Sunday, January 04, 2009

Reader's Diary #429- Seth: It's A Good Life, If You Don't Weaken

Until Remi brought this book to my attention, I had thought it was just a Tragically Hip song. But when I found out it was first a graphic novel... er, picture novella... by some guy from Toronto who simply went by "Seth," it was enough to pique my interest. (According to Wikipedia, Seth borrowed it from a Maurice Chevalier song.)

So, when I joined up with the Graphic Novels Challenge, this one simply had to make my list. Not having ever read a graphic novel before I didn't know what to expect, but one look inside and I knew this wasn't it. With bold but minimalist lines (I'm no artist, so forgive me if I'm not describing this well), it wasn't the busy, grainy pictures I remembered from the few superhero comics I read as a kid. Likewise, there's no superhero action.

I also hadn't expected to be caught up in the words. The narration at the beginning, followed by the very realistic conversations when Seth (yes, he stars in his own book) visits with his mother and brother, is so engaging that I began to worry I wouldn't focus on the visuals at all!

Slowly but surely the artistry got to me. It's amazing how well he was able to set a mood with a few subtle shadows. Entirely wordless pages seemed as integral to the plot as the dialogue:

It's odd that such a slow-paced, sometimes depressing book, would engage me as much as it did (maybe he should illustrate a couple Alice Munro books for me). Perhaps the self-awareness won me over (at one point Seth even refers to his inclination towards "navel gazing"). Or, more likely, I was taken in with the irony. Seth is portrayed as someone never quite comfortable living in the now, someone nostalgic for a time before he even existed. Yet, for all that, the present-day Toronto seems drawn in such a fond, nostalgic light. If there's any message to be taken away, it's that a life is most beautiful when you appreciate the flaws.

(Cross-posted at the Graphic Novels Challenge blog.)


Remi said...

I love Seth's style. He's done a lot of things, from the covers of the Peanuts Reissues to the cover of the Portable Dorothy Parker.

Wanda said...

I've only "read" one graphic novel, 'The Arrival' by Shaun Tan. With no words whatsoever, this was not one I thought I would enjoy. However, when my teenage daughter kept putting it in front of me, it became a little hard to ignore! Visually stunning; emotions were easily conveyed and I was surprised how well it told a story. I’m still not sure that these are the books for me but ‘The Arrival’ was a very pleasant way to spend an afternoon.

I hope you enjoy the other books you have chosen for the challenge as well as you liked this one, John.

Allison said...

Sounds like a very interesting read.

I have just started reading The Watchmen, and never having read a graphic novel before, I am find it quite enjoyable.

John Mutford said...

Remi: Thanks for bringing him to my attention.

Wanda: I may end up looking for the Shaun Tan book. A quick scan of the local library doesn't look promising for finding all the titles I originally picked for the Graphic Novels Challenge.

Allison: I hope to read it before the movie.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I have GOT to get on the graphic novel reading bandwagon, I just cannot keep up with you cool kids anymore.

Anonymous said...

Re: Shaun Tan "tales from outer suburbia" is also brilliant, though I'm not entirely sure if it's a graphic novel - it seems like a transition between a picture book and a novel. In any case, one of my favourite books of last year.