Saturday, June 16, 2012

Palookaville # 20

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 Palookaville # 20 (Drawn & Quarterly, 2010).

Longtime readers know that I really enjoy the deceptively simple comics by Seth, which flow with tranquil grace and are often set in a small Ontario city called Dominion. Palookaville used to be his regular periodical, but in 2010 it became an annual hardback with its twentieth installment. He then decided against the annual deadline; the 21st issue is due later this summer.

An issue of Palookaville usually contains some fiction along with some autobiographical comics and sketchbook material. In this book, the fiction is another chunk of thirty-odd pages of "Clyde Fans," a sad exploration of the slow deterioration of a Dominion business. This part of the story is set in 1975, and I like the way that Seth captures the clothes and the hair of the period without being fancy or flashy about it. The last fourteen pages make up a story about Seth's trip to Calgary for a comic festival and him being a completely miserable git about it.

This troubles me, but it also fascinates me. I've often thought that some people who review "alt-comix" give far too much leeway to mediocre work just because it preaches the truth, when the uncomfortable reality is that the overwhelming majority of us lead lives which, transferred to the page, make for comics that I just can't stand to read, and don't know who does. It takes a heck of a lot of talent and a really firm grasp of the medium, both of which Seth has in spades, to turn our humdrum existence into something visually interesting enough that I would like to read about it.

But at the same time, Seth's worldview - if it can be trusted - is so misanthropic and down on himself that even his unbelievable skill can't turn fourteen pages of moaning into something that I'd like to return to. He certainly speaks an uncomfortable truth: he says that he's a big fan of the cartoonist Ben Katchor (as, indeed, every one of us should be), but that he finds himself with nothing really to say to him, and no connection at all. When you get past "I love your stuff," what's next? It's a fair question, and a shame that Seth can't bridge that gap.

Perhaps what it comes down to is that, raising a daughter with some mental health issues of her own, I find myself pulling back from reading depictions of depression. Once in a while, my smile is masking some nonsense I wish wasn't happening, but my own outlook and my perspective is really one of such real positivity that the malaise that infects Seth is downright saddening to read. I'd love to know where Seth buys his suits, and I'd love the funds to dress as well as him (Google AdSense to yer left, readers), and I'm happy as hell to buy his comics and visit Dominion, but man alive, I can't get behind visiting his real world. Cheer up, man!

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