Monday, March 2, 2009

SETH (the cartoonist)

Friday night I went to the Dundas Town Hall (now unused since we've been amalgamated with Hamilton) to witness a conversation with SETH. Seth is the artist and writer responsible for such classic examples of comic book art as Wimbledon Green, It's a Good Life If You Don't Weaken and Clyde Fans Book 1. Oh, and Palookaville, his self published irregular comic wherein these books had their beginnings. He was appearing in Dundas, in this glorious old building, to speak about a project of his. In the basement of his home in Guelph, he's been building a city. If you've read any of the books you'll know the City of Dominion. It's a sort of typical Ontario city, of a certain age and size. Seth sees it as having grown to about 300,000 population, but he knows the history from its origin since...he created it. He created the businesses, and schools, the shops and factories, even the water tower. And he made them out of corrugated cardboard, house paint and ink. Lots of glue and a huge amount of imagination!
Seth is an odd fellow, he dresses as if he's an insurance salesman in the mid-1950s, right down to the fedora. But then in his jacket pocket he carries a handful of pencils. His hair is slicked back, and he sits bolt upright in his chair. When he speaks it is with a quiet yet assured voice. He knows why he does the things he does. He traces his own position in the history of cartooning, linking back to Thoreau MacDonald, Windsor McKay, the Katzenjammer Kids, right through to Chris Ware and Art Spiegelman.
This evening he is interviewed by Andrew Hunter whose interview style is a bit reminiscent of Brian Linehan. Okay you did the research, but we really want to hear Seth speak...not you!
He describes the development of the city of Dominion, which he has built, and it seems to exist comfortably next to a project of my own. Well, my wife's really. Together we are walking the streets of the city of Hamilton, until we cover each one. We don't expect to finish this year, or next. We park the car somewhere and then spend an hour zigzagging back and forth through a block of the city. When we're not walking my wife researches the area, and as we walk she tells me of the history...when this building went up, what used to occupy that empty space, and so on. Seth knows all these details of Dominion. He has them written down in his notebooks. He knows when this building was built, by whom, how the Toboggan Factory fared, everything a civic historian would know.
The cardboards buildings are also on display at the Dundas Museum, and it's a fascinating collection. From the portrait of the first mayor on the wall (flanked by the Ontario ensign and Union Jack) to the carefully constructed models laid out throughout the room, in grids, it's like a big boy's train set.
I'll post a photo or two to give you the sense of the scale of the project. Or you can look at and search for Dominion Dundas to download a little booklet with pictures of some of the buildings.
Capped off with a viewing of Milk with its powerhouse performance by Sean Penn...and no e-mails (I made a pact) this was an altogether enjoyable weekend!

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