Anyone familiar with Seth’s previous books – It’s a Good Life If You Don’t Weaken, say, or Wimbledon Green – will know that Seth has one or two what you might call obsessions. He’s interested in the old-time-y, for one thing. Like a lot of comics artists stretching all the way from Daniel Clowes to Robert Crumb, he’s a bit of a fan of old time-y jazz. He also thinks that the world is in something of a deplorable state and wishes he’d lived in a bygone time. If you read between the lines (or should that be boxes), you sense that Seth longs for a time which he would more than likely admit never existed, in which people were kinder to one another, in which music didn’t blare from cars so goddamn loudly and such things as sentiment and tradition weren’t ridden roughshod over. His latest book, George Sprott, fits quite snugly on the shelf alongside his previous outings, tipping its hat in the way of subject matter to all that has gone before whilst at the same time developing and adding new flourishes to the Seth pallet.
George Sprott 1894-1975 concerns one George Sprott, host of a long-running and unaccountably popular Canadian television programme called Northern Hi-Lights in which he shows old films of his travels in the Arctic as a young man whilst talking to chaps who maybe once or twice travelled with him. The non-linear biography is told in a variety of ways, ranging from tight Chris Ware-esque panels furious with detail through to emblematic and ambiguous double page paintings, functioning as a kind of narrative haiku in which we see compasses, icebergs, snow falling, snow drifts and the city at night. There are also models – or rather photographs of models – intricately constructed from cardboard – of buildings that play important roles in the story or (you sense) may have meant something to George himself (part, quite possibly, of the cardboard city that Seth is – according to the liner notes on Clyde Fans, Book 1 – building in his basement). We follow George from his birth (a floating head with a changing baby-old man face, floating ‘near the threshold of life’) through to his death (in point of fact, the evening of his death could well be said to form the narrative backbone of the book – but if we said this we would also have to say that that narrative backbone is held in place by the author’s own ruminations of failure and the inability to know or be known or reasonably tell the story of someone whose mind we can never ever really be said to know, each of us being, at all times, alien from one another).
We see the way in which George came to be a forgotten man, with his camera crew forced to wake him as an old man, nodding off in the middle of some archive footage, almost directly juxtaposed with George as a kid, way back in 1904, wandering around the countryside, watching fish (there’s a beautiful trio of frames, George leaning over a bridge and spying a fish swimming directly beneath him), squabbling with a school buddy about whose mother precisely is a whore and then, sadly, sitting outside his house while his mother and father bicker. Seth also appropriates other Ware-isms (if they can be said to be Ware-isms), stepping into George’s dreams as he flies around a la Jimmy Corrigan. Do we like George? Do we dislike George? We certainly learn enough to like and dislike him – but the accretion of detail serves to render such questions moot. In his life, in the life that Seth has managed to reveal, we see a full and complicated George Sprott. Seth doesn’t make judgements. He leaves that up to us. And in doing so he has fashioned a beautiful and moving and funny work of art.
Any Cop?: We loves it.