Let's see how many reviews I can post this week!
George Sprott (1894-1975): In perusing Dan Clowes' contribution to the New York Times' Great Contemporary Pornographers series, you might have noticed that there are still some links to an earlier graphic novel (novella? short story? it took a while to read, if that matters) by Seth. I don't recall a lot of fanfare about the conclusion of George Sprott, but that might be the old faulty memory at work.
The subject matter is typical for Seth--it's a eulogy to a bygone age in Canadian television, but it's also a meditation on death and decay. Certainly a bit more downbeat than either Clyde Fans or It's a Good Life If You Don't Weaken, though the structure/narrative might remind readers of Wimbledon Green. Seth once again plays around with the conventions of mockumentaries, presenting an interview with someone associated with Sprott every other chapter. This isn't as straightforward as it might seem. The interviews span almost forty years, suggesting this documentary began "filming" almost immediately after Sprott's death. The number of interviews diminish as time drags on, paralleling Sprott's fading from the public's memory and his friends' and family's thoughts. This, in turn, forces the reader to consider who is conducting these interviews and why they are doing so, given that Sprott is all but forgotten in the present day. (The epilogue provides a depressing final thought on this subject.) The anti-omniscient narrator adds to this sense of confusion, especially in the last few chapters when (s)he deliberately holds back information from the reader. Is it Sprott himself? Is he filming an autobiographical documentary from the afterlife?
Fans of SCTV will probably find the subject matter delightful. As one might expect, Seth imbues the faded stars of local Canadian television with a mixture of dignity and pathos. In fact, Seth's style of art doesn't merely invite, but practically necessitates this kind of characterization. Elegant brushstrokes and clever monochromatic coloring illustrate characters with economy and grace. Seth's art isn't as cold and formal as, say, Chris Ware's, but it's not exactly warm, either. His is a somewhat mannered, deliberately old fashioned style, which serves to create distance between the reader and the comic. It's appropriate, given the themes at work (the mockumentary structure in particular--we don't see the past, but we do see interviews with characters talking about the past).
George Sprott definitely falls on the drab and dreary, "literary fiction" side of the spectrum. Readers put off by Ware's Jimmy Corrigan might find George Sprott more to their liking, however. Unlike Ware's emotionally stunted men, Sprott defines himself by his relationships with admirers, co-workers, and short-term sexual partners. This makes his emotional distance all the more compelling--it's a facet of his personality, rather than the totality of it. Furthermore, Seth explores themes that extend beyond his protagonist's lonely apartment. He also touches upon the nature of local celebrity, the difficulty in aging/dying gracefully, the exploitation of native people in the name of education/entertainment, and (least successfully) the protagonist's difficulty in maintaining a lifelong relationship. The inclusion of these broader themes keep George Sprott from being a dirge for the Canada of Seth's childhood. Seth is just about the most self-consciously Canadian of all cartoonists, and this is his most explicitly Canadian work to date. Nevertheless, non-Canadians (such as myself) will find George Sprott affecting and beautiful to behold.
George Sprott is everything I would have expected from a new(-ish) Seth graphic novel (or novella or whatever). I say that in a somewhat pointed way--this all seems quite familiar. It's probably Seth's best expression of these themes to date, but I'm sort of anxious to see him attempt something that doesn't involve men wearing fedoras, if you catch my drift. George Sprott is, as of this writing, still available free of charge at the link provided above.