Canadian comic book practitioner Seth is well-known for his forays into false histories. His It’s A Good Life If You Don’t Weaken was so spot on in its representation of the author’s search for a long lost New Yorker cartoonist that it fooled a lot of people into believing it was a true story. What makes Seth’s representations of such false histories so authentic is his ability to render the nostalgic, or the emotional connection to a lost idealized moment. What’s interesting about this creative practice is that Seth’s “idealized moment” is itself fictional; the moment isn’t actually lost, because it never was.
Among his many fine skills mentioned above, Seth also works to construct physical manifestations of the fictional world he creates. These object sketches, I suspect, themselves lend an air of authenticity for the author and help one imagine the actual physical space occupied by the fictional “Dominion City,” which frequently stands as the story’s backdrop. Seth’s penchant for building physical objects, sometimes trophies and bits of clothing to accompany the buildings, points us toward a key facet for his evolving representation of idealized moments that, taken together, help to create a sense of nostalgia in the reader.
Beginning with Clyde Fans (serialized in the Palookaville series) and continuing into the recently published The G. N. B. Double C, Seth relies on a narrative structure in which the speaker / narrator of the story walks about describing different objects and their relevance. In Seth’s work, the comic becomes a space for displaying different artifacts with the narrator supplying the necessary context. The comic becomes a museum for an idealized past (which never existed). As we move through the narrative, we learn the fate and/or history of the objects the narrator encounters.
These objects take on emotional resonance in Seth’s work for two primary reasons: their scarcity and their importance to understanding the larger narrative. In essence, the objects are important because they mean something to the narrator, but they also mean something to the reader because there is a discovery awaiting–one in which the narrator or narrative is privileged to know (just like in a detective narrative).
Perhaps the most important aspect of the objects in Seth’s stories is their state of decay. It’s a general statement, but the object’s state of decay is also indicative of how idealized the narrator’s version of the past has become. The narrator’s reaction–usually emotional–to the object’s state of decay calls up the resistance to the passing of time that usually accompanies the nostalgic exhibit of idealized moments.
In Seth’s work, the object is what allows the narrator to mine the emotional resonance that comes with loss and its nostalgic recovery. Nostalgia is then expressed not as a longing for an idealized past, but as a particular historical sequence, which is, as is the case with most memories viewed through the nostalgic lens, entirely fictional.
All this suggests a powerful polemic at play in Seth’s work. Comics collectors and practioners expend a great deal of energy accumulating and representing the cultural capital of comics without justification. Sure, the histrionics of Superman, or even the Holocaust as represented in other formats, are essential components of the medium’s creative possibilities. However, the intensely personal perspectives that lie behind those historiographies–hence the common turn to memoir–suggest that the comic’s past so often referenced, built upon, and expanded results from an essentially nostalgic viewpoint. Every comic is at its root a walk through the practioner’s nostalgic encounters with the medium. For Seth, the power of comics is not in the objects–the comic books themselves–but in the narrators’ description of them; in the stories they tell. Comics history, then, is a deeply personal one, often stained with the a nostalgia that attempts to assign value to that which was produced to be disposable.
Seth. The C.N.B. Double C. Montreal: Drawn & Quarterly, 2011. Print.