Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Palookaville #21 by Seth Review

It’s always a delight to see a new issue of Seth’s Palookaville published, especially as its publication is often sporadic with issues spread out over many years (Palookaville #20 came out in 2010!). It’s also a tribute to how far Seth has come as a cartoonist that his series that started out like so many indie comics as a pamphlet, is now published as a hardback by a major publisher! Palookaville has been going for over 20 years now, with the saga of Abe and Simon Matchcard being central to the comic, albeit their story plays out at a fiendishly slow pace as their family business, Clyde Fans, winds down while the brothers become old men. I adore Seth’s work, with books like It’s A Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken and Wimbledon Green being among my favourites, but I’ve always found Clyde Fans to be among his least interesting comics - and unfortunately this latest episode doesn’t get any better. 

Simon’s dementia continues to deteriorate, sitting alone in his room with his memories and imaginary people, while Abe briefly gets into a squabble with his ex over the house and continues his melancholic soliloquising as he wanders from room to room repeating employee surveys from years ago. Clyde Fans remains stubbornly resistant to traditional narrative, content to wallow in its own depressing nostalgia than bother with things like plot or story – this comic doesn’t even seem to be about the characters anymore, it appears to be about the buildings and its histories! It’s as exciting as it sounds, though I think that maintaining the same tone and look of the comic for so many years is pretty amazing – though, to be fair, nostalgia and misery seem to be Seth’s comics default setting!

Seth prints some of his daily diary strips in the second section of the book. A daily diary strip is quite demanding on top of his illustration work so he ingeniously had a dozen or so rubber stamps made up of panels he could use every day, eg. him sitting in his studio, going for a walk, a view of his house, then he adds some captions and he’s got his diary strip! This might sound repetitive but he includes a blank stamp to draw in a new picture, which he tends to use quite a bit for variety. These strips don’t really talk about his day-to-day personal life very much but instead focuses on his inner life, portraying a particular thought or moment in his day, like going for a walk in the spring and noticing the plants, or thinking about how much he enjoys the outdoors when he’s outside and then realising he much prefers the indoors, and so on. These are very quiet, meditative cartoons that PasteMagazine brilliantly observes “Seth’s so old school, his blog is a hardback book!”, though they are almost instantly forgettable. 

The third and final section of the book is an autobiographical comic about his childhood. It covers his family’s numerous house moves, his parents’ turbulent and unhappy marriage, his awkwardness fitting in at school, discovering comics and learning to draw – in short, nothing particularly memorable. In the author’s own words, he had an unremarkable childhood – well, lucky us, getting to read about it! I did find the section on his mother interesting though, as he talks about his lack of affection from her bothering him his whole life and then slowly discovering his mother’s multiple mental problems, like being committed to a psychiatric hospital prior to becoming a mother and receiving electroshock treatment for depression, and then being put on a highly regimented series of drugs for the rest of her life. That he discovered this incrementally over years says a lot about their distant, uncommunicative relationship, and I found this episode both sad and moving.

Seth is a tremendous cartoonist whose art style is truly unique and eye-catching and that’s certainly the case once again with Palookaville #21. The book is as good looking as the best of his work, but unlike books like Wimbledon Green or It’s a Good Life, Palookaville #21 features quite plain stories that are mostly dull to read. The book has its moments, the art is beautiful, and Seth knows how to tell a story sequentially like a true master – I just wish his stories in this book were a bit more interesting!

Palookaville #21

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