Thursday, August 31, 2017

11th Canadian Challenge - 6th review - Wimbeldon Green/GNBCC

This double review is essentially a continuation of this review of the cartoonist Seth's imaginary worlds.  Much of Seth's work is semi-autobiographical (particularly It's a Good Life if You Don't Weaken and Nothing Lasts, which is serialized in Palookaville,* issues 21-23 (so far)).  These two books have flashes of Seth (he shows himself checking his hat at the Ontario office of the Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists (GNBCC) and he is poking fun at his public persona with the character Jacob in Wimbledon Green), but they are essentially reflections on the art of cartooning.  GNBCC focuses on the creators of comics, while Wimbeldon Green is a somewhat over-the-top exploration of comic book collectors.  If I'm getting the chronology correct, Seth started working on GNBCC first but set it aside and wrote Wimbledon Green, and then returned to GNBCC and wrapped it up.

Despite both being about comic books, they are actually quite different in style and intent, though it is fair to say that both involve ontology in a fashion (in other words pondering the nature of existence and what is true).  Seth has spoken before about his interest in hearkening back to an imagined past that never quite existed.  In some ways this isn't all that different from what goes on Ben Katchor's Julius Knipl, though in that case we, the reader, are in the present looking at the somewhat rundown remnants of a more vibrant and even glorious city that once was a few decades ago (basically Brooklyn for Katchor).  In GNBCC, Seth pulls this maneuver, talking about how the club was much better attended in the past, but at other times (particularly Clyde Fans) the action all takes place in a slightly skewed past that didn't really happen. In fact, the vast majority of GNBCC is Seth's discussion of the work of imaginary cartoonists, giving him a chance to briefly dabble in a number of styles.  However, Seth really throws a screwball to the reader when he then introduces Doug Wright and his strip Nipper, since Wright was an actual, real-life Canadian cartoonist (and Seth has been championing his work in various ways).  On the other hand, the Group of 7 certainly did exist, and probably some of them did a bit of cartooning on the side, but Lawren Harris did not create an illustrated novel, and Seth posits in GNBCC.

Wimbledon Green is less bound up in these kind of games, though the main conceit is that the main character, Mr. W. Green, may be alias for Don Green, who also was a comic collector.  As the book opens, Wimbledon has vanished.  Seth has a number of people who knew Wimbledon give their impressions of the man, and not surprisingly they diverge quite substantially.  This is a bit like the Rashomon-effect, where each person has their own view of the situation (and a slightly different take on Wimbledon).  Fuller's The Best of Jackson Payne employs a fairly similar approach and apparently Lavery's Sandra Beck does as well, though I haven't read that yet.

While I could sort of intellectually appreciate what was going on in Wimbledon Green, it just didn't capture my attention as much, probably because I don't have that much interest in the antics of a bunch of collectors who were willing to pay thousands of dollars for mint or near-mint copies of rare comics.  I'm well aware that this occurs with some regularity now, but I still think it is silly.  Probably the most interesting part of the book was when Seth actually draws some pages where Wimbledon talks about the ultra-rare comic Fine and Dandy, which is about two hobos and their adventures on the road.  Then Seth takes the opportunity to sketch in a panel or two of this rare comic.  Incidentally, these pages are in the Seth's Dominion package I reviewed previously.  I just wasn't all that interested in the rest of the book.

In contrast, most of GNBCC is about these (mostly) imaginary cartoonists and their creations.  Somehow this book or published sketchbook or what have you worked better for me than Wimbledon Green.  On the whole it seems a bit more imaginative or at least different.  The oddest thing in GNBCC is when the narrator discusses their archive, which is in the far north, and often can only be reached by dog sled!  While there is some rationale for doing this for seeds in a seed vault, I can only imagine that the terrible climate and all the snow cannot be good for preserving precious paper documents.  It just was more to my taste, but there is no point in belabouring this.  I would say that anyone interested in Canadian cartoons and cartoonists probably should take a look at both Wimbledon Green and GNBCC.

* I think I have finally gotten the sequence straight in my mind.  Palookaville 1-19 were stand-alone comic books, and beginning with Palookaville 20, Drawn and Quarterly started publishing these as hardback books (which libraries might actually carry).  Issues 4-9 were collated into It's a Good Life if You Don't Weaken, and issues 5-19 were part of the Clyde Fans storyline (which seems to be wrapping up in Palookaville 23).  That means the only way to read Palookaville 1-3 is to buy them as individual comics, which is a bit unfortunate as I would likely only read them once, and yet issues 2 and 3 seem at least somewhat intriguing.

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