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CSBG Archive

365 Reasons to Love Comics #122

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!

5/2/07

122. Seth

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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…!

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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!

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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.

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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.

19 Comments

How do you decide how long the themes will run? As much as I loved Ape-ril and Eh-pril/M-eh, can we have some random reasons to love comics for a little while?

Seth’s work for me is just zzzzzz… It’s a Good Life if you Don’t Weaken was beyond excruciating to get through. His work really lacks any semblance of dramatic tension from what I’ve read.

I read George Sprott (1894-1975) every week in the New Times Magazine, and I thought it was just amazing. That was the first stuff by Seth I ever read, but man – it made me into a fan. Every strip was just a perfect, self-contained little story, and they all built in this great portrait of a bittersweet, kind of pathetic life.

New *York* Times Magazine, obviously.

Stealthwise, what have you read besides ‘It’s a Good Life if you Don’t Weaken’? True, Seth’s books aren’t what I’d call tense but they do have a fair share of drama.

Speaking of “challenging the ways in which mainstream audiences look at comics”, it’s worth noting that Seth recently (last year, I think?) had an exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Pretty darn impressive.

I keep meaning to read more of his work, but never manage to get around to it. I must say, though – an entry on Seth, but not fellow alt-comix icon Chester Brown? (unless you’re saving him for Canada Day, or Louis Riel’s birthday)

I have a term for the artier end of the comics spectrum, “McElhatton Comics”– named after my friend Greg McElhatton (whose comic review website http://www.readaboutcomics.com should be bookmarked by everyone–he’s a brilliant reviewer) who has tirelessly reminded me over the years that comics are way more than superheroes and adolescent power fantasies.

I bought Wimbledon Green on the grounds that I felt I needed more McElhatton Comics and so I could at least impress Greg with my erudition (or at least have a conversation about comics that didn’t involve how keen I thought the latest creative team on Batman was) next time I saw him. And I absolutely loved it. It’s so charming and funny and fascinating.

What I love about Seth is his sense of design. The packaging of his books are as important as the content. They’re really gorgeous. I love that 1930s-style use of a single spot colour, too.

Greg also got me to read Louis Riel, which I am VERY DISAPPOINTED is not a candidate for Eh-pril, Mr. Reed. (Or Canadian Whites. I could have written three whole articles on those).

I love that 1930s-style use of a single spot colour, too

Yes, I know that it dates earlier than that, by the way, but the way he uses it reminds me of the frontispieces in books from that era.

Yeah Seth is a bit of a snorefest. Interesting, solid artwork I guess. I’ve only read two issues of Palookaville and the collected Clyde Fans book. And while somewhat interesting, I gotta say I’ve no interest to read much else from him. I might if I had nothing else to read, but otherwise, no.

Well, obviously Seth isn’t for everyone. But that’s okay! Fortunately the industry’s wide and diverse enough that it’s got damn near every taste and sensibility well-covered. And that’s a reason to love comics in itself!

I’d like to see an entry on Chester Brown as well. I was just better-suited to write one on Seth, and that’s who I harassed/threatened Bill to feature. (But y’know, the year’s still young, so I’m sure there’s always a chance.)

Awesome column, Bry. Thanks for pitching in (even if you are a Shifty Canadian).

The Kirbydotter

May 3, 2007 at 5:49 pm

Just a week is not enough for all the good Canucks!

Seth is a great entry (I love the Wimbledon Green book myself). But favorites are still missing!

Joe Matt (Peepshow) and Bernie Mireault (the Jam!)!!!

The tension (and I don’t know if it’s dramatic or not)

in Good Life is the narrator/Seth’s tryin’ to reconcile the past (or ideals of the past) and present. There wasn’t any “Oh Nos! Captain Evil has kidnapped the president’s daughter and he’s got a bomb!” kind of tension, but there was definitely conflict.

It’s also very… I didn’t think it was SLOW, but very deliberately paced and introverted book.

And if that’s not your thing, Wimbeldon Green was this big bouncy adventure story.

(And, conversely, Clyde Fans makes Good Life look like a Schwarzenegger Movie. Be warned.)

Thank you for posting an entry about Seth.
He’s one of my favorites in the the smaller press scene. Each story he weaves is a little nugget of great storytelling and brilliant draftsmanship. We need more creators like him.

I hope to god we DON’T see Chester Brown up here. His comics remind me of myself when I was fifteen and I didn’t know a single thing about the world. I was pretty selfish and stupid.

But Brown’s not fifteen, which makes it even less interesting to me.

Apodaca?

WHAT now?

Brown’s autobiographical stuff is almost all set in early adolescence. So if he acts like he’s fifteen that’d make him mature for his age.

His other major works are historical biography, dark surrealism and a kind of FAQ on schizophrenia.

Hard to apply your comments to any of those.

You sure you’re referring to the right guy?

Actually, I wasn’t. I confused Chester Brown with Jeffrey Brown.

Actually, I wasn’t.

I know. I thought you were thinking of Joe Matt who’s schtick is “I’m a total asshole.”

And that worried me.

Yeah, I like most of Jeff’s stuff alright, but there’s nothing I’d enthusiastically recommend to anyone over 18. Chester, conversely, is really good.

Sometime last night, I was reading the Adrian Tomine Scrapbook and I came across this little sketch of Chester Brown.

And for some reason, I vividly remembered the post and realized I had mixed them up. I am ashamed.

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