SETH in the MONTREAL GAZETTE

“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” / The Montreal Gazette / Claude Lalumiere / November 26, 2005

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.

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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