Palookaville Number Twenty One – Seth (Drawn & Quartely 2013)

I first came across Seth’s work when I picked up a copy of Wimbledon Green, a tale of the world’s greatest comic collector who would stop at nothing to get the an ultra-rare golden age comic. It’s a captivating story that makes me want to read it again every time I think about it. Naturally, I’ve wanted to read more of Seth’s comic books since then.

Seth likes the quiet dignity of the overlooked, the forgotten or the ignored space. A seemingly ordinary object or location can be a source of fascination. In the fly-leaves at the beginning of the book are two pictures of electricity pylons, both at dusk. One is a slightly closer view with the moon behind it. On looking at these I noticed that you can see a square-jawed super-hero within the steel structure, something that Seth has put there to show what observation is all about.

The book is split into three sections. Section one is part four (if that makes sense) of the Clyde Fans story, which shows the lives of brothers Abraham and Simon Matchcard as their business declines around them. Seth’s artwork looks deceptively simple, many pages contain 12 frames in a 3 x 4 grid pattern. His use of shade and dark, the sparse use of speech bubbles and the focus on the ordinary (door frames, bathroom, staircases, flies) creates the atmosphere, which is one of quiet desperation.

Section two contains sections of Seth’s ‘Rubber Stamp Diary’, a fantastic idea in which rather than writing a diary entry in long-form, he has had a set of rubber stamps made from which he can use to make an illustrated diary. It seems to be an idea that would catch on with a wider audience but perhaps most people are too far past using ink and paper on a daily basis now. The entries, which were produced between 2009 and 2011, illustrate quiet walks along little used railway tracks and the sense of peacefulness he feels whilst being completely alone, a feeling that is shattered when the world manages to break into the picture again. The passage of time and a sense of nostalgia pervade the mood. In an entry titled ‘The Dim Quiet’, the dropping of a pen causes some discomfort to Seth who says “I’m a boring person. I don’t want to go anywhere or see anyone.” Many of us can probably identify with the sentiment and I’m not sure it makes him boring.

The final section is entitled Nothing Lasts and is an autobiographical sketchbook of Seth’s early life. His parents moved house frequently and some of his earliest memories are unsurprisingly sketchy but some key recollections are etched in his memory and he is very frank and open about these. For example, his decision as a young boy to stop kissing his mother, which he learnt to regret as he got older. He also illustrates his behaviour in bullying others, mainly, it would seem, to deflect attention and potential bullying from himself. Of course a ‘confessional’ graphic novel is not unique but the fact that he has opened up these memories to the world is no less forceful. In this section he notes that his upbringing formed in him an association between joy and isolation, he says ” Even today, I find it necessary to spend most of my time alone.” This admission is something that the reader is likely to have worked out by reading the Rubber Stamp Diary in section 2 and perhaps it might have been more logical to change the order of the final two sections.

Interestingly he says he believes his “natural inclination was that of an extrovert…but circumstances taught me the value of introversion.” Clearly, Seth’s childhood is something he would prefer not to dwell on regularly so, again, we should be thankful that he has chosen to share these memories with the public.

Despite the fact that Clyde Fans leads off and is less ‘sketchy’ than the subsequent sections, it is the autobiographical elements that stand out and stay in the mind. Overall I was left with the impression of quiet stoicism and melancholy.

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