere to be found in Seth's Xanadu. But vintage suits, patterned silk ties, fedoras, topcoats, wingtips and crisp white dress shirts? This is the place.

Seth easily admits his current look was entirely contrived at first – the result of “a phasing over from being a punk to being kind of a punk in a suit to being a guy listening to old jazz and then being someone who decided he wanted to completely wrap himself up in the world of pre-1940. I've done this several times in my life, made a switch and decided to force it. This time it was, ‘Okay, now I'm going to be an old-fashioned guy.'” After a while, it just became second nature to look like a brown-eyed handsome man heading out to the Zoot Suit riots of 1943.

“I have a hard time believing in things 100 per cent, particularly my own pretensions.”

Seth's home is as carefully curated as his personal appearance, as eccentrically stuffed as Charles Foster Kane's Florida estate in Citizen Kane . While we all have treasures from our past, either self-collected or given by relatives, they're usually few in number and, more often than not, discreetly displayed or boxed in the basement. Seth, however, has them immediately at hand – functioning rotary phones like the kind Bogey dialled in The Big Sleep, a Beaver gumball machine, Ookpik dolls, a working Moffat refrigerator from 1956 in the kitchen, a wall covered with cheap Halloween masks from the early sixties, Mountie bobble-head dolls, Reliable plastic coin banks, a barber's chair circa 1945, figurines of Marvel Comics heroes, a complete kid-size RCMP uniform framed behind glass, old high-school trophies refashioned by Seth as honours to himself from a grateful Old Order of the Grand Portage and the National League of the Brides of the Dominion …

Seth characterizes his world as both “grandmotherly, in that it's like this desire to create this cozy 1930s, 1940s kind of environment” and “kind of adolescent because the place has a lot of toys. There's something about the teenage boy, trying to create your perfect teenage room.

“I can't live unless I've got control of the aesthetics,” he declares. “If I want a couch, it has to be an old couch – unless it's really successful at pretending to be an old couch.”

Luckily, his wife, a 32-year-old men's hairstylist who met Seth while working as a model in a life-drawing class he was taking, doesn't have strong views on decor (although they did “feud” briefly earlier this year over her wish to put a Sylvania colour TV set in the living room). Lucky, too, that Seth has long-since forsaken his once oft-stated wish to have actually lived in 1937. “That now seems patently stupid,” he remarks with a laugh. “I mean, I love 1937 – but would I have loved the actual 1937 if I was black or lower-class or unemployed?”

Better to have the simulacrum of 1937 in the cocoon of your own home than the messiness of the real thing.

To Seth devotees, all this whimsy can come as no surprise. Graphic works like It's a Good Life If You Don't Weaken and Clyde Fans – Book 1 and Wimbledon Green: The Greatest Comic Book Collector in the World are rife with reverential representations of the sorts of artifacts found in Seth's home. His stories are about the ignored, the obscure, the vaguely remembered and how the past persists in the present, be it a rundown old building – “I'm interested in the feelings that buildings put out,” he says. “Nothing's more appealing to me than an old storefront with an apartment above it” – a shameful or pleasant memory, a weathered tree, or visiting a used bookstore and having one's curiosity piqued by a cartoon in a 1951 issue of The New Yorker.

George Sprott could almost be called Anatomy of a Has-been, even though its trim size of 35.5 by 30 centimetres seems decidedly heroic, monumental, like a tombstone. It's a documentary of sorts (replete with Citizen Kane -like flashbacks, reminiscences and interviews) of the final hours of a one-time TV celebrity and lecturer in the mythical Ontario city of Dominion, population 300,000. Dominion has been the setting of many Seth yarns, as much a state of mind as a place, although he has built some 50 cardboard models of the buildings he imagines to be (or have been) there, models displayed four years ago at the Art Gallery of Ontario and that are now a touring exhibition.

Sprott was something of a “star” in the Dominion of the early 1950s, when TV was new and the only station in town was desperate to fill airtime. But by 1975, no one cares any more about Sprott's main claim to fame – nine trips to the Canadian Arctic between 1930 and 1940 – which he parlayed into a long-running show (1,132 episodes and counting, as of Oct. 2, 1975) called Northern Hi-Lights .

Melancholic to be sure but, as Seth notes, “it's not tragic.” Clearly he has an affection for Sprott's obduracy, “but I'm a bit ambivalent toward him and I want the reader to be, too.”

Drawn & Quarterly is putting Seth on the road in support of George Sprott. He's at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival this weekend, then off to New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and other U.S. cities a few weeks later. Of course, as “a very routine-oriented guy” – the kind of guy who, with fedora on head, is at his drafting table in his basement studio each day at 9 a.m., works until 4 p.m., breaks for dinner with his wife, then returns to work until 11 p.m. – he's “dreading it.” It will be fine “once it gets going, but I don't really like the experience.”

“Who you are really depends on who you're with.” - Seth Still, he doesn't entirely begrudge the attention. Nine or 10 years ago, Seth had pretty much convinced himself that he'd be “broke for the rest of my life.” While graphic novels such as Maus, From Hell and The Dark Knight had been critical and commercial triumphs in the eighties and nineties, sales and interest in the genre were flagging, and “it looked like it was all falling apart.” Seth was hunkering down in Guelph around this time with his then-girlfriend (they split six months after moving there from Toronto, 100 kilometres to the east). Over coffee with best friend and fellow cartoonist Chester Brown ( Yummy Fur, Louis Riel) , he'd mutter darkly about “going back to Xeroxing my art.”

Then things started to turn around. Seth doesn't know why exactly. Maybe it was the acclaimed film adaptation in 2001 of Dan Clowes's Ghost World comic. Or the 2002 exhibition that another pal, Chris Ware (of Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth fame), had at New York's Whitney Museum of American Art. Whatever the reason, “years of cartoonists doing adult work in obscurity suddenly burst into the mainstream,” and Seth was buoyed along with the flow. It's why, just 18 months ago, he and his wife were able to become homeowners for the first time.

Seth claims to be happy. He loves his wife. (“It's easy to say ‘I'm sorry' in this relationship.”) He likes growing older and the loss of vanity he believes it entails. He says he's mellowed with age, although not to the point of sappiness. (“Youth culture,” he snorts at one point, “bores me now. I'd even say it irritates me. … What people talk about at that age, how they relate to each other, it seems like a nightmare.”) And the febrile acquisitiveness he once had – that has made his house what it is today, yet also once “disgusted me because it clearly did seem I was trying to fill a void, trying to make myself happy” – has abated. Now that energy is displaced into “a desire to produce things, to be focused on work.”

Still, he's not entirely sure the good times are here to stay. Which is why he says he's probably working too much now, dreaming up logos; doing commercial work for clients as varied as Penguin, Microsoft and the Wall Street Journal; helping organize the annual Doug Wright Awards honouring the best in Canadian comics and graphic novels; editing and designing books. “Ideally, I would like to work on my comics 24 hours a day, but I feel like I always want that backup … I want it all, that's the problem.” Even in Xanadu.

Seth appears at the 2009 Doug Wright Awards Saturday, 7 to 9 p.m., at the Art Gallery of Ontario's Jackman Hall, 317 Dundas St. W., Toronto. He'll be launching the first volume of a planned two-volume set, The Collected Doug Wright: Canada's Master Cartoonist (1917-1983), which he designed and co-edited with Brad Mackay.
The sweet vanished past



 
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  SETH interview on CBC's Q

Updated May 28, 2009



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DOUG WRIGHT reviewed by The Toronto Star

Updated May 28, 2009


GRAPHICA

That little Nipper

For generations of newspaper readers, Doug Wright's irrepressible hellion brightened up the familial drudgery
May 24, 2009 04:30 AM
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Jonathan Kuehlein

It seems as though more than half of our time as parents of young kids is spent either apologizing for their antics or cleaning up the resulting debris. Plus there's a lot of yelling, in spite of your best intentions and everything modern parenting gurus preach.

Pouring over the timeless, wordless comic strip gags in The Collected Doug Wright: Canada's Master Cartoonist – 1949-1962 (Drawn & Quarterly $39.95, 242 pages) certainly hammers these truths home and highlights a few more.

Wright's classic comic strip, Nipper, which began appearing weekly in 1949 in the Montreal Standard Magazine and later evolved into the much-beloved Doug Wright's Family in the Star Weekly and Canadian Magazine, depicts the ongoing mischievous adventures of a young boy. He's determined to explore every aspect of chaos in his house, yard and extended neighbourhood at the price of his parents' wits. Wright's strip also does a masterful job of highlighting the glee with which kids still humble, hurt and humiliate their parents with great regularity.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the initial success of Nipper, at least from a parent's perspective, is the fact that Wright's knack for capturing the precociousness of kids came before he had any of his own. The first of his three sons was born in 1953, an event that added even more realism and depth to the strip in subsequent years.

This first volume of a two-book set, assembled by award-winning Canadian illustrator and designer Seth, featuring an insightful and comprehensive biography by journalist Brad MacKay and an introduction by Lynn Johnston, creator of For Better or For Worse, is a breathtaking tribute to Wright's sizable artistic skills.

The book includes content ranging from some of Wright's earliest childhood drawings in England to his first job – doing illustrations on staff newsletters for Electrolux – and work from the position that brought the artist to Canada as staff illustrator for Sun Life Insurance in Montreal in 1938.

Several of Wright's cartoons for the RCAF service magazine, completed under the pseudonym "Ozzie," and examples of his take on the rural-themed Juniper Junction, which he took over in 1948 from the late Jimmy Frise and continued for another two decades, show the artist's diversity. But it is Nipper, the character that captured the zeitgeist of the late-'40s baby boom, who gets most of the attention in this book.

From tipping an ashtray into his sleeping dad's mouth to roaring around the house dragging the cat in a shopping bag to countless adventures that leave him covered head to toe in mud, the endearing little hellion almost always gets the last laugh in a wonderful collection of strips that truly stand the test of time.

Wright died in 1983.

Jeffrey Brown's willingness to lay himself bare in his autobiographical graphic novels has endeared him greatly to many readers over the past decade.

From emotional depictions of how he lost his virginity (Clumsy) to his first love (Unlikely) to becoming a dad (Little Things), Brown has captured the often mundane moments that form much of our lives and made them compelling through deep introspection and a delightful self-deprecating wit.


 
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  DOUG WRIGHT reviewed by the Times Colonist

Updated May 28, 2009


Wright's car culture tribute to times past
Peter Kenter, Canwest News Service
Published: Friday, May 15, 2009

Growing up, one of my favourite comics was Doug Wright's Family, a weekly two-colour pantomime strip that graced the back pages of the long-departed Canadian Magazine. For most of us, Wright so accurately reflected changing suburban Canadian family life that we simply didn't realize we were looking into a mirror.

The Wright kids not only played hockey and watched Victoria Day fireworks, they had a real father who drank beer and sometimes didn't shave and a mother who cussed her brood and burned with shame at their antics. I never questioned that Wright was drawing from real life. If he wasn't, I don't need to know about it.

I recently got my hands on the first of a two-volume set, The Collected Doug Wright, Volume One. The book covers not only the Doug Wright's Family strips but also Wright's enormous output as an illustrator for hire.
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I can see where I might have gotten such strong impressions of that bruiser of a station wagon. Wright must have loved cars -- or at least loved to draw them.

Editors Seth and Brad McKay note Wright's "great passion for the motor vehicle -- and his remarkable skill in cartooning them"

That's almost an understatement. Even the kiddy cars in the strips are rendered with an attention to detail usually reserved for adult-sized vehicles.

The book could almost pass as a history of the Canadian automobile experience from the early 1940s until 1962, where this volume leaves off. Vehicles ranging from family sedans to beaten-down pickup trucks and giant 18-wheelers are rendered in loving detail all out of proportion to their importance in the narrative.

What's also fascinating is the fact that all of them seem to be made up out of whole cloth -- an amalgam of fine detail cobbled together in perfectly harmonious fashion to deliver car brands and models as they might have been. There's a canary yellow 1962 Astrojet locking its brakes as a squabbling family in a grey something-or-other pulls a crazy U-turn in the middle of traffic. I'm almost fooled into thinking a two-toned pink-and-white model called a Satellite is the real thing, until I realize the illustration precedes the introduction of the Plymouth Satellite by three years.

Landscapes are littered with automotive minutiae: gas at 35 cents an Imperial gallon, advertisements for Guck Oil, delivery vehicles for Provincial Pork Packers and independent roadside coffee shops from a time before Tim Hortons (though not Tim Horton).

Still, it's the family strips that speak to me the loudest. I first experienced them at an age when I was only a passenger in my father's car. As a driver and dad, they're far more meaningful. A helpful child assists his father by sandpapering the car. (My car?!!!) Two kids hail a streetcar, only to run away after exercising control over a stream of vehicles that stops suddenly behind its open door -- only I'm no longer the cheeky kid but the guy who's stuck in traffic. It gets worse. Dad tells a Canada Customs agent he has nothing to declare, until his blabby kid points to a giant-sized carton of cigarettes stashed under the front seat. In a water gun fight, one of the boys sprays his pals with radiator fluid he finds in the garage.

I didn't see the station wagon with the faux wood panelling in this volume, but I'll wait for it in the next one. In the meantime, I'll settle for the giant 1962 Astrojet -- running on 35-cent-a-gallon gas.


© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2009
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TCAF event coverage in Now Magazine

Updated May 28, 2009


An impressive trio at TCAF
Seth, Adrian Tomine and Yoshihiro Tatsumi at Toronto Comic Arts Festival
Jay Dart

To kick off the 2009 Toronto Comic Arts Festival, the Authors at Harbourfront Centre series played host to a presentation by three renowned comic book artists, aka cartoonists, aka graphic novelists, aka graphic artists, aka artists.

While it may not be clear what they prefer to be called, one thing that can definitely be said about Adrian Tomine, Seth and Yoshihiro Tatsumi: their collections of bound visual narratives near perfect examples of this popular medium.

drian Tomine (above) began the evening by reading the self-deprecating introduction included in the 10th Anniversary edition of 32 Stories, a compilation of his early work that is being re-released, much to his chagrin, by Drawn & Quarterly after the first printing recently sold out.

Although Tomine explained that he would rather these "quaint artifacts" from his past just disappear, they will continue to be available alongside Optic Nerve, a popular alternative comic series, and his most current novel, Shortcomings.

Guelph-based comic artist, Seth, then took the stage and treated the standing room only crowd to 12 of his own stories relating the life of one humble cartoonist. Seth's unconnected tales took us back to his formative years when he would rush home from school for Charlie Brown, and then eventually Marvel Comics.

Looking back now, he realizes that when he did his own comics featuring the heroes from Marvel, he bridged the gap between his inner and outer realities by drawing his thoughts out in a tangible form, and thus paving the way for his own unique style of biographical tales such George Sprott (1894-1975) which, in 2007, was serialized in New York Times Magazine in 25 installments and is now being released as a stand alone book this Spring.

The rest of his presentation was also filled with more insightful ‘wisbits’ as he shared his experiences writing his weekly comic strips, his thoughts on the poetry of comics, and his days spent isolated in his basement, dedicated to this artform.

Tomine then returned to the stage to interview Yoshihiro Tatsumi (pictured above), one of Japan's most influential comic artists.

Most of the audience were only introduced to his works in 2006 when Drawn & Quaterly, and specifically Tomine, first brought his collections to the West.

During the interview, Tatsumi shared partial stories of how friends and family reacted to being featured in his recent auto-biographical masterpiece, A Drifting Life, and what it was like when he first met his idol.

Tatsumi also related stories of his upbringing in the slums of Osaka and rising to the forefront of the "Gekiga" style of comics – a term that he coined to describe a new style of Japanese comics meaning "dramatic pictures" which opened the medium up to more mature audiences and was adopted by cartoonists who did not want their art being called manga or "irresponsible pictures."

In the end, he also imparted some wisdom for maintaining a long and successful career: take care of the body first, then the mind. So, aspiring graphic artists take note: do some push-ups and run a few laps before inking in those panels!

This event also marked the opening of the exhibition Graphic Novels: The Creation of Art and Narrative which runs until June 21st in Harbourfront Centre’s York Quay Centre and features Canada's Jeff Lemire, Kagan McLeod, Jillian Tamaki & Mariko Tamaki, Doug Wright (by Seth) as well as Anke Feuchtenberger (Germany), Emmanuel Guibert (France), Yoshihiro Tatsumi (Japan) and Adrian Tomine (USA).

All pictures by Jay Dart.
 
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  SPROTT starred review by Publishers Weekly

Updated May 28, 2009


George Sprott: 1894–1975 Seth. Drawn & Quarterly, $24.95 (96p) ISBN 978-1-897299-51-7

First serialized in the New York Times Magazine, this exquisite extended version of the life of fictional Canadian TV personality George Sprott only adds to Seth's place as one of the form's masters. In the hours and moments before Sprott's death in 1975, the omniscient—and nameless—narrator flashes both backward to key moments in the TV man's life and forward to interviews conducted after Sprott's passing. After spending four years in seminary school, Sprott sets out to be, as he dubs himself, a “gentleman adventurer,” taking numerous trips to the Canadian Arctic and filming his exploits. After he lands his own television program, Northern Hi-Lights, in the '50s, Sprott spends the next 20-plus years (1,132 episodes) telling and retelling stories of his adventures with the Inuits. Along the way, we meet his long-suffering wife, Helen; employees of the Radio Hotel (where Sprott lived for the last 10 years of his life); and members of the Coronet Club (where he delivered regular and increasingly boring lectures). Musings by the man himself—on everything from modern life to food to loneliness—help to round out this portrait of a man who never seemed truly satisfied but somehow made do. Seth (Palookaville) manages to make what is essentially the story of one man's slow death into an often humorous rumination on the power of media, memory and loss. (May)
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TCAF event writeup in The National Post

Updated May 28, 2009



Tomine, Seth, and Tatsumi talk shop at TCAF
Posted: May 09, 2009, 6:18 PM by Lia Grainger

The 4th annual Toronto Comic Arts Festival opened with a bang last night at Harbourfront Centre, as three legends of the genre captivated a packed house with stories and art. Adrian Tomine spoke about a new edition of his collection 32 Stories, Seth told twelve tales plucked from his long career as a comic book artist, and Yoshihiro Tatsumi discussed his seminal new autobiographical graphic novel A Drifting Life.

It was an inspiring evening. Christopher Butcher, founder and director of TCAF, and owner of The Beguiling – one of the most valuable comic art and graphic novel resources in the country – introduced the evening’s speakers to an enthusiastic audience.

Adrian Tomine, best known for the ongoing comic series Optic Nerve and his recent graphic novel Shortcomings, humbly presented the repackaged version of his first collection 32 Stories. Tomine was painfully self-deprecating, recounting that when his publisher initially told him it was going out of print, his response was “Thank God, finally.” He quickly learned it would be reprinted, and with the aid of a slideshow, Tomine walked the audience through the story of its original creation, painstakingly pointing out what he perceived to be the many ways in which the collection was naďve and amateurish.

At one point, after agonizing over the hideousness of the book’s original dust jacket, Tomine described a dream in which Raymond Carver’s widow comes across the collection in a second-hand bookstore and is horrified. Tomine also noted that actor Keanu Reeves' band Dogstar released a song in the '90s with the unfortunate title, "32 Stories", and proceeded to play the song, accompanied by images of Keanu rocking out. The presentation was understated and hilarious, and though Tomine seemed intent on tearing down his early work, I was left with a strong desire to run to the sales table down the hall and buy a copy of the new edition. It includes several bonuses, including angry letters from now-famous cartoonists and the rejection letter he received upon his first submission of the piece to Drawn & Quarterly, way back in 1993.

Next to take the stage, dressed in an impeccable 1940s pea-green suit and looking very much like one of his characters, was Seth. With work characterized by clean, delicately tapered lines and a deep, muted palette, Seth is best known for his comic Palookaville and graphic novels (though he hates the term) like Wimbledon Green and Clyde Fans. A legend in his own right, Seth’s presentation reaffirmed the reputation he has earned over his long and groundbreaking career. With elegance and panache, Seth told twelve deliberately random stories from his life, and noted the beginning of each new tale with the ringing of a small gold bell. His points, in brief, were:

1. Comics provide a concrete link to a vivid inner reality.
2. Cartooning is a solitary pursuit.
3. Times have changed: in the beginning, it was difficult to be serious in comics.
4. Seth resists technology. When he learned he could Google himself, it was not a good thing.
5. Comics have the rhythm, and require the deliberate decision-making, of poetry.
6. Peanuts comics are haikus.
7. Seth is pretty sure someone stole his theory that “Peanuts comics are haikus.”
8. Seth’s college 3D art teacher was an angry, talented man, and Seth is glad for it.
9. No matter how hard you work, you can’t change your intelligence or your talent; Chris Ware disagrees.
10. Style in comic book art is extremely deliberate, like a pompadour.
11. Comics appear to be silent and still, but they’re not.
12. According to Crumb, “There’s nothing wrong with repeating yourself, so long as you dig a little deeper each time.”

While he spoke, images of his work flashed on the screen behind him. He assured the audience that they were entirely unrelated to what he was saying, and yet at many points the art seemed to unintentionally fit with the words, giving the speech a calming rhythmical cadence that was a pleasure to hear and observe.

The main event was Japanese manga legend Yoshihiro Tatsumi. Tatsumi is credited with inventing gekiga, a form of manga with complex mature themes designed for adult readers. In a Godzilla t-shirt, blazer and brown driver’s cap, Tatsumi looked cool and relaxed. With the help of a translator, Adrian Tomine interviewed Tatsumi about his new book, A Drifting Life. Tatsumi was animated and forthcoming about his early years, explaining that, “The country was getting rich, but for me and the people in my life, nothing was changing, and I wanted to make work about that, as a form of protest.” Tomine asked several questions about Tatsumi’s relationship with Osamu Tazuka, best known for Astroboy. Tatsumi discussed how their careers had diverged, as Tatsumi tackled darker themes and Tezuka continued with fantasy. When asked if he had any advice for artists, Tatsumi cheekily replied, “I agree with what Seth said. In fact, I really learned a lot from him.”

The Toronto Comic Arts Festival runs until Sunday. For more information visit www.torontocomics.com.
 
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  DOUG WRIGHT reviewed by The Calgary Herald

Updated May 28, 2009


Reviving Canada's master


By Nancy Tousley, Calgary Herald
May 11,

The Collected Doug Wright: Canada’s Master Cartoonist, Volume One, edited by Seth, (Drawn & Quarterly, 240 pages, $39.95)

Remember Doug Wright? His cartoons ran in Canadian newspaper magazines for 35 years and a generation or two of Canadians grew up with his main character, a rambunctious little Canadian boy-cousin of Charlie Brown.

Nipper, as he was called, was born in print a year and a half before Charlie Brown and two years before Dennis the Menace. Charles Schulz and Hank Ketcham, Charlie Brown and Dennis’s respective creators, are enshrined in the pantheon of great cartoonists. Wright, on the other hand, though heralded as “Canada’s best known cartoonist” during his lifetime, has been all but forgotten.

More’s the pity because the creator of Nipper and Doug Wright’s Family was a great cartoonist, says Seth, the author of Palooka-Ville, Clyde Fans and the forthcoming George Sprott. As if it takes one to know one, Seth is a great cartoonist himself. The two facts, that the work of Wright, who died in 1983 at age 65, is great and nearly forgotten, are what spurred Seth on to bring him back into the foreground and set our cultural memory straight.

Saturday night, The Collected Doug Wright, initiated, edited and designed by Seth, was launched by its publisher Drawn & Quarterly at the 5th annual Doug Wright Awards. Hosted this year at the Art Gallery of Ontario, the awards are held in conjunction with the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, running this weekend. The best book award, by the way, went to Skim, a graphic novel about the difficulties of adolescence by former Calgarians Jillian and Mariko Tamaki.

Seth and writer Brad Mackay, a former journalist for the National Post and the CBC, founded the awards around the same time they started research on the book. The award recognizes Wright’s influence on a generation of leading Canadian cartoonists, who include Lynn Johnston (For Better or Worse), who contributed the book’s introduction, and Chester Brown, whose first comic, written when he was 11, was a tribute to Wright.

The Collected Doug Wright will be issued in two volumes, with an appreciation-cum-biography of the British-born cartoonist and illustrator, written by Mackay. The oversize hardcover monograph, with its eye-catching red foil cover, was a patient labour of love all around, encouraged by D&Q publisher Chris Oliveros.

“The history of cartooning has quite a few seminal cartoonists who were more important (than Wright) in defining the form in some way, and most of them were much earlier in the 20th century,” says Seth.

“I think Wright’s real significance was that here in Canada, where there was such a small pool of working cartoonists and a very small market, he was such a very high-quality artist. There is only a handful of guys worthy of study and Wright is right up there at the very top.”

Seth, who hunted down and collected Wright’s printed cartoons for years, culled the “best-of contents of the collected Wright from hundreds of the prolific cartoonist’s distinctive, wordless, vertical strips. This first book, which was five years in the making, contains Wright’ early work as an illustrator and a 200-page portfolio that follows Nipper to Dec. 22, 1962. Volume Two will be out in two or three years.

“Wright’s great strength was that he tried to infuse his work with the actual feeling of the place where he lived,” says Seth. “All the little details: he drew what was around him.”

What Wright so meticulously depicted with all its comical and conflictual moments was the childhood and family life of the post-war baby-boom generation in middle-class Canada.

Today’s readers might be surprised to look into Wright’s social mirror and see how much parenting has changed. A lot of anger and some violence is unleashed in the strip, in which angry, frustrated faces are darkened with cross-hatching. In one strip, Dad is seen ripping off his belt to deliver a little ’50s style corporeal punishment. Spanking is common.

“Like a documentarian of suburban domestic life, Wright was taking what he saw and heard around him and popping it in there,” says Mackay.

When Wright began to draw Nipper, he was a 30-year-old bachelor. He lived in Montreal with his mother and unmarried sister and knew nothing about children. There weren’t even any nieces or nephews to observe. He dreamed up the idea for the strip and drew it in a rush, which Mackay thinks might be why it has no words, after he noticed the editor’s query to art director Dick Hersey on a Punch cartoon on Hersey’s desk: “Why don’t we have more strips about the contrariness of kids?”

Wright decided to try it almost on a whim, thinking it would be a one-off. “He was baffled that they took it and that the strip took off,” says Mackay. “He was bummed about it at first.” What he really wanted to be drawing was adventure stories, like Milton Caniff’s Terry and the Pirates.

Under the circumstances, drawing a strip about an energetic toddler posed a challenge. Nipper’s debut on March 12, 1949 in the Montreal Standard was based on a funny anecdote Wright’s mother told him about the antics of a neighbour’s child. But if Wright had to borrow and improvise at first, he grew into the strip after he married Phyllis Sanford in 1952. One year later, Mackay says, “Suddenly there was a kid in the house.”

“By the time he got around to having kids of his own Nipper was a certified hit,” Mackay writes in The Collected Doug Wright. “By then, the ironic detachment he had accidentally cultivated on Nipper allowed him to accomplish an unprecedented feat: re-inventing the moribund family strip for a modern audience.”

Wright eventually became the father of three boys and during that time the strip moved from slapstick sight gags to a more textured picture of family life. It was in 1967, after Wright and the family left Montreal, where he settled after emigrating from England, for the suburbs of southern Ontario that he changed the strip’s name from Nipper to Doug Wright’s Family.

Wright’s strip is visually striking for his fluid drawing style, his skilful pantomime, the vertical orientation of the strip and the red overlays and spot colour, which he used so effectively to direct a reader’s eye and attention. Although Seth does not think the vertical strip was Wright’s invention, he does not know of another cartoonist who used it habitually or so successfully.

“Wright’s work is based on real drawing,” says Seth. He observes that the self-taught Wright was not a great cartoonist when he started, but put so much work into it that he became one. “I think it mattered to him.”

The ambitious pantomime, which in a lesser artist would be difficult to sustain, is acted out so clearly that it is easy to read for a five-year-old. Yet it also has something to say to an adult.

Mackay, who is 40 and has a three-year-old Nipper of his own at home, says, “As a kid, I found the strip hilarious; as a dad, I read it from a completely different perspective.”

Why did Wright fall into semi-oblivion? “I think it has a lot to do with just how Canada operates, to tell you the truth,” Seth says, “and the fact that it’s popular culture. Pop culture does kind of come and go. Cartooning in most of the 20th century was extremely ephemeral. Once it stopped appearing in the papers, I think people just stopped thinking about it.

“But I do think it’s a distinctively Canadian thing that we don’t value things that are in our own media. It’s like the fact that it appeared in Canadian publications made Wright’s work seem less important. Canadians just didn’t give it the same value as they did to so many iconic American cartoon characters.”

The timing is just right for a Wright revival. With the rise of the graphic novel, one of the biggest phenomenons to hit book publishing in the past 10 years, cartoonists are being shown more respect. Drawn & Quarterly, celebrating its 20 anniversary this year, is one of the two premier publishers of literary graphic novels in North America.

With The Collected Doug Wright, big books honouring the work of a single master cartoonist are now appearing on both sides of the 49th Parallel. Seth, Brian, Chris, take a bow.

ntousley@theherald.canwest.com

Editor's note: Corrections made to this story.

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DOUG WRIGHT reviewed by The National Post

Updated May 28, 2009




He had the Wright stuff

Canadian artist had a good eye for all things automotive

Peter Kenter, National Post Published: Friday, May 08, 2009

Growing up, one of my favourite comics was Doug Wright's Family, a weekly two-colour pantomime strip that graced the back pages of the long-departed Canadian Magazine. For most of us, Wright so accurately reflected changing suburban Canadian family life that we simply didn't realize we were looking into a mirror. The Wright kids not only played hockey and watched Victoria Day fireworks, they had a real father who drank beer and sometimes didn't shave and a mother who cussed her brood and burned with shame at their antics. I never questioned that Wright was drawing from real life. If he wasn't, I don't need to know about it.

Thinking back, the cartoon image that stuck with me the most was Dad, patiently packing his kids and a passel of hockey equipment into the back of a huge station wagon -- not a hatchback, but the kind with a rear door that opened sideways -- on a frozen Canadian landscape before dawn. I'm not sure I actually saw a strip like that, but I can see the way Wright might have drawn it, with special attention to the wagon's wood veneer panelling.

I recently got my hands on the first of a two-volume set, The Collected Doug Wright, Volume One. The book covers not only the Doug Wright's Family strips but also Wright's enormous output as an illustrator for hire. I can see where I might have gotten such strong impressions of that bruiser of a station wagon. Wright must have loved cars -- or at least loved to draw them. Editors Seth and Brad McKay note Wright's "great passion for the motor vehicle -- and his remarkable skill in cartooning them."

That's almost an understatement. Even the kiddy cars in the strips are rendered with an attention to detail usually reserved for adult-sized vehicles.

The book could almost pass as a history of the Canadian automobile experience from the early 1940s until 1962, where this volume leaves off. Vehicles ranging from family sedans to beaten-down pickup trucks and giant 18-wheelers are rendered in loving detail all out of proportion to their importance in the narrative.

What's also fascinating is the fact that all of them seem to be made up out of whole cloth -- an amalgam of fine detail cobbled together in perfectly harmonious fashion to deliver car brands and models as they might have been. There's a canary yellow 1962 Astrojet locking its brakes as a squabbling family in a grey something-or-other pulls a crazy U-turn in the middle of traffic. I'm almost fooled into thinking a two-toned pink-and-white model called a Satellite is the real thing, until I realize the illustration precedes the introduction of the Plymouth Satellite by three years.

Landscapes are littered with automotive minutiae: gas at 35˘ an Imperial gallon, advertisements for Guck Oil, delivery vehicles for Provincial Pork Packers and independent roadside coffee shops from a time before Tim Hortons (though not Tim Horton).

A lot of it is simply timeless Canadiana. A 1962 Christmas cover for a Montreal Star Saturday supplement shows a fine, fin-laden automotive specimen nestled cozily under a thick blanket of snow. A mid-'50s illustration shows a richly detailed sedan, its driver hidden in shadows, plying a rural winter road at sunset. The depicted drivers are similarly timeless --fuming parent huddled angrily over the steering wheel, cussing cabbie and juvenile hot rodder.

Still, it's the family strips that speak to me the loudest. I first experienced them at an age when I was only a passenger in my father's car. As a driver and dad, they're far more meaningful. A helpful child assists his father by sandpapering the car. (My car?!!!) Two kids hail a streetcar, only to run away after exercising control over a stream of vehicles that stops suddenly behind its open door --only I'm no longer the cheeky kid but the guy who's stuck in traffic. It gets worse. Dad tells a Canada Customs agent he has nothing to declare, until his blabby kid points to a giant-sized carton of cigarettes stashed under the front seat. In a water gun fight, one of the boys sprays his pals with radiator fluid he finds in the garage.

I didn't see the station wagon with the faux wood panelling in this volume, but I'll wait for it in the next one. In the meantime, I'll settle for the giant 1962 Astrojet -- running on 35˘-a-gallon gas.
 
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  DOUG WRIGHT reviewed by The National Post

Updated May 19, 2009



All In The Family

It's high time you revisited the work of pioneering Canadian artist Doug Wright, argues comic historian Seth

Seth was rummaging around a junk shop sometime in the mid-1980s when he discovered old back issues of Canadian magazine. Flipping through the pages, he came across comic strips drawn by a man named Doug Wright. The name piqued his memory.

"I think with a lot of the artists that I've been interested in as an adult, many of them were interests as a child but then forgotten during my teen years," says Seth, on the phone from his Guelph, Ont., home. "Wright fell into that category."

Over the next 20 years, Seth, the acclaimed cartoonist behind It's A Good Life, If You Don't Weaken and Clyde Fans, undertook to collect all of Wright's work that he could find. The detective work paid off, as this month Drawn & Quarterly publishes Volume One of The Collected Doug Wright, which chronicles the years between 1949 and 1962.

As journalist Brad Mackay writes in the book's introductory essay, "If you grew up in Canada during the 1960s or 1970s, then you likely need little introduction to Doug Wright or his masterpiece of Canadian cartooning."

But for those of us from a later generation, a history lesson is in order.

Wright was born in Dover, England, in 1917. A high school drop-out, he began his career as an illustrator for appliance manufacturer Electrolux before immigrating to Montreal in 1938 to work for Sun Life insurance. He first gained attention for his military themed strips during the Second World War, and after the war he became a freelance illustrator for the Montreal Standard. In 1948 he took over the popular strip Juniper Junction after creator Jim Frise's sudden death. His most famed strip, Nipper, about a mischievous bald-headed child, debuted in 1949 -- a year and a half before Charles Schulz's Peanuts, points out Mackay, and two years to the day before Dennis the Menace began terrorizing Mr. Wilson-- two strips to which Nipper is often compared. Nipper, later rechristened Doug Wright's Family, ran for 32 years and consists of roughly 1,664 strips. Wright inspired a new generation of Canadian cartoonists, including Lynn Johnston, who pens the book's foreword, Chester Brown and, of course, Seth.

We can only hazard a guess to why Wright was forgotten -- maybe it's because he's Canadian, says Mackay, or perhaps because Wright rejected merchandising, unlike Dennis the Menace, says Seth--but both men note that they, too, forgot about Wright.

"There seems to be black hole in pop culture for cartooning in Canada," says Mackay, on the phone from Ottawa. "We spend a lot of time mythologizing hockey games and artists -- God, if I see another article about Stephen Leacock this week! Those people get mythologized a lot, almost too much. But for some reason cartooning--maybe it's just too everyday, it's too common. But it does seem like a shame."

Says Seth: "I do think in Canada we do have a distinct lack of interest in anything that's actually produced here. It's almost like a feeling it must be second rate if it's here in Canada ... The funny thing about Wright was he really was a superlative draftsman, far above 90% of the American cartoonists, yet still, I think, there was sort of a stigma about it, that this was homegrown material. And like so [many] publications it's ephemeral -- here this week, gone the next. When it stopped publishing people forgot about it."

Over the years Seth -- dubbed comics' premier historian in the latest issue of The Walrus magazine -- compiled as much of Wright's work as he could find. Mackay says that at first Seth proposed a book called Gang of Seven -- a look at Canadian cartooning from the turn of the century onwards -- though a lack of interest from publishers shelved the idea. Later, the concept was revived when D&Q publisher Chris Oliveros showed interest in a Wright-only retrospective.

The book, designed by Seth, is an impressive collection of his early work, comic strips, sketches, paintings, magazine covers, photographs and rough drafts. A trove of original material was uncovered at the National Archives in Ottawa, which proved invaluable.

"Wright himself was remarkable in that he saved everything: He kept all his originals -- a huge amount of them -- he kept careful scrapbooks, which some cartoonists do but most don't ... He kept all the stuff, and that was a godsend," says Seth.

Initially, Seth hoped to do a complete reprinting of the strip--as he is doing as designer of the massive 25-volume The Complete Peanuts -- but it wasn't economically feasible, plus there was no guarantee they could locate all of Wright's work. A "selected" volume was the logical choice.

Wright died in 1983. He suffered a stroke near the end of his life that effectively ended his cartooning career. In 2004, Seth and Mackay co-founded the Doug Wright Awards for Canadian Cartooning, whose fifth annual ceremony is being held tomorrow. They hope the book, coupled with the awards, will spark a Doug Wright renaissance.

"The publishing of the book," says Seth, "is more about trying to give him his due. I guess as a working cartoonist you hate to think somebody worked their whole life on something and then were forgotten. It seems important to me to leave a legacy of some sort, and I would kind of like him to be reclaimed. I see him as a national treasure, and I would like that in 10 years a young cartoonist would know his name and not realize there was even a period that he'd been forgotten." - The Collected Doug Wright is published by Drawn & Quarterly ($39.95). The Fifth Annual Doug Wright Awards take place tomorrow. Check nationalpost.com/theafterwordfor a complete list of winners.





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GEORGE SPROTT reviewed by Rob Clough

Updated May 5, 2009


Saturday, May 2, 2009
Unreliable Narration: George Sprott, 1894-1975
Rob reviews the revised "graphic novella" by Seth, GEORGE SPROTT: 1894-1975 (Drawn & Quarterly). This is an expanded version of the strip that originally was serialized in the New York Times Sunday Magazine.

As seen in the New York Times Sunday magazine, Seth's GEORGE SPROTT was a sort of distillation of the storytelling techniques he used in his delightful (but slightly melancholy) WIMBLEDON GREEN combined with the same sort of themes found in his current long-running serial, "Clyde Fans". The original 20-part serial was composed such that each page could be read as a discrete unit but also fit as part of a larger narrative. That narrative, such as it was, contained frequent digressions into the history of certain buildings and long interviews with people who knew the titular character. The handsome new release for Drawn & Quarterly fleshes out certain aspects of Sprott, provides a bit more breathing room with incidental illustrations and even concretizes them with photos of Seth-built cardboard buildings.

Seth is labeled a nostalgist in the way he tends to idolize the past. I've always thought that for him, it wasn't so much idolizing past values, but rather a sense of immersion in an aesthetic that always felt tied to a particular time and place. That's why the buildings of importance in GEORGE SPROTT are given so much development and "characterization"; to Seth, they are crucial pieces of the story. These buildings are both repositories of specific experiences at specific times and aesthetically beautiful in and of themselves. George Sprott is just one man living in the fictional Canadian town of Dominion, a town so real and vibrant to Seth that he felt compelled to recreate it as a series of models. For Seth, his aesthetic battle is between generic and specific. One gets the sense that through mass production and globalization, the individual aesthetic of local communities is being obliterated, and along with it the quirky panache that Seth reveres. This theme of the shrinking importance and influence of individuals in the face of an increasingly bland culture resonates throughout GEORGE SPROTT, recapitulating the themes that have always been present in Seth's comics.


What separates GEORGE SPROTT from other slice-of-life studies is the apologetic, sheepish narrator who is far from omniscient. While the narrator does move the story forward (with a number of digressions) as Sprott's last day on earth is detailed, they apologize not only for leaving out details, but for failing to pithily explain who Sprott really was to the audience. The reality is that all narrators are unreliable, with none moreso than those who narrate their own stories. Putting together a biography is an act of trying to overlay a narrative on top of a life--but a story is not a life lived, but rather a retroactive interpretation of that experience. One can talk about a life, around a life, give facts, figures & dates--but such an approach doesn't really provide true insight. Having a narrator who knew all sorts of stuff about Sprott but who wasn't in any real position to tell us what it all meant was a refreshing approach, and one that allowed the reader to approach the story more on their own terms.

Following the visual style of WIMBLEDON GREEN fit nicely with that approach, because as the narrator is constructing the story of a life out of overly-simplistic parts, so does Seth the artist draw his figures as simply-drawn geometric figures. Circles, squares and triangles make up nearly every figure and building as there's a minimum of rendering, an interesting departure for an artist whose dense brushwork creates so much atmosphere. By simplifying his figures, Seth reduces the reader's tendency to linger too long on individual images, instead propelling them along the page as we follow the simple figures. At the same time, the reader is immersed in the atmosphere of the piece, as the use of color is crucial in creating mood. Seth masterfully creates this atmosphere with that brush, giving the simple figures a certain power, all while creating a total environment where every element is designed to convey the overall emotions of the piece. The effect of the metallic blue and the reddish brown color overlays feels like we're looking at an old photograph, starting to fade. The new material in the book consists of anecdotes that can run a few pages long, and these are all done in tan, as though we're looking at a crumbling piece of newspaper. Of course, the slickness of design, the way the colors pop and the quality of the paper add a certain tension to this illusion; it's somehow both new and old.

If the reader is kept at a distance from Sprott, it's because the character deliberately pushed aside troubling feelings by adhering to a strict set of daily rituals. The irony here of course is that Sprott as a younger man fancied himself an adventurer, a rascal and a lover--a man who lived by his whims and felt no compunctions about spontaneity, even if that wound up hurting others. That robust, handsome man had become obese, living in the past as employment with a TV show and weekly lecture that had him constantly recounting his younger, more vital days. His only remaining skill was that of raconteur, trying to entertain but never to interact. Like all of Seth's characters, he's now a man trapped in the wrong time who squandered his opportunities to make the lives of others better and is now trying to chase away demons of guilt.

Of course, Seth makes sure never to make it that simple. We get all kinds of accounts about Sprott, from intimates to those who only knew him from his TV show or lectures. Those stories wind up telling us little about Sprott but lots about them, especially since so many of the accounts seem to contradict each other. The sharpest comparison is between his illegitimate daughter, who never knew him, hated him for this and then perpetuated her feelings onto her children; and his niece, whom he heaped affection on. His niece was the one person still taking care of him late in his life, and it's implied that Sprott heaped affection and attention on her because he realized it was too late with his daughter. Whatever the reason (guilt, regret, a desperation to connect), a connection was formed; there's one drawing of his niece as a child sitting in his lap, an utterly contented look on her face.

There's never a real sense of mystery to be found in this story, another deliberate move by Seth. We understand early on why Sprott feels regretful and whom he hurt and how. There's something about details being revealed to the reader that concretizes the experience all the more, making us both pity and feel shame for Sprott. In the end, the narrator doesn't pretend to try to wrap things up or make sense of his life. We don't know if George's affection for his niece proved to be some form of redemption, or if that concept has any meaning at all in this context. From a purely materialist standpoint, the strip about a collector TV ephemera proudly showing us his Sprott collection was both touching and pathetic. Touching in that in some small way, Sprott won't be forgotten--but pathetic that he will only be remembered as a sort of trivial fetish. The scattered array of panels toward the end that represent Sprott's last moments recapitulated the way his life was represented in the book: fragmented, episodic and filled with meanings that are not easily teased out.
 
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  SETH in The Walrus Magazine

Updated April 30, 2009


Back In Palookaville

Cartoonist and designer Seth emerges as comics’ premier historian
by Sean Rogers

books discussed in this essay:
George Sprott: (1894–1975)
by Seth
Drawn and Quarterly (2009), 96 pp.

The Collected Doug Wright: Canada’s Master Cartoonist (Volume One)
by Doug Wright
Drawn and Quarterly (2009), 240 pp.

The Complete Peanuts: 1950 to 1952
by Charles M. Schulz
Fantagraphics Books (2004), 343 pp.

Palookaville was the title of the comic book series, and right away we should have known that its creator, Seth, was up to something. The word was as vague as the names of the other small-press comics springing up in Canada at the time, but where Yummy Fur promised tactile surrealism and Peepshow and Dirty Plotte connoted sex, what did Palookaville tell us? Marlon Brando used the term in On the Waterfront, but it was decades out of date by the time Seth claimed it for his solo debut in 1991. For devotees of cartooning history, the word might also recall Ham Fisher’s pugilist, Joe Palooka, but in any case it conjures up a fanciful middle-of-nowhere populated by marginal has-beens like Fisher’s cartoon hero or Brando’s dockworker. This Palookaville is Seth’s town, full of cast-offs, outmoded relics from the past, and the arcane history of comics, all located somewhere at half a remove from our own Canadian reality. Although his characters may visit or come from Chatham and London and Guelph and Strathroy, Palookaville is the small Ontario town of the mind where they — and Seth — have actually lived for the past couple of decades.

Seth’s output is more broad than prodigious, but remarkably consistent in its melancholic concerns with time, comics, and places, specifically Canadian ones. It encompasses everything from comic books to book design, from museum installations to architectural models, along with the odd foray into critical prose. Lately, however, he has increasingly channelled his creative energy in one direction. So, to start with, recent issues of Palookaville describe an inept salesman’s memories of failure in a large Ontario town, not unlike London or Kitchener, called Dominion. The artist has also crafted dozens of cardboard models of the town’s buildings, which have been displayed in galleries in Waterloo and Dundas. He has privately sketched out, in images and prose, the town’s history, its architectural motifs, and its people. One of them, a washed-up Arctic explorer, provided the basis for his recent contributions to the New York Times Magazine’s Funny Pages.

The Times Magazine strips have been collected and expanded upon in a book called George Sprott: (1894-1975), released this month by Seth’s Montreal publisher, Drawn and Quarterly. It’s an appropriately large showcase for one of the smoothest hands in the business, the brush strokes precise and hefty, the colours muted, the page design bold and rhythmic. Told in the simplified staccato of Seth’s sketchbook cartoons, rather than the more languorous style of his Palookaville comics, the story of George Sprott slowly emerges from dozens of single-page strips and occasional, sepia-toned multi-page flashbacks. An elderly local TV host who still dines out on the northern excursions he made in his thirties and forties, he is now forgotten, stumbling toward death. Seth describes his protagonist’s decline in documentary style, providing omniscient narration along with the contradictory testimony of characters who’ve known Sprott both casually and intimately. The result is puzzling. How do we reconcile the doddering old coot with the bilious young seminarian, or either of these with the dashing ladies’ man who fathers an illegitimate daughter? Sprott comes off as just a sketch, but his very lack of definition makes him Seth’s most believable character since the cartoonist portrayed his own frustrating inconsistencies in It’s a Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken.

The art of cartooning seems so intuitive to Seth that we might be forgiven for failing to see the study and thought he puts into it. His preoccupation is with outcasts, with obscure and slightly awry histories. Thus we have the story of explorer and television personality George Sprott, or of salesman-cum-dreamer Simon Matchcard (Clyde Fans), or even of the artist’s own father (Bannock, Beans and Black Tea). But the figure of the cartoonist himself fits this lonesome archetype perfectly. Obsessed by the idea of cartooning, Seth invents characters that also allow him to explore the story of comics, about making them, about reading them, about being frustrated with them — in short, about loving them. And it’s no longer only through his own cartooning that he analyzes the medium. In his increasingly prominent role as designer of such high-profile reprint projects as The Complete Peanuts and this spring’s The Collected Doug Wright, his idiosyncratic methods of contextualizing each cartoonist’s work make him more critic than designer, redefining the terms by which we understand classic and Canadian cartooning.


Chip Kidd was one of the first designers to impose his sensibility on the masters of the medium, to middling artistic success and great fan consternation. A book on Plastic Man creator Jack Cole, which Kidd co-designed with Art Spiegelman, ends with a twenty-page collage of images from Cole’s zanier comics, intended to replicate the artist’s state of mind before he took his own life. Kidd would rile even more cartoon nerds with his book Peanuts: The Art of Charles M. Schulz, which focused on the early and undocumented history of the beloved strip. This choice allowed him to highlight the physicality of Schulz’s work, whether clipped from yellowing newspapers or scratched on bristol board by Schulz himself.

But Kidd’s vision of Peanuts was soon to be overtaken by Seth’s. Following Schulz’s death, Seth won the approval of the cartoonist’s widow and took on the job of designing the landmark Complete Peanuts project. It was an act of reclamation: “I hope to create a package around the work that shows it in a slightly different context than it’s been presented in for years,” he said. “I don’t want the reader to think much about it at all, but when they come to it, I hope they’re led in and out of Schulz’s work in a way that puts them in the right mood to read it again as the subtle work that it is, not as the product that has been pushed for so many years by merchandising and TV specials.” His design choices are atypical of pretty much anyone else’s take on the strip. The interiors, cast in a melancholy shade of blue, isolate the kinds of objects he so loves to centre out for attention in his own work: a car here, a mailbox there, a snowman, a record player, a puddle, a tree. They are divorced from the children who otherwise populate the strip, and who themselves hover solitary on the cover, the spine, the flaps. Seth’s is a lonely, forlorn Peanuts.

Make no mistake: this is Seth’s Peanuts more than Schulz’s. One of the drawbacks of Seth’s omnivorous approach to cartooning is that his admiration for his peers often compels him to incorporate their innovations into his own practice. Not so with his work as a designer, which remains sui generis: his take on Peanuts is the one through which most future readers will understand the strip, and with which future critics will have to wrestle. It is, in other words, authoritative. And that he presents us with a version of Peanuts that looks so brazenly unfamiliar should come as no surprise when we consider how ready he is, elsewhere, to discard, tweak, or wholly invent broad swaths of cartooning history.

Seth’s fabrications have the air of truth. His creation of the town of Dominion, for example, or of whimsical, bogus national industries like Polar Cola or Northern Fried Chicken — these enter rather easily into our consciousness. But when he combines such ersatz Canadiana with his immersion in comics history, enlivening and embellishing national and artistic narratives that might strike some as lacklustre — well, we know we’re back in Palookaville. In his previous book, Wimbledon Green, he tells the story of a world-famous (Canadian) comic book collector, who finds troves of (Canadian) comics in barns outside prairie towns, or on mad chases up Ontario’s Highway 11. But the most extreme example of his conflation of “forgotten” Canadian and cartooning histories is his invention of the New Yorker cartoonist Kalo. In the seemingly autobiographical It’s a Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken, Seth searches for cartoons by and information about gag panellist Jack “Kalo” Kalloway, interviewing the man’s family and including his photo and few extant cartoons as supplements to the main story. Seth had, however, faked this evidence of the man’s life. Kalo was a fiction.

There was no need to invent Doug Wright — he actually existed. But where Seth built an entire narrative around a handful of strips by Kalo that he’d “found,” for the first volume of the new Collected Doug Wright he builds a shrine. Until recently, Wright was a neglected figure, his only legacy found in crumbling newspapers in booksellers’ back rooms. From the late ’40s through the ’70s, his weekly strip, Nipper (later renamed Doug Wright’s Family), appeared in the Montreal Standard, Weekend, and Canadian magazines. Nipper was a rowdy, young, bald-pated, striped-shirted hellion, of a kind with fellow comic brats Dennis or Calvin, but less overstated cartoon than lively regular kid, who exasperates and gladdens his parents in equal measure. In its day, the feature was highly popular, but as Seth’s co-editor, Brad Mackay, points out in his essay included in the volume, without a breakfast cereal or Saturday-morning cartoon to keep the character in the public consciousness (and a scant few long-out-of-print booklets dedicated to the work), the strip and Wright’s consummate skill have faded from memory.

No longer: Seth’s offhand advocacy of Kalo, it seems, served as a trial run for his championing of Wright. In It’s a Good Life, he mentions his pursuit of both men’s work in the same breath. In each case, he happens upon a random cartoon in some wayward shop, feels an immediate connection with it, and embarks on a search for more. Hunting out merchants who might have examples hidden away, he gradually collects a small but satisfying sample of the cartoonist’s oeuvre. After coming into contact with the artist’s family, he discovers that his subject had scrambled to the top of the cartooning heap — but the similarities end there. Kalo’s fictional output, Seth imagines, either fell out of favour or simply fell off, and the family he went on to nurture knew only the man, not the cartoonist. Doug Wright offers us a different story. While he lived, he stayed at the top, a talented workhorse, and when he died his family donated his life’s work to the National Archives. “This windfall allowed us to make this book the one that he deserved,” Seth writes.

And deserve it he does. While the book’s frequent references to Nipper as a masterpiece may come off as a tad overzealous, by any reckoning Wright was a stunning draftsman and a winning and unflinching humorist. In their prefatory notes, Mackay and Seth recite his many fine qualities. There’s his refreshing lack of sentimentality in depicting the wilful and chaotic lives of children, the stern efforts parents make to curb their kids’ behaviour, and the mercurial changes in mood one side endures from the other. Or there’s his exacting attention to technical particulars, his renderings of cars and buildings and workshops full of engaging but undistracting detail. And there’s the ease and grace with which he confronted postwar middle-class existence — suburbs and shopping, television and trick-or-treating — while making it a recognizable way of life for his readers. But he had formalist inclinations as well, developing a unique vertical layout that lends each punchline a finality not available in the traditional lengthwise format. Also among the strip’s chief accomplishments was his use of the two-colour format, the strong blacks weighting down each panel while the snappy reds guide the reader through each event and toward the gag.

Seth’s design draws upon each of these strengths in turn. As with Peanuts, he foregrounds the objects Wright draws, imparting a sense of wide-open space. But these aren’t the friendless objects or existential voids of Peanuts — rather, these things and places belong to the burgeoning Canadian suburbs in which Wright lived and set his strip, and which consisted of precisely these cars and lawns and fields and skies. The enormous skies also call attention to the unusual height of Wright’s canvas, while the overwhelming red that fills them in illustrates how sparing is his actual use of the colour in the strip. This red, too, is more vibrant, more celebratory, than the ponderous blues that lead us into Seth’s take on Schulz.

While his goal with the Peanuts books is to retrieve the strip from the quagmire of childish and mass-cult associations into which it has sunk, his approach here takes an opposite tack. With Wright, he is wresting the work from obscurity, insisting upon its importance in big, swooping gestures for all to see, stamping it out in die-cut if he has to. So we can understand how Seth would demand, at the end of his appreciation of John Stanley (the children’s comic book artist whose reprint series he’s also designing), “Go find these damn comics and save them from oblivion.” Because that’s exactly what he’s doing with Schulz and Wright, with misfits like George Sprott, and with whomever else he cares about and whatever it is he holds dear about comics, or Canada. He’s saving them all from that one-way ticket to Palookaville.


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George Sprott: (1894-1975)
The Collected Doug Wright Volume One




Seth interviewed by Newsarama

Updated April 17, 2009


The Life of George Sprott: Talking to Seth
By Michael C. Lorah
posted: 17 April 2009
George Sprott 1894-1975

The New York Times Magazine has been home to some of the world’s greatest cartoonists since beginning its regular The Funny Pages section in 2005. Chris Ware and Jamie Hernandez were the first to be published in the institution, and Megan Kelso, Daniel Clowes, Jason, Rutu Modan and Gene Yang have all followed. Following Ware and Hernandez, the third creator to serialize a story in The Funny Pages was Canadian cartoonist Seth, best known for Clyde Fans, It’s a Good Life If You Don’t Weaken and Wimbledon Green.

Seth’s serial, George Sprott (1894-1975), first appeared in The New York Times Magazine September 17, 2006, and ran until March 25, 2007. Following the popular run in The NYT Magazine, Seth has expanded and completed the story, a fictional biography of a local access television host.

We emailed Seth to find out how it was for him working with The New York Times Magazine, how much new content appears in the graphic novel edition of George Sprott (1894-1975), and what his goals were for this project.

The New York Times Magazine approached Seth “during Jamie Hernandez's run in the magazine, probably about halfway through his story,” the cartoonist said. “That gave me enough time to get a head start on Sprott so I could hit the ground running when Jamie finished up. I guess that would place their first phone call sometime in 2006? The years fly by so quickly now I have a hard time recalling when anything happened. It seems like it was about six months ago, not several years."

“Not really,” Seth admits when asked if George Sprott was his first choice of stories to appear in the prestigious venue. “I had a very vague germ of an idea involving George that I had been playing around with in my head, nothing very concrete. In fact, I proposed three ideas to The Times. Sprott was at the bottom of that list of ideas.”

Long-time fans will probably be disappointed to hear that Seth admit, “The first idea – the one I most wanted to do – was to finish up a strip, which had come to a sudden end because of a dispute between myself and the editor, that I had begun a couple of years previously in the Canadian magazine TORO. I suspected this wouldn't fly since they would dislike the fact that it had begun somewhere else. I was correct. I doubt this work will ever see completion now.


“The second idea was a non-character oriented piece. I was going to write a long “poetic” thing about an imaginary city street (about one block of it) that was condemned. I wanted to explore each of the buildings in a single strip – building up about 20 or 25 of these individual histories, allowing them to add up in the reader's mind into a more complete story. I may yet try and do this story someday in the future.

“Finally, I tacked George on as a third option. I described it in the loosest of terms – a funny old man – a local TV host – falling asleep on air, some sort of character study.

Predictably, they picked the piece I was least interested in doing. I should have known it. That is the way these things always go. However, also predictably, as I began work on George Sprott, I discovered it was the strip that pushed me the most and was ultimately the most satisfying of the three ideas to work on. I think that if they had not picked George, I would simply have forgotten about him and nothing would have come of those vague plans. I’m grateful they made that choice – in the end I learned a lot as an artist working on George.

After his previous problems serializing in a magazine, Seth says that he found working with The NYT Magazine’s editorial staff surprisingly easy. “Excellent,” he gushes of the process. “They simply requested, at the beginning, that I produce six strips in pencil form so they could get a feel for the strip. I was a bit worried then, because of the troubles I just mentioned with the magazine TORO. I quit that job over too much editorial interference and I didn't want a repeat of that situation. The Times turned out to be great to work with. I received not one bit of interference. They never tried to influence where I was taking the story or to art direct the strip. They simply copy edited for spelling and grammar. Occasionally they would ask me to remove the work “fart” or something like that. They always apologized for asking and I never minded (I put “fart” back in for the publication of the book). They backed down graciously when I wanted the phrase “knocked up” after initially thinking it had to be replaced. They were great. Sheila Glazer was the editor I worked with and I can offer nothing but praise for how she did her job.”

In fact, the most difficult part of working with The Times had more to do with the realities of a weekly publication far more than any editorial issues. “About the process, there isn't much to say. After the strip started running I struggled to keep ahead of the deadline – penciling the next strip and sending it off to them for editing while I inked the previous one. It was close to the edge. My lead time slowly disappeared as the six months went on; when the final strip arrived I was getting it in at the very last moment,” Seth acknowledged.
page 65

page 65
ENLARGE IMAGE

Despite the deadline pressures, however, Seth told us, “I enjoyed having a serialized story and I would do it again. However, I would never do it as a permanent position. It's too stressful for producing “real” work. You don't have enough time to take a breather and really consider just what it is you are doing. I generally need more time for simply thinking.”

The upcoming George Sprott 1894-1975 book has some new material that didn’t appear in The NYT Magazine. Seth explained, “I knew the serialization of a story over a period of months would make a “continued next issue” type narrative hard to follow. Readers would forget where they left off last week. So, when I planned the strip, I designed it so that it could be read in self-contained pages. Each page would hopefully be fully satisfying to the reader while adding to the previous ones. Eventually they would make up a story. You might even, as a reader, be able to figure it all out even if you missed a few weeks.

“Later, after the strip was finished I wondered what I would do with the work. I could certainly reprint it, as is, in some collection of my comics but I also knew that it was drawn to be read at a larger size. It would probably translate poorly into a collection of my other work – looking cramped next to comics pages which had only seven or nine panels on them. I thought perhaps it would make a book on its own, but of course, the big problem with that was it was too short to make a reasonably sized book. Each page contained the equivalent of three of my usual pages, but they couldn't be easily broken up since I had designed each page rather tightly. It was a bit of a dilemma.”

Fortunately, Seth had had ideas for George Sprott’s life that couldn’t be fit into the magazine serial. “The one good thing, though, was that since it was entirely episodic in nature I could easily add in any material I wanted throughout the story without any real editing at all. This gave me the chance to add in a great deal of stuff that I had thought of while doing The Times strip but had to jettison because of space limitations. It also opened the door to exploring some of George's life I hadn't given all that much thought to – just hinted at. Nothing major – just little things.

“Making it into a book was an interesting process. I approached it as an editor and a designer and really tried to figure out what could be added to make this material into a “real” book. What was needed? How it had to be arranged and juggled. How could I make this pile of separate “things” flow and read properly. How to make it “feel” complete.”

Readers who’ve gone through the original version won’t find anything jarring in the book-length edition of George Sprott (1894-1975), but they will find plenty of new material to digest. “I'd guess that I doubled the length of the original run, at least. That's just the comics pages, of course,” Seth explained. “There are other full-page drawings, double-page spreads and photos in there as well. I think what a reader of the original strip would most notice in the book collection is that the pacing of the story is rather different now. It is somewhat more fractured – but I hope it is also a deeper character study than the original.”

One of the strip’s more interesting aspects is how the narrator (Seth himself?) acknowledges his own limitations, admitting on several occasions that he’s not clear on the facts of Sprott’s life. Seth says of the observer, “I am not entirely sure that the narrator of the strips is me. It might be someone else.

“Whoever it is – the narrator was included because I liked the idea that the story was being told to the reader by someone who didn't have all the facts. The narrator is sometimes privy to the most tiny details and in other cases was lacking the most basic information. Having a narrator involved also allowed me to do use a lot of exposition without it being too utterly boring. When you have only a single page to tell a big chunk of story you are clearly going to be stuck with narration boxes. I like narration but it can get repetitive, so I figured this allowed me to add a bit of character to the omniscient voice. It's an idea I would like to explore further in the future.”

In addition to the narrator’s limitations, readers also discover who George Sprott was via interview-like sequences with supporting cast characters – similar to reality TV segments. The effect is to keep readers distanced from George Sprott himself, enforcing the truth that we can never truly know him (or anyone else), but can only understand him through how others perceived him.

“In a word, yes,” Seth said of his intention to keep George Sprott away from the reader. “I wanted to hold George himself at some distance. I imagined that seen from the outside George might look bad but I also suspected that the reader wouldn't be entirely sure what to make of him. I liked the ambiguity. I deliberately chose not to go “inside” him too much. The moment you do that the reader instantly sympathizes with the character. I only really go inside George once in the book – it is in the gatefold section of the book. You literally “open him up” and look inside his mind/soul.”

Throughout George Sprott (1894-1975), many cardboard models of the buildings in the city where George lives most of his life appear as photographs. The models were created by Seth himself. “They are part of a cardboard city named Dominion that I have been building for several years. I displayed the city for the first time a few years ago at the Art Gallery of Ontario. They are currently part of a traveling show in Canada that began last year in Kitchener, Ontario, and will travel on to Dundas, London, Montreal and Charlottetown. I won't bore you with the long story of why I built this cardboard town but Dominion is the city that George Sprott takes place in. It also appears in Clyde Fans, as well.”

Keeping track of the details of George Sprott’s lifetime wasn’t as difficult as readers might imagine, Seth said. “Early on I worked out a bare bones lifeline for George's life. Nothing too complicated, I just mapped out what needed to be spelled out for the reader and what “interviewees” could be used to give that information. Early on in The Times run of the strip I did an installment that quickly spelled George's life out for the reader. I figured that would make it easier to follow the subsequent episodes.”

Seth, like many of us, grew up with a range of local television personalities influencing his childhood, and those childhood memories played a large role in the evolution of this book. “I grew up around Windsor, Ontario, (primarily) and spent a great deal of my childhood watching both Canadian and Detroit television. I loved TV, possibly I loved it even more than comics. Anyhow, I took in a huge amount of local programming and it left a lasting effect on my brain. The Detroit of my youth (and the decades preceding it) was a very vital broadcasting town. In those days a big town like Detroit had its own pop culture with a very distinct regional flavour. I liked that, and to tell the truth, I miss it in the current world. I don’t watch a lot of TV any longer – it all feels pretty much the same to me, just stuff pumped out of some collective pipeline emanating from the centre of the world.

“Detroit had a real pantheon of 'stars' - movie hosts, kiddie show hosts, horror hosts, news men etc. They felt both distant and somehow close by. That regional element of it all still holds some undefined interest for me. There was a particular host of a travel show named George Pierrot that was the direct inspiration for George Sprott. Some of his surface characteristics are similar – though none of the personal ones are. George Pierrot was famous for falling asleep on the air.

“I took a lot of this Detroit material as the background for the strip and mixed it in with a certain amount of similar material from Canadian local TV (which was rather similar but less flashy – Americans always do everything in a bigger way). Seriously I could have written hundreds of pages using this background. It's interesting stuff – a real time capsule. Does its passing mean anything important – probably not. The world is a little bit less interesting though when the media ceases to reflect the local environment.

After expanding and completing George Sprott (1894-1975), Seth is returning to one of his most famous and popular comics.

“Back to Clyde Fans – the home stretch in this book that never ends,” he laughed. “I am converting Palookaville into a hardcover format this year. I love the old comic format but Chris Oliveros convinced me that the work would do better if we moved on to this new direction. It's kind of sad, passing of an era and all that.

“Anyhow – the hardcover will be more diverse than the old comic – allowing me to include other aspects of my work. Besides the conclusion to Clyde Fans, there will possibly be written articles, sketchbook material ... other strips perhaps. Who knows? I am working on a new strip in my sketchbook right now that seems to be shaping up unexpectedly like Wimbledon Green into a rather long piece (though not in the same vein as Wimbledon). I'm really am looking forward to finishing up Clyde Fans sometime. God help me, I have another long story I am anxious to get going on.”

George Sprott (1894-1975) arrives in stores in May from Drawn and Quarterly. The original New York Times Magazine serialization can be found as pdfs on The NYT Magazine website.
 
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George Sprott: (1894-1975)




GEORGE SPROTT reviewed in The Daily Crosshatch

Updated March 20, 2009


The Daily Cross Hatch

George Sprott 1894-1975
By Seth
Drawn & Quarterly

"This book was created on a lark,” writes Seth, in the introduction to 2005’s Wimbledon Green. “Actually, it was never intended to be a book at all—merely an exercise in one of my sketchbooks[…] It’s an approach wherein you tell a longer story through a variety of shorter, unconnected comic strips.” As is often the case in art, what was born out of a lark (though, of course, the validity of the artist’s claims of nonchalance will never be known to anyone but himself) grew into a motif and has since become seemingly something of an obsession.

Wimbledon Green’s one and two page vignettes largely centered around the book’s own meta obsession with sequential art, borrowing heavily from the mid-20th century short story comic books that would have no doubt struck the fancy of the titular Scrooge McDuck-esque comic collector. And while Seth did inject the piece with character interviews and other non-sequential elements, he never strayed too far from his linear comic comfort zone. Still, it was rather obvious to anyone who read the book that Seth was scratching the surface of something interesting, a fact clearly not lost on the artist himself.

In some sense, George Sprott is a realization of many of Wimbledon Green’s flights of fancy, or, at the very least, their logical extension. Once again in the book’s introduction, for better or worse, the magician happily reveals his secret. This time, however, Seth is a touch more discreet. Whereas Wimbledon Green saw the artist spelling his intentions out—literally—in prose, issued like something of a disclaimer, he’s subtler this time around, opening on something of an ethereal, dreamlike state, wherein Sprott, tumbling naked through limbo, questions the linear march of time, thereby setting one of the book’s major conceits, a general abandonment of chronology. It’s hard not to imagine that some of this move toward non-linear storytelling is due to the fact that the story was initially serialized in the pages of New York Magazine, a fact which no doubt afforded Seth some initial freedom to move away from more traditional forms of storytelling.

Like Wimbledon Green, George Sprott is, above all, a character study, but Seth’s insistence on decentralization a chronological narrative serve to take even more of the focus away from the storyline. The vignettes presented in the book ultimately, more than any other function, act to fill in the empty spaces of Sprott, the well-known host of a regional news program. The pieces, too, are more subtle than in their predecessor. After all, Sprott is a more fully-realized character than the playfully cartoonist Green. His adventures do not consist of helicopter races to secure mint condition comics, instead they’re far more realistic—and, by proxy, depressing—acts, like fathering and subsequently abandoning an illegitimate child.

Seth’s fictional source material is also more diverse, and often pages play out like visual scrapbooks, combining still keepsakes with dialogued comics panels, for some of the most effective spreads of the book. The artist also, happily, takes some visual cues from Chris Ware, constructing painted cardboard models of many of the book’s settings, which live on transitional pages between strips.

The character that ultimately emerges from these vignettes is not an especially redeeming one, and while Seth does make a point of visualizing some regrets, there’s little reason to believe that he was intended to be the target of too much empathy. Perhaps its symptomatic of the presentation, but despite the fact that we are allowed, on occasion, to step into Sprott’s thought patterns, it’s hard not to feel that, as readers, we’re never allowed to get too close to the character. In that sense, our experience is not unlike those characters who attempt to get close to Sprott in the book.

It’s a lack of depth echoed in the graphical presentation of many of the panels that comprise the book. In that sense, George Sprott maintains some of the sketchbook roots of its predecessor. The panels are often drawn in tight on their subjects, allowing for little background detail to infiltrate the frame. But, as is the case with much of the book, the importance is placed less on the individual detail than what they ultimately add up to, and in the case of many of the pages presented herein, the panels result in some of the more stunning layouts that we’ve seen from the artist.

In the end we’re left with what still feels like something of an experiment, albeit an exciting one resulting from an artist pushing into an new realm. It’s probably not quite accurate to suggest that George Sprott is ultimately more than the sum of its parts, but that doesn’t mean that the pieces, when taken together, aren’t worth an awful lot.

–Brian Heater

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Summer Blonde, Good Life and Pyongyang in GQ

Updated March 19, 2009


THE 20 GRAPHIC NOVELS YOU SHOULD READ (AFTER ‘WATCHMEN’)
Yes, they’re comic books, but these are not for kids
By Alex Pappademas and Kevin Sintumuang


They finally made a movie out of Watchmen, God bless ’em. Perhaps you’ve heard about it. Maybe you’ve also heard that before it was un film de Zack Snyder, Watchmen was a comic book, one that, despite being made of humble ink and staples and panels and word balloons, represented as giant a leap for its medium as Citizen Kane or Easy Rider did for theirs, and though it didn’t put an end to dumb comics any more than those films put an end to dumb movies, it established a climate in which it was possible to do something grown-up, to aim over the heads of the guys in the Cheetos-dusted Punisher T-shirts once in a while. But if we can add one thing to the conventional wisdom about comics, it’s this: Those giant leaps may not happen every day, but every week a whole crapload of new comics hits the shelves (every Wednesday, to be specific—between that and Lost it’s basically the Nerd Sabbath). And while they’re not all gems, plenty of them are moving the ball forward, boldly, in terms of what kinds of stories the medium can tell. If you used to read comics but drifted away, there’s never been a better time to drift back; if you’ve never read them, there’s never been a better time to start. You can’t go wrong with the books in this slideshow. They’re risky, inventive, boundary-pushing—and (we promise) you can appreciate all of ’em whether or not you have forty-five tangled years of X-Men backstory committed to memory. And if you do have a backstory question, try the guy in the Punisher shirt. He’s there every Wednesday. So are we. Here’s why.




Summer Blonde
By Adrian Tomine

These four Salingeresque short stories are dark, tragicomic portraits of social awkwardness. A washed-up novelist dates a teenage girl for new material, the high school nerd gets his sexual initiation from a girl who recently pooped her pants, and a stalker has nothing but the best intentions for the girl he’s…stalking.


Pyongyang
By Guy Delisle

Proof that totalitarian regimes are comedy gold. Delisle’s collection of anecdotes, drawn from the time he spent in the capital of North Korea as an animator, is a witty, appropriately cynical look into the land of mandatory volunteers and institutionalized paranoia. But for all of his observations of the surreal and odd, he’s never the white guy peering into a North Korean freak show. You leave Pyongyang as Delisle did: with empathy.

It’s a Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken
By Seth

Ignore the title—this is not the indie mope-fest you’d expect. Seth’s quixotic, nostalgia-fueled quest to track the life and career of Kalo, an obscure Canadian illustrator he discovers while rummaging through old magazines, leads to some truly poetic observations and ruminations on the fading, dusty world of the ’40s and ’50s.
 
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Seth
Adrian Tomine
Guy Delisle

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It's A Good Life If You Don't Weaken (HC)
Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea (hardcover)




  PALOOKAVILLE #19 reviewed by Pop Matters

Updated June 11, 2008


Palookaville #19
Writer: Seth
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly
March 2008, 24 pages, $4.95
by William Gatevackes
POP MATTERS

"This is my first exposure to both Seth and Palookaville, so I am viewing this through the eyes of a new reader. This issue is part three of the "Clyde Fans" storyline, which has been running in the title since issue #10.

To Seth's credit, you don't have to read the previous installments to understand what is going on. The status quo is established fairly quickly, and each character's personality and relationship to each other is firmly set up. You might not know each character's names, but they each have individual traits that make them unique and vibrant.

The story involves Simon and his bully of a brother putting their elderly mother in a nursing home. This action plays havoc with Simon's emotions - it's clear he was not wholly in favor of the idea - and he escapes into the world of hallucinations in order to deal with it.

The story is a sad one and Seth invokes sorrow from the reader like a master. He presents the story in a simple and plain way. There are no showy outbursts. There are no crying jags. There are no gut-wrenching scenes of melodrama. He simply lets the story itself move the audience, and move the audience, it does.

Seth's artwork is simple yet effect. Dark, crisp lines permeate throughout and capture a version of reality without being realistic. His use of two colors, grey and blue, enhances the melancholy inherent in the story. Each page is just drenched in colors of sadness and they cling to the characters like a tight-fitting coat."
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Seth

          



ALL WE EVER DO IS TALK ABOUT WOOD, PALOOKA-VILLE 19 and CRICKETS reviewed by Newsarama

Updated April 15, 2008


All We Ever Do Is Talk About Wood
Written & Illustrated by Tom Horacek
Published by Drawn & Quarterly
Reviewed by Michael C Lorah

It doesn’t look like much, this book. It’s a tiny little thing, barely bigger than a pad of Post-It notes, with an Earthy brown front cover you might glance past if you’re not paying attention. But, c’mon, take a second and really look at that cover. It’s freaking brilliant.

And that’s pretty much what you’re in for when you pick up Horacek’s collection of one-panel gag strips, eighty-eight pages of sly, subtle, dry hand-grenade humor (hand grenade humor = you pause for a moment after the joke is throw before the humor hits you like a bomb). Later cartoons show a boardroom full of somber execs, mourning as their sales chart goes flat line or an alien in a doctor’s coat with a heavy Proctology textbook on his desk.

It’s delightfully bitter work, sardonically upsetting readers’ expectations in unlikely ways. Horacek’s characters, with their huge, round heads and outward innocence, seem the least likely characters to pull down social mores, but he’s unafraid to put them through the wringer for a laugh. There’s no overall theme to the cartoons, but Horacek’s dry wit and illustrations bind the entire package together stylishly.

The small package is well designed, giving each gag its own page so that none are crowded by another laugh. And, really, who can’t appreciate a joke about a father suggesting that he and his wife name their newborn son Margaret just to “see what happens”? Hilariously recommended.

Palookaville #19 (D&Q; by Mike): The third chapter of Seth’s Clyde Fans continues in this installment, a cleanly drawn, creatively told segment about Simon placing his mother in assisted living and then going through her momentos and collectibles. Though little plot occurs, Seth’s large, dense pages are heavy with information and nuance, and nobody uses the panel gutters to greater affect than Seth does throughout this book. Whether its marking the passage of time as Simon walks through a neighborhood, or disconnecting Simon from his mother, Seth arranges pages in imaginative, engaging ways that keep you turning. Good work.

Crickets #1-2 (D&Q; by Mike): Sammy Harkham’s new series debuts, dominated by the serialization of “Black Death.” One man escapes certain (very, very certain) death with the aid of a golem, and begins a journey through a peculiar forest. In issue one, they meet a father and son taking the corpse of the young son’s baby brother to be buried among family. In the second, a raving naked man is rescued from a well by the unlikely tandem of man and golem. It’s well drawn, and Harkham has a very clear idea of who his characters are and where they’re going, but two issues into the serial, it’s far too early to guess where things might be going. There’s some real potential here, so we’ll have to see where it goes.

 
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Seth
Sammy Harkham
Tom Horacek

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Crickets #2
All We Ever Do Is Talk About Wood




  PALOOKA-VILLE 19 on Wizard TV

Updated January 17, 2008


Palooka-ville 19
January 10, 2008
WIZARD TV
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Seth

          



EXIT WOUNDS, IT'S A GOOD LIFE IF YOU DON'T WEAKEN reviewed by the Daily Telegraph

Updated September 13, 2007


Graphic novels
Reviews by Sam Leith
28 July 2007
The Daily Telegraph

Exit Wounds
by Rutu Modan

Koby, a young taxi-driver in Tel Aviv, is approached y a stranger. She tells him that she's convinced a body, burned beyond identification in a recent suicide bombing, is that of her lover, his estranged father. Uneasily, they set out to investigate what happened. Their search, and its conclusions, surprise them both.

Rutu Modan's panels are restrained, her palette warm, her lines clean and the faces of her characters at once diagrammatic - in a sort of Julian Opie way - and expressive. The pages look simple, but the story is not. The economical-but-expressive quality of her drawing is echoed by the narrative, which intermixes political tension, private complexity, and the texture of daily life.

Exit Wounds is the real thing. Modan brings you a world entire. The final panel of this tender and strange story offers an image half-hopeful, suspended in air. A wonderful book, and beautifully published to boot.

It's a Good Life, If You Don't Weaken
by Seth

The hero of this "picture novella'' is called Seth. He is a cartoonist, rather depressive and neurotic, who affects round glasses and a fedora and hates modern life. He tends to push women away. He imagines that he'd have been happier in the 1940s or 1950s, but then catches himself imagining it and realises how absurd the idea is.

Seth's brushwork (or nib-work) consciously harks back to the old-style New Yorker cartoonists, and his strips are in retro-style, two-colour format with a blue tone. This tells the story of his infatuation with, and quest to find out more about, an obscure gag cartoonist called Kalo, whose style resembles his own, after spotting one of his drawings in a 1951 New Yorker.

This is classic modern comics hipster stuff: downbeat, introverted, but exquisite of its kind.
 

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Seth
Rutu Modan

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It's A Good Life If You Don't Weaken (PB)
Exit Wounds




  D+Q at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, August 17-19

Updated August 3, 2007




With Special Guests: Joe Matt, Seth, Chester Brown, and Kevin Huizenga.


TCAF Kick-Off Events - Friday, August 17th:

@ Innis Town Hall
2 Sussex Avenue
Toronto, ON

(located within Innis College on the U of T's downtown campus, at the NW corner of St. George Street and Sussex Avenue, just south of Bloor. St. George subway).

Featuring the presentation of the 2007 Doug Wright Awards, AND Seth, Chester Brown, and Joe Matt reunited on stage as Joe returns to Toronto from Hollywood! Seth & Chester put the spotlight on Joe Matt in light of his latest graphic novel Spent

6:30 programming starts, signing with Joe Matt, Chester Brown, and Seth follows!

9:00 after party (details TBC)


Saturday, August 18th

festival hours 10AM - 7PM

Old Victoria College
93 Charles St. West

12:30 - 1:30 Seth (@ D+Q table)

1:30 - 2:30 Chester Brown (@ D+Q table)

3:00 - 4:00 Joe Matt, Chester Brown, & Seth signing in the Beguiling-sponsored signing room

2:30 - 4:30 Kevin Huizenga (@ D+Q table)

4:30 - 5:30 Joe Matt (@ D+Q table)


Sunday, August 19th

festival hours 10AM - 6PM

Old Victoria College
93 Charles St. West

11:30 - 12:30 Chester Brown (@ D+Q table)

1:00 - 2:00 Joe Matt, Chester Brown, & Seth signing in the Beguiling-sponsored signing room

12:30 - 2:30 Kevin Huizenga (@ D+Q table)

2:30 - 3:30 Joe Matt (@ D+Q table)

3:30 - 4:30 Seth (@ D+Q table)


Featured artists

Chester Brown
Seth
Joe Matt

           Featured product

Spent




EXIT WOUNDS and IT'S A GOOD LIFE in The Telegraph UK

Updated August 2, 2007


Exit Wounds by Rutu Modan

Koby, a young taxi-driver in Tel Aviv, is approached by a stranger. She tells him that she's convinced a body, burned beyond identification in a recent suicide bombing, is that of her lover, his estranged father. Uneasily, they set out to investigate what happened. Their search, and its conclusions, surprise them both.

Rutu Modan's panels are restrained, her palette warm, her lines clean and the faces of her characters at once diagrammatic - in a sort of Julian Opie way - and expressive. The pages look simple, but the story is not. The economical-but-expressive quality of her drawing is echoed by the narrative, which intermixes political tension, private complexity, and the texture of daily life.

Exit Wounds is the real thing. Modan brings you a world entire. The final panel of this tender and strange story offers an image half-hopeful, suspended in air. A wonderful book, and beautifully published to boot.

It's a Good Life, If You Don't Weaken by Seth

The hero of this "picture novella" is called Seth. He is a cartoonist, rather depressive and neurotic, who affects round glasses and a fedora and hates modern life. He tends to push women away. He imagines that he'd have been happier in the 1940s or 1950s, but then catches himself imagining it and realises how absurd the idea is.

Seth's brushwork (or nib-work) consciously harks back to the old-style New Yorker cartoonists, and his strips are in retro-style, two-colour format with a blue tone. This tells the story of his infatuation with, and quest to find out more about, an obscure gag cartoonist called Kalo, whose style resembles his own, after spotting one of his drawings in a 1951 New Yorker.

This is classic modern comics hipster stuff: downbeat, introverted, but exquisite of its kind.
 
click here to read more


Featured artists

Seth
Rutu Modan

           Featured products

It's A Good Life If You Don't Weaken (PB)
Exit Wounds




  SETH and RUTU MODAN in the Independent [UK]

Updated June 5, 2007


THE NEW REVIEW
It’s a weird life
Tim Martin

3 June 2007
Independent On Sunday


THE NEW REVIEW | Tim Martin finds current masters of the graphic novel tackling everyday life and death in Israel, returning to the golden age of comics in Canada and tracing the wildest imaginings of a disordered mind

It’s a good time to be writing comic books. Not only is the form finally and blessedly free of the theorising over its seriousness and validity that has persisted since the term graphic novel was coined, but it’s also a relatively young discipline, unhampered at its best by generic cliché and offering genuinely original narrative possibilities to writers willing to experiment. Publishers seem to be catching on, too; heaven knows how well these things sell, but three striking new examples demonstrate serious investment in the kind of production and design that allow a cartoonist’s art to sing.

It’s A Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken proves once again that the Canadian cartoonist Seth’s is a talent to be treasured. Like last year’s Wimbledon Green (also published, rather beautifully, by Cape) this is a quietly sardonic story about comic geekery and the bachelorish pleasures of collecting things, as well as a tribute to the golden age of comic cartooning exemplified by The New Yorker under Harold Ross. Set in the mid-1980s, in semi-rural Ontario and Toronto, it’s the story of Seth’s growing obsession with a minor cartoonist from the 1940s and 1950s called Kalo, and of the miniature quest he undertakes to establish why Kalo published so little and stopped drawing so soon.

This is an introspective, nostalgic little tale, endearingly brisk in its delineation of character and with a sly, self-condemning sense of humour – the Seth of the book is made to seem tryingly old-womanish in his habits and self-preoccupations. It’s A Good Life ... is also wonderfully designed and drawn, with Seth’s deftly stylised sepiatone drawings in the service of a genuinely astute grasp of pace and narrative. It’s a small triumph for the form.

Also from Cape is Exit Wounds, the second graphic novel from the Israeli illustrator Rutu Modan. It’s the story of Koby, a young cab driver in Tel Aviv, and Numi, the girl who contacts him to tell him that his estranged father – her lover – may have been the victim of a recent suicide bombing in Hadera. Off they go in his taxi to find out, discovering on a sequence of cross-country forays that neither of them knew the missing man, or themselves, as well as they thought.

Produced in lavish full colour, Exit Wounds is an enormously attractive book, and Modan’s striking talent for scenic arrangement, her distinctive jolie laide humans and her snappy grasp of dialogue give an absolutely cogent picture of the weirdness of life in contemporary Israel . “Look at those poor bastards,” says one character, leafing through a picture spread of bomb casualties. “Oh, they’re from the Haifa bombing,” responds the other, gloriously missing the point, “nothing to do with us.” Modan’s vision of Israel isn’t as explicitly surreal as that of her contemporary and sometime collaborator Etgar Keret, but it’s just as compelling in its portrayal of the country’s many faces, from desolate countryside to teeming city, from frontline political violence to Americanised consumer fastness. It’s an intriguing, percipient, unsentimental piece of work that deserves a decent audience.


‘It’s a Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken’ by Seth and ‘Exit Wounds’ by Rutu Modan are both published by Cape at Ł14.99. To buy discounted copies (free p&, contact Independent Books Direct on 08700 798 897

Further browsing Read more about graphic novels at http://www.drawnandquarterly.com

Featured artists

Seth
Rutu Modan

           Featured products

It's A Good Life If You Don't Weaken (PB)
Exit Wounds




Seth in Comic Book Resources

Updated May 10, 2007


365 Reasons to Love Comics #122
Posted by Bill Reed,
Wednesday, May 2nd, 2007
COMIC BOOK RESOURCES

And now, the fantastic conclusion of our Eh-pril/M-eh look at the greatest creators and characters to come down from our maple-scented neighbor to the North. Our featured creator is widely acclaimed and promoting the comics medium in new and interesting ways, so let’s promote him in a new and interesting way!

122. Seth

A theme seems to be emerging in our look at Canadian creators, and you all know how I love to point out themes, so here I am. Guys like Bryan O’Malley, Stuart Immonen, Chip Zdarsky, Cam Stewart, Kaare Andrews, Darwyn Cooke, and yes, Seth here, are all challenging the ways in which mainstream audiences look at comics. Whether it’s simply through diverse artistic styles or completely different ways of telling stories, these creators are bringing fresh, interesting, and, hell, super-cool Canadian methods of comicking to the American people. The alternative comics scene is really thriving, thanks to Canada.

In the comments, Bry Kotyk challenged me to a fight if I didn’t post an entry on Seth. Well, I offered him a different challenge… since I was going to be out of town, how would he like to write the entry on Seth? He kindly agreed. So here you have it, ladies and gents. Take it away, Bry…!

Seth (born Gregory Gallant in Clinton, Ontario) began his illustrating career in the ’80s, drawing for Vortex Comics’ futuristic series Mister X. Not long after, he abandoned the idea of drawing for another writer and instead decided to focus on his own brand of storytelling, launching the semi-autobiographical comic book series “Palooka-Ville” with the Montreal publisher Drawn & Quarterly, who he continues to publish the series with (albeit irregularly) to this day.

Seth’s work - in his words as well as art - is heavily steeped in nostalgia for a time long past, and echoes his real-life fascination with the early 20th century. His style is rather simple, clean and crisp, a refreshingly classic approach to graphic storytelling. Beyond his focus on nostalgia, Seth’s stories deal with disappointment and isolation, universal themes shown through the eyes of an artist out of step with the modern world. His protagonists guide the reader along their day-to-day lives with a thoughtful narrative, making even relatively humdrum events engaging as we see the world through their perspective. Though his work tends to evoke feelings of sadness and longing, his keen use of humour and wit help balance out the more melancholy moments, resulting in comics that are a joy to read - a calmer, quieter joy than the flashy offerings of other publishers, but a joy nonetheless!

Seth’s work in “Palooka-Ville” has been collected into several graphic novels - “It’s A Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken,” released in 1996, chronicles Seth’s obsession with the work of Kalo, an obscure cartoonist for the New Yorker, and his attempts to track down and meet his idol. Though featuring Seth as his own protagonist, the story is in fact a work of fiction (which came as a surprise to some). More recently, Seth has released “Clyde Fans: Book One,” the first of two collections covering the story of two salesman brothers who watch their electric fan business dwindle and die after the advent of air conditioning, and “Wimbledon Green,” an experimental ’sketchbook story’ showcasing the life and times of the eccentric Mr. Green and his colourful cast of admirers and rivals in their adventurous world of comic book collecting. Each of these books is excellent, and well worth checking out if you find yourself tiring of people in tights punching each other.

While considered “alternative comics” and very possibly overlooked at your average comic store, Seth’s work has seen some very mainstream recognition, being featured in publications such as The Washington Post, The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, and most recently with the serial “George Sprott (1894-1975)” in The New York Times. Seth also designed the recent “Complete Peanuts” books, collecting the work of one of his major influences, Charles Schulz.

Seth’s brand of storytelling and the attention his work has earned in the mainstream press has helped promote a different side of the comics world than many are used to, helping lend some extra artistic credibility to the medium and adding some diversity in this industry we love.

For more on Seth, you can check out his section at the Drawn & Quarterly website, a feature on the man and his work from Toronto Life magazine, or read “George Sprott (1894-1975)” in its entirety at The New York Times.
 
click here to read more


Featured artist

Seth

          



  LA Times spotlights Penguin Classics Deluxe Editions

Updated May 1, 2007


Cover me
By Richard Rayner
April 29, 2007
LA TIMES

In 1935, the British publisher Allen Lane visited Agatha Christie in the country and was miffed to discover, while waiting for the train back to London, that there was no decent book to buy at the railway station store. Shortly thereafter, he came up with his own remedy, a new imprint called Penguin, which began publishing paperbacks in the summer of 1935. Within a year, 3 million units had been shipped and a legendary brand had been created.

Book lovers tend to get a little nutty about their Penguins, wistfully eyeing the orange-spined editions of "Pride and Prejudice" and "Moby Dick" they read in college, or coveting the fiendishly tough-to-find Philip K. Dicks in the Penguin "black" SF series.

"We think about it all the time. We talk about it all the time," says Elda Rotor, executive editor of Penguin Classics in New York. "We know what we have here. The question is: How do you keep that going?"

Lane's original formula, of quality books at attractive prices, never goes out of date, although his means of brand identification — make all the books look the same — has long since ceased to work in the marketplace. So what's a publisher to do? For Penguin, one solution was to develop Penguin Classics Deluxe Editions, a new line of reissues that includes Jack Kerouac's "The Dharma Bums," Shirley Jackson's "We Have Always Lived in the Castle," and Hans Christian Andersen's "Fairy Tales." Printed on uncoated paper with ragged edges, and featuring introductions by writers like Haruki Murakami, Doris Lessing, Jonathan Lethem, Luc Sante and Eric Schlosser, these are classics the way they ought to be.

Perhaps most striking are the books' covers, which have been done by leading contemporary graphic artists such as Joe Sacco ("One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest"), Roz Chast (Stella Gibbons' "Cold Comfort Farm") and Japanese cartooning legend Yoshiro Tatsumi (Jay Rubin's new translation of Ryunosuke Akutagawa's "Rashomon"). Chester Brown's superb continuity strips for "Lady Chatterley's Lover" make liberal use of a certain four-letter word, pushing the envelope much as Penguin did in the early 1960s, when the British government brought suit to prevent the publication of D.H. Lawrence's rediscovered masterpiece. "We're reaching out to a generation that's more visual," Rotor says. "And hopefully we're saying that these books will matter to you and are modern."

Comics, of course, are an art of compression. But when it comes to cover illustration, that compression has to evoke the larger world of the book. In his design for Thomas Pynchon's "Gravity's Rainbow," Frank Miller — yes, that Frank Miller, creator of "Sin City" and "The 300" — frames an upended V-2 rocket knifing downward through a speckled and blackened bomb crater. Once seen, never forgotten. Likewise, Charles Burns' jacket for Upton Sinclair's 1906 novel "The Jungle" features the flayed head of a cow, its single eye looking very much alive and reproachful. These images sock and shock you.

Other jackets offer a denser and more verbal experience. Chris Ware's work for "Candide" is so typically elliptical that you can spend nearly as much time with it as with the novel. For a new and substantially expanded edition of "The Portable Dorothy Parker," the Canadian artist Seth created an illustrated table of contents, then used the inside back flap of the jacket for a funny and tender continuity life. Seth uses low-key art-deco colors, ruby-red and green, to hint at the classic Parker period of the Algonquin Round Table and the early days of the New Yorker. Bits of Parker's poetry are sprinkled throughout the design.

Most often the artists are selected by Penguin art director Paul Buckley, but occasionally authors chose for themselves. Thomas Pynchon said, grandly: "Sure, I'll put 'Gravity's Rainbow' in your series — but you have to get Frank Miller." Amazingly, they did. A second case proved simpler: Paul Auster and Art Spiegelman are friends. Spiegelman's art for Auster's "New York Trilogy" shows a deep and easy familiarity with Manhattan, with the pulp fiction from which this contemporary existential masterpiece emerged and with Auster himself — an ink portrait on the back flap shows a lean and youthful Auster, fountain pen in hand, one eye blanked out by a magnifying glass. Spiegelman weaves this motif throughout, rendering a score of lost eyes staring from the background of the cover. It's a haunting conceit, emerging from the work while concentrating its meaning.

"I truly want the artists to go for it," Buckley says, although sometimes this manifests itself in unexpected ways. Take Daniel Clowes, creator of "Ghost World," who accepted the commission to do Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" just a few months before undergoing open-heart surgery. "I thought the work would resonate," says Clowes. "I began by reading the book very carefully and then waiting around to see which scenes stuck with me most. There were so many I could hardly choose. The descriptions of the creature are so specific — black hair and lips, yellow skin stretched taut over muscles etc. — that I was surprised at how unlike this any of the famous pop-culture versions are."

On the inside flap of the book — which comes out in the fall — Clowes re-creates the famous moment when, by the shores of Lake Leman, Byron, Shelley and Mary Shelley discussed the gothic horror stories they were going to write. Here, Clowes portrays the clueless Mary almost like one of the anxious, dweeby teenagers from his own strips, tweaking the very notion of "Frankenstein" and reviving the story for our wised-up, information-sated age. The effect, through different means of artistic sleight of hand, is repeated again and again throughout the series. Like those original Penguins of 70 years ago, these books will serve as capsules of time, memory and design.

Richard Rayner is the author of several books, most recently the novel "The Devil's Wind." Paperback Writers will appear monthly.
click here to read more


Featured artists

Seth
Chris Ware
Yoshihiro Tatsumi

          



SETH in the Winnipeg Free Press

Updated October 25, 2006


Winnipeg Free Press
Books
d6

15 October 2006

His name may be suspect but he's a real comic fan

reviewed by Randall King


Wimbledon Green
The Greatest Comic Book Collector in the World
By Seth

Drawn and Quarterly, 128 pages, $25

THE Simpsons' "Comic Book Store Guy" may be the most accessible prototype of the fat, ostentatious, no-life comic book fan.

But, CBSG's girth notwithstanding, there is room for another rotund know-it-all with encyclopedic knowledge of comic book ephemera. And that man's name may or may not be Wimbledon Green.

We're never sure about the name of the hero in this graphic novel by the Guelph-based cartoonist Seth (whose real name may or may not be -- but likely is -- Gregory Gallant).

Wimbledon Green's past is as enigmatic as one of the masked crimefighters whose adventures Green has amassed in the vast library of his Wayne Manor-like estate.

He may be Don Green. He may be H. Arbor Grove of Winnipeg. He may be a sophisticated genius. He may be a pompous fan-boy.

But he's undoubtedly a comic book fan, and so is Seth, so the author gives his hero the benefit of an intricate mythology that begins when young Wimbledon acquires a legendary mint collection of an elderly comics enthusiast named Wilbur R. Webb.

Wimbledon's subsequent history is presented, Citizen Kane-style, in a series of recollections that serve as pieces to a larger puzzle. Some of those pieces are seemingly mundane remembrances (from invented rivals and actual Canadian comic shop owners).

Other pieces are long involved adventures involving cross-country chases, amnesia, faithful exotic retainers and a sabotaged "auto-gyro."

Still other pieces expand the parameters of Wimbledon's universe, with a biography of Wimbledon's favourite cartoonist, Lester Moore, and a critical deconstruction of his best creation, a comic book about two tramps named Fine and Dandy. All are invented by Seth.

In the introduction, Seth acknowledges that he was inspired by comic artists such as Dan Clowes (Ghost World, Ice Haven) and Chris Ware (Jimmy Corrigan,the Smartest Kid of Earth), whose novels often consist of seemingly unrelated snippets that coalesce into a satisfying whole.

Seth manages that trick himself, but without being derivative.

Of course, if Seth were accused of being derivative, nothing a critic could say could match the cartoonist's own tendency to besmirch his own work, which he does in the introduction: "The work is clearly sketchbook quality. The drawing is poor, the lettering shoddy, the page compositions and storytelling perfunctory."

Perhaps that's true. Yet for its easily forgiven technical shortcomings, there is a sheer joy of creation in the haphazardly-written Wimbledon Green that isn't found in Seth's more finely crafted books, such as Clyde Fans and especially It's a Good Life If You Don't Weaken, another work in which Seth plunges head long into the cartooning subculture.

In It's a Good Life, Seth focused on the history of a real-life cartoonist. With Wimbledon Green, he invents his own comic book universe, and it's a grand place to visit. This is an eccentric, yet compulsively readable book.

And for all Seth's pre-emptive protestations of mediocrity, the average reader is far more likely to emulate the crowd depicted on the back cover, wholeheartedly cheering: "Hoo-ray for Wimbledon Green."
 

Featured artist

Seth

           Featured product

Wimbledon Green




  Chester and Seth @ the Doug Wright Awards!

Updated September 14, 2006


The Doug Wright Awards are in Toronto on Thursday, September 14th at the Gladstone Hotel Ballroom, this artwork by Chester pretty much sums up why you should NOT miss the event! Also at the event, Seth will interview Chester on the release of his paperback edition of Louis Riel; A Comic-Strip Biography. There will be drinks, appetizers, and a party, do not miss!

click here to read more


Featured artists

Chester Brown
Seth

           Featured products

Wimbledon Green
Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography softcover




Tintin Interviews with CHRIS WARE, JASON LUTES & SETH

Updated July 18, 2006


P.O.V. (a cinema term for "point of view") is television's longest-running showcase for independent non-fiction films. P.O.V. premieres 14-16 of the best, boldest and innovative programs every year on PBS.


Why does the comic strip The Adventures of Tintin, about an intrepid boy reporter, continue to fascinate us decades after its publication? "Tintin and I" highlights the potent social and political underpinnings that give Tintin's world such depth, and delves into the mind of Hergé, Tintin's work-obsessed Belgian creator, to reveal the creation and development of Tintin.

SPECIAL FEATURES
Interviews
On Cartooning

Comic books are gaining acceptance as reading for grown-ups and as a serious art form. Six contemporary comic artists, including Daniel Clowes and Chris Ware, talk about Hergé's influence, visual narratives and the art of cartooning.

Follow the link below to read the interviews with CHRIS WARE, JASON LUTES, and SETH.
 
click here to read more

click here to download the PDF (1.55 MB)


Featured artists

Jason Lutes
Seth
Chris Ware

          



  Seth featured on the Goethe-Institut website

Updated April 20, 2006


Seth and Wimbledon Green

Seth is a valuable leader among the Canadian comics community, an affable and talented artist with the connections and charisma to bring together many individuals from this disparate group. His participation in the 2005 International Festival of Authors was an undeniable boost to the success of the comics components of the event. Though his work is certainly indicative of an exceedingly personal style, Seth possesses an incredible knowledge of both comics history and its current practitioners. We were most pleased to have Seth present "Wimbledon Green," the latest of a series of graphic novels and comics which also includes "Bannock, Beans and Black Tea" and the internationally renowned serial Palookaville.

Visual narratives - from video games to graphic novels
Our interest in Seth and comics in general parallels North America’s rising interest in the form. Though graphic novels are far from reaching the apex of their cultural influence, they continue to infiltrate mass culture through the visual narratives of film, television and video games as well as imbedding themselves in the world of literary discourse. Although North America’s mainstream publishing industry has paid the creators and consumers of graphic novels and comics a cursory attention since the early 1980’s, only recently has the form been pervasively recognized as literature. Many major houses now release at least one graphic novel title per season. This development is mostly the result of the independent rise of small specialist publishers who have built respected houses exclusively upon the foundation of literary graphic novels. These presses have produced a series of critically acclaimed volumes –such as Drawn & Quarterly with Seth’s work– which have reached mass audiences through nontraditional means and have been awarded major literary prizes. Graphic novels are now produced and read popularly throughout the world and are featured on the shelves of almost every North American book store.

Image Text
In 2005 the International Festival of Authors expanded its commitment to graphic novels, their creators and readers through the "Image Text" exhibit as well as a number of Festival events. "Image Text" revealed the influence of graphic novels in a historical, local and global context while exploring the integration of images and text in a myriad of cultural commodities and creations. Seth’s work, included in this exhibition, is one of the launching points in the exploration of the world of graphic novels.

Geoffrey Taylor is the Artistic Director of the Harbourfront Reading Series and the International Festival of Authors, the biggest international literary festival in North America.
click here to read more


Featured artist

Seth

           Featured product

Wimbledon Green




Seth Art Up for Auction Benefitting the Doug Wright Awards!

Updated April 18, 2006


The organizers of The Doug Wright Awards for Canadian Cartooning are pleased to announce the auction of a one-of-a-kind piece of original art by Canadian designer and cartoonist Seth to help raise funds for the 2006 edition of the awards.

Considered one of the great cartoonists of his generation, Seth agreed to lend his distinctive style to the superhero genre as a special favour to the 2nd Annual Wright Awards. The result is a surprising re-interpretation of one of the comic world's most endearing superhero teams: The X-Men.

The Doug Wright Awards were established in 2005 to spotlight the wide array of talented cartoonists working across Canada. The pre-eminent awards recognizing the art of graphic novels and comics, The Wrights are named in honour of Doug Wright (1917-1983) whose humourous strip Doug Wright's Family graced newspapers and magazines across Canada for nearly 35 years.

Though Seth is one of the most prominent Canadian cartoonists on the international scene, he has never professionally drawn superhero comics or characters. Despite this, he still harbours nostalgia for the characters of his youth, and they occasionally make appearances in his sketchbooks.

Seth's striking 16" x 22" artwork, which depicts the original 1960's version of the superhero team, is sure to be a sought-after item by art collectors and comic book connoisseurs alike. Seth originals of this calibre, with this level of collector appeal are almost never offered for sale.

Seth's distinctive and instantly recognizable style has appeared in the pages of The Washington Post, the National Post, The New York Times, and was recently featured on the cover of the March 20th issue of The New Yorker. Seth's artwork was the subject of an exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario in 2005 and his books, It's a Good Life If You Don't Weaken, Clyde Fans: Book One, Bannock, Beans & Black Tea, and Wimbledon Green, have all been national bestsellers.

The first-ever Doug Wright Awards Fundraising Auction will go live on the online auction site eBay on April 17, 2006. All proceeds will benefit The Wright Awards, which will be handed out in the Fall of 2006.

 
click here to read more


Featured artist

Seth

           Featured products

Clyde Fans; Book One
Wimbledon Green




  D+Q Nominated for 9 Eisner Awards!

Updated April 7, 2006


The 2005 Eiser Nominations have been announced, and D+Q has received a record 9 nominations.

Best Reality-Based Work: Pyongyang, by Guy Delisle (Drawn & Quarterly)

Best Writer/Artist: Guy Delisle, Pyongyang (Drawn & Quarterly)

Best Writer/Artist: Adrian Tomine, Optic Nerve #10 (Drawn & Quarterly)

Best Writer/Artist—Humor: Seth, Wimbledon Green (Drawn & Quarterly)

Best Graphic Album—New: Wimbledon Green, by Seth (Drawn & Quarterly)

Best Graphic Album—Reprint: War’s End, by Joe Sacco (Drawn & Quarterly)

Best Archival Collection/Project—Comic Strips: Walt and Skeezix, by Frank King (Drawn & Quarterly)

Best Publication Design: Walt and Skeezix, designed by Chris Ware (Drawn & Quarterly)

Best Publication Design: Wimbledon Green, designed by Seth (Drawn & Quarterly)


Featured artists

Seth
Frank King
Guy Delisle

           Featured products

Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea (hardcover)
Wimbledon Green
Walt and Skeezix: 1923-1924 (Volume Two)




SETH's NEW YORKER cover!

Updated March 27, 2006


Congrats to Seth for his New Yorker cover, of the March 20, 2006 issue!

Featured artist

Seth

          



  Breakfast with SETH, CHRIS WARE and IVAN BRUNETTI can be yours! (National Post article)

Updated March 27, 2006


Out & About: Cartoon Workshops
Arts & Life
You too can draw like this!
Vanessa Farquharson
National Post AL2
20 March 2006

Two of Canada's most celebrated cartoonists will soon draw even more attention as they step out of their dark studios and into the public eye --
breakfasting with fans and holding public workshops on how to draw comics.

Seth, whose art can be found on the most recent cover of The New Yorker is taking part in an auction along with fellow artists Chris Ware and Ivan
Brunetti, in which the winning bid includes a breakfast with all three at a diner in Vermont.

The organizers at the Center for Cartoon Studies (CCS) say in a statement that "the lucky winner will share an uncomfortably small booth with [the
cartoonists], who will draw in the winner's sketchbook."

The auction is a fundraiser for a student scholarship fund. The online auction starts on eBay.com this Wednesday at 10 a.m., and concludes April 1 at 10 a.m. PT. Breakfast takes place on April 11 and the starting bid is US$1,000.

"I didn't believe anyone would bid that much to begin with," says Seth. "If James Sturm, who runs the school, hadn't assured me he already had a bidder, I wouldn't have believed it -- I wouldn't pay that much."

Seth hasn't given much thought to what he'll draw in the winner's book, but thinks they might do a "jam," in which one cartoonist starts the panel, then
another completes the next and so on.

"We'll probably just take turns going around the table and drawing whatever comes to mind," he says.

The real pressure will be the social aspect of it all. While Seth says he much prefers going for coffee with someone rather than awkwardly trying to
converse at a book signing, he also worries he will have to carry the weight of the socializing.

"I just know I'm going to be the one who'll probably have to do a fair amount of talking because I think I'm the most outgoing of the three of us," he says. "I'm hoping the conversation will be steered away from us, though, because there's nothing I like talking about less than myself."

After the auction is over, Seth will continue working on designs for Mark Kingwell's next book, as well as plugging away at his own comics, of course.

Meanwhile, Seth's close friend Chester Brown has been named the Toronto Public Library's new Writer-in-Residence. He will be hosting a workshop
called The Art of the Graphic Novel on June 3, from 1 to 4 p.m., at Toronto's North York Central Library.

He adds that it's open to anyone, no matter what level of artistic ability. "I don't think anyone's a lost cause at this sort of thing," he says.

As well, from April 3 to June 23, Brown will be available to critique manuscripts and meet individually with aspiring cartoonists to discuss their work. "You have to be 16 or older, but I think that's the only limitation," he says.

Brown, who is working on another autobiographical novel, promises he won't make fun of anyone -- he recognizes that not everybody is out to be a
professional cartoonist, anyway.

"Whenever I'm giving advice, I try not to be cruel," he says. "I'm pretty good at phrasing my opinions in a positive and encouraging way."

For more information on the workshop or critiquing sessions, call 416-395-5639. For info on the auction, go to www.cartoonstudies.org .

Black & White Photo: The most recent cover of The New Yorker.

Featured artists

Seth
Chris Ware

          



MEET CHRIS WARE & SETH!

Updated March 15, 2006


WHITE RIVER JUNCTION, VT
CCS FUND-RAISER WITH CHRIS WARE, IVAN BRUNETTI & SETH
WIN A BREAKFAST AT THE POLKA DOT DINER! BIDDING STARTS MARCH 22!

The Center for Cartoon Studies (CCS) is auctioning a breakfast with three of
the world's most celebrated cartoonists. The lucky winner will share an
uncomfortably small booth with Ivan Brunetti, Seth, and Chris Ware in
White River Junction's storied Polka Dot Diner. Cartoonists will draw in the
winner's sketchbook during breakfast. Winner will also receive a tour of The
Center for Cartoon Studies.

The auction is a fund-raiser for the CCS student scholarship fund. The three
cartoonists will be visiting CCS for several days to work with students,
lecture, and discuss the making of comics.

The online auction begins on Ebay.com Wednesday, March 22, at 10 a.m.
and concludes Saturday, April 1, at 10 a.m. PST Breakfast takes place on
Tuesday, April 11. Starting bid is $1000.
 
click here to read more


Featured artists

Seth
Chris Ware

           Featured products

ACME Novelty Datebook Volume 1: 1986-1995
Wimbledon Green




  Photos from SETH'S show at the ART GALLERY OF ONTARIO

Updated February 24, 2006


The Canadian Comic Art Centre posted some great pics from Seth's show, SWING SPACE, Summer/Fall 2005. Follow the link below to see them:
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Featured artist

Seth

          



"SPEAK" exhibition-featuring D&Q artists-reviewed in the NY TIMES

Updated February 13, 2006


Art Review | 'Speak'
Expansive Worlds Seen in Small Pictures

By KEN JOHNSON
Published: February 10, 2006

The comic book never had it so good. In this age of wondrous electronic entertainment, it remains as popular as ever, and now it is being taken seriously by the sorts of people who were once concerned exclusively with the higher reaches of artistic culture. Witness R. Crumb's inclusion in last year's Carnegie International.

New Yorkers interested in comics will be looking forward to "Masters of American Comics," a major exhibition now occupying galleries in two museums in Los Angeles — the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Armand Hammer — and traveling next fall to the Jewish Museum in New York and the Newark Museum. But you don't have to wait for a taste of what contemporary comic artists have been up to, as the Pratt Manhattan Gallery is offering an excellent sampler of works by nine of the best in the business, including Mr. Crumb, Chris Ware, Daniel Clowes and Gary Panter.

Devotees of the genre will find nothing new in "Speak: Nine Cartoonists," but they should appreciate the chance to view original pages, as well as drawings and preparatory studies, rather than the usual mechanically reproduced materials. If you are less familiar with comic book art, you are in for a treat. Organized by Todd Hignite, editor of Comic Art magazine, the show requires close looking and fine-print reading, but its size is manageable, and your concentration will be well rewarded rather than exhausted.

The beauty of the comic strip is partly formal — the way it sucks you through small, boxed-in pictures into worlds that range from thrillingly expansive to poignantly intimate. Add judiciously chosen words and frame-to-frame narrative pull, and you have the ingredients of an immersive, part-cinematic, part-novelistic experience that many of us learned to love — and to which some became addicted — as children.

Contemporary comic artists, like jazz musicians, play with traditional forms, but they also explore varieties of subject matter that were unknown in comic books before the rise of the willfully indecorous underground comics in the late 1960's. Mr. Crumb, the best of the underground comic artists and a narrator whose frankness about sex rivals that of the novelist Philip Roth, is here represented, refreshingly, by something sweetly nontransgressive: the story of a little boy and his annoying younger brother spending the afternoon at home with their exhausted mom. At one point the boy becomes sexually aroused by a female visitor's cowboy boots, but nothing really outrageous happens, and what impresses most is the wonderfully earthy and supple draftsmanship and the delightful vernacular dialogue.

Stylistically, the show ranges from the faux primitivism of Mr. Panter's hilarious story about a sexy, fashion-obsessed cave girl in a futuristic city to the Precisionism of Mr. Ware's slow-moving, bittersweet tales of lonely people drawn within complex configurations of variously sized boxes. (Mr. Ware's serial strip "Building Stories" is currently running in The New York Times Magazine.)

A noirish, mournful mood hovers over the show. Art Spiegelman, creator of the great "Maus" books, is represented by an early, Expressionist-style narrative in which a young man recounts the story of his mother's suicide. The artist who goes by the single name Seth tracks with almost no words the wanderings of an electric-fan salesman through a depressed town to its eerie outskirts.

In his sensuously drawn, starkly black-and-white strip, Charles Burns leads us through a teenager's abysmally gloomy and hair-raisingly surrealistic nightmare, while in a comparatively conventional style, Jaime Hernandez tells the story of a man recently released from prison and looking for a way out of the semicriminal sexual demimonde to which he has returned.

Conceptual complexity can be mind-boggling. Mr. Clowes, creator of "Ghost World," weaves into an affectionate parody of the "Peanuts" comic strip themes of anxiety, sexual desire, murder and psychotherapy — to dizzying effect. And in his very funny, deceptively rudimentary-looking strips, Ivan Brunetti offers concise, tragicomic biographies of the French novelist Joris Karl Huysmans and the Hollywood B-movie producer Val Newton.

Despite its enduring popularity and its astonishing fertility of formal and conceptual imagination, the ambitious comic book still remains a marginal commodity compared with movies and novels. Perhaps artists possessing the right combination of talents are just too rare to generate a bigger audience. (That this show's artists are all men is an aspect that Mr. Hignite might usefully have explained, by the way.)

Yet the relative neglect may be a blessing: when expectations are low, there is little to lose, leaving the artist free to embark on amazing aesthetic and psychological adventures, like the ones on display here.

"Speak: Nine Cartoonists" remains through Feb. 25 at Pratt Manhattan Gallery, 144 West 14th Street, Greenwich Village; (212) 647-7778.

[Ivan Brunetti, Charles Burns, Daniel Clowes, Robert Crumb, Jaime Hernandez, Gary Panter, Seth, Art Spiegelman, and Chris Ware.]
 

Featured artists

Seth
Chris Ware
Gary Panter

          



  WIMBLEDON GREEN reviewed on Bookslut.com

Updated February 9, 2006


Wimbeldon Green: The Greatest Comic Collector in the World by Seth

Ever have a funny thought that snowballed into a running joke that turned into a central part of your social folklore? Wimbledon Green is one of those thoughts, expanded into a funny and thoughtful parody of comic collecting. Originally just some sketches in artist and writer Seth's notebook, Wimbledon evolved into a series of interconnected stories that shed light on the mysterious identity of Wimbledon Green, the greatest comic collector in the world.

Although set in the present-day Canada, with references to the 1990s spread throughout, the present of Wimbledon's world is strangely archaic. Much like the future imagined by comics in the '40s and '50s, this world is filled with rocket cars, super fast locomotives and men who dress as if they are stuck in a film noir. The intrigues that pull the characters along are similarly cinematic -- an extremely rare comic stolen, transported, and bargained for (like the Maltese Falcon), Hitchcockian mistaken identity, daring criminal acts -- and create a surprisingly detailed and compelling back story for Wimbledon Green's wily hero and the varied cast of supporting characters.

In telling the story of Wimbledon Green, Seth uses the people around Wimbledon, mostly comic shop owners and rival collectors, to give tiny bits of the story. They confirm, deny and spread rumors about the rotund, silly-hatted uber-collector in panels of all sizes and lengths. A few times, Seth focuses on one of the minor characters to illuminate a particular archetype in the collecting world. The best of these is the story of Jonah, a bitter, compulsive thief, who creates eccentricities to mask his outsider status in the collecting community. Jonah shows the strained flipside to Wimbledon's easy killer instinct, but his story stands alone as well. When we get to see glimpses of Wimbledon's fabled collection, Seth shows his great understanding of comics of the past, and creates some hilarious but believable artifacts for the collectors of Wimbledon Green to salivate over.

In the preface to the book, Seth writes a longish and self-deprecating letter to the reader telling them that the following book is not as good as it should be, just a brainfart from his sketchbook. He also says that Wimbledon's story managed to captivate him even during a really busy time in his career. Generally, I am not a fan of sketch collections; they are usually ways of capitalizing on an artist's fame by flooding the bookshelves with substandard work and creating yet another tantalizing must-have for collectors. But I think, though it is reasonable to want to excuse rushed art or shallow storytelling, that Seth knows that his story is good and that the character of Wimbledon benefits from some holes in his biography.

In the end we only get a taste of who Wimbledon Green really is. Mostly, this book is an awesome send-up of collectors and their obsessions, and showcases Seth's massive creative imagination. Even though this book is considered to be minor by its author, it is well worth getting just for the experience of being inside the warped world of comic collecting for a moment and a few rides in a rocket car.

Wimbledon Green: The Greatest Comic Collector in the World by Seth
Drawn & Quarterly
ISBN: 1896597939
125 pages
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Featured artist

Seth

           Featured product

Wimbledon Green




Cartoonists' art graces the cover of Penguin Classics

Updated February 3, 2006


Penguin Classics Deluxe Editions - Nilsen, Spiegelman, Chast, Seth, Burns, Ware

A new edition of Voltaire's Candide with a cover by Chris Ware came out a few months ago; the rest are out on March 28:

Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen, Cover by Anders Nilsen

The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster, Cover by Art Spiegelman

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons, Cover by Roz Chast

The Portable Dorothy Parker, Cover by Seth

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, Cover by Charles Burns

Candide by Voltaire, Cover by Chris Ware

follow the link below to see a blog-posting with pics!
 
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Featured artists

Seth
Chris Ware
Anders Nilsen

          



  WIMBLEDON GREEN in the Atlanta Journal Constitution

Updated January 25, 2006


Buyer's Edge
Graffiti: WORDS AND PICTURES: A collector unmasked

21 January 2006
The Atlanta Journal - Constitution FE2

Wimbledon Green: The Greatest Comic Book Collector in the World

By Seth. Drawn and Quarterly. $19.95. Older teens (harsh language).

Having aged from a collector of comics into a collector of books, I expected to recognize my kind in this collection of related graphic tales. Sure enough, the talented Canadian cartoonist Seth (pseudonym for Gregory Gallant) nails the species --- and his nails are often quite sharp.

All the stories in this volume revolve around the eponymous Wimbledon Green, a wealthy, mustachioed sphere of a fellow. Who wears a cape. Who might have been fanboy Don Green earlier in life. Who certainly has a rogues' gallery of rivals in the pursuit of rare comics: Chip Corners, Ashcan Kemp, Waxy Coombs and so on. Told in many voices, this diverting, modest little book encompasses some piercing insights into the mania of people --- mostly men (I recall one female character here) --- who acquire things compulsively and by rigorous standards.

What Seth depicts so well here is, as one character observes, collectors' "avarice, pettiness [and] jealousy." The worst of the lot, Jonah, appears to be patterned after the writer-artist himself, though one hopes Seth is not the felon that this character is. With its spare cartooning, "Wimbledon Green" also captures such surprising things as indelible moments and grace in solitude. If you think life isn't worthwhile without a complete run of, say, "Uncanny X-Men," this book might offer some valuable perspective.

--- Ed Hall

Featured artist

Seth

           Featured product

Wimbledon Green




WIMBLEDON GREEN in the Harrisburg Patriot-News

Updated January 25, 2006


Arts/Leisure
GRAPHIC LIT
Christopher Mautner
15 January 2006
Patriot-News J04

"Wimbledon Green" by Seth, Drawn and Quarterly, 128 pages, $19.95.

Seth's masterful graphic novella about the "greatest comic book collector" imagines a world where golden-age funny books sell for small fortunes and collectors have their own private staff and personal transportation, all devoted to tracking down rare comics.

Seth displays a looser, rougher art style here and uses smaller panels and lots of dialogue to convey the story. Characters often expound upon the mysterious Green in a head-on documentary-style fashion.

My description makes the book sound like a bore, but the result is a warm, funny and surprisingly moving look at not just comics, but the collector mentality in general. Seth has produced works with deeper emotional resonance, but he's never been as much fun as he is here.
 

Featured artist

Seth

           Featured product

Wimbledon Green




  D+Q Announces New Tomine GN, Foreign Rights Agent & UK Deals

Updated January 24, 2006



D+Q HIRES HAYWOOD OF TLA FOR FOREIGN RIGHTS
SETH TO JONATHAN CAPE & TOMINE TO FABER & FABER IN UK
NEW TOMINE GRAPHIC NOVEL IN 2007

Drawn & Quarterly has entered into agreement with Samantha Haywood of the Transatlantic Literary Agency to be the exclusive representative of D+Q’s list outside of North America, resulting in the procurement of two book deals for D+Q cartoonists Adrian Tomine and Seth. UK commonwealth rights (excluding Canada) to Seth’s WIMBLEDON GREEN and IT’S A GOOD LIFE IF YOU DON’T WEAKEN have been granted to Dan Franklin of Jonathan Cape and UK commonwealth rights (excluding Canada) to Adrian Tomine’s SLEEPWALK, SUMMER BLONDE and the next untitled graphic novel (2007) to Angus Cargill of Faber & Faber.

“Meeting with Samantha was fortuitous for D+Q, as we knew that our titles would do well in the UK,” said Chris Oliveros, President & Publisher–Drawn & Quarterly. “She immediately recognized the quality of our titles and their potential in other markets.”

“I knew from the start that D+Q’s list would do very well but the reception at Frankfurt even exceeded my own expectations. If anything it’s a matter of just keeping up with the demand now, especially in Europe and Asia. These terrific UK deals are just the beginning.” Samantha Haywood.

Tomine’s next graphic novel is currently being serialized in issues 9-11 of his comic book series OPTIC NERVE. The collection, which has yet to be titled, is slated for release in Fall 2007 will be published in North America by Drawn & Quarterly and distributed to the US book trade by Farrar, Straus & Giroux and in Canada by Raincoast Books. It is the first original graphic novel to be published by Faber & Faber.

###




Featured artists

Seth
Adrian Tomine

           Featured products

Optic Nerve #9
Wimbledon Green
Optic Nerve #10




San Antonio Current Best of 2005

Updated January 12, 2006


Arts
Framed
John DeFore on comix
01/11/2006

2005 in graphic novels

Fans of comics and graphic novels had another good year in 2005. Pioneering cartoonist Chris Ware was awarded a weekly feature in The New York Times Magazine (he’s less pioneering there than usual, but it’s early); the supply of high-quality reprint titles turned into a near-glut; and those of us with a nostalgic love for a certain pointy-eared superhero watched with joy as Hollywood atoned for its past misdeeds with Batman Begins. In this first installment of a monthly column devoted to graphic novels, comic books, and assorted other manifestations of the cartoonist’s art, here’s a recap of the best book-length comics of the year:

[D&Q mentions:]

Wimbledon Green by Seth (Drawn & Quarterly). Ice Haven has a little fun with adults who obsess over comics; Wimbledon Green makes them the sole subject. A hilariously sarcastic tale that will sting any self-aware collector who ever dreamed of having a fortune to spend on rare comics — and which has parallels to the real-life tale of rare-map thievery recently told in The New Yorker — it contains the kind of dead-on potshots that can only be nailed by an author who sees a lot of himself in his targets.

Pyongyang by Guy Delisle (Drawn & Quarterly). Not at all the dull political travelogue you might expect from a book subtitled “A Journey in North Korea,” this dryly funny novel recounts the author’s adventures as a temporary supervisor in one of the North Korean animation studios that do the grunt work for European cartoons.

Walt and Skeezix by Frank King (Drawn & Quarterly). Back in the “labor of love” reprint category, this handsome volume is the first devoted to Gasoline Alley, the newspaper strip that ran for decades and (unusual for the funny pages) allowed its characters to age and its storylines to mature over the years. May it be greeted by the throngs of welcoming fans who embraced the high-profile Peanuts and Krazy Kat series.

By John DeFore
 
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Featured artists

Seth
Frank King
Guy Delisle

           Featured products

Walt and Skeezix: 1921-1922 (Volume One)
Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea (hardcover)
Wimbledon Green




  SETH interview on UGO.com

Updated January 12, 2006


Seth Interview

Interview by Daniel Robert Epstein, contributing editor

:: UGO COMMUNITY
The Comics of Seth Gallery

Every comic fan has a certain fantasy. No, I'm not talking about the one where you marry a woman who always wears a Vampirella costume, but the one where you are driving cross-country and you stop at a garage sale. Then you happen to open a trunk that is filled with hundreds of near mint Golden Age comics that the owner sells to you for 50 bucks.

For all of us, Seth has created the book Wimbledon Green: The Greatest Comic Book Collector in the World. This book was just released in hardcover by Drawn & Quarterly and is about a short overweight man named Wimbledon Green with the most amazing comic book collection of all time. He got that by outbidding many of the other biggest collectors, traveling the country buying collections and, of course, even stealing some collections. Seth didn't need to do much research into old comics because he made up all of Wimbledon Green's greatest finds such as Fatsy number seven, Hippy Hudson number 12 and, of course, Green's favorite, an obscure series called Fine and Dandy about two adventurous hobos.

Seth created this story in a documentary style fashion, with most of the characters talking to the audience, with the exception of an adventure story where Green tracks down a very valuable book that another collector is transporting across the country. Until now, Seth has been best known for his series Palookaville which has been collected in such books as It's a Good Life, If You Don't Weaken and his sketchbook work in Vernacular Drawings. Seth is also a good friend of Joe Matt, and therefore has appeared in many issues of Matt's autobiographical comic book, Peepshow.

UGO: What are you working on today?

SETH: Today, I'm working on a little ten-page comic strip that is going into the next issue of this magazine called Comic Art. I guess you'd say that I'm doing a little book that's sort of reviewing 40 old cartoon books.

UGO: Comics that have been recently reprinted, or just older books?

SETH: Old stuff that I've collected over the last 20 years, so it is long out of print. I'm doing the opening of it in a ten-page comic strip and then I'm going into 80 pages of just reprinting pages from the books and talking about them.

UGO: These must be some of your favorite books.

SETH: Not necessarily, although they are books I really like. I deliberately steered it away from being a best-of list because that would force me to deal with more contemporary books. I mostly just focused on interesting books, let's put it that way. The thing is called 40 Cartoon Books of Interest. Even amongst artists that are favorites of mine, I've tried to pick works that are a bit more obscure.

UGO: What's a good example of a book you're talking about?

SETH: I've got a book from 1890 that's Punch cartoons. Basically, this book is the earliest form of The Flintstones you've ever seen. The book is by the guy who invented that idea of caveman doing things as if they were people of today. But from there I might jump to a 1960's gag book by a specific gag cartoonist or something. So it's really an eclectic mix of cartooning stuff.

UGO: Are these books we could find easily?

SETH: Yeah, you could probably find 80 percent of these if you just went online. It depends on how much stuff is out there floating around. If this was ten years ago and you asked me if you could find them, I'd say good luck. Before the Internet and the second hand book trade, some of this stuff took me ten years to find. But the funny thing is, as soon as I got a computer in the house, I found every book that I'd been looking for in about an hour. It's really changed things.

UGO: It sounds a little Wimbledon Green-esque.

SETH: Oh, it is. Wimbledon Green doesn't come of nowhere. There's some background there.

UGO: How would have Wimbledon Green done with the Internet?

SETH: I guess it's hard for me to put him into those mundane sort of terms because I see him as such a comically big character. I suppose if Wimbledon Green was dealing with the Internet, he'd find some way to corner the market on things.

But for the small time collector like me, I'm not sure if the Internet is a fulfillment of a dream or the ruin of the collecting pursuit.

UGO: It makes it too easy, doesn't it?

SETH: Yeah, it does. It makes it about acquiring things rather than seeking them.

UGO: So was Wimbledon Green an actual story done in your sketchbook, or was that just hyperbole?

SETH: Yeah, it is, totally. Everything in the introduction is exactly how it came about.

UGO: What kind of research do you do on a book like this, if you did any at all?

SETH: I didn't do any research on it because it was very much off the cuff kind of work. But I guess you could say that the book I had read just before I started was research, A Gentle Madness by Nicholas A. Basbanes. That book really sparked the idea of doing something about these big collector types. So that was all very fresh in my mind. He wrote about collectors like Getty and Carnegie who had the resources to scour Europe for the books they wanted, and then set up libraries named after themselves. I thought these guys were so pompous and so much of it was so entertaining with reading about their egos, especially some of the more modern guys. So that just segued immediately into Wimbledon. All the comic-related stuff certainly required no research because either it's based on my own love of cartooning or years of attending comic book conventions.

UGO: Did you have your own Fine and Dandy?

SETH: There are probably a few things, but I guess when I was working on that, what I was most thinking about was this cartoonist by the name of John Stanley who did Little Lulu comics back in the 50's. I'd say that he's probably pretty high up on my list of cartoonists in that vein. I suppose if I were really to talk about who's the most meaningful cartoonist to me, it would probably be Charles Schulz or Robert Crumb. But in the world of commercial comic books, John Stanley would have been the guy.

UGO: I really enjoyed Wimbledon Green in a lot of the same ways I like reading Chuck Rozanski's story of finding the Mile High Collection. Chuck finally put the whole story online about five years ago. It's just every collector's dream [laughs].

SETH: [laughs] Yeah, exactly. I've always really enjoyed reading those kinds of collector stories. I remember years ago in Weirdo, there was a really good story by Terry Zwigoff about tracking down these old Valmor Labels. I think collecting stories are almost like a good mystery. There's so much at stake about whether the person's going to get hold of the material they're seeking. I was really thinking along those lines when I was working on Wimbledon.

UGO: Did you not have the desire to tell your own collecting stories?

SETH: I do, and I'm kind of doing that now in this ten page introduction. I talk a little bit about the experience of being a collector and the feelings of the great finds and also the things that you missed. But truthfully, I'm moving more and more into fiction as time goes on. I just find dealing with autobiography tricky.

UGO: Why is that?

SETH: I've been doing a fair amount of autobiography in my sketchbooks lately, and even though I think it's good to do, it paralyzes you a bit to think about the difficulty of trying to portray any of the reality of your own life, and also to try to portray yourself in any kind of an objective way. I find it fascinating to read autobiographical work by other people, and sometimes I find it the most interesting to see inside their actual lives. But often when I'm doing it myself, I find that I'm thinking a lot about what the reader is going to be thinking. I'm trying very hard to be honest, and that's an extremely difficult thing to do. There are so many layers of ego and just distance between this cartoon image of yourself and who you really are.

UGO: I recently spoke to Alex Robinson, and he said he doesn't want to do autobiographical comics because he doesn't want to end up doing some of what Joe Matt was doing. Doing autobiographical comics about doing autobiographical comics and basically eating your own tail.

SETH: Sure, it's kind of inevitable. But it depends how well it's done. I might be biased, but something like Joe Matt's comics would have been an example to me of how it really does work. I became very fascinated with reading that character's life, even if he was character who was talking about the comic he was actually in. There was something about the way that Joe structured it, how humorous it was and how much it really did feel voyeuristic, so it was very appealing. But if it was not done so entertainingly, it could be very boring or off-putting. I could see the complaints with it.

UGO: Did you see the camera or the frames in the Wimbledon book as a documentary about these guys?

SETH: Not really, I was playing around with the form of talking directly to the camera much like a documentary. But truthfully, I didn't really give it that level of reality in my mind. I wasn't picturing it as a film. I think that because the whole thing was done so quickly and so spontaneously that if anything, I was picturing it exactly as I drew it. Working on Clyde Fans or something, I am picturing a real world that I'm trying to translate onto the page. But Wimbledon ended up having a pseudo documentary approach. Since I've done it, I think it could truly work as an animated film. Especially if it was approached in exactly the same way of characters talking directly to the screen and then cutting away to the other more sequential sequences.

UGO: Is an animated film a consideration right now with Wimbledon?

SETH: Nobody has approached me about it, but if somebody did, I would probably be interested. If somebody approached me say to do an animated film on It's a Good Life, If You Don't Weaken, I would say no. But Wimbledon is something I could see working, and I might enjoy it.

UGO: Why did Wimbledon Green happen so quickly?

SETH: I couldn't say. I just felt very inspired for a change. I have my own theories. First my mother was dying at the time, so I was going through a certain desire to recapture the experience of what it felt like when I was a teenager when we were together. When I was a teenager, I obsessively drew these adventure strips all the time, and I think I recaptured some of that passion working on Wimbledon. Even though the material was much different, there was something in there that I was trying to recapture through the physical effort of creating these comics, and I think it just poured out of my pen. The other part of it was that it was just fun for me. It was a fun break to do something light without losing any sleep over it.

With this, I felt I could just do what I wanted, and I rarely do anything where I'm trying to input any sense of humor. Also, working in the sketchbook, I was not thinking of publishing it even though in the back of my mind, I thought if it turned out good I might publish it in my next sketchbook collection or something. So there was the freedom of, if I don't like this I don't have to publish it. It was only when it was done that I thought it worked thematically and maybe it would be better off to be separated as a single item.

UGO: Did it change much when you decided to publish it as a book?

SETH: Not really, except for about five panels I redrew because they were just a little too awkward. They were just too weird looking and then I just let it go. I knew that if I got too involved in fixing things up that there was no point in publishing it. After the initial story burst, which took about four months, that's when I first read it over and realized that it was missing something, so I added in that whole adventure story that's in the middle.

UGO: Have you met any old timey collectors that say you based it on them?

SETH: I haven't met any old timey collectors yet that have even told me they've read it. But we'll see. I hope some of those guys enjoy it because I know that a lot of times those older collectors don't necessarily connect to the work of newer cartoonists. I'd like to think that some of those guys might get a kick out of it because it reflects a humorous version of their own reality. But I haven't had any such situation yet. Also, I never talk to anybody, so it isn't going to happen until I go to a comic book convention.

UGO: [laughs] You don't revisit characters that much. Would you ever consider doing another story with Wimbledon?

SETH: I have a vague idea in the back of my brain someday of doing another story, but nothing's formed yet. So unless something really comes together that feels vital, it probably won't happen. But he is a character that I like, so I could see doing it. I've already got a couple other things that I've moved on to since then, so it's hard to say. There's always a tendency to want to return to a character just because you develop affection for them; but unless something comes up, probably not.

UGO: What do you like about leaving the mystery in the books such as, is Wimbledon Green also Don Green?

SETH: The thing is that I don't really have the answers myself, which is one of the reasons why I left it like that. I like to have a little bit of ambiguity with the character. That's one of the things that falls apart with serialized characters, is that eventually you get to know them too well and they become a bit boring. So I did want to leave Wimbledon as a character that even I didn't know too well. If I ever did return to him, I think it would be just one more return. I always think it's a mistake to return too often to the same characters.

UGO: That's one of the biggest problems with mainstream comic publishing.

SETH: Yeah, exactly. I find that in a lot of serialized work, like television or whatever, what is interesting in a character becomes not interesting because they revisit it too often.

UGO: What else are you working on besides what you mentioned?

SETH: I've always got a few commission works going. I've got a book I'll be illustrating next year. I just finished another book. This year I'm carrying on with the next issue of Clyde Fans, and I've got about two years to go until the end, so I'm hoping to meet a certain goal this year. I'm also working on new sketchbook stories that I'm hoping to collect. I'm also carrying on with some other various art projects such as a city I'm building.

UGO: Like a model?

SETH: Yeah, I've been working on a model city. I displayed it this year for the first time. It's up to about 40 buildings at the moment, and I'm trying to get up to a minimum of 50. I've got to get a few more done this year, and there's going to be another exhibit of it in 2007 so I'm hoping to hit that 50 mark by that point.

UGO: Is it based on a real city?

SETH: No, just an imaginary city. I started to build these models of this city, which is potentially the subject of a graphic novel a few years down the road. I started to build it as I started to work out the history of this place, but it turned into a project on its own, and I'm not even entirely sure that it is going to end up as a story anymore. So basically, I'm working out the history of this imaginary town bit by bit as I work through the buildings. I don't know where it's going anymore except that I see it as a long-term project. You can see them on the cover of issue of six of Comic Art Magazine.

UGO: What are the models made out of?

UGO: Cardboard and house paint.

UGO: They look a lot the buildings that you draw on paper.

SETH: Yeah, I've tried to make sure they still feel like my own drawings. They were never really meant to be part of any published work or displayed work until recently. I had some interest from a few galleries that have led to an exhibition last year at this place called the Art Gallery of Ontario.

UGO: Where do you keep the city?

SETH: Right now, it's about to go on display somewhere else, so it's out of the house. I have a room in my basement that has a lot of shelves that I store it on. As I finish a building, I add it to the pile. It's not actually on display in the house because it's too big. At the gallery, it was fun to actually see them set up together for the first time. It's certainly nice to do something that's not drawing for a change.

UGO: Do you design the buildings on paper first?

SETH: Yeah, I do. I draw them out in a rough manner, and then I refine the drawing as I'm refining the model. The process of building the little model gives me the time to work out the history of it, too. Usually, by the time I've finished the model, I've finished writing four or five pages and have done a series of little drawings about it. Something about making the model makes the history feasible. I don't know if I could just sit down and just write this stuff because somehow or other, it just seems boring without the other project on the side to give it some impetus.

UGO: Have you put a Clyde Fans shop in there?

SETH: Yeah, Clyde Fans is connected to it. In Clyde Fans Part II, the city that Simon is walking around in is actually the model city, although it's totally unimportant to the story. Clyde Fans does have a small branch, but it's just one of those minor sort of things.

UGO: Have you seen the Peepshow pilot yet?

SETH: No, I don't think it's going to reach that stage. I think it's dead at this point.

UGO: I didn't know that. That's too bad.

SETH: Yeah, they got through several stages. I know that they had more than one script, but I think it died before they reached casting. I guess it's too bad. But I'm not sure I really want to see myself on television, especially Joe Matt's version.

UGO: I saw you drew a cover for The New Yorker. That must have been amazing because you are such a fan of The New Yorker's comic strips.

SETH: It's a big thrill. It is a milestone in my career that I checked off the list. But in many ways, there are two disappointments to it. One is that if there's a big book of New Yorker collection of covers, I'm at the wrong end of the book. I can't go back to 1930 and get the cover. So even though it's a great thrill, I'm not kidding myself that I'm going to be in the company of Peter Arno or anything. The other part is that I almost had a cover published in the mid-90's, and I was so excited about that, so I was so disappointed when it didn't happen. That took some of the edge off of this one because I was so prepared for it not to happen that I think I'd lost some of that innocent enthusiasm. So it was a great sense of satisfaction, but I think part of me was just very happy that I could cross it off the list, and I don't ever have to think about it again. So it was not such an innocent thrill, but more like a sigh of relief. Let's put it that way. There's a second cover in the pipeline that's supposed to be published sometime soon. So we'll see about that.
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Q&A with SETH in Newcity

Updated January 5, 2006


Sketchbook Sentiments
Seth discusses "Wimbledon Green" and Peanuts

Ray Pride
2006-01-03

Seth and Adrian Tomine appeared at Quimby's in November. We talked beforehand.

Q: Your new book, "Wimbledon Green," with its postage-stamp frames filling each page, is credited as "a story from the sketchbook," so does that mean we're to take it as an extended noodle you've done for yourself and gussied up to work as a book?


A: Exactly. It is a long story I did in my sketchbook. And surprisingly, it does read as a complete story and, also surprisingly, I actually think it came out all right. The biggest point of difference from my regular work is that the art is less polished and more spontaneous. It is very gussied up though.

Q: The complete "Peanuts" project you're art-directing is lovely. What does it mean to you to pay tribute to older artists who've influenced you?

A: It means a lot to me. Charles Schulz was, without a doubt, my premiere influence in cartooning and probably the reason I even became a cartoonist. It's an honor to try and present his work with some of the dignity it so deeply deserves.

Q: Chris Ware's done his appreciation of George Harriman with the Krazy Kat retrospectives, and Adrian's involved with getting Yoshihiro Tatsumi's work ("The Push Man and Other Stories") published in America, and it seems somehow more generous, more interesting, than how filmmakers often appropriate the imagery of the filmmakers they admire. I suppose that to be the different nature of each medium.

A: I guess if I were appropriating another cartoonist's work into my own stories I might be as selfish as any filmmaker. However, trying to republish and get the work out for others to read is a different response. I just want to present it clearly and respectfully. I want the work to be seen again with clear eyes. This is tough with a comic as ubiquitous as Peanuts. I imagine that Martin Scorsese feels this way too when he's trying to get great films re-shown. Tarantino... well... that's perhaps another story.
 
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  WIMBLEDON GREEN in the Washington Examiner

Updated January 4, 2006


Comics - It's not easy being 'Green'
Seth creates an accessible romp in 'Wimbledon'

By Scott Rosenberg
Published: Tuesday, December 20, 2005

One of the major hardships of being incredibly talented must be that your work never seems to be good enough in your own eyes.

Seth, the talented one-named brain behind "Wimbledon Green: The Greatest Comic Book Collection in the World," takes himself to task in the introduction of his latest work, describing it as of sketchbook quality, using adjectives like "poor," "shoddy", "gross" and "perfunctory" to depict the art, story and lettering. He then apologizes for the entire affair.

If only hacks could be this considerate.

Modest is too modest a word to describe Seth. "Wimbledon Green" is an intriguing work that follows the format of a VH1 "Behind the Music," where people are interviewed, telling vignettes about the enigmatic Wimbledon Green and his appearance and disappearance in the world of comic-book collecting, his quest for the fabled copy of "The Green Ghost," and his connection to a slovenly collector by the name of Don Green. This is a series of short stories that make up a greater whole - kind of like the movie "Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould" or Rich Koslowski's graphic novel "Three Fingers."

Seth weaves and winds his way through this tale, filling the jam-packed pages with quirky characters (Ashcan Kemp, Daddy Doats, "Very Fine" Findley and Waxy Coombs, to name a few) and oodles of exposition, shirking the misconception that a 36-panel page is something too unwieldy for readers to follow. While not all of the pages pack that much onto the page, the story is a thick, engrossing read that belies the 125-page hardcover graphic novel.

The art style here is clearly Seth, with characters containing the lovely bold lines embody his previous works, like "Clyde Fans." Clearly, his style is derived from the old masters from the Golden Age of comics, but the overall design of "Jimmy Corrigan's" Chris Ware, with tight, concise panels.

"Wimbledon Green" is a fantastic and compelling mystery that is accessible to anyone, from the most ardent and particular collector to someone who hasn't read a comic book since their adventures with Archie and Jughead as a child.


- Creator: Seth
- Publisher: Drawn and Quarterly
- Price: $19.99 US
- Recommended if you like: "Three Fingers," "Clyde Fans," the works of Daniel Clowes
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SETH hailed as IFOA 2005 favorite

Updated December 19, 2005


Seth's Wimbledon Green (Drawn & Quarterly, 1-896597-93-9, $24.95 cl) was Geoffery Taylor's pick for the best book of 2005 in the current Quill Omni.

“Though it’s difficult to choose a favourite among the 70 amazing writers at this year’s International Festival of Authors, I’d have to say I was most pleased with the unique opportunity to present renowned American graphic novelists Charles Burns and Chris Ware alongside our own Canadian superstar Seth.”

Geoffrey Taylor, director, International Festival of Authors and Harbourfront Reading Series
 
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  CBC RADIO'S "Talking Books" picks WIMBLEDON and PYONGYANG in Year's Best

Updated December 19, 2005


CBC Radio One's "Talking Books"
December 17, 2005

Top 25 Books of the Year

Chosen by Ian Brown, Martin Levin (The Globe and Mail's books editor), Antanas Sileika (director of the Humber School for Writers) and Jeanie Macfarlane (editor)

Graphica:

Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea, by Guy Delisle (Drawn & Quarterly), 1896597890, $24.95

Wimbledon Green, by Seth (Drawn and Quarterly), 1896597939, $24.95



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Guy Delisle

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Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea (hardcover)
Wimbledon Green




WIMBLEDON GREEN in the Village Voice 2005 top 25

Updated December 14, 2005


Wimbledon Green

By Seth
Drawn & Quarterly, 128 pp., $19.95

In this high-spirited, densely packed graphic novel, cartoonist Seth chronicles the exploits of the "greatest comic book collector in the world." Working with a color palette of gold, silver, and bronze (in honor of the three key ages of 20th-century comics), Seth casts his hero as a globe-trotting adventurer with his own dual identity, acknowledging this highly nerdy community's fundamental need to imagine itself as a league of real-life superheroes. Conceived as an exercise in the artist's sketchbook, the whimsical world Seth creates ultimately captures the best and worst of comics, the only place where "infamous flatulence" is actually a selling point.
 
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  SETH featured in the EDMONTON JOURNAL

Updated December 12, 2005


Edmonton Journal B5
11 December 2005

Collectors exposed as nasty bunch: Cartoonist pokes fun at 'ugly, repellent' side of obsessive comic-book hoarding

EDMONTON -- The cartoonist known as Seth is hitting close to home with the subject matter of his new graphic novel.

In Wimbledon Green, Seth -- the pseudonym of Gregory Gallant -- pokes fun at obsessive comic book collectors, the ranks of whom include many a fellow comic book artist.

"It's a subject matter that's always at the back of the mind of any cartoonist because you don't get to be a cartoonist without loving old comic books," says the Guelph, Ont., artist.

Seth's previous graphic novels include It's a Good Life if You Don't Weaken and Clyde Fans: Volume One.

"I decided to embrace that reality, making fun of it, but also celebrating it," he says, underlining that when he talks about "collectors," he's not talking about folks who just happen to have a pile of old comic books.

Rather, collectors are highly driven and directed individuals seeking to complete full original runs of comic book titles they collect, scouring garage sales, junk shops and online auctions in search of those elusive missing issues.

"There is a fever to their purchasing and searching habits and a true collector will make whatever effort is necessary to acquire what he's missing. We're talking terror and losing sleep over their hobby."

Wimbledon Green is a quirky biography/mystery story about an enigmatic comic book collector called Wimbledon Green, the self-proclaimed "world's greatest comic book collector."

Much of the novel centres around the murky details of Green's greatest comic book coup: the finding and sale of the Wilbur R. Webb collection, a fictional action that closely mirrors the discovery and sale of the real-life Mile High Comics collection -- a gigantic and ultra-rich collection that still stands as the comic book world's Eldorado.

As the book unfolds, Green and his collector peers are shown to be a petty and rather nasty bunch, a reality that Seth sees as the dark underbelly of a comic book collecting universe that is both "attractive and repellent" at the same time.

"Collecting is an ugly activity ... and collectors are always at odds with each other. If you ever do much in the world of collecting you see people behave badly, including doing all kinds of things to get stuff before other people do."

What's really funny and sad, says Seth, is the reality that these adults are fighting so nastily over "ephemera, old pop-culture goods that are only expensive and valued because you have enough greedy guys willing to fight over it."

Seth says that while he does "collect a lot of stuff" -- including old cartoons, carnival ware, antique souvenirs, and toy and novelty items -- it's mainly "lowbrow junk" which doesn't add up to him being "a real collector type."

The one area of his collecting where the artist is more-serious-than-not is his collection/research into older Canadian cartoons. Seth is currently hard at work editing the first of three volumes that will collect the cartoons of fellow Canadian illustrator Doug Wright.

Describing Wimbledon Green as an artistic experiment in fragmented visual storytelling, Seth says the production of the finished hardcover book was almost as satisfying as drawing the cartoons themselves.

"Cartoonists are increasingly serving as designers and are producing unified art objects," he says. Seth, who's always had a parallel career as a magazine illustrator to supplement his time-consuming cartooning work, is trying to "phase" his way into book design.

Recent book design work includes the Fantagraphic Press The Complete Peanuts series and Stuart McLean's The Vinyl Cafe Diaries.

Gilbert A. Bouchard

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WIMBLEDON GREEN in comics round-up

Updated December 12, 2005


Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - WI,USA

"Wimbledon Green" (Drawn & Quarterly, $19.95) is another in-joke. He's supposed to be the world's greatest comic book collector, but he has a dark past, or does he? Comics-folk should enjoy this hardbound book and its tale about the portly, mysterious Mr. Green. It's got a beautiful cover, too.
 
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  WIMBLEDON GREEN in the Metro News

Updated December 6, 2005


Books
December 5, 2005

Wimbledon Green
Seth
Drawn And Quarterly
$24.95 (Hardcover)
***1/2

Wimbledon Green seems eerily familiar.
He's the world greatest comic book collector, you see. He's the older man you see from time to time rummaging through boxes of old comics, or books, or coins, or whatever, at a rummage sale or flea market — always looking for some hidden gem.
Is he trying to make a profit off another's ignorance of collectibles? Or is he simply trying to rediscover some long-lost connection to his childhood?
Seth, the gifted cartoonist behind such books as It's A Good Life If You Don't Weaken and Bannock, Beans And Black Tea, explains in the introduction to Wimbledon Green that most of his new release was whipped off at breakneck speed and was done primarily as a writing exercise.
While the result is a bit sloppy in appearance for those used to the wonderfully polished work of the Guelph, Ont., resident, it is also a surprisingly affecting book, filled with great insight into the mind of collectors and into that of the creator himself.
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SETH and GUY DELISLE'S PYONGYANG in the Ottawa Citizen

Updated December 6, 2005


Ottawa Citizen
4 December 2005

The Citizen's Weekly: Arts & Books
A CanLit Top 10: Your stocking needs more Canada


Christmas Days
By Derek McCormack and Seth

In his earlier books, McCormack rewrote the themes and tropes of CanLit with his dark tales of a young gay man's self-discovery. Now he turns his attention to the history of Christmas in Canada. McCormack fans need not be worried -- he hasn't turned all cuddly. The history of fake snow for trees, for instance, lovingly meditates on cancer risks.

Illustrated by graphic artist Seth.


Pyongyang
By Guy Delisle

Graphic artist Delisle travelled to North Korea to finish work on a children's cartoon. The world he encountered was far stranger than any comic or fairy tale. Delisle recreates the absurdist nightmare that North Korea's leaders have created in a simple graphic novel, the simplicity of which would be charming if the subject matter wasn't so eerie. It's Persepolis meets Kafka.


Peter Darbyshire
 

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Seth
Guy Delisle

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Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea (hardcover)




  PYONGYANG & WIMBLEDON GREEN in the NATIONAL POST

Updated December 6, 2005


National Post
3 December 2005

All I want is a book: So they told you the Xbox 360s are all sold out and that point-and-shoot digital camera you so carefully researched won't be in until March. It really doesn't matter because...

IF ONLY TOLSTOY HAD ALSO LEARNED TO DRAW

Few fans were surprised this year when Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons's graphic novel Watchmen was included on Time's list of the 100 best novels of all time. If anything, it was about time the mainstream recognized that the genre has been steadily growing in popularity for the past two decades.

This year's best graphic novels show that images and text combined can be used to explore any number of literary styles and themes -- memoir, journalism, bleak teen fiction, philosophical explorations of Judaism -- in surprising, engaging and entertaining ways.

[D&Q mentions:]

WIMBLEDON GREEN: THE GREATEST COMIC BOOK COLLECTOR IN THE WORLD, Seth (Drawn & Quarterly, $24.95) "This book was created on a lark," Seth writes in the introduction to this send-up of comic-book collectors, but the Guelph, Ont., artist's encyclopedic knowledge of the form comes through in every one of this book's tightly packed panels. Seth recounts the life of the pompous Wimbledon Green cumulatively, allowing friends and associates to tell their tales of the man who once bought All Bedtime Funnies at auction for $28,000. There are rivals like Waxy Coombs, Chip Corners and Daddy Doats, and reminiscences from comics critic Art Stern and a few gems for the Wimbledon Green Library. The colouring sometimes falls short of the superb draftsmanship of Seth's work, but it's a minor fault in such a funny and touching look at what it means to love comics.

PYONGYANG: A JOURNEY IN NORTH KOREA, Guy Delisle (Drawn & Quarterly, $24.95) Working in the tradition of Joe Sacco's comics journalism and bearing shades of Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis, Delisle documents the two months he spent working as an illustrator in the hermit kingdom. Tinged with black humour, his observations of the country's bleakness and the mind-boggling way in which state propaganda is swallowed offers a perspective no straight-up print journalism could. The Montreal-born artist's childlike drawings of the people and places he encounters evoke the absurdity of a culture he can neither understand nor leave.


Dave McGinn
Weekend Post

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Guy Delisle

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Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea (hardcover)
Wimbledon Green




GN round-up in the CALGARY HERALD

Updated December 6, 2005


Books & The Arts
3 December 2005

Graphic novels tell tales of collectors and other worlds


The latest graphic novel from Canadian cartoonist Seth, Wimbledon Green: The Greatest Comic Book Collector in the World (Drawn and Quarterly, 128 pages, $24.95), is a collection of short stories, pumped out in a mere six months, that add up to a satirical mystery set in the comics world, populated by eccentric collectors, colourful dealers, flunkies, "fanboys," and nerds. It's also a lovely tip of the hat to Chris Ware, author of Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth (only one of the echoes is in the titles), to whom Seth dedicates this wonderful book. Wimbledon Green might be a time out before Seth's eagerly anticipated Clyde Fans: Book 2, but it adds up to more than the sum of its layered, multi-panel parts in its affectionate send up of an enclosed, idiosyncratic world and what makes collectors tick.

Chris Ware's new book, The Acme Novelty Library (Pantheon, 108 pages, $39,95), is beautiful and engrossing from its scarlet, gold illuminated cover to the last page of the book. Open the door to Ware's world, created by this compendium of mock ads, things to do on rainy afternoon pages and the strips featuring characters that include nerdy collectors Rusty Brown and Chalky White, Quimby the Mouse, Frank Phosphate, Jimmy Corrigan and a masked, middle-aged superhero whose exploits are supernatural, and become immediately engrossed. Put Ware and Seth at the top of your must-have list.

The Push Man by Yoshihiro Tatsumi, edited by graphic novelist Adrian Tomine (Drawn & Quarterly, 207 pages, $25.95), a collection of short, dark, psychologically loaded stories written 36 years ago by the grandfather of Japanese alternative comics, is gripping reading. The stories are about alienated and often desperate working-class men in a large Japanese city, whose lives are governed by rage, sex and death. The strips, which are unlike anything else around, are bleak social tragedies remarkably undated in style.

A strange but real world created by ideology and politics is explored in Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea by Guy Delisle (Drawn & Quarterly, 184 pages, $24.95). Delisle, a French-Canadian animator worked for a French company in North Korea, where drinking a Coca-Cola became for him an act of defiance in an oppressed society. The story of his visit, his wry observations of this mysterious territory and his experiences as an outsider, are rendered appropriately in shades of grey in a book drawn entirely in pencil.

Nancy Tousley
Calgary Herald
 

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Guy Delisle
Yoshihiro Tatsumi

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Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea (hardcover)
Wimbledon Green




  SETH in the MONTREAL GAZETTE

Updated November 28, 2005


Weekend: Arts & Books

Fascinating eccentrics: Seth takes readers on a bizarre and playful voyage into the world of obsessive collecting in what may be the cartoonist's strongest work to date

26 November 2005

WIMBLEDON GREEN: THE GREATEST COMIC BOOK COLLECTOR IN THE WORLD
By Seth
Drawn & Quarterly, 131 pages, $24.95


Often, when I see cartoonists' rough layouts or un-inked pencils, I find in those "unfinished" works vitality, immediacy and emotion that only occasionally survive in the finished product. Technical perfection does not always make better art. Sometimes, from the hands of practiced, skilled and talented artists, the best art can come from the unchecked rush of inspiration.

There's no doubting Guelph, Ont., cartoonist Seth's considerable skills in drawing, storytelling and design - qualities that abound in his new book, Wimbledon Green: The Greatest Comic Book Collector in the World. Sadly, he can't stop apologizing for the alleged poor quality of this latest work. On the cover, he makes sure to note that it's culled "from his sketchbook." In the introduction, he enumerates the book's faults: "the drawing is poor, the lettering shoddy, the page compositions and storytelling perfunctory" and so on. On the last page, he points out that his other books are "better."

If he really feels that way about Wimbledon Green, why subject his public to it?

Regardless, I'm delighted that he did. Wimbledon Green is Seth's strongest work to date, and the author's whining is neither becoming nor appropriate.

Explicitly inspired by the storytelling techniques of Chris Ware and Dan Clowes, Seth, whose work here far surpasses his sources of inspiration in vim and vigour, has created a mosaic novel in which short, self-contained sequences build to create a whole that is larger than the sum of its parts. While the story itself - the mystery surrounding the real identity of an eccentric collector - is involving and wildly imaginative, the work's strongest qualities lie exactly in the characteristics that the author bemoans.

It's precisely the rushed and rough quality of the artwork that makes this comic book so vividly alive. The tiny, crude panels with mere sketches of background detail imbue the story with a whirlwind pace and demand rapid, breathless reading. Such "incomplete" art, as Marshall McLuhan insightfully theorized decades ago, invites greater participation, seducing us more deeply into the artist's fictional universe.

Seth takes readers on a bizarre and playful voyage into the world of obsessive collecting, inspired by Nicholas Basbanes's book on bibliophiles,

A Gentle Madness, and by Seth's own lifelong experience and knowledge of the world of comics. Few, if any, of the characters found in Wimbledon Green could be called sympathetic, but they are all fascinating eccentrics.

Seth builds his story from a panoply of perspectives, cutting back and forth between character "interviews," action sequences of collecting adventures, speculations on the title character's mysterious past and excerpts from fictional comics. There is no easy factual truth in Wimbledon Green; most of the speakers are clearly unreliable, their testimonies deformed by their own agendas. Ultimately, readers are left to ponder whether or not to believe Green's own account of his life - and whether fact or myth is more important.

At the heart of Wimbledon Green is the quest to recapture an elusive sense of wonder experienced in childhood, and Seth does a gorgeous job of capturing that kernel of desire and yearning that motivates his greedy and selfish characters. Wimbledon Green is a tale in which the love of beauty has been warped - transformed from an emotion that should connect us to the world around us to an inward impulse tinged with shame and corrupted by insecurity. The sadness of that situation permeates Seth's book, giving its humour a bittersweet, even tragic, edge.

In the past, Seth's stories have usually been strongly realistic in approach, often mixing autobiography with fiction so as to blur the line between reality and invention. With Wimbledon Green, Seth allows fancy (in this case, over-the-top pulp espionage elements) to invade his work, and it's a breath of fresh air. Although "impossible," such details inform the emotional and mythic context of Seth's creation, helping to create an altogether different, and perhaps more evocative, authenticity than the genre of realism allows.

Claude Lalumiere is a Montreal writer.



Wimbledon Green reminisces about his favourite comics. At the heart of this book is a quest to recapture a sense of wonder experienced in childhood.

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SETH in the VANCOUVER SUN

Updated November 28, 2005


Books
By any name a phenomenon: Seth is a master of the graphic novel or, as he calls it, comic book

Joe Wiebe
Special to the Sun
26 November 2005


Although Seth has made a name for himself with his critically acclaimed book-length comics It's a Good Life, If You Don't Weaken (2001) and Clyde Fans Part One (2000) and Part Two (2003), he dislikes the term "graphic novel." On his recent visit to Vancouver, he told me it has a "striving quality that makes it sound like you're trying to pretend it's not a comic book."

The 43-year old cartoonist (born Gregory Gallant) from Guelph, Ont., also scoffed at the other labels people have come up with for the genre, such as "sequential art," "comica" and "graphica."

He prefers "comics" or "cartoons."

Comics came into existence about the same time motion pictures did. In many ways, the two media have evolved side by side.

But while film has long been taken seriously as an art form, comic books have only recently acquired the same kind of status.

Seth feels one problem with the term "graphic novel" is the implication that the work is equivalent to a novel.

"It's hard to determine what a novel is when you're doing comics," he said. "Is a 300-page comic book the equivalent of a full prose novel or a short story, or do those definitions not even apply?

"One of the reasons novels are so long is that you've got such a descriptive process going on in them. Obviously, in a comic you're drawing that stuff .... It seems foolish to try to compare prose and comics, anyway; they're just so very different."

In any case, the books commonly called graphic novels appear to be here to stay. Art Spiegelman's Maus was perhaps the genre's first mainstream success, way back in 1986. Over the next decade, few other titles crossed over from the comic shop to regular bookstores.

Mainstream acceptance may have been signalled by the success of the 2000 movie Ghost World, adapted by Daniel Clowes from his 1997 graphic novel. In the new millennium, most bookstores have set aside a shelf or two for graphic novels, and titles like Chris Ware's Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth (2000), Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis (2003) and Chester Brown's Louis Riel (2004) have earned praise.

The New York Times Magazine published a cover article on "comics lit" in July 2004. If that doesn't signal mainstream acceptance, I don't know what does.

Seth was at Vancouver's Sophia Books promoting his latest graphic novel, Wimbledon Green: The Greatest Comic Book Collector in the World (Drawn and Quarterly/Raincoast Books, 125 pages, $24.95). It's both a playful look at obsessive comic-book collectors and a homage to early adventure cartoons.

He began working on it in his sketchbook as a break from his regular work, not expecting it to be published, or even publishable.

"Generally, creating comics is a very slow process that makes most cartoonists wonder why they're doing it," Seth explained. "You might strive for six months to produce something that someone will read in five minutes."

That's why he works in his sketchbook, as well, playing with other ideas and working on stories he can take less seriously.

"I wouldn't have done Wimbledon at all if I had to do it in the finished style. I would have just thought, 'This sounds like fun, but if I'm going to sit and spend 10 years on a book, I'm going to pick what I consider my most worthy subjects.' So the sketchbooks allow me to free myself up."

During our conversation, he described Wimbledon Green as "silly" and "frivolous." In its introduction, he writes: "The drawing is poor, the lettering shoddy, the page compositions and storytelling perfunctory."

This sort of self-criticism isn't exactly the best sales tactic. I can see his publisher's marketing team cringing.

For all his self-effacement, Wimbledon Green is a great comic. It's well drawn, funny and entertaining, and it comes in a beautifully designed package with gorgeous endpapers and special full-page illustrations.

Certainly, readers who are familiar with his earlier books, which are compilations of stories he'd previously presented in his annual-ish comic book, Palooka-Ville (16 issues published since 1991), will notice a less intricate style, a less detailed approach and occasionally haphazard plotting. It may not showcase his talents quite as well, but it would make a good entry point into his body of work for new readers.

In addition to his graphic novels, Seth has been doing illustrations for magazines, including a New Yorker cover. He designed and co-wrote last year's Bannock, Beans and Black Tea, a book of his father's stories about growing up on Prince Edward Island in the Depression. And he designs other people's books, including Stuart McLean's Vinyl Cafe series and The Complete Peanuts, a 12-year, 25-book project that will collect the entire half-century of Charles Schulz's comic-strip masterpiece.
 

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Seth

          



  WIMBLEDON GREEN in Entertainment Weekly

Updated November 28, 2005


Reviews/Books
COMIC BOOKS 101: FREAKS AND GEEKS
Jeff Jensen; Gillian Flynn; Paul Katz; Tom Sinclair

2 December 2005
Entertainment Weekly

WIMBLEDON GREEN (Drawn & Quarterly, $19.95) A roly-poly man of mystery, Wimbledon Green has leveraged his considerable wealth to become...the world's greatest comic-book collector! But who is this controversial geek legend? Auteur Seth (Palooka-Ville) relaxes his trademark preciousness to create a sketchbook-casual work that constructs (and deconstructs) its central figure through a rich mosaic of testimonials and short stories. Deceptively simple, Green is a wistful, whimsical meditation on identity and nostalgia. A-
-- Jeff Jensen

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Seth

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Wimbledon Green




Quimby's mentions SETH'S WIMBLEDON GREEN in Chicago Tribune

Updated November 28, 2005


FROM THE PRECINCTS. Local booksellers tell us what Chicago is buying

Books
FROM THE PRECINCTS

20 November 2005


Quimby's Bookstore
1854 W. North Ave.
773-342-0910

1. Drugs Are Nice: A Post-Punk Memoir
By Lisa Crystal Carver (Soft Skull, $14)

A memoir from the Suckdog band founder, zine publisher and performance artist.

2. Paper Rad, B.J. & Da Dogs
By Paper Rad (Picturebox, $29.95)

Crazy, brightly colored, playful art from the Paper Rad art collective.

3. Wimbledon Green
By Seth (Drawn & Quarterly, $19.95)

The artist behind Palookaville tells a humorous story about the obsession behind comic-book collecting.

4. The Skullz Press Compendium
By Mike Giant (Upper Playground/Fifty24SF, $20)

Reprints of zines from street artists Pagina Vilot, Shim Rot and more.

5. 1001 Nights
Edited by R. Klanten and H. Hellige (Die Gestalten Verlag $42)

Contemporary artists illustrate stories from "The Arabian Nights."

READERS' GUIDE
 

Featured artist

Seth

           Featured product

Wimbledon Green




  Seth wins ADCC awards!!

Updated November 23, 2005


2005 Winners

The Advertising & Design Club of Canada's 56th annual awards show was held recently at Toronto's York Event Theatre. More than 400 awards for exceptional work in advertising, design and interactive media were given out during the sold-out event. Designed to encourage and promote the highest professional standards, these prestigious awards are widely recognized for excellence in Canada's creative community.

Category: Graphic Design - Complete Book Design

Silver Winner: Bannock Beans and Black Tea

Merit Winners: The Complete Peanuts & Clyde Fans Book One (2 of 6 winners)

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Featured artist

Seth

           Featured product

Bannock, Beans & Black Tea




Nashville City Paper reviews new books by SETH and JOHN PORCELLINO!

Updated November 18, 2005


Lifestyle

Web only column: Graphic Content
November 18, 2005


Diary of a Mosquito Abatement Man
By John Porcellino
(La Mano)
www.lamano21.com

This is a collection of autobiographical comics from King-Cat Comics cartoonist John Porcellino, focusing specifically on his time as an exterminator.

The ruminations start off pretty rough (from his work as a 20-year-old in 1989) and end up with a more mature, observant quality (ending around age 30 in 1999), providing a fascinating look at a developing artist.

Porcellino spent most of his time as an exterminator alone, leading to all kinds of small observations and connections that people can only make when they’re by themselves.

Despite, or perhaps because of, his matter-of-fact approach, there’s something endearing about Porcellino’s recollection of the time he tried to help a bull get its head unstuck from a fence, or when he accidentally caught two ugly teenagers unashamedly having sex in a car on the beach.

The two closing stories, “Death of a Mosquito Abatement Man” and “The Owl,” reflect Porcellino’s growing discomfort with being an exterminator following an interest in Buddhism. So not only does the book document his growth as an artist, it reflects his growth as a person, too, giving this collection of anecdotes the gravitas it needs to be something more.

Wimbledon Green
By Seth
(Drawn & Quarterly)
www.drawnandquarterly.com

Wimbledon Green uses the story format of a documentary, talking with a variety of people about one person, the titular Wimbledon Green, the self-described “greatest comic book collector in the world.”

It’s an amusing book that takes a tongue-in-cheek look at the world of diehard collectors. Green is a mysterious figure to many and his rival collectors are all on hand to relate information that pieces together his life. Did he used to be Don Green, driving around the country buying classic comic books from old farmers and yard sales? Where did he get all his money? And what exactly was Green’s involvement with the infamous Wilbur R. Webb collection anyway?

Master cartoonist Seth admits in his introduction that this started off as merely an exercise in his sketchbook, but it quickly snowballed into a larger tale. So the drawings may be a little simpler than Seth’s usual work, but the style fits with the book’s whimsical tone.

The fully realized world Seth has created in his “exercise” may be all-too-familiar to some, but manages to be truly enjoyable for all thanks to its quick pace and amusing story about the quirkiness of man.


By Wil Moss, wmoss@nashvillecitypaper.com
 
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Featured artists

Seth
John Porcellino

           Featured product

Wimbledon Green




  BOOKLIST on WIMBLEDON GREEN

Updated November 15, 2005


1 November 2005
Booklist 34
Volume 102; Issue 5

Seth. Wimbledon Green: The Greatest Comic Book Collector in the World. 2005. 128p. illus. Drawn & Quarterly, $19.95 (1-896597-93-9). 741.5.

Seth, known for his leisurely, meticulously crafted representations of life's minutiae, as in the serialized family saga Clyde Fans, lightens up in this delightful departure set in an alternate world in which comic-book collectors are sophisticated financiers rather than socially maladroit nerds. Greatest of them all is Wimbledon Green, whom Seth portrays in short vignettes and monologues featuring his fellow collectors as well as when he takes center stage in a story of him and his rivals on an epic, cross-country chase to snag the world's rarest comic, the legendary Green Ghost No. 1. Green is admired and envied for his business acumen and his unmatched knowledge of comics lore, though the comics and creators in his world don't exist in ours. Seth's artwork is uncharacteristically and appealingly casual here but still retains the strengths on view in his more typical works: impeccable design sense, elegant wordcraft, and a distinctive, nostalgia-embracing sensibility. This is unpretentious fun with special appeal to hard-core comics collectors who may aspire to Greens collecting triumphs and savoir faire.

-Gordon Flagg

Featured artist

Seth

           Featured product

Wimbledon Green




Washington Square News on TATSUMI TOMINE & SETH

Updated November 15, 2005


Arts and Entertainment: Arts

The comics canon, revisited
Cartoon arts finally gets the recognition it deserves

by Eric Kohn
November 11, 2005

To anyone with average exposure to the funny pages, reading the comics may convey heartwarming memories of Charlie Brown’s childhood musings. Likewise, aficionados of the superhero comic book may fondly recall the noble adventures of Superman, Spiderman and the rest of the costumed crusading gang.

But while other visual art forms have been long recognized by mainstream audiences as advanced modes of expression, adult-oriented comics have been by and large downgraded to a lowly status as special interest fodder for a niche readership.

Still, the creative practice of bringing exagerrated pen-and-ink characters to life has managed to develop into a decidedly mature medium for over a century, ever since “The Yellow Kid” spawned epic ownership feuds between New York newspaper tycoons William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer. Radical experimentation with narrative structure and content in comics can be traced through nearly every decade of the past 100 years, from the reclusive hippie sentiments of Robert Crumb in the 1960s to bleak explorations of human suffering in the later work of Will Eisner, who is credited with coining the now-popular term “graphic novel.” In 1992, Art Spiegelman’s Holocaust-themed “Maus” was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. No one could argue that the recognition was undeserved simply because the book united pictures with words.

Given its unorthodox history as the progressive underdog of visual art, the key to unlocking the history of comics lies in the exploration of its roots. Earlier this year saw the re-release of selections from Winsor McCay’s pioneering strip “Little Nemo in Slumberland,” an early-20th century creation restored to its full glory in large panel format. And now comes “The Push Man and Other Stories,” the first volume of published works by Japanese cartoonist Yoshihiro Tatsumi.

Although many comic fans associate Japanese cartooning primarily with manga, which generally centers on fantastical adventure stories, Tatsumi’s work operates in an entirely more profound vein. His comics, published in Japanese magazines from the late 1950s and for several decades afterward, influenced numerous Japanese cartoonists in that country’s budding alternative scene. Tatsumi called the dark realistic nature of his work “geikiga.” The stories, generally no longer than eight pages, follow alienated characters struggling to survive amid a troublesome working class that forcibly negates individuality. Not a single story in “The Push Man” features what could be considered a happy ending. Among the grim themes involved are murder, adultery and cross-dressing, which may come as a surprise to American readers, given that the stories were initially published over 30 years ago.

The collection brings Tatsumi’s work to an English-speaking audience for the first time — sort of. Cartoonist Adrian Tomine, 31, whose “Optic Nerve” series grew from an independently published production into major recognition and critical acclaim after a few slim volumes, first encountered a bootleg English translation of a Tatsumi comic during the 1980s, when Tomine was still a teenager. Tomine, who serves as the editor of “The Push Man” as well as upcoming installments in the series, claims in the introduction to the collection that the Tatsumi comic helped him maintain interest in cartooning when mainstream works started to lose their appeal.

Years later, after “Optic Nerve” became a top-selling title for Drawn & Quarterly, Tomine suggested to the alternative comic label the idea of reprinting Tatsumi’s work. While in Japan, Tomine arranged a meeting with Tatsumi. Although the two men required a translator, they recognized their common affinity for a particular brand of off-beat, minimalist storytelling. Though Tomine’s drawings tend to favor a more realistic look than Tatsumi’s curvaceous lines, his work often deals with similarly alienated individuals coping with romantic hardships. His characters tend be young and wistful, so it comes as no surprise that his fanbase is largely made up of similarly aged, like-minded people. But Tomine insists that the cultural gap between his art and Tatsumi’s doesn’t significantly seperate their styles.

“A lot of times I’ll read reviews of my work where it’s described as a Generation-X thing, or some hipster twentysomething genre, which has never been my goal,” Tomine said in a phone interview last week. “That just comes as a result of trying to reflect your own surroundings. Then a larger group of people try to adopt that and say, ‘Yes, he’s speaking for me.’”

If Tomine speaks for anyone, it would be his fellow cartoonists. During a scheduled appearance at the Strand bookstore on Wednesday, he spoke about his first book tour nearly a decade ago, during which he slept on the floors of comic book stores. This time around, the accomodations have been far more comfortable.

“A small group of people who see the value of graphic novels have risen to positions of power in the world,” Tomine said. “There’s been a deep increase in the quality of the work that’s been coming out the last 10 years. It’s just too astonishing for people not to notice it.” That increased attention has allowed a number of cartoonist to promote their work through a variety of media. Daniel Clowes, another cartoonist whom Tomine cites as a significant influence, was nominated for an Academy Award in 2004 after adapting his graphic novel “Ghost World” as a critically acclaimed film. As recently as a few months ago, The New York Times Magazine began serializing new work by Chris Ware, a cartoonist considered by those in the field as a contemporary legend.

Tatsumi himself, following the publication of “The Push Man,” is beginning to gain greater recognition with western audiences. Over the decades, he has lived in relative obscurity, running a small mail-order bookstore in Japan and scarcely publishing any original work. This year, he will be recognized as a guest of honor at the San Diego Comic-Con, the annual mecca for die-hard comic hobbyists.

“He’s coming out of his shell a bit,” Tomine said, possibly with a tinge of pride. “It’s like unthawing someone from a different era. He lives such a nice, quiet life in Japan. Now he’s going to be thrust into what in my mind is one of the most vulgar environments in America.” Vulgar or not, here he comes. After all, no publicity is bad publicity, especially when you’re the underdog. That philosophy seems to be the axiom of the hour among the literary cartoonist crowd. “We need to get out of the comics ghetto,” said cartoonist Seth (born Gregory Gallant). “I’m happy to see comics going out into the real world.”

Seth, who appeared alongside Tomine at the Strand, is a frequent contributor The New Yorker, among other publications. His latest work, “Wimbledon Green: The Greatest Comic Book Collector in the World,” delves into an alternate universe of comic book history, where the competitive collectors are largely members of an esteemed and cultured class, rather than the geeky stereotype generally associated with the crowd. Revisionist history it may be, but such work highlights the fact that the medium does indeed have a rich and long-standing history, much of which has yet to be uncovered by its expanding fanbase.

“Comics have been neglected to a big degree,” Seth said, adding that he regrets misguided similarities people often draw between the intellectual nature of his work and the abrasive, action-packed superhero comics produced by corporate behemoths Marvel and DC. “It irritates me because I’m forced to have some kind of connection to it,” he said.

In a sense, cartooning may be one of the last few fields populated by artists who prefer their work to be recieved hands-on, rather than spread through digital media. “I associate the computer with work,” Tomine said. “I associate comics with sitting in a coffee shop and flipping through pages.”
 
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Featured artists

Seth
Adrian Tomine
Yoshihiro Tatsumi

           Featured products

The Push Man & Other Stories
Wimbledon Green




  WIMBLEDON GREEN in the GLOBE & MAIL

Updated November 7, 2005


COMIX

It's comically easy being green
By GUY LESHINSKI
Saturday, November 5, 2005 Page D18

Wimbledon Green
By Seth
Drawn & Quarterly,
128 pages, $24.95

For better or for worse, the comic book runs on nostalgia. Even as it scales the heights of mainstream respectability, it remains an anachronism, an inanimate amusement that courts its readers as children and imprints on them a vision of such boundless imagination it can haunt them all their lives.

The rare gift of Guelph, Ont., cartoonist Seth -- and it's rarely so bountiful as in his new graphic novel Wimbledon Green -- is an unfailing ability to share that vision with the rest of us.

The book is anomalous in Seth's catalogue. It arrives unexpectedly between volumes of his larger opus, the melancholy Clyde Fans, and instalments of The Complete Peanuts library, which he's designing for Fantagraphics Books. What makes Wimbledon Green unusual is how it was made: The whole thing was improvised in his sketchbook.

As such, the brushwork isn't up to Seth's usual persnickety standards, sometimes clotting or drifting outside the frames -- but such minor flubs only magnify his amazing control. Seth has steadily become a master draftsman, absorbing the finesse and economy of his cartooning idols -- the workaholics who forged the house styles at places such as Esquire and The New Yorker -- and honing a loose-wristed brushstroke that's instantly identifiable as his. He's reduced his technique to an expressive shorthand for Wimbledon Green: primary shapes punctuated by a classical glossary of cartooning devices, from undulating motion lines to anxious sprays of sweat, corralled within tight, intelligent compositions. It's a bravura display.

The book is ostensibly a character study of the mercurial Mr. Green, "the greatest comic book collector in the world." It's constructed documentary-style, from the rambling anecdotes of peers, who recall their own treasured finds with the tenderness of a first kiss. The discussion sometimes digresses into detailed analyses of the comics in Green's fictitious collection, and here Seth gets to flex his archivist's knowledge of comic history by fabricating loving pastiches of works from each era, exact to their typography. Or the story veers left to become a mad crime caper, where rival collectors clash like mob padrones, each with his own henchman.

Thus the book functions as both a playful tale of intrigue and a primer on the growth of the comic book. Fact and fiction casually merge. The action is set against a backdrop of familiar facades, Toronto's Union Station, say, or downtown Gravenhurst, Ont., and real people make guest appearances. Peter Birkemoe, co-owner of Toronto comic shop The Beguiling, describes the moment Green unearthed his El Dorado: nine suitcases full of rare comic books in the storeroom of a rickety collector. Seth himself makes a cameo -- as Jonah, "history's greatest comic book thief" and one of a "a small faction of nostalgic types . . . [and] self-deluded fops."

If it all sounds a little restrictive, it is. Neophytes may miss the parade of comic-book clichés Seth is both celebrating and lampooning (exhibit A: the lank-haired fanboy in the Rush T-shirt). Even discerning readers will struggle to spot all the references, such as allusions to Little Lulu in Wimbledon's beloved Fine + Dandy comics.

But there's a bigger picture revealed here. Through the musings of its eccentric cast, a portrait is drawn of a man and his motives, much as Orson Welles's fragmentary sketch of a newspaper mogul exposed a longing for a lost childhood in Citizen Kane, a work this book evokes (albeit as light comic farce). Though the improvised story perhaps inevitably loses steam toward the end, it has by this time made its mark. Wimbledon Green is a spoof of the obsessive collector, but it's also a discriminating guide to why comics, such peculiar relics, are still so loved: the vision of a vanished past they momentarily restore.

Guy Leshinski has been reading, drawing and writing about comics for as long as he can remember. His comic-book column The Panelist appeared in Eye Weekly.
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Featured artist

Seth

           Featured product

Wimbledon Green




LA WEEKLY picks SETH & ADRIAN TOMINE as this week's BOOK EVENT!

Updated November 4, 2005


What illustrators Adrian Tomine and Seth (a.k.a. Gregory Gallant) have in common is, like their art, both obvious and subtle. Both were part of the early 1990s underground movement that kicked the traditional comic-book form in the pants, pushing it beyond talking mice and guys in tights into a realm of sophisticated human interaction previously reserved for the short story or novel. (Seth, as it happens, grew up in the same small Ontario town as did the master of narrative nuance, writer Alice Munro.) Both tackled semi-autobiographical themes: Optic Nerve tracked Tomine's 20-something angst - about desperate crushes, existential ennui, loneliness, falling in love with a cute insomniac girl in a coffee shop at 2 a.m. - while early issues of Seth's Palooka-ville chronicled, in quasi-fictionalized form, the daily struggles of a working artist. Aesthetically, both are throwbacks to earlier times. Seth's style, in particular, calls to mind the wry, urbane wit of mid-century New Yorker cartoons at the height of the so-called Golden Age of comics. This weekend, Drawn and Quarterly, the comic publisher, brings the two illustrators together for a slide show and conversation about art, life and how they got here. Tomine will present Optic Nerve 10, as well as a book he designed and edited, The Push Man and Other Stories by Yoshihiro Tatsumi, the grandfather of alternative manga. Seth will discuss his new graphic novel, Wimbledon Green, and his design of the best-selling series The Complete Peanuts. It is a rare treat to witness these two together, both modern classics in the making. They capture in words and scribbled pictures the way we really live. Adrian Tomine and Seth, Sat., Nov. 5, 7:30 p.m., Skylight Books, 1818 N. Vermont Ave., (323) 660-1175.
 
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Featured artists

Seth
Adrian Tomine

           Featured products

The Push Man & Other Stories
Wimbledon Green
Optic Nerve #10