Thursday, December 07, 2006

49. It's a Good Life, If You Don't Weaken

by Seth

Oh, Seth. What can you ever say about Seth that will truly capture how amazing he is? I read him first in McSweeney’s, had the rare opportunity to see him talk at a Columbia gallery show (I now know it was rare because I’ve since talked to people who were unable to get in), and fell in love with Clyde Fans. I would already own everything in his catalogue if it weren’t for the money (again, why aren’t there used comic shops?) and, you know, the fact that I always want to read about ten different books at the same time so it’s not too difficult to find a distraction. Reading this early collection of Palookaville issues after it being a year since the last time I read Seth was nice because I know there’s a finite amount of his work published together and stretching them out means there will always be something new for me to find.

It’s a Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken is autobiographical and it follows the author’s obsession with a long forgotten cartoonist whom he knows only as Kalo. It’s in a old copy of The New Yorker that he finds Kalo’s single contribution to cartooning and it drives him nuts to think that he made it that far only to disappear afterwards. Seth’s research, which yields little findings, eventually causes him to travel to Ontario to visit Kalo’s former home only to find another dead end. Finally, a reference to a realty company leads him to Kalo’s daughter who confirms the artist’s death and shares the little she knows about his work. Although Kalo had stopped cartooning by the time his daughter was born, he did leave behind paintings and Seth’s visit to his still-alive mother offers the chance to look into the scrapbook she’s kept of her son’s work. The epilogue reaffirms that Seth has had little success finding much of Kalo’s work, but he does include all eleven pieces he’s managed to collect.

As I’ve found with Seth’s other pieces, the story is almost secondary to the look and the feel that he creates in his panels. We see his solitude and his introversion; we sense his disdain for his brother and his surprise at any change in his mother’s home; we feel the pull of his obsession in the silent images of a night sky. How he’s able to do this is beyond me. Whenever I read a particularly good graphic novel, I always think that it must be much harder to create a story in this medium than in plain old prose. I mean, we get to spell everything out for our readers, but cartoonists? They have to create isolation and ecstasy and disappointment and contentment without ever saying a word. Well, the good ones do, at least. There are plenty of not-so-great cartoonists out there, just as there are plenty of not-so-great novelists, but Seth is certainly not among that group.

What I like best about the story is that it’s about an obsession. It’s about that moment you discover a new author or musician and suddenly have to know everything about them. Whether that thing is popular or obscure, there’s a pleasure to be had in searching out all the information you can find and feeling like you’re the one who knows the most about this person who’s had such an effect on your life. Seth, as he writes himself, is a cut and dry, factual man with little interest in emotional work, but his whole-hearted fascination with Kalo’s cartoons is compelling in its own way. In the same vein, I can’t wait to collect the rest of Seth’s work.


Blogger Carrie said...

Yay Seth!
heck out Wimbeldon Green, it is also about obession and it looks really good.

6:48 PM  
Blogger Exxie said...

I definitely will. I hope to read everything Seth has done one day.

8:53 PM  

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