On Memory and Nostalgia

Seth's 'Palookaville 23'

by J.M. Suarez

22 September 2017

 
cover art

Palookaville 23

Seth

(Drawn & Quarterly)
US: Jul 2017

There’s a nostalgia that’s inherent to Seth’s stories and art, marked by wistful characters perpetually chasing something just out of reach.

Seth’s Palookaville 23 is the final installment of the long-running series. Containing both a new story in the Clyde Fans universe and one in Nothing Lasts, the ongoing Seth memoir, the volume is rounded out by excerpts from two recent exhibitions of Seth’s work in Guelph, Canada. These three works serve as not only a satisfying culmination but also as an excellent introduction to Seth’s brilliant work. It’s not necessary to have read the previous issues to understand or appreciate the tone and artistry of Seth’s stories, though it certainly offers a richer picture.

Seth’s Palookaville series began as a traditional comic, first released in 1991 as individual issues. The 20th release in the series moved the ongoing story from comic book to book format. As the last four volumes were released, Seth’s been able to employ his prodigious design skills to each. They’re not only a pleasure to read, but the care with which they’ve been put together is a testament to Seth’s thoughtfulness and attention to detail.

Opening with the third story in the Nothing Lasts autobiographical series, Seth presents a portrait of himself as a child and then, as a teenager. The often confusing crushes of childhood and the many ups and downs of young love are the focus of this installment. Seth portrays his young self as alternately overconfident and intimidated, and interested and disinterested. His honesty can be awkward, endearing, and even off-putting at times, yet it never fails to connect. Even when he admits that’s he’s misremembering, there’s still enough truth in the story for it to feel “real”. Above all, there’s a feeling of authenticity to Seth’s work, regardless of time period or subject.

Similarly, the final chapter of Clyde Fans is tied to time and memory with the same kind of respect for both and their influence to the present. Clyde Fans has revolved around the brothers Matchcard, jumping around from the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘90s. The stories are imbued with the melancholy that’s so integral to Seth’s work, an atmospheric choice that communicates the ephemeral nature of time beautifully and effectively. The perspective shifts from Simon Matchcard to a more ambiguous viewpoint as Seth paints a picture of desolation and darkness in the abandoned town of Dominion.

It’s a bird’s eye view of the town that, despite its bleakness, ends with a seemingly optimistic moment of reaffirmation, though longtime readers know better. These panels are some of the more gorgeous in the collection, particularly as he transforms scenes of emptiness and isolation into moments of beauty. The choice to present sparse images or pages, and pages without text, also brings the atmospheric strength of the story to the fore.

Again, memory has always played an important role in Seth’s work. His connection to the past, both as a historical time period and as a way to connect to his own family, and by extension to further understand himself, has permeated his work in subject matter and tone. There’s a nostalgia that’s inherent to Seth’s stories and art, marked by wistful characters perpetually chasing something just out of reach. Oftentimes what’s out of reach is an era, but it can also be an idea or a dream, and the ways in which Seth conveys their elusive nature is masterful. Partly because Seth works in grays and blues, there’s a visual component that solidifies his storytelling to make the past feel very much a part of the present.

(Drawn & Quarterly)

(Drawn & Quarterly)

The selections of art taken from the recent local exhibitions of his work also do a great deal to cement Seth’s fascination with an earlier time. Sandwiched between Nothing Lasts and Clyde Fans, these examples of Seth’s art speak to the immersive nature of his work. He effortlessly creates worlds fully populated by characters, distinct and familiar all at once, bringing them to life piecemeal. Whether explicitly included in a comic story or not, Seth’s art is always a storytelling device.

Palookaville 23 marks the end of a long chapter in Seth’s work. The end of Clyde Fans is an achievement of artistic devotion and storytelling. The work in this volume not only brings an ongoing narrative to a close, but it also exemplifies the quality of Seth’s art. There’s never any doubt that he’s pored over every detail, yet it never feels overthought or tedious. A wonderful addition to Seth’s already brilliant body of work, Palookaville 23 is a reminder of how much time he’s dedicated to his art, and how worthwhile that time has been.

Palookaville 23

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