The AV Club Review - Bannock, Beans And Black Tea

The AV Club    |    Noel Murray    |    May 20, 2004

After Chris Ware, Canadian cartoonist Seth has the best design sense in comics; it's evident in the way he slips nostalgic ennui into packages that mimic the texture and tone of an old used-bookstore discovery. Bannock, Beans And Black Tea collects a set of anecdotal memoirs by Seth's father John Gallant (Seth's real name is Gregory Gallant), dressed up with illustrations and bound up in a small hardback that looks like a turn-of-the-century private-press publication. The writing is equally unassuming, as the elder Gallant describes his Depression-era childhood in direct, unpoetic lines like "The house was of the type made of logs and rough-hewn boards. In the back of it was the backhouse (or outhouse). It was surrounded by overgrown grass and weeds and with some old apple trees between it and the road."
Gallant grew up in the '30s on Prince Edward Island, in a village dominated by a Catholic church and supported by a nearby lobster factory. Bannock, Beans And Black Tea is drawn from stories Seth heard his father tell repeatedly, stories that seemed quaintly rustic when Seth was a child, but that he's come to see as tinged with bitterness. The title of the book comes from the Gallant family's standard breakfast ("bannock" being a kind of unleavened, unseasoned fried bread), and most of the short chapters revolve around what they had to do to keep from starving. Gallant bought flour and hunted scraps, making do with ragged clothes and dropping out of school to find work wherever it was available.
Seth's hand-lettering and thick-lined illustrations give an intentionally deceptive veneer of charm to what is in essence one old man's angry howl at God for sticking him in a home bereft of advantages. The appeal of Bannock, Beans And Black Tea is similar to that of any frontier tale, where readers get the chance to marvel at human ingenuity and simultaneously give thanks for modern convenience. But the book also serves as a between-the-lines expression of affection to a father, from a son whose own romanticizing and re-creating of a more perfect past now holds a drop of irony. 

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