Thursday, June 06, 2013

Seth. It’s a Good Life if you Don’t Weaken (2004)

     Seth. It’s a Good Life if you Don’t Weaken (2004) Seth thinks in images, so that a good deal of his narrative is conveyed entirely through his drawings. The text and the pictures play against each other, so that the story told through the protagonist’s thoughts and his dialogue with others is enriched, more, is given its meaning, through the graphics. IOW, this is truly a graphic novella, and not merely an illustrated text. The hero “Seth” searches for clues about Kalo, an obscure cartoonist who sold a single panel to the New Yorker in 1951. Eventually, Seth tracks down his quarry, who left cartooning and became a successful realtor in Strathroy, a town that Seth and his family lived in for a few years.
     The tone of the story is melancholy, suffused with a yearning for the past, which is of course that of Seth’s childhood, before he had to face the realities of adult life. His drawings, not quite realistic, yet accurate enough that one can recognise landmark buildings in Toronto, for example, express Seth’s loneliness and alienation; whether in a crowd or in a forbidding winter landscape with trees like the bars of a jail cell, Seth is alone.
     His best friend Chet occasionally listens to him, and has a more sanguine outlook on life. Seth meets a girl and has a brief relationship with her; but then simply doesn’t call her again. He’s afraid, it seems, of the intimacy an adult relationship requires, an intimacy not needed for mere sex. The title quotes Seth’s mother, a dour and cool woman, who looks after Seth’s younger, gormless brother. But it isn’t a good life, despite the successful research and the pleasures of revisiting and remembering childhood places. A quibble: some of the items in the panels are generic cartoon, not observed from life, but I doubt that most readers would notice. *** (2005)

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