This is Propaganda, I’m Richard Bruton and this is what I’ve been reading lately: in the introduction to this wonderful little book Seth explains that this is nowhere near his best work. He describes the artwork as sketchbook quality at best and castigates himself repeatedly for not spending more time over it. This, of course, is quite ridiculous. Seth’s sketchbook artwork shames most comic artist’s work, such is the grace and simple beauty of Seth’s cleans lines and expressive storytelling.
That the book didn’t take Seth that long to do is not a terrible thing either, and certainly not something he should be apologising for. Some stories take time, some pour out onto the page without plan or forethought.
Indeed, one criticism of Seth is that he can be just too self-critical and too judgemental of his own work in such a way that prevents him from working at a faster pace. The tortuous wait for another book in his wonderful Clyde Fans series is testament to this fact. And the horrible realisation that, although I’ve loved his work since first seeing it in the old Mr X series (issues #6 – 13 1985 – 1988, reprinted recently in Mr X volumes 1 and 2) and subsequently in the pages of his own Palookaville comic, starting in 1991, his entire library of published work is just six books: Mr X (Volumes 1 and 2), It’s A Good Life If You Don’t Weaken (1996), Clyde Fans Volume 1 (2004), Bannock, Beans & Black Tea (2004) and Wimbledon Green (2005). Six books in twenty-two years. It’s a good reminder that it is quality not quantity that counts in this world.
(Cover for Mr X Volume 2, the Secret Life of Mr X by Dean Motter, art by Seth)
Seth’s work can be seen in other places of course. His design work and commercial art is perhaps best known; he is the designer of the exquisite series of Complete Peanuts reprint books from Fantagraphics. But it’s his comic book work that obviously is his true labour of love, and I believe it shows in every page. Of course, as befits a designer of Seth’s obvious talents, the design and look of the book is impeccable; produced in hardback, beautiful covers, lovely endpieces and a very nice touch of rounding the corners of the pages and the cover.
Wimbledon Green is a lovely primer for Seth’s more involved work of It’s A Good Life and Clyde Fans. It details the life and work of the world’s greatest comic collector; Wimbledon Green. During the course of the book, Seth builds up his fictional collector’s life through the reminiscences of colleagues, competitors, enemies and interested bystanders whose lives were affected in some way by Wimbledon Green. Each memory, each tale builds layer upon layer onto this fictional life, which turns out to be mysterious, lonely, obsessive and full of a melancholy and sadness. Yet the melancholy and sadness is never obvious.
(Panels from Wimbledon Green by Seth, published Drawn & Quarterly)
Like Seth’s previous work, Wimbledon Green creates a deep sense of melancholy in the style and execution of the book. It comes out in the tone and atmosphere rather than the story. Seth’s style, his deftness of touch and the emotions he manages to imbue both art and storytelling with envelops the reader in a feeling of nostalgia, of melancholy, of comfort and a profound sense of both sadness and loss.
As usual, the artwork is a beautiful example of how a simple, clean line can be completely expressive. He works in a limited palette of three colours; gold, silver and bronze (each illustrating a specific time in comic history). Seth’s storytelling in Wimbledon Green is very different from his usual style, something he alludes to in his introduction. The longer story is told through a series of apparently unconnected shorter strips; when read together they coalesce into a bigger, more complete tale. As Seth admits this is a deliberate attempt to try out the style after seeing cartoonists like Clowes and Ware do the same. And, although Seth would deny this until he was blue in the face, his work is every bit as good as Clowes or Ware. He’s a craftsman and artist of rare skill and a storyteller capable of subtle, gentile and quietly beautiful tales.
To label it a lesser work is too easy when compared against some of his other books; whilst Wimbledon Green may not be at the level of perfection that he’s attained with It’s A Good Life If You Don’t Weaken it’s certainly well worth your time and attention.