Seth, Wimbledon Green (Drawn & Quarterly, 2005). 128 pp. (hardcover) $19.99
by Jared Gardner
I will admit to being ready to hate this book, and I had convinced myself well into my first reading that, in fact, I truly did. I have been growing tired of late of Seth's tortured attempts to make out of what might well be a fairly simple case of nostalgia a life-long philosophical project. Taking a break from the long-awaited conclusion to Clyde Fans (a torturous study of one lonely man's nostalgia for a lost perfect childhood moment, one epitomized in the novelty picture postcards he fastidiously catalogs), Seth here turns to a study of one portly man's nostalgia for a lost perfect childhood moment, here epitomized in the obscure Golden Age comics he compulsively collects. All of this, of course, is a radical change of gears from his first extended narrative, It's a Good Life if You Don't Weaken, featuring a protagonist named Seth who attempts to recover a lost perfect childhood moment through his own impossible search for the lost work of a mysterious cartoonist named Kalo. Was another tour down Seth's endless excavation of the irrevocably lost past really worth time away from my own deeply important attempts to latch on to an all-engrossing nostalgic obsession of my own?
Despite Seth's insistence that this is decidedly "lighter" fare, as his preface to the book insists, repeatedly and somewhat regretfully, I will confess that it has in many ways renewed my faith that this tremendously talented creator will discover directions and possibilities for his work beyond the somewhat narrow path he has worn in his internal underbrush thus far. As he says, this book is meant to be "fun," and allowing himself to finally have express open joy in an extended narrative work—loosening up the brushstrokes, allowing the story to unfold as the play carried him along, and even laughing openly at his own self-seriousness—has allowed him also to finally tap into the anarchic pleasures of the cartoons and comics archive that are his life-long interest and inspiration. Here the lyric pauses of his earlier work—usually represented by birds circling around a decaying small city landscape—are replaced by the awkward pauses of a wonderful collection of comics geeks, collectors and self-important windbags pondering such blissfully profound questions as the secret origin of Wimbleton Green, the undisputed greatest comic collector of them all, or worrying over the mysterious fate of a long lost (and possibly mythological) issue of an obscure Golden Age comic. Here obsession with comics leads not to the search for some lost past, but to adventures (autogyros, loyal retainers, assassination attempts, and intricate grifts) as absurd and wonderful as those described in the "classic" comics these odd gentlemen so ruthlessly collect. Comics are at last, at least for this brief interlude, an end in themselves. Seth, who has worked to bring us such archival gems as the complete Peanuts and my personal favorite from a recent issue of The Comics Journal, Thirteen Going on Eighteen, finally seems to be having the fun he had been reading about all these years.
Of course there are those who are not at all certain that comics should be fun and I had begun to think Seth might be turning into one of those folks. Which would have been too bad. Because for all he protests that he longs for the past and regrets being born in this god-forsaken wasteland of a modernity, it is pretty clear that few creators today are as forward-looking in terms of the true potential of the form to find audiences and subjects that a previous generation never would have imagined. Wimbleton Green won't be the book to capture those new frontiers, but it is the book to convince his readers that he is indeed the right man to lead the way. As Wimbleton says toward the end of his biographical sketchbook, as he wanders into the night (smiling and winking all the way) past the very same abandoned storefronts that provide the gothic architecture for Clyde Fans, "And of the future? Who knows? I still have much to accomplish."