Seth, Poet of the Ordinary, in ‘Nothing Lasts’

“Seth, Poet of the Ordinary, in ‘Nothing Lasts’” / The New York Times / Ken Johnson / December 10, 2015

The acclaimed comic-book artist Seth (real name, Gregory Gallant) is a poet of the ordinary and the downbeat, a nostalgic chronicler of regret, disappointment, confusion and occasional moments of happiness. This enchanting exhibition features 80 original drawings for two chapters from the autobiographical story “Nothing Lasts.” The first 40-page section appeared in the 22nd issue of “Palookaville,” a series begun by Seth in 1991 and published by Drawn & Quarterly. The second will soon appear in “Palookaville 23.”

More than just autobiography, “Nothing Lasts” is a meditation on memory itself. Like the works of the autobiographical novelist Karl Ove Knausgaard, Seth’s minimalist stories tend to focus on seemingly inconsequential events that can haunt a life.

One especially affecting page recalls a hot summer day when the teenage Seth lived in a little town in Ontario. In small square and rectangular panels, the scene is rendered in high-contrast black and white with blue tints selectively added, expertly emulating comic styles of the 1930s and ’40s. The village is deserted, and there’s nothing going on. As if entranced, Seth’s younger self strolls diagonally across the town’s main intersection. That’s all. But, as he recalls in neatly lettered text, “It is such a visceral memory that I have thought of it at least once a week … every summer … for the past 30 years or so.”

Perusing Seth’s narratives may have the curiously stirring effect of prompting the reader’s own memories of similarly mundane yet vividly recalled experiences. Consider yourself warned.

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