Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists (Drawn & Quarterly, 2011).

Seth's latest release is another "sketchbook" story with which he tinkered for several years before finalizing it. As his earlier, similar Wimbledon Green suggested a world where the collecting of decades-old comics was a noble and bold pursuit, The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists illustrates that world. It's a place where Canada's supposed domination of the art form has led to the many and varied artists being held in the highest possible esteem, and a social club with branches in several cities and a library only accessible via a two-hour school bus ride north of the idiosyncratically-named Green Valley, somewhere up in Nunavut, I suppose.

I love the way that Seth adds layers and layers of fictions to his story, all told via a very unreliable narrator who eventually confesses that some of his tale is not entirely accurate. The story mixes in just enough real-world truth, including both a couple of namechecks for Chester Brown and about nine pages devoted to one of Seth's pet causes, a mostly-forgotten comic strip called Nipper by a guy named Doug Wright. In other words, there's just enough honesty to make the whole fundamentally dishonest narrative seem like it can be trusted. But it's not even set in a real place; Dominion is the small city seen in some of Seth's other works, notably the amazing George Sprott: 1894-1971. Naturally, a fictional city is a good place for a fictional club devoted to the (mostly) fictional art displayed here.

The tour of the club's facility leads into diversions where several key Canadian comics, both newspaper strips and funnybook pamphlets, are explored. My only quibble with The GNBCC is that the many excerpts are still drawn in Seth's simple sketchbook style. I do feel that it would have been a more entertaining and complete immersion had Seth explored some different styles for the many different comics.

That tiny issue aside, this really does work for me. I'd like to visit Dominion in the same way that millions would like to visit Hogwart's. It's that real and that engaging, and I'm always happy to follow one of Seth's little diversions there. Not bad for a town that, if we get right down to it, probably isn't all that much more impressive than Macon. Happily recommended.

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