Toronto Star features Bannock, Beans & Black Tea

Childhood stories inspired Bannock

The Toronto Star    |    Ho Anderson    |    March 31, 2004

Gregory Gallant, better known as Seth, will read from Clyde Fans, above, and Bannock, Beans And Black Tea at the Rivoli. Cartoonist draws on father's struggles
Seth launches two books this week

As a kid, his name had been Gregory Gallant. A large part of his childhood entertainment centred on his father John's stories of growing up in Prince Edward Island. A born storyteller, at the time his father's stories felt to Gallant like tales of grand adventure.

Tomorrow, Gallant, now a successful cartoonist and illustrator better known as Seth, arrives at The Rivoli where he'll launch the book he created from his father's stories, Bannock, Beans And Black Tea.

"I'll be reading in a boring manner to an uninterested crowd," Seth says of his presentation, in which he'll recite from Bannock as well as from Clyde Fans, the other book he's launching. Also planned is a talk about the history of cartooning, something Seth knows quite a bit about.

Often compared to The New Yorker cartoonists of the '20s and '30s, Seth's fluid brush line first graced the pages of the Toronto-produced comic book, Mr. X. By the late '80s, his work began appearing in publications such as Maclean's, Mother Jones and, appropriately enough, The New Yorker. In 1991, Palookaville debuted, an ongoing comic book series published by Montreal's Drawn & Quarterly. Palookaville was a vehicle for Seth to address and expand upon the themes that have dominated his work from the beginning: loneliness, isolation — ordinary lives lived in quiet desperation.

"When I sit down and think of what I consider an interesting story, this is the stuff that comes up to the surface. I seem to be attracted to loneliness as a subject matter," Seth says, citing Clyde Fans as an example.

Collected from Palookaville, one of the story's main characters is Simon Matchcard, a dour, weak-willed fan salesman operating in Ontario during the 1950s. We follow Matchcard as he tries to make the most of an opportunity to prove himself as a salesman — a task reluctantly handed to him by his boss.

Isolation, both spatial and spiritual, is also explored in his father's memoir.

"I've literally spent a decade editing the stories, designing the book and making the artwork. All of it squeezed between my personal work and a million commercial jobs," Seth writes in the illustrated foreword to Bannock.

As a child, the artist had enjoyed hearing the stories over and over, but as an adult, he perceived the pain and neglect submerged within his father's spirited retelling. These were tales of a life of extreme poverty lived in P.E.I.'s harsh climes. For years, Seth thought about preserving the stories in some kind of book, going so far as attempting to record them, before finally asking his father to simply write them down. To his surprise, he did.

As the stories started rolling in, Seth realized some editing would be necessary, as certain tales began to resemble others, some merely variations on a theme. Says Seth, "I suspect he was writing them out for me each night as he drank a bottle of wine."

The end result is a handsomely illustrated collection of stories, a melding of sensibilities born of two very different lives.

As Seth says, "What I do for a living is a different world from his experience."

Also on the bill is cartoonist Chester Brown, who'll be doing a graphic presentation of his book Riel. The Rivoli is located at 332 Queen St. W., near Spadina. The free event goes from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. The doors open at 6 p.m.

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