You can add Seth—the subject of this installment of “Palmer’s Picks“—to the growing list of cartoonists who have finished long-form graphic novels that were started in the 1990s. His Clyde Fans was finally collected as a ginormous book in 2019 from Drawn & Quarterly, after it began serialization in 1997 with Palooka-Ville #10, published shortly after this issue of Wizard hit the stands. Clyde Fans (which was at one point going to be called “Boyd Fans” according to my interview with Seth) is an amazing achievement, and was definitely worth the long, 22 year wait.
Seth’s first major graphic novel, It’s A Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken, was also serialized in his Palooka-Ville comic, although it is considerably shorter and only took a little under three years for it to be completed. My interview with Seth was conducted before it was revealed that It’s A Good Life was actually a work of fiction masquerading as an autobiographical comic. Seth’s story of his search for an obscure 1940s Canadian gag cartoonist named Jake “Kalo” Kalloway was cleverly designed to appear like all the other confessional autobio comics that were popular in the mid-’90s. It didn’t hurt that his publisher Drawn & Quarterly put out a lot of autobiographic comics—Peep Show, Yummy Fur, and Dirty Plotte chief among them—and that earlier issues of Palooka-Ville featured stories drawn from Seth’s life. But even though Seth himself was the main character of It’s A Good Life, the story itself—and even the existence of Kalo—was all made up. Seth kept up the ruse while each chapter appeared in Palooka-Ville, and continued it long after the graphic novel collection was published in 1996. He even fabricated a few Kalo cartoons that supposedly appeared in old magazines like Collier’s and The New Yorker. Back in the days before one could quickly do a little bit of sleuthing online, it was fairly easy to pull off a hoax like that. Nowadays, it would take a lot more effort.
As an interesting aside, Wizard was itself involved in a similar deception that took place a few years after Seth’s creation of Kalo. In 2000, Marvel introduced the Sentry, a Silver Age superhero who was created by Stan Lee and artist Artie Rosen in 1961 but was forgotten for decades until designs for the character were found in a box of papers by Rosen’s widow. In reality, The Sentry and his place in the Marvel Universe was a fabrication dreamed up by writer Paul Jenkins in collaboration with an uncredited Rick Veitch, and the story of the fictional Artie Rosen (his name was an amalgamation of Marvel letterers Artie Simek and Sam Rosen) was concocted to market a new Sentry comic by Jenkins and artist Jae Lee. Wizard played its part in this prank by publishing an obituary for Rosen as well as a special report detailing the discovery of the Sentry and how Jenkins and Marvel were planning to introduce this “lost” character into the Marvel Universe. They got Stan Lee to play along for an interview about his foggy memory of creating the character and his friendship with Artie Rosen, and even published a sketch of the Sentry drawn by John Romita Sr. but attributed to Rosen. A few months after The Sentry comic story concluded, Wizard ran a full-length article detailing how the fake story of Artie Rosen was put together.
So what’s the big take-away from these two comic book frauds? Don’t believe everything you read!
Seth’s Good Life
By Tom Palmer Jr.
The comic book art of Palooka-Ville creator and Toronto resident Seth (just Seth) is a paradox. He draws with a simple and elegant line, often delineating a panel in a few perfectly placed brushstrokes, but he uses his pictures to tell very complex stories. Seth’s art style is inspired mostly by one-panel gag cartoonists of the ’30s and ’40s like Peter Arno and William Steig, yet the Canadian cartoonist tells extended real-life stories that have no punchline at all. While the effect of all these paradoxical elements might seem jarring on the surface, in reality it gives Seth’s comics a sense of calmness and melancholy—his brush lines reflect the fading wisps of memory and nostalgia without being shallow or sappy.
Seth, who got his start in comics drawing Mister X at Vortex and currently moonlights as a magazine illustrator, admits that he owes a debt to the work of cartoonists from The New Yorker and other magazines. “I grew up with a wide variety of cartooning, but I didn’t really discover the gag cartoonists until I was in my middle 20s,” he recalls. “I think it’s purely an aesthetic thing. I find the drawing styles of these cartoonists extremely appealing to me. The stylization, the simplicity—it’s very appealing.”
His obsession with cartoonists from the heyday of The New Yorker inspired the story “It’s a Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken,” which ran in Palooka-Ville #4-#9 and will be released as a two-color book in September. In this autobiographical story, Seth stumbles upon the work of an obscure New Yorker cartoonist named Kalo and becomes determined to discover more about his life and work. The story also reflects Seth’s attempts to deal with his own life and past memories in the form of laid-back soliloquies.
Unfortunately, many readers make assumptions about autobiographical cartoonists like Seth without actually reading their work.. Unlike others who use autobiography as an excuse to let everybody know how miserable their lives are, Seth uses it as a springboard to create a story. “I’m trying to compose a comic where the story is the main focus of it, and not myself,” he explains. “I’m looking at it as if I’m writing a short story, where it’s important that you think about the demands of the story. It needs a beginning, middle and an end, and some thematic unity. You’re trying to say something as opposed to just composing a story that only says, ‘Here’s something that happened to me that’s interesting.’ For the most part. autobiography in comics has just been aimed to get a cheap reaction out of the audience.”
According to Seth, autobiographical comics have also suffered because too many cartoonists see them as a way of making a name for themselves. “I haven’t been too impressed with autobiography on the whole,” Seth acknowledges. “I think it unfortunately became too much of a genre. It’s something that shouldn’t be a genre. Nobody thinks of autobiography in literature as a genre; it’s just somebody writing about their own life. In comics it took on an uncomfortable quality of a bandwagon that everyone was jumping on. I think that sort of killed it. People started to see it as a trend as opposed to a simple fact of people writing about their own lives.”
Seth will hopefully distance himself from these preconceived notions with the next story serialized in Palooka-Ville, tentatively titled “Boyd Fans.” This story will be a fictionalized tale centering on different time periods within the lives of two brothers who sell electric fans. “It sounds kind of boring on the surface, but of course the story deals mostly with their interior lives.” says Seth.
This new story has required some research into the specifics of salesmanship, but Seth is excited to take a break from autobiography. “Being forced to deal with yourself as the main character all the time is difficult, and I think it is a natural progression to move from autobiography into fiction at some point. For me, it just feels like the right time to do it. I don’t want to deal with myself as the main character anymore, but I still want to deal with things in a real-life setting. The natural solution seems to be turning to fiction.”
Now that he’s started working on his new story, Seth has realized that there are very few differences between autobiography and fiction. “Even though my earlier work was based on my life, you’re fictionalizing anyway with autobiography. Your life really doesn’t work as a series of scenes, but when you do a comic based on your life, you’re picking key scenes and you’re stringing them together into a very artificial structure compared to what life is really like. It’s sort of the same process when you’re writing a fictionalized story. You choose what the important moments in the story are and start working around them, figuring out what scenes fit and what’s important to establish a certain kind of mood, what kind of character this person would be, and what you’re going to emphasize.”
But regardless of whether he’s writing about himself or about two fictional brothers, the important thing to Seth is that he has a forum to tell a good story. “I’m more interested in telling stories than I am in drawing,” he admits. “The drawing just serves the purpose of telling the story. I have a deep love of comics from growing up with them. Somewhere along the line it just got absorbed into my system. I didn’t give any real thought as to why I’m doing comics; it just seemed natural, since I’ve always loved them. At this point, it’s the storytelling that’s interesting to me, the idea of communicating a story to the audience. It just seems natural that comics would be the way to go; it’s satisfying, it’s a nice, direct method because you can do it all on your own, and its such a natural outgrowth of the interest I grew up with.”
Tom Palmer Jr. is happy he doesn’t have to sell electric fans to make a living. That would just blow (ba-dum-bump).
FYI: Polooka-Ville is published by the nice folks at Drawn & Quarterly Publications. You can get a sample issue for $2.95 or a four-issue subscription for $8.95 if you write to them at Drawn & Quarterly Publications,
5550 Jeanne-Mance St. #16, Montreal, Quebec, Canada H2V 4K6. It’s a Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken, a book collecting the story serialized in Palooka-Ville #4-#9, will be released in September in a $12.95 softcover, as well as a $29.95 signed hardcover. Palooka-Ville #10, which kicks off the new storyline, is slated for sometime after that, in late ’96.
Seth’s Recommended Reading
“I’ll always plug anything Joe Sacco is doing. He finished Palestine, and now he’s moving on to a new story about Bosnia, which I’m sure will be good. I love what Dan Clowes is doing with Eightball, as well as Chris Ware‘s Acme Novelty Library, Chester Brown‘s Underwater, Adrian Tomine‘s Optic Nerve and Joe Matt‘s Peep Show—and I’m looking forward to checking out Gilbert Hemandez‘s New Love. I’m also enjoying Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell‘s From Hell, in addition to Adolf by Osamu Tezuka. I also enjoy many old comics. Right now I’m reading Kookie, Dunk, Loo and Thirteen Going on Eighteen. These are teenage comics from the early ’60s by Little Lulu creator John Stanley; they’re not high art, but they’re fun and well crafted.”
Bratpack/Maximortal Super Special: After an almost three-year hiatus, Rick Veitch finally returns to his “King Hell Heroica,” a five-cycle examination of “the superhero archetype.” Just when you thought superheroes were old news, Veitch is back to bring his twisted ideas to the genre. If you’ve read Veitch’s superhero comics before, you know what to expect: solid storytelling and a wry sense of humor and satire. The black-and-white Bratpack/Maximortal Super Special wall be out in September, followed by a black-and-white trade paperback reprinting the original Maximortal series in October. Both of these will lead directly into a new bimonthly Maximortal series tentatively set to begin in November. Meanwhile, Veitch’s innovative dream stories in Rare Bit Fiends will continue on a bimonthly basis. For more information, you can contact King Hell Press at
PO Box 1371, West Townshend, VT 05359-1371.
Tongue*Lash: This is one strange comic. But it also happens to be engagingly written by the team of Randy and Jean-Marc Lofficier (best known for their work in bringing artist Moebius’ work to an American audience) and beautifully drawn by Dave Taylor. Described as a “Mayan bondage sci-fi thriller,” Tongue*Lash follows two private investigators who are framed for a murder and discover a conspiracy that could cause their entire society to crumble. Taylor is known for his work on DC’s Shadow of the Bat, but his European-flavored art on Tongue*Lash reveals that his work is capable of capturing the exotic demands of the Lofficiers’ story. The first full-color issue of Tongue*Lash came out from Dark Horse in August, and the conclusion is set for September release, so you should be able to find both of them at your local comic store.