Collectors exposed as nasty bunch: Cartoonist pokes fun at 'ugly, repellent' side of obsessive comic-book hoarding

Edmonton Journal    |    Gilbert A. Bouchard    |    December 11, 2005

EDMONTON -- The cartoonist known as Seth is hitting close to home with the subject matter of his new graphic novel.

In Wimbledon Green, Seth -- the pseudonym of Gregory Gallant -- pokes fun at obsessive comic book collectors, the ranks of whom include many a fellow comic book artist.

"It's a subject matter that's always at the back of the mind of any cartoonist because you don't get to be a cartoonist without loving old comic books," says the Guelph, Ont., artist.

Seth's previous graphic novels include It's a Good Life if You Don't Weaken and Clyde Fans: Volume One.

"I decided to embrace that reality, making fun of it, but also celebrating it," he says, underlining that when he talks about "collectors," he's not talking about folks who just happen to have a pile of old comic books.

Rather, collectors are highly driven and directed individuals seeking to complete full original runs of comic book titles they collect, scouring garage sales, junk shops and online auctions in search of those elusive missing issues.

"There is a fever to their purchasing and searching habits and a true collector will make whatever effort is necessary to acquire what he's missing. We're talking terror and losing sleep over their hobby."

Wimbledon Green is a quirky biography/mystery story about an enigmatic comic book collector called Wimbledon Green, the self-proclaimed "world's greatest comic book collector."

Much of the novel centres around the murky details of Green's greatest comic book coup: the finding and sale of the Wilbur R. Webb collection, a fictional action that closely mirrors the discovery and sale of the real-life Mile High Comics collection -- a gigantic and ultra-rich collection that still stands as the comic book world's Eldorado.

As the book unfolds, Green and his collector peers are shown to be a petty and rather nasty bunch, a reality that Seth sees as the dark underbelly of a comic book collecting universe that is both "attractive and repellent" at the same time.

"Collecting is an ugly activity ... and collectors are always at odds with each other. If you ever do much in the world of collecting you see people behave badly, including doing all kinds of things to get stuff before other people do."

What's really funny and sad, says Seth, is the reality that these adults are fighting so nastily over "ephemera, old pop-culture goods that are only expensive and valued because you have enough greedy guys willing to fight over it."

Seth says that while he does "collect a lot of stuff" -- including old cartoons, carnival ware, antique souvenirs, and toy and novelty items -- it's mainly "lowbrow junk" which doesn't add up to him being "a real collector type."

The one area of his collecting where the artist is more-serious-than-not is his collection/research into older Canadian cartoons. Seth is currently hard at work editing the first of three volumes that will collect the cartoons of fellow Canadian illustrator Doug Wright.

Describing Wimbledon Green as an artistic experiment in fragmented visual storytelling, Seth says the production of the finished hardcover book was almost as satisfying as drawing the cartoons themselves.

"Cartoonists are increasingly serving as designers and are producing unified art objects," he says. Seth, who's always had a parallel career as a magazine illustrator to supplement his time-consuming cartooning work, is trying to "phase" his way into book design.

Recent book design work includes the Fantagraphic Press The Complete Peanuts series and Stuart McLean's The Vinyl Cafe Diaries.


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