Saturday, September 3, 2011

It's a Good Life, If You Don't Weaken

Listed in "500 Essential Graphic Novels" as: General Fiction (Best of the Rest)
Contains: Palookaville #4-9
Year: 1993-1996
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly
Writer: Seth
Artist: Seth

So, I've reviewed works by my favorite author and stayed in my comfort zone a bit with looking at a superhero book in Ultimate Spider-Man with the second review.  Here, I wanted to go outside what I'm used to a little bit.

Enter: It's a Good Life, If You Don't Weaken.

This was the first work I've ever read by the creator simply called Seth, the first publication I've read by the publisher Drawn & Quarterly (I think), and the first work I've read (as I came to find out) heavily based on comic STRIPS rather than evolved from comic BOOKS. (I guess they all evolved from strips if you get right down to it, but you know what I mean.)

We have a story by a guy named Seth about a guy named Seth.  It's gotta be autobiographical, right? But it's in the general FICTION section of "500 Essential Graphic Novels"!  That's because it is fiction, my friends.  Turns out it's a sort of feigned autobiographical piece.

The protagonist Seth is a guy who says that cartoons have always been a big part of his life, but not "Disney or Warner Brothers or that kind of stuff. I'm talking about newspaper strips, gag-cartoons, comic books."  Seth seems a rather lonely fellow whose chief activities include raiding old books stores for old comic strips and magazines, cartooning, and hanging out with his cat Boris.

Upon finding an issue of The New Yorker with a cartoon by a man only named as Kalo, he becomes obsessed, determined to find more of Kalo's work (of which there seems to be a shortage) and even going on to trying to track down the man himself.

The book itself is even said to be drawn in the style of old NewYorker cartoons and does provide an appearance that, while quite cartoony can give quite a sense of atmosphere to the reader.

The whole work, for me, is kind of tough to pin down as to the fact of whether I truly enjoyed it or not.  There are these moments of great introspection in the book.  Moments of great thought, as Seth pours out what he's thinking in the narrative while taking long walks. They're profound, philosophical, and melancholy... The sort of thing that's usually right up my alley, to be honest.

But the character of Seth is sometimes so critical, so miserable that it almost becomes hard to put up with his complaints.  He often shuts other characters out of his life as he goes on the grand quest for Kalo and it's almost as if he nearly shuts the reader out, too.

This work is something that I'll not soon forget.  The intrigue of wondering whether this, maybe even small parts of it, is something Seth (the creator) has experienced even knowing the story is fiction is something I've never felt when reading a comic before.  The search for Kalo and all the mystique that Seth builds up around him is nothing short of fascinating, either.

All-in-all moments of absolute greatness were brought down for me a bit when reading as I felt moments of absolute tediousness along with them.  We'd get a great thought about how different it felt to return to your hometown after growing up or how life is just a series of expectations and disappointments... and then it would all be shattered by something that was a bit of a lull to read.

I guess if you take positively stunning work and throw it in a blender with tedium, it comes out average and that's kind of what this one was like for me.  A one-of-a-kind work with a some dull spots.

Mr. Kannenberg's rating: 4 out of 5
My rating: 3 out of 5
3 down, 497 to go


  1. Hmm I've definitely NEVER heard of this one. Sounds like something that I MIGHT like though. Was this a library pick-up? What else did you pick up there?

    One more to go and then I'm looking forward to the TOP 10 pick. Great job!

  2. Hey, bro.

    Yeah, this one WAS a library pick-up. I'd never heard of it before perusing the list the other night and having it just catch my attention. It was available from the library system, so I requested it.

    Other library pick-ups that I brought home today include (and this'll be a little teaser as to what reviews are coming up. I'll post them in the order that I'm gonna probably do 'em.):

    -Why I Hate Saturn (Humor)
    -Blankets (Non-Fiction, the 1st Top Ten pick)
    -The Complete Terry and the Pirates, Volume 1: 1934-1936

    I'm a little over halfway through "Why I Hate Saturn" now and may throw up the post for it later tonight.

    And "Blankets" is something that I've seen hailed in several places and I'm kind of looking forward to it.

    Thanks for continuing to read, man. I appreciate it. :)

  3. Oh, forgot to include it above:

    The Complete Terry and the Pirates is listed under Adventure in the "500 Essential.." book, if you were curious.