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!
London Free Press reviews GNBCC