The extraordinary cartoonist reflects on memory, identity, and his poignant works that so profoundly reflect our past and present today.
The cartoonist Seth can seem a daunting fellow: There’s the intensely serious gaze he often projects in photographs. The 1940s aesthetic he embraces in his daily personal fashion, from the ubiquitous snap-brim fedora to his overcoat and round glasses. The morose tone that often characterizes his work, and what that work says about the world around us—such as his latest release, a final edition of Clyde Fans, the tale of two brothers running an electric fan company at the dawn of the air conditioning age.
Of course, beyond Seth, the entire genre of the graphic novel, and literary comics in particular, can seem a daunting universe to delve into. Where does one begin? What can one expect from the material? And where does one go from there?
For Seth, at least, we’ve got you covered. As a complement to the latest episode of Design Matters, here is a primer on the genius cartoonists’ key works.
—Zachary Petit, Design Matters Media Editor-in-Chief
It’s a Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken: A Picture Novella By Seth
Let’s start at the beginning—in Seth’s comic universe dubbed Palookaville. The Canadian publisher Drawn & Quarterly began releasing the Palookaville comic in 1991, and It’s a Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken collects one of the best runs of the series—and it’s pure Seth, from the way he blends autobiography and fiction to his signature cartooning style emblematic of vintage New Yorker artists … which is appropriate, given that the book’s plot focuses on the hunt for a lost New Yorker artist of yesteryear.
Say the critics: “Seth’s art is perfect for the story—his drawings are clean and crisp, much like those of the gag cartoonist for whom he’s searching—and it matches his struggle to find order in a disorderly world. It’s Seth’s anachronistic characteristics and refusal to accept the ‘joys’ of modern life which make It's a Good Life so fun to read.” —AV Club
Another creation of Palookaville, Seth’s latest release binds 20 years of serialized comics. Here, in what is arguably the author’s masterwork, the aforementioned brothers—who Seth has described as two sides of himself—navigate the death of their business and their inability to adapt to a world that is moving on beyond them.
Say the critics: “A tour de force that captures the strange sadness of nostalgia and how it betrays the past and makes the present unobtainable. Seth masterfully recreates the lives of two brothers―one too rough, the other too weak―by illuminating painfully bleak isolated moments in hotel rooms, coffee shops and highways. He also chronicles collections of tiny knick knacks and household objects in mundane montages that will break your heart with their beauty. The drawings are a feat of wonder, their composition built on the architectural blueprint of loneliness.” ―Heather O’Neill, author of The Lonely Hearts Hotel
Wimbledon Green: The Greatest Comic Book Collector in the World
Beyond the somber image that many have of Seth, Wimbledon Green is a marvelous testament to his quirky, humorous, playful side—not to mention the numerous side projects that Seth has percolating at any given moment. Born of his sketchbooks and released as he was working on Clyde Fans and his massive Peanuts project, this graphic novel documents the eponymous Green in an as-told-to format from those around him, likely offering insights into Seth’s own obsessions with collecting in the process.
Say the critics: “Free from the graphic atmospherics and demanding motifs of his more literary work, Seth is able to stretch out and create a world and a story that is light and funny while still deeply felt and finely crafted. Wimbledon Green is an excellent comic romp, and will seem all too familiar to collectors and the people that love (or loath) them.” —Publishers Weekly
George Sprott: (1894-1975)
A bit of a balance between Palookaville and Wimbledon Green, Seth originally created this comic as a syndicated strip in The New York Times Magazine. Focused on the titular long-running television host and adventurer, the book is rich with explorations of character and identity.
Say the critics: “Seth manages to make what is essentially the story of one man’s slow death into an often humorous rumination on the power of media, memory and loss.” —Publishers Weekly
The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists
In this, another “sketchbook story,” Seth takes his readers on a tour of the headquarters of The Great Northern Brotherhood in Dominion—a fictive Canadian city that plays home to many of Seth’s works. As Drawn & Quarterly best explains it, “Whereas Wimbledon Green celebrated the comics collectors, The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists celebrates the cartoonists the comic collectors love.” And in those cartoonists you’ll find all the best, delightfully odd hallmarks of Seth’s characters, blending both the real and the imagined.
Say the critics: “In The G.N.B. Double C., Seth pays homage to the nostalgic appeal and seemingly limitless potential of old comics, while trying to create his own testament to how much wonder can be contained within a nine-panel grid.” —AV Club
Finally, delve deeper down the rabbit hole with this giant cloth-bound volume, which exclusively features Seth’s art—in all its eclect
ic focus, from the glorious past to the questionable present. Removed from his words, it affords an entirely new lens on this most essential side of the creator.
Say the critics: “Most of the illustrations in this sketchbook are purely anonymous people and places. Seth has used them to create his own alternate reality: an oddly beautiful, wistful world, perfectly preserved, cobbled from our collective pasts.” ―Detroit Metro Times