Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly
Release Date: April 21, 2015
Alternately aggravating and inspiring as a craftsman, Canadian cartoonist Seth isn’t getting any less like himself with age. This latest iteration of his occasional publication, Palookaville, offers three stories: the continuation of “Clyde Fans,” an ongoing narrative about the scions of a fan-company entrepreneur that’s been running since 1998; part two of “Nothing Lasts,” an autobiographical walk through the author’s hometown in Ontario; and a weird little photo essay and imagined history of an old-timey barbershop owned and run by Seth’s wife. (The latter also contains a small fold-out comic on barbering in the middle of it.)
As usual, the design remains superlative; the cover captures a portrait of the “Clyde Fans” characters rendered in matte halftones in front of a shiny metallic green that also forms the letters of the title. Green-and-white endpapers feature the crest that’s shown up in the same capacity in previous volumes, albeit with varying color schemes. Seth is nothing if not attentive to detail, to the point of anal retentiveness. That knife cuts both ways, though. The author exerts a level of control that can make a reader frustrated with panel after perfect-little-square panel, all featuring the repressed rage and sadness of Canadians and Canadiana. But there’s also something to be said for the irreplicable beauty those panels contain.
Seth knows himself well, a fact the “Nothing Lasts” segment continues to make perfectly clear. Within its pages, Seth continues his tour of his adolescent hometown, focusing on locations to unearth memories. Although it’s a bit disjointed, the results are delicate and sad. By far the best piece of this issue and the last presented, its simplified visuals call to mind the artist’s experiment with rubber stamps in Palookaville #21 (the stamps either portrayed Seth walking in profile, Seth walking from behind, or Seth walking from a distance), only this volume portrays a teenaged-version of himself. This portion also allow Seth’s meticulousness to loosen up a little. Even the body language of the characters is far more relaxed than in most of his other work. Whereas the panel edges in “Clyde Fans” are uniform and mechanical, the ones in “Nothing Lasts” show clear evidence of being hand-drawn, with little nodules and places where the corners don’t meet cleanly. It’s as though Seth is showing, through design, that he knows he’s not perfect, reinforcing the content of the material with its visuals.
The following barbershop photo essay, which takes its inspiration from the crowned giant head that serves as the shop’s logo, traffics in the kind of iconic renderings that evoke nostalgia through their comics referents. Seth’s obscured eyes—hidden by long ‘70s bangs—echo Ernie Bushmiller’s (Nancy) tendency to draw nothing more than was necessary. This emphasis on the few prominent details at the expense of the many conveys both the fact that this story relies on memory and its many gaps (a theme explicitly discussed), and allows those details, like a logo, to stamp themselves more emphatically in the reader’s memory.
As shown, there’s a lot to say about a work that admittedly, sometimes, makes one want to smack the author (and don’t read the biography at the end if you already feel this way—it won’t help). That simple fact also gives an idea of how strong a talent Seth remains, even as he stays stubbornly in his self-dug niche.