Smash Pages Q&A: Seth on ‘Palookaville’ #23

The creator discusses the end of ‘Clyde Fans,’ the film ‘Seth’s Dominion’ and more.

In 2010 the cartoonist Seth revived his old comics series Palookaville as a series of hardcover volumes that come out once every year and a half or two years, in the smaller size and shape that Seth used in books like Wimbledon Green and The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists. Palookaville #23 has just been released by Drawn and Quarterly and like the earliest volumes, it contains a few different elements. There is a large selection of paintings that Seth created for two different exhibitions in 2014 and 2015. There’s the third chapter of Nothing Lasts, a memoir that Seth began in earlier volumes, and perhaps most notably, the fifth and final chapter of Clyde Fans.

Clyde Fans began many years ago in 1997 in the original Palookaville series, a followup to Seth’s now-classic graphic novel It’s A Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken. The story went on hiatus along with the series, and finishing the series has been one of Seth’s primary projects in the revived Palookaville series. In the interim he has been keeping busy, with a series of graphic novels, New Yorker covers, design projects like The Complete Peanuts, illustrating the Lemony Snicket series All the Wrong Questions, and making paintings and models for various exhibitions. We talked about what finishing the story means to him, what he’s working on next and some thoughts on the film Seth’s Dominion.

So we finally come to the fifth and final chapter of Clyde Fans. How does it feel to see the story completed?

Well, I feel some sense of relief that I finished it before I died. That was always a worry. Still, I am in the process of doing the final edit and fixing up pages and such – so I am not entirely yet at the final feeling of relief that it is DONE. When the collection comes out next year I think i will then feel a real sense of accomplishment. Up until now it has mostly been a sense of shame that it has taken me so long to get this story finished.

When you started Clyde Fans did you ever think it would take this long?

Absolutely not. I figured it would take a few years. Maybe three.

How much did the story change over the years? Or did it change much from your initial conception?

Strangely, it didn’t change much at all. In fact, it is almost exactly as I envisioned it. Now, that doesn’t mean I had the whole thing written out in advance. Not at all. But, I did know exactly where it was going and I pretty knew every scene that would be in each chapter. I knew the exact lines it would end with. I followed this plan all the way through.

That said, there was plenty of elaborating as I worked on the book. Scenes expanded or contracted. The specific writing evolved as I grew older. I always knew that each scene would be written when I got to it, so a certain organic structure was built into the process from the word go.

I guess I’m asking both in terms of how the time periods jumped around between chapters but also the feeling of the last chapter. Because I think it ended well and I liked it, but if you had made me describe how I think it should end, I wouldn’t have described this.

Everything you mentioned there is exactly as planned way back when. I very much expected – when this last chapter was printed – that people might be perplexed or expecting something different. However, I hope – and believe – that when the book is collected and read all in sequence again, with some corrections to the text and the pacing, that this ending will feel like the logical conclusion to the story.

This is the fourth collection of Palookaville in this format and they’ve come out every year and a half or two years or so, how have you found the format?

I love this format actually. I’m not sure if it is the ideal format for the reader but it is ideal for me. I like the production values, I like the shape and heft of the little tome and I like the fact that it opens the door for me to show other, non-comics, work.

I’d love to have one out every year but it just probably isn’t feasible. I always have too many projects on the go to focus 100 per cent on churning out comic pages. Like most cartoonists I grew up reading periodicals and thought I’d work on that kind of model of publishing – but it’s never really worked out of me. I’ll never do a bimonthly comic or sadly even a guaranteed yearly book. I’ve come to view my output as part of a body of work — “a life’s work” — rather that part of the old periodicals model of publishing. That said, I’d sure like to get at least 10 volumes of Palookaville in this format done before I drop dead (hopefully a good number more).

The book also has the third chapter of your memoir, Nothing Lasts, which I really love and I wondered why you decided to make a memoir?

Not much of a decision, actually. Just something to do. I simply started drawing it in my sketchbook one day. Just another sketchbook experiment. I do think it was a direct reflection of reaching middle age – or late middle age. Just an absolutely direct kind of artistic choice that comes along without a lot of effort. A subject matter that would require literally no planning – just start on page one and roll with it, improvising each page as you go. I mean, I knew the subject matter by heart. Of course, by page 40 or so, it had taken on a larger place in my mind and I had come to grips with how I was telling the story. I’m more serious about it now then when I started and, given some thought, I figure it may stretch out to about 300 pages or so. I intend to carry on producing it somewhat “off the cuff” – keeping the spontaneity and the looseness, but I suppose I have a better idea now of the overall structure of the memoir and how it will
conclude, etc.

Last year also saw the DVD release of Seth’s Dominion, which is a great film, but in the short comic you have in the packaging, you talk about feeling self-conscious about the interviews, this sense that you were performing. And I wondered how that influenced the way you thought about and worked on Nothing Lasts.

Come to think of it—you might have hit on something there. The memoir might be a direct response to the making of the film. I hadn’t considered that. I was frustrated, to some degree, by my lack of control about the film. I wasn’t feeling very comfortable with how the interviews were going. I knew I had final say in how the film came together. I am a bit of an artistic dictator — not really a collaborator — so perhaps you are right. I may have begun to put my own “voice” onto the record. To have the “final say”. What is interesting is that I handed over the first 40 pages of Nothing Lasts to Luc (the director) before I printed it anywhere and he took that material as the subject of his animated adaptations (which I didn’t know until much later). So, in some manner, I did manage to influence the direction of the film and steer it back to my own voice, I suppose.

So have you started working on or thinking about another fictional project or projects now that Clyde Fans has concluded? Or do you not think in that way?

Oh yes. I had 20 years to plan a follow up graphic novel. I had four books worked out pretty well in my head. The question was, which one will be the one that I do next? It was always changing depending on my moods and level of enthusiasm for one or the other. Strangely – or perhaps, typically – as soon as I finished Clyde an entirely new story came into my head – almost fully formed – and that is the next project. I will be starting it in a few months. Those other books will probably never get done (life is short) though I occasionally imagine I might just one day do a story about the stories I never bothered to do.

I know you’re always working on many projects from gallery shows to illustration to whatever and is there anything else coming or things you’re working on or things you wanted to mention.

Hmmm. Well, I am working on a lot of different things. Much of it has never been seen by anyone but my wife. Sometimes not even her. I’m never 100 percent sure what I am doing these things for – except my own obvious pleasure and sense of exploration. But in about a year or so, I hope to begin assembling and organizing a big Art of Seth kind of book project for D&Q. I’m thinking this will be my chance to show a big pile of things I’ve not shown before. This is in very early stages and will require a ton of digging thought my archives so don’t expect to see this project wrapped up for a good three or four years, I imagine. I’m looking forward to it though.

One other thing that I am very excited about. This last year the classical Musician Mark Haney created a “opera” based on my book George Sprott and staged it several times at the Richmond Art Gallery in British Columbia. It was very beautiful and very moving. It has been recorded and when i finish the design work for the fancy packaging we will be releasing a vinyl album of the piece. I can’t say enough about the music. Gorgeous.

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