Independent comics can hold a wealth of talent and creativity – or indulge in artistic excess – here's one that does both.
Palookaville #19Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly
US publication date: 2008-03
Art, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. One person’s trash might be another person’s treasure. One person’s artistic excess might be another person’s breaking of the boundaries.
Taking this into consideration, Palookaville #19 might be review-proof. My opinions could be written off as me simply “not getting it” or “being out of touch”. And that might be a valid observation. But, in my eyes, Palookaville #19 exists as a very great book, but also a very annoying one, as well.
This is my first exposure to both Seth and Palookaville, so I am viewing this through the eyes of a new reader. This issue is part three of the “Clyde Fans” storyline, which has been running in the title since issue #10.
To Seth’s credit, you don’t have to read the previous installments to understand what is going on. The status quo is established fairly quickly, and each character’s personality and relationship to each other is firmly set up. You might not know each character’s names, but they each have individual traits that make them unique and vibrant.
The story involves Simon and his bully of a brother putting their elderly mother in a nursing home. This action plays havoc with Simon’s emotions -- it’s clear he was not wholly in favor of the idea --and he escapes into the world of hallucinations in order to deal with it.
The story is a sad one and Seth invokes sorrow from the reader like a master. He presents the story in a simple and plain way. There are no showy outbursts. There are no crying jags. There are no gut-wrenching scenes of melodrama. He simply lets the story itself move the audience, and move the audience, it does.
Seth’s artwork is simple yet effect. Dark, crisp lines permeate throughout and capture a version of reality without being realistic. His use of two colors, grey and blue, enhances the melancholy inherent in the story. Each page is just drenched in colors of sadness and they cling to the characters like a tight-fitting coat.
However, it’s in his panel structure and pacing where his artistic excesses gain hold of him, to good and to ill effect. His use of a nine panel page to form a scene of a dilapidated neighborhood, which Simon explores, is truly impressive. That way of pushing boundaries works.
However, his pacing later in the book is where he needed to rein himself in. He dedicates three, wordless pages to Simon exploring his apartment after dropping his mother off at the home. This illustrates the emptiness of the building, and hammers home the loneliness of Simon’s situation, but it might have gone on a bit too far – by then, we've really gotten it.
But that is nothing compared to what I think is his most glaring error. He finishes off the book with four and a half pages, 24 panels to a page, of Simon describing, in detail, the contents of his mother’s room. This seems like padding to me.
Yes, I imagine the point Seth was trying to make was that these items define Simon’s mother’s life. They are a physical manifestation of her likes and loves and illustrate she is a living human being he loves.
But that point was made at about the page and a half mark. The rest was just hammering the point home needlessly, and it took me right out of the story. So, in my opinion, a great story was undermined by what I saw as Seth’s artistic excesses. In another person’s eyes, they might not have caused a break in their enjoyment. Such is the nature of art.