Tuesday, August 8, 2017

11th Canadian Challenge - 3rd review - Seth's Dominion

This is a curious artifact put out by Drawn and Quarterly.  It is primarily a fancy slipcase for a DVD of the film Seth's Dominion by Luc Chamberland (from the National Film Board).  The movie is sort of a documentary about the Canadian cartoonist Seth, but it also includes animations of some of his work, as well as shots of the model town of Dominion that Seth has constructed over the years.  The DVD also includes as a bonus feature two short animations of Seth's work -- The Death of Kao-Kuk and The Great Machine -- and an hour-long talk Seth gave in Montreal at a Drawn and Quarterly store.  The copy I borrowed from the library had scratches on the DVD, so I could only watch the short features (and bits of the longer features before the DVD went on the fritz).  I'll have to see if I can borrow another copy, though I don't think I'll update this review, which is more about the book aspects of Seth's Dominion.  The front of the slipcase has several pages of photos of Seth, his family and his cartooning buddies.  I was not aware that he worked with Dean Motter on Mr. X (I have nearly a complete set of this comic book series), but I am not clear on what Seth actually did (perhaps the lettering), since the style seems quite different from his normal style, which draws a bit from Peanuts as well as Chris Ware's work.

The second part of the slipcase has about 40 pages of Seth's cartoon work, including a few pages from his books It's a Good Life if You Don't Weaken, George Sprott, Wimbledon Green and The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists. It's effectively a sampler of his work.

Like many modern cartoonists who are producing graphic novels, Seth's work has strong autobiographical components, although Seth also seems to be someone who isn't much interested in modern culture much past 1955, so sometimes he seems to be projecting himself back into an imagined past.  I have to be honest that his style is a bit too simple to really keep my attention, but based on the sampler, I'll probably read The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists* and possibly Wimbledon Green.  One interesting feature of Wimbledon Green is that Seth can make up comics and then have his collector (W. Green) go on about them without really having to create more than a short excerpt.  Stanislaw Lem went ahead and reviewed dozens of imaginary books (in A Perfect Vacuum and One Human Minute), and of course Borges played similar games.  I'm not sure what else Seth gets up to in this portrait of a committed comic book collector, but it's probably worth reading once.

As promised, I'll add a few of my own shots of Seth's town of Dominion (currently on display at the AGO):

It's definitely a strange and interesting world.   I'm still not sure if this city makes its way into any of his major works, though most likely Palookaville, so I'll probably check out one or two of those volumes (fortunately the library has a fairly complete set of Seth's works). This book/DVD combo is a fairly good introduction to Seth and his work, so it is worth checking out if you are at all curious about him.

* Kao-Kuk is an Inuit astronaut, apparently introduced in The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists.  It is fairly amusing seeing most of the space crew as First Nations in the short film.  I'd have to read the rest of the book to see what Seth does with this concept.  I'm not sure if cartoonists fly sufficiently under the radar to avoid the appropriation debate, but Seth may be attempting to sidestep the issue by claiming that the Kao-Kuk story was actually written by Bartley Munn, a mythical Canadian cartoonist.  Here is a solid review that unpacks what is real and what is imaginary in this collection. 

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