SETH: WIMBLEDON GREEN PREVIEW in the Globe & Mail – Summer Reading Series

Quirky Canadian leads the return of the classic graphic novel

The Globe & Mail    |    Guy Dixon    |    August 6, 2005

Think low-key and nostalgic.

At a time when mainstream graphic novels, especially the superhero kind, edge toward cinematic grandeur, and comic-book art tends to swirl around the page in a frenzy of movement, the work of Canadian illustrator Seth has an old fashioned stop-time quality that has won him wide acclaim.

From his landmark comic series Palookaville to his current show at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Seth (just say the one name and any comic fan immediate knows whom you're talking about) harks back to a time of comic innocence that perhaps never really was.

His works, such as the recent Clyde Fans series, have a Tintin quality, some reviewers have said. Or his characters can seem like the musty grandparents of Charles M. Schulz's Peanuts.

In fact, Peanuts was a huge influence on Seth, who in turn designed The Complete Peanuts book set. Other influences have included New Yorker cartoonists such as Charles Addams and Syd Hoff, both from a certain bygone age of magazines.

Yet Seth's drawings are often described as being, at times, more basic than the style of the older cartoonists he emulates.

As a result, there's a nostalgic, wool-suit fustiness to his work that nevertheless feels updated. It's a quality that has drawn widespread praise. (And if you must know, he was born Gregory Gallant in Clinton, Ont., in 1962, studied at Toronto's Ontario College of Art in the 1980s, now lives in Guelph, Ont., and is an avid collector of records, comics and everyday Canadiana.)

A review of Clyde Fans on the publishing industry website Quill & Quire Omni hit it on the head by saying, "Of all comics artists, Seth has mastered the art of suspending time, making the reader pause and experience each panel."

Seth himself has given audiences reason to pause, especially when appearing publicly in a retro suit, polished shoes and Homburg hat, as he did during an appearance at the AGO earlier this summer.

The alternative-comic movement that Seth is often credited with helping to lead evolved from artists like Robert Crumb and the underground comics of the late 1960s and 1970s, but the mood today is much different.

Along with Seth, other graphic novelists leading the current movement are fellow Canadian Chester Brown (author of the Louis Riel comics series), Art Spiegelman (Maus), Joe Sacco (Palestine, a work of journalism in comic-book form), Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis, about growing up in Iran after the Islamic revolution) and a growing list of writer/ artists pushing comics into distinctly literary circles.

And although Seth may recall a time when cartoons typically accompanied articles on the pages of serious magazines, the work of graphic novelists is now often seen alongside written articles. It's a medium on a par with serious works, despite nostalgia for a time when it wasn't.

Wimbledon Green will be published by Drawn & Quarterly in October. Monday in Globe Review: Part Two of our exclusive serial.

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