The Greatest Comic Book Collector in the World
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."
SETH in the Winnipeg Free Press