Comic book artist Seth on old age, biography and Canadiana
Seth, born Gregory Gallant, appears here in a self-portrait. GRAPHIC SETH
To hear comic book artist Seth tell it, writing fiction might be the most revealing thing a person can do.
“I think it’s important to dig deeper when you’re writing. I’m not sure whether it’s important it be autobiographical when you put the material out,” he said. “I’m not sure why honesty is important, but it feels important.”
Seth, born Gregory Gallant, is the author of George Sprott, a fictional biography that questions the honesty of both the writer and his subject. The book begins as the protagonist, a fading television personality, unknowingly enters his last earthly hours. Brief snatches of Sprott’s life provide the tenuous framework for a biography that Seth says is as much about what we know as what we assume.
The Guelph-based artist questioned biographers’ ability to truly understand their subjects’ internal lives.
“It would be nice sometimes if [biographers] would admit they’re interpreting,” he said of the oft-unrealistic level of detail in most biographies. “I guess that’s one of the secrets of good biography: if you can get the reader on side with you, then they stop challenging where you’re getting your information from.”
Seth first garnered attention in the early ‘90s with a comic series called Palookaville, following with the graphic novel It’s a Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken, a fictional work that was widely mistook for autobiography. George Sprott, released last May, was originally serialized in The New York Times Magazine.
Sprott echoes the themes explored in the two books that preceded it, Clyde Fans: Book One and Wimbledon Green. All three star men well into the latter halves of their lives.
Seth’s interest in elderly protagonists hits close to home. He grew up with older parents that he called “very story-oriented.”
“I always knew I was very involved in them and very interested in them, but I didn’t realize that involvement was a primary thing,” he said. “Now when I think, ‘What’s an interesting story?’ I immediately start thinking about an old person talking about their life.”
His penchant for the past has earned Seth the label “nostalgic.” He recently brought his images of early 20th century architecture off the page in the form of a model city he calls Dominion, which he said he imagines to be “somewhere in northern Ontario,” and which may soon make an appearance at Montreal’s Canadian Centre for Architecture.
Seth may be interested in the days of yore, but he is far from faithful to it. Although George Sprott is primarily set in 1975, the year of Sprott’s death, Seth happily omitted bad suits and mutton chops from his drawings.
“It’s almost like it was not the same 1975 I was in, because in a way it was like just a strange little rarefied George Sprott world,” said the artist, who was born in 1962. “George is very isolated as a figure, so I almost made it point to keep his world always a bit dated, even for 1975. When you see him, it still feels like 1960.”
Sprott spends his early years undertaking—and filming—multiple arctic expeditions, something which later becomes the basis for his television show. Northern Highlights, as it’s called, is entirely based upon watching and discussing these films, reliving past glories over and over again. His image of himself as a “gentleman explorer” and his purported connection to the Great White North is, said Seth, based on figures who went north with what he calls “a kind of foolish imperialism.” It is also a direct reflection of the myths inherent in Canadian identity.
“We feel like we’re a country of the land, but we’re really a land of urban experience now,” Seth concluded. “In the ‘50s and ‘60s, all that kind of imagery of Canada—of the lumberjacks and the Mounties and the frontier, it all got modernized into a pop culture image. I think the imagery we have about Canada now is all souvenir images. We think of it all as something that could go on the back of a sweater. It doesn’t really have a meaning to us anymore.”
Drawn & Quarterly