Tuesday, 28 February 2012

On Seth's "It's A Good Life, If You Don't Weaken"


Of course, prejudice operates on a level that it's hard for the unwittingly prejudiced mind to monitor. Take It's A Good Life, If You Don't Weaken. Consciously, I'd no doubt at all that I'd be glad to have read it. But having so enjoyed Seth's "picture-novella", I'm suddenly aware of how completely it contradicted my expectations, which is something of a surprise, because I didn't know that I was carrying those expectations in the first place. Now I can see that I'd unconsciously pigeon-holed it as a potentially elitist, point-scoring celebration of a more supposedly adult and artistic approach to graphic storytelling than that typically found in the common-or-garden action/adventure comic-book. Whatever its more positive qualities were undoubtedly going to be, some fragment of my pathetically wounded inner fanboy had already decided that Seth's work would prove to be at least in part an expression of disdainful snobbery matched with indy-cartoon one-upmanship.

It's not, as anyone who's visited this blog before will know, that I'm a rabid apologist for the superhero book, but I do refuse to damn the sub-genre's worth and potential just because of the poor quality of most of the product inspired by it. Similarly, I cringe at would-be hipsters measuring out their aesthetic distinction over that of the dumb masses in terms of how intellectually Olympian and challenging their preferences in comics are, and yet, there's a clear distinction between the value of a work of art and that of the snobs who associate themselves with it. Why would I pre-judge Seth's books according to the way I've seen them used to sneer as the proles with their super-blokes and wonder-chicks? I've a well-practised, deliberately maintained loathing for anyone's art or criticism which expresses the superiority of one particular medium over another, or of any one genre over all of its competitors, and with such a high-handed neutrality, it seems, has come a temptation to judge work as snotty and self-aggrandising long before the evidence of any hauteur and pseudo-intellectualism is in.
I could, perhaps, squirm out a defence that I spent my youth knowing that the art I most adored was regarded with contempt by the mainstream media and academia alike, or by describing a life in teaching spent forever bumping against the highbrows to whom the bloodless Hampstead novel was the highest expression of creative worth. I could even point to times when the only comics readers I knew were so against the very idea of a panel without a costumed crime-fighter in it that the likes of Jonah Hex and Nick Fury: Agent Of S.H.I.E.L.D. were regarded as heretically pretentious. (Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, or so I thought.) In short, I admit to being weary of the fact that a great deal of the pop culture I most value has been consistently defined as being either pablum for half-wits or pretentious artistry for the chattering classes. It's always either what Gore Vidal called the P-Novel or the U-Novel, the unashamed and populist or the self-conscious and excluding, and I've never felt comfortable with either front in that particular culture war. In fact, I've always failed to be able to distinguish between the ultimate worth of, say, Ditko's many super-men and the novels of Jane Austen, despite knowing how ridiculous the dilemna will appear, and I rather resent feeling as if I ought to be able to do so. As such, the unexpressed suspicion that Seth's work might read as yet another example of one kind of cartoonist establishing his superiority over less exalted product was enough to keep me unwittingly away from It's A Good Life, If You Don't Weaken without my ever realising that that was so.

Or, to put it in its least complimentary and most objective way, I'd matched the snobbery I detested so thoroughly that I wasn't even aware of my own mutton-headedness. Worse yet, my prejudices were entirely unfounded, as I'm sure that everyone reading this has long known. It's A Good Life, If You Don't Weaken couldn't be less of a book designed to show the inherent superiority of a small cadre of art cartoonists and their rarefied, exclusive tastes. In fact, Seth's story is as touchingly critical of any such monominded high-handedness as it's hauntingly moving on the topic of how pop culture obsessions can intensify our alienation from the positive human aspects of the world around us. That Seth has no time for the action/adventure comic book, with its emphasis, as he told the Comics Journal, upon "confrontation", is entirely irrelevant here, for this is a story of how any life-swallowing infatuation can leave its bearer isolated and dysfunctional. That would be as true for the entirely besotted acolyte of widescreen superhero books as for the nostalgically-befuddled lover of fifties New Yorker cartoons and obscure romance titles. Rather than a fetichisation of the exalted taste and fashionable emotional despair of the art-cartoonist, It's A Good Life, If You Don't Weaken is a smart and compassionate critique of any such a proposition.

It's not just that Seth's work quietly but forcibly woke me up to the shameful presence of my own bias, though for that alone I'd be exceptionally grateful that I'd read his book. For it's such a wonderfully judged examination of a man who's attempting to live his life through his art rather than through his relationships with those around him, and in that, it's a moving wake-up call for all of us who are too busy thinking about anything at all that isn't directly connected with real, solid, dangerously individual human beings.  "Pretentious" and "elitist" are the very last words that I'd use to describe this genuinely moving and, at times, disturbingly telling tale, and yet something in me was sure that that's what I'd find.

How more wrong could my lurking suspicions have been? What were they doing lurking there in the first place? Mea culpe.

This week's instalment in The Year In Comics series over at Sequart concerns Seth's It's A Good Life, If You Don't Weaken, which I really have been touched by in a way that I didn't foresee at all. You can visit that piece, and I hope you'll consider doing so, here;



  1. Colin,

    Seth touches on so much of the obsessions of those of us who research the past, whether it be artists or historical periods. Often there is the need to put yourself in the place of the person you're studying, an obsessive need to identify in some way. That is unhealthy both in terms of lifestyle and objectivity.

    In life balance is important, but I've met and observed people online who seriously have problems dealing with people on a human level. Their emotions, as it were, are consumed by a need to champion artists or create a world (especially online) where they are in control. Myself, I get obsessed sometimes over studying the work of artists, especially the obscure and forgotten, although I try to balance this out by living in the real world as well, although I sometimes wory if I succeed.

    Seth has produced some brilliant work, and his art has a quiet intensity that touches on many emotions. I suspect much of this comes out because he really does have a love of the past and struggles to conform to the present world. Nevertheless, there is much to appreciate in his work, and you've done a wonderful job discussing it. It makes me want to go back and read the story again.

    1. Hello Nick:- I've read sections of Seth's work before, but never set down and read anything of his from beginning to end. I really can't explain or excuse this, and I do feel rather ashamed of how I've stayed away from such fine work. I can only suspect that, as I said above, I really have wanted to stay away from an imagined expression of a war between two aspects of the same art-form. As you and I have discussed before, the type of debate which the Comics Journal at its worst would promote between high and low art, admirable and verbotten genres, was an unpleasant business, and I have known folks who've treated Seth as a crucifix to be waved at the unclean. But that's really no excuse, and I've only lost out myself :) I could've been reading THIS stuff as well ..

      It is easy, as you say, to loose track of "real" life when researching much-loved material. I would imagine that most people researching a topic which they love would find it hard to resist the pull to learn more and more. Similarly, there's often a desire to try to ensure a well-loved opinion about that work is argued as well as possible. What I find admirable about Seth's work is that he shows that process working in a dysfunctional without sentimentality. We've all seen the figure of the heroic indy artist played out, but here, Seth's having nothing to do with it. He expresses an admirable love for the pop culture of the past, but he never spares us the knowledge of what his namesake is missing out on in the narrative when it comes to the "real" world. That lack of self-pity and pride is an admirable business, as I know you'd agree.

      Thanks for your generous words. Your enthusiasm for Seth's work certainly underlines my own where the hunting out of more of his work is concerned.

  2. I had Seth on my mind thisd weekend, coincidentally, as I bought a remaindered copy of his sketchbook, Vernacular Drawings. these are sketchs he did of people, places, drawings copied from mags and comics and are quite interesting. You can also take notice that there are a number of super-hero drawings, including Captain America and Bucky, the All Winners Squad and the Justic Society, so Seth certainly grew up on mainstream comics, and I believe he's discussed as much in interviews.

    I believe there is room for all types of comics, whether they be Little Lulu or American Splendor, and everythig in between. As long as they're good comics (although, truth be told, the bad ones can be fun as well). Keep in mind that I still have a soft spot for the Mighty Comics line, written by Jerry Siegel and drawn by Paul Reinman, so I'll never rate in a highbrow forum.

    1. Hello Nick:- I'm with you. I just haven't the will to define "x" or "y" as unacceptable examples of comics. It's hard to think of a genre where excellence can't be found, and, as you say, the bad ones can be really good fun too. Much of my attitude about this stretches back to Britain's music scene in the late seventies, where there were clear lines drawn between those who like punk/new wave, soul/disco/jazz funk, and, indeed, just about everything else. My problem was like aspects of all of them, which meant I'd be at Hammersmith Odeon watching The Ramones one night and then Genesis the next. I desperately wanted to be able to belong to one sub-culture or another, but I was just no good at it. I liked Anarchy In The UK and Jive Talking; thank gawd that such is now part and parcel of most folk's musical lives.

      I must see if I can find a copy of Vernacular Drawings. It sounds fascinating. Having just been amazed and charmed by Seth's charity drawing of the X-Men, I'd love to see his All-Winners Squad.

      The Mighty Comics line? Well, why not :)

    2. Colin,

      I'n the same way with music. I enjoy anything that's well done, interesting or offbeat. I grew up with rock n' roll, thanks to my older brother, but also grew up on Television, which featured Variety shows that had Aretha Franklin beck to back with Tony Bennett or Dean Martin. In the mid-1970s when some rock was getting boring, I was introduced to Elvis Costello and the Ramones, and later enjoyed work by the Beastie Boys, Run DMC and Nirvana. I also love Jazz and soundtrack music, on and on. Why be tied down by labels as so many are?

    3. Hello Nick:- I'm reminded of a study I read last year in which it was suggested that folks can associate so much with brand labels that they feel personally insulted when they're insulted. I quite enjoy the eggs we buy from Waitrose, but I've no objection to folks saying what they like about them. Anyone that's defining themselves by a label has got ... a few challeges facing them.

  3. Colin,

    Here is an interview I found online with Seth from 1994. It shows him at work, surrounded by objects from the past. He mentions in the interview how quality has declined since the 1930s, something that he directly adressed later in It's A Good Life". It appears that the Seth depicted in the comic is not too far removed from his "normal" self.


    1. Hello Nick:- I heading off to the interview at this very moment. If you're right about the degree of Seth's longing for the past, and all the evidence would bear that out, then the clear-headed way he discusses such nostalgia in It's A Good Life ... just becomes all the more admirable.

  4. All right, fine, you've convinced me to give It's a Good Life... another chance. That was the purpose of your post, right? Of course it was.

    I can't abide genre snobs either, whether they like art comics, super-hero comics, only two kinds of music, post-war poetry or 20th century avant garde composers. And, much to my chagrin, I've been guilty of genre snobbery as much as anyone. Being a teenager in the '90s taught me authentic was cool and pre-fab was lame. Consequently, I got reeeally dismissive of anything that felt calculated, as if my snotty teenage self with perfect taste (who still read Spawn) was equipped to tell Real from Fake.

    (although, loving the first wave of grunge and early-'90s "alternative," which were Real, and then looking at the imitators like Bush and Creed that raided the radio from 1993 on, I kind of can't blame myself for hardening my ears)

    There are many things about comic book fandom that embarrass me (especially in regards to gender politics and issues of creator rights), and genre snobbery is probably fourth or fifth on the list. Still, it amuses me that so many care about distinctions that much of the rest of world find entirely inconsequential.

    - Mike Loughlin

    1. Hello Mike:- "Still, it amuses me that so many care about distinctions that much of the rest of world find entirely inconsequential."

      Yep, I'm with you. And it amazes me that I've somehow responded to that by labeling certain books as promoting such snobbery when they do anything but.

      "Consequently, I got reeeally dismissive of anything that felt calculated, as if my snotty teenage self with perfect taste (who still read Spawn) was equipped to tell Real from Fake."

      It's when I think of older folks still spitting out the taste-police's version of better-dead-than-red that I start to feel uncomfortable. The teenager's real-from-fake radar can be infuriating, but they do have the excuse of being mostly inexperienced idiots. It's the adults who don't get that they're experienced idiots who wear me down. I recall watching a crew of pensioner-age Brit rock'n'roll die-hards declaring with a worrying intensity that there's been nothing that's good in pop since 1959 and praying that the fervor of the solider in the army of pop would always be behind me.

      "although, loving the first wave of grunge and early-'90s "alternative," which were Real, and then looking at the imitators like Bush and Creed that raided the radio from 1993 on, I kind of can't blame myself for hardening my ears"

      Having never grasped what grunge/alt was about - it really didn't matter to too many folks over here, and rarely, it seems, as it did in America - I recently saw a splendid documentary on the period. Nothing brought out to my baffled and aging self how Brit and America youth culture had diverged in the late Eighties as that. And now I can see something of why you'd associate "real" with the bands of the dawn of that period. I often prefer the popularizing latecomers to musical scenes, given that I prefer my pop to my rock, my artifice to sincerity, but in this case, yes, I finally know exactly what you mean.

      "All right, fine, you've convinced me to give It's a Good Life... another chance. That was the purpose of your post, right? Of course it was."

      I've been called, Mike, to be an idiot for everyone .... :)

  5. At first I read it as "Clowes to the left of me, the Joker to the right...", which I think is actually a pretty good summary of your position. I couldn't find "It's a Good Life..." in the library, but I've ordered the 5 other Seth books they've got there. So I hope your recommendations are right, or I'll have a whole bunch of art books on my hands!

    I'll freely admit to having those concepts and preconceptions in my head - my comments a week or so ago about how I felt Ghost World wasn't particularly representative of the rest of the Clowes ouvre probably comes from some fear of liking the most popular work of his. Though there's also the realization that the book diverges from the movie, so the book is somehow less familiar than I'd think it is... if that makes sense?

    I did come to a realization a few years ago, working at my college radio station, that I can hate popular music all I want, but there's a reason Creed and Nickelback sell millions of records and are played every ten minutes on some stations. The key to sidestepping my snobbery, for me, is to try to look at it as an artist, as a student, as a craftsman - that way, I'm not looking at it as "me", and if I like something, I don't have to admit that "I" like it, only that the "aesthetics of the melody are effective at evoking emotion" or whatever.

    Of course, by now I pretty much think I've gotten past that too, and can freely admit that I like half of that Katy Perry song, while the other half is highly problematic and exploitative*.

    On the subject of your column at Popart, I am very interested in the implications that devoting your life to studying an art form or artist may not necessarily teach you much about life. I'd like to think that studying comics and reading your blog has taught me something about compassion, though, but maybe not.

    Or is it more that a character like Seth is only able to understand the world of research and cartoons, and is incapable of transferring his knowledge or insights to real life? Or just doesn't have an interest in real people like he does because of the way his brain chemistry works?

    This is a bit of a tangent, but have you watched the show Community? One of the characters, Abed, is likely somewhere on the autistic/asbergers spectrum, though not much is made of trying to diagnose him specifically - but he understands pretty much everything about his life in terms of movies or tv shows. But unlike Seth, he uses it to engage in his own life and his friends', and is pretty much the emotional core of the show. It's a very well crafted show, and an interesting take on sitcoms that appeals to highbrow sensibilities, while being so well-done that it works incredibly well as a straight-ahead show - a bit like the Simpsons when it began.


    1. Hello Historyman:- I know little of Seth's other work, so I warn you; I can't be relied upon when it comes to the books your library will bring you. Having said that, I can't believe that they'll be anything other than worthwhile.

      I'm obviously not to be trusted on the subject of being objective, as I owned up to in the above, and compassions much easier to debate on the page than it is to express in real life. But I suspect there's a kind of mutual reinforcement going on in discussing such things. It doesn't tend to make anyone more compassionate to discuss or read about such things, but it does remind that compassion is an option. I can't recall the last review of the super-book which pointed out that its characters lack compassion, though of course I'm sure that there's alot of such reviews about.. It's actually interesting to think about what comics do express that quality in amongst the despair and angst and adolescent euphoria.

      As I mumbled about in the above, diagnosing Seth is as dodgy a business as it's tempting. To me, he reads as if he's an Aspergic adult who's unaware of his condition, and who therefore can't grasp the truth of his situation as yet. But that's tosh cod-psychology. Luckily the book is so sturdily and cleverly built that it defeats any such navel-gazing on the part of the likes of me :)

      I've not come across Community. Consider it added to the list. It sounds genuingly interesting ...

  6. Cont’d

    I'd also like to mention that I've been reading a lot of Ross Campbell's work, ever since reading his excellent interview on Comics Alliance last week, about his work on "Glory," and also lots of other things. In the interview he talked about how he's moved away from some of the more sexual nature of his drawings recently after doing some feminist readings online - but even the books he did before that have a lot of heart, and while the characters are sometimes drawn sexy, their movements and actions are always in the service of their character, never the reader.

    "Waterbaby" is a strange, but engaging story of post-traumatic stress and friendship - I think you would enjoy it. But my #1 Ross Campbell recommendation is "Shadoweyes." It's a great take on the teenage superhero story, and even though it takes place in a future dystopia and involves a character shapeshifting, it feels way more real than Kick-Ass. The protagonist wants to be a crimefighter, then mysteriously becomes a creature seemingly built for it, and discovers herself alienated from the rest of her life. The scenes when she's interacting with her mother as Shadoweyes are so touching and heartbreaking, I can't imagine how you wouldn't like it.

    * "Last Friday Night." Pros: the funky bassline, the parts where she goes up high, "I'm pretty sure it ruled", the crazy electronic sax solo at the end.
    Cons: the way she implies that maxing your credit cards and having a warrant out for your arrest is a typical Friday night, shamelessly exploiting the hint of sex like she does in every song, the stupid "T!G!I!F!" chant. Aaaaand I've thought about it way too much.

    1. Hello Historyman:- Once again, I find myself w-a-y outside of my aged comfort zone. Ross Campbell's work is unknown to me. And I fear a prejudice against the 90's Glory would have led me to just ignore the reboot - of which I'm only faintly aware - without even realising I was doing so. OK. One more for the list, as is Shadoweyes.

      I will never get through that list, but I'm glad it's there.

      And Ms Perry? I just don't know the slightest thing. They still have that YouTube thing, don't they?

    2. Ross Campbell's work was unknown to me as well, but reading those books has given me an immediate respect for him. He has a soft spot for society's misfits- somewhat like Clowes, as they don't always do the "right" or most moral thing, but they always seem human and real.

      The upcoming Glory reboot is getting a lot press recently, I think in a good part because of Campbell's art- unlike the 90s Glory, who seemed very typical of the Image Liefeld-style bendy-spine-no-internal-organs female, this new version of Glory is built like Superman- like someone built for asskicking rather than the male gaze. I have a little fondness for Glory's orginal form simply from her part in Moore's Supreme, but I expect this reboot will be way better. Though of course I probably won't actually read it for another few years until the library gets their hands on it. Unless I get a full-time job before then, fingers crossed...

      And I would not want you to put Katy Perry on your list, especially with all the far more worthy things up there. While she does at times have a keen pop sensibility, so much of her work seems to be written exclusively for the male gaze (or aural equivalent) that it just makes me feel skeevy to listen to. But if you are gonna listen, I guess I'd recommend the song I mentioned above, for its aforementioned groovy beat and sax solo, which is all too rare in music today. And "Fireworks" is a nice disco throwback, too.

    3. Hello Historyman:- First off, good luck on the full time job front.

      Secondly, I will be picking up a copy of Glory. If nothing else, I'm sure I'll get a review out of it.

      Thirdly, it's too late to warn me against Katy Perry. Perfectly servicable 21st century pop. Although LFN is the kind of track which would've made my feet tap when I was gym bound. Luckily, I now have an old bike-machine in the shed, meaning that I can listen to Rdaio 4 history documentaries instead.

  7. Hi Colin

    Ahhhh I love this book so very dearly. As you said above it is unpretentious yet literary. It's a beautiful story, and a fine example of some of the unique narrative capabilities of comics and shows that the medium can hold its own against prose fiction.

    The reason it holds such a special place in my collection is because it was the comic that reintroduced me to comics. Being guilty of genre snobbery and ignorant of the best work, I had abandoned comics in my early teens (laughably) for fantasy novels - which I in turn abandoned before university for 'high brow' fiction.

    In my 2nd year I studied 'It's a good life if you don't weaken' as part of a Canadian Literature module at university and it's quality hit me like a bolt of lightning. I realised at once that I could combine my love of powerful literary fiction with the medium that had captured my imagination before any other - comics - and proceeded to expanded my collection of graphic novels. It was (predictably) Watchmen that showed/reminded me that superheroes could also be a worthwhile genre (which is why I have tended to collect in trade paperback).

    Anyway - apologies for going on like that. I just thought I'd share my Seth/IAGLIYDW story. I'm off to read your Sequart post now, can't wait to see what you thought about it.

    1. Hello Ed:- There's at the very least an excellent article in the above. I always enjoy reading about the way that folks came to comics. (There's surely a book in that too.)

      That sounds like a remarkable Literature module. Certainly in the Eighties, when I studied, such ideas wouldn't have been acceptable. I faced a certain degree of gently-expressed but all too real contempt when I wanted to write about PKD's Martian Time-Slip in a Politics and The Novel module run by both Politics And English Departments. But then, I did generally need a good solid clip round the earhole at the time, and sadly, for a good while afterwards, so perhaps it was me far more than my choice in books ..

      I do find it heartening that the word "comics" and the word "literature" aren’t considered to be mutually exclusive. As I guess is obvious in the above, I struggle, and fail, to be able to be able to separate the two. And I don't want to either. Sturgeon's Law applies everywhere, which means that those relatively few examples of excellence which might be found anywhere ought not to be something we're supposed to feel guilty about. This is especially true, you make me realise, where the super-book is concerned. It's easy to feel down-hearted about the sub-genre, but what's more remarkable is that a relatively small number of creators have done so much with it. More flag-waving, less penitence, I suspect, is what would really tick off the literary snobs, and, indeed, the cape'n'costume-insignia aficionados too.

      Great story, Mr E. Thank you.

    2. I might just write that article soon, if I do I'll be sure to send you the link :)

      It was a great module, taught by a very young Canadian professor who was determined to cram as much Canadian culture into the course as possible (I remember I finding parallels between Seth & one of Margaret Atwood's books: the redemptive power of love and self-destructive power of obsession). Perhaps this is why it was the only module featuring a graphic novel, because that "gently expressed contempt" (often spilling over into outright scorn and dismissal) is still very much prevalent in academia. Although perhaps things are starting to change: I'm not sure if you're familiar with her but comicbookgrrrl (on twitter & her own website) is currently studying and blogging about the first (British) Masters course in Comic Book Studies.

      I think you're right about waving the flag. It's something we should all do more, and thankfully there's a blog like yours already doing the heavy lifting.

      I had tentatively made an effort to write a series of critical pieces about comics/graphic-novels that I enjoyed in an effort to persuade literary people to try the medium (because everyone in my non-online life who I've cajoled into trying them have all expressed surprise & delight at just how much they enjoyed the books) but it seemed those articles only attracted attention from existing comics readers - so perhaps a more nuanced or skilfully publicised approach is required.

      Thanks again for the kind words Colin!

    3. Hello Ed:- I would love to read the article and I DEMAND a link. Demand it, I say.

      I do enjoy comicbookgrrl's work. It was really heartening to see such a committed and knowledgeable article on Stan Lee as the one she wrote for the Independent On Sunday.

      Thank you for the kind words about the blog. If you were in the neighbourhood, we'd have a cup of tea ready for you.

      The question of attracting a broader audience for comics is a tough one, isn't it? I don't think it's a question of nuance, I really don't. I've got a project at the moment which I hope might reach a slightly wider audience. On the whole, I suspect that it requires a great deal more time for comics in the mass media, matched with a determination by comics fans to sell the medium appropriately to friends and family. Little victories matched with a bigger degree of respectful noise.

      I also have theories about how the Earth isn't flat and how big the dinosaurs were ...

  8. I also think it is a little bit like music - people close themselves off from entire genres due to some idea of its quality of appropriateness for their lifestyle. However, even though I am mostly a goth I think that there is at least one decent band in every genre. Even Jazz. I hope to hear as many of them as possible.

    (I also remember the post-punk era which I think was the last one which had major Rules Which Must be Followed especially the Rule of Authenticity. I can remember listening to New Order playing live and a heckler yelled 'too artificial'. They were looked down on for going electronic, like Dylan. Of course everyone now says, quite rightly, they were seminal, important, fantastic etc)

    The same with comics. I generally don't like superhero comics and resent their dominance of the medium but I've read good ones in the past and shall do in the future. There's at least a good comic in every genre and I hope to read as many of them as possible.

  9. Hello Staticgirl:- "However, even though I am mostly a goth I think that there is at least one decent band in every genre. Even Jazz"

    I recall - and this is worryingly specific - talking to a bloke called John while the pair of us were working at International supermarket in 1980. I was weary of the style wars, simply because each group of folks I hung around with had different tastes, and I could enjoy a certain amount of all of the music I was listening to. It was just that the dance didn't sit with the proggers didn't sit with the metalheads and the long mac'n'Byrds-fringe brigade and so on. Wouldn't it be great, I asked John, if there was a club where it didn't matter what the genre of the music was so long as it was good? With a deadpan face and the kind of withering tone which can be remembered 30 and more years later, he just said "no". But I too hope to hear as much of the good stuff as I can, and read it as well. It just worries me that I should have anything of an internal policeman monitoring what is and what isn't acceptable.

    "They were looked down on for going electronic, like Dylan. Of course everyone now says, quite rightly, they were seminal, important, fantastic etc"

    And how they were felt to be somewhat embarrassing between "Ceremony" and the dance music you refer too. For all that history will have it otherwise, there were 18 months when New Order were thought to be something of an earnest indy busted flush. The story's never the same when it's being lived through.

    "I generally don't like superhero comics and resent their dominance of the medium but I've read good ones in the past and shall do in the future."

    I started this blog focusing on super-heroes because I wanted a narrow focus which meant I was having to come up with new angles, if I could, on a specific field of work. It was a deliberate choice to help with the writing, but it never meant that I thought super-heroes were the knees of the bees. As you say, there have been some fine ones. But then, there's been alot of stinkers too, and wherever our taste takes us, Sturgeon's Law applies. That just makes the good stuff sweeter, I tend to think.

  10. nice opinion.. thanks for sharing....

    1. Hello there:- that's kind of you to say so. Cheers :)

  11. Hi Colin,

    I just finally managed to read this, and I agree, it's fantastic. I might quibble a bit with your conclusion in the SeqArt piece though - far from the idea that the good life is unlikely to be his, I think this is as good a life as the character Seth can live.

    The framing and narrative choices in this book really do tell so much of the story, don't they? As you mentioned, the choice to skip ahead from the characters' lovemaking straight to Ruthie discovering the cartoonist's name, the way that the protagonist seems to get constantly annoyed at his brother without him seeming to do much to merit it, the fact that the girl from part two doesn't even get mentioned in part three or anywhere after the breakup* - it all adds up to showing that the self-image of Seth may not be quite in line with the reality.

    Incidentally, his relationship with his cat is maybe the purest moment of love and compassion we see in him, and maybe that's all that he can muster.

    * Okay, I just re-read it, and she does get mentioned - Seth discusses her with Chet later, and we get one of the very few flashbacks.
    A few interesting details: Chet says, "from what I recall you two didn't have much in common", when pretty much every moment she's in the book is when she's talking about the cartoonist with Seth, or in the reference library, or offering to go on the trip with him. Of course, given Seth's selective memory, it's possible those are literally the only things they have in common - but I'd be more likely to believe that Seth spent most of his time while they were together complaining to Chet about her, in the way he describes at the beginning of the book, about all the tiny things she does that he judges her for. Or maybe Chet isn't even quite reliable himself - he does describe love as "a combination of lust and pity"

    Another nice moment is how, the page after Seth describes his recently-perceived romantic pattern of getting involved with a girl and then "slowly shut[ting] them out", he observes that he is most taken with the decay of old things - "If those buildings were perfectly preserved, it wouldn't be the same." The link between those two ideas is there, but he never makes that connection himself.

    The moment with the ice skating is telling in a few ways - in addition to how you mentioned it showing Seth missing the point of skating & socializing WITH people, it also shows how much of his thinking has been shaped by cartoons - the "expectation and gag" pratfall. He is skating, telling the story of a failed attempt at DJing, with the punchline that nobody cared about it, and at that moment falls on the ice - a parallel that isn't quite "Curse of the Black Freighter" in the subtlety of the narrative parallel, but of course that's not the point.

    More interesting is that later he's recounting the tale of him falling on the ice to Chet, and specifically acknowledges how good an audience Chet is - Seth creates narratives that fit his life into gags and pratfalls, in a way that doesn't necessarily give him deeper understanding of how to do anything about it. Even his observations about himself fit into the same "They'll Do It Every Time!" expectation-reversal: "Check out this guy! He always talks about how much he wants intimacy... but when a girl gets close to him, he pushes them away? Wha--?" But as Chet says, it's an observation that doesn't come any closer to solving the problem. But still, self-observation is a good step.

  12. (In case you never saw it, "They'll Do It Every Time", referenced in IAGLIYDW, is a very long-running comic strip that has been going from the early 20th century and only ended a couple years ago. It was drawn and written by a couple different people, and the ones that try to combine the ancient premise and style with our modern age are hilariously anachronistic. I became familiar with it through the excellent blog "The Comics Curmudgeon," and here's all of his entries referencing it: http://joshreads.com/?cat=58 )

    1. Hello Historyman:- “I might quibble a bit with your conclusion in the SeqArt piece though - far from the idea that the good life is unlikely to be his, I think this is as good a life as the character Seth can live.”

      So you’re saying that the “good life” is equivalent to “the best life that someone can manage”? I think I may either have to accept that I’ve misunderstood you or own up to disagreeing there.

      “it all adds up to showing that the self-image of Seth may not be quite in line with the reality. “

      Agreed. It’s a remarkable way of juxtaposing the character’s own understanding of events with things as they actually progressed. Or at least, as other folks might perceive them.

      “Incidentally, his relationship with his cat is maybe the purest moment of love and compassion we see in him, and maybe that's all that he can muster.”

      Cats don’t make empathetic demands upon people, they’re essentially predictable, they can be ignored, they are reassuringly dependant without being obviously reliant; to folks who struggle with their empathy, or who simply prefer such a relationship to a more complex one, cats are perfect company. And I don’t mean to suggest that there’s anything wrong with that. I prefer the company of cats to most folks I’ve met! But as you say, it’s really the best the character can do.

      “but I'd be more likely to believe that Seth spent most of his time while they were together complaining to Chet about her, in the way he describes at the beginning of the book, about all the tiny things she does that he judges her for. Or maybe Chet isn't even quite reliable himself - he does describe love as "a combination of lust and pity"”

      The great strength of the book is the way in which forces the reader – if they’re of the mind to stay awake – to ask questions, while rarely if ever providing unambiguous answers. I’m certainly not of the mind to trust Chet wholeheartedly, but I do believe that Ruthoie showed a great deal of interest in the narrators hobby. Only an obsessive would think she hadn’t.

      “The moment with the ice skating is telling in a few ways - in addition to how you mentioned it showing Seth missing the point of skating & socializing WITH people, it also shows how much of his thinking has been shaped by cartoons - the "expectation and gag" pratfall.”

      Splendid point :)

      “But still, self-observation is a good step.”

      Not, sadly, if the mind is unable to grasp the meaning of what it perceives, and I think that’s a key part of what’s happening here. (I know you do to.) What “Seth” sees and how he perceives it are two very different things. He’s capable of real insight, and yet he can’t see beyond his own paradigm. And much of that paradigm is, as you say above, determined by the way in which cartoon media have informed and directed his world-view and desire.

      Thank you for the reference to TDIET, and for reminding me of what a terrific book IAGLIYDW is. I’ve written so much this year that I’d quite forgotten what I’d hammered down about the book. I may not be pleased with what I’d written, but it was good to be reminded of the value of the book itself :)