The Seth Non-Canadians Don’t See
by Jeet Heer
Sunday, November 22, 2009
As everyone who follows his work knows, Seth is a proud Canadian. A major visual theme of his work is the landscape, both natural and man-made, of Southern Ontario; on a more literary level he’s clearly been shaped by such Canadian writers as Alice Munro and Margaret Laurence (anyone interested in investigating Seth’s frequent narrative device of having an old person look back on life should read Laurence’s The Stone Angel); his cartoons are heavily sprinkled with Canadian icons (Mounties, igloos, hockey players); he’s been at the forefront of the current effort to recuperate Canada’s comics heritage, designing and co-editing a beautiful book devoted to Doug Wright, co-founding the Doug Wright Awards, and speaking often and eloquently about such forgotten cartooning Canucks as Jimmy Frise and Peter Whally.
Seth’s commitment to Canada also extends to the publishers he works with. Drawn and Quarterly is a Montreal firm, although of course one with an international reach. What non-Canadian readers might not know, however, is that Seth is also closely involved with several other Canadian imprints and magazines, often in his capacity as a book designer but sometimes as a writer. This work is often done for quite small presses, such as the Porcupine’s Quill and Biblioasis (in my opinion two of the best publishers not just in Canada but in the world).
Since Seth has fans all over the world, I thought it might be a useful service to call attention to some of the work he’s done that non-Canadians wouldn’t necessarily know about. If you care at all about Seth’s work, all these items are worth tracking down. Even when working with small specialty presses, he lavishes on each task the same care and attention that he gives to projects for The New Yorker and Penguin Books.
1. For the journal The Devil’s Artisan issue #60 (devoted to “the printing arts”), Seth wrote at length about the artist and book designer Thoreau MacDonald (the essay was earlier delivered as a speech at the Art Gallery of Ontario). This is very much of interest for anyone who wants background on the strip Seth did for Kramers Ergot 7.
2. For the latest issue of Canadian Notes and Queries (#77) Seth writes at length about Doug Wright in an essay taken from the speech he delivered at the first Doug Wright Awards ceremony. This essay is essential reading, I think, for anyone who wants to fully appreciate the new Doug Wright book; and also for anyone who wants to get a grounding in Canada’s particular comics tradition, one that has its own distinct history.
3. For Biblioasis, Seth designed and illustrated a beautiful novelty book called The Idler’s Glossary (written by the intellectual jack-of-all-trades Joshua Glenn and introduced by the philosopher Mark Kingwell). The book is a defence of laziness and slackery in all its forms, a topic dear to Seth’s reverie-loving heart. The drawings are done in the mode of the mid-20th century joke-books that Seth loves so much, the sub-New Yorker style of broad big-nosed stereotypes.
5. Finally, for Anansi Seth put together an absolutely nifty little book: Derek McCormack’s Christmas Days, witty reflections on the holiday garlanded with many pages of cheerful, uproarious cartooning.