Review:  Palookaville 21 by Seth

I made a humorous post about this book arriving last week.  It was up for order in 2012, and I placed the order, and I got it last week.  Does it hold up to the year’s wait?  I think so.  This is a very heavy book, even considering the heaviness of Palookaville 20.  

Assuming you know nothing about Palookaville, I’ll give a little introduction. It’s a comic by Canadian artist Seth, and has been around for about 20 years.  It started in floppy form, and issues 4-9 made up his first (and excellent) graphic novel It’s a Good Life If You Don’t Weaken.  That book was a massive influence on me when I was 21, and hovering between comics and art.  It was a nice fusion of both, not to mention a fusion of autobiography and fiction.  From issue 8 on, it told the story of Canadian company, Clyde Fans, shifting between the current day and it’s heyday in the 50’s.  Unfortunately, that was over 10 years ago, and the story is still going.  Doing a several hundred page story over ten years in twenty-something page instalments wasn’t an ideal situation.  So, he decided to change the approach with issue 20, and made Palookaville an ‘annual,’ a collection of Clyde Fans, and whatever else he wanted to add.

Issue 21 makes a strange shift though, like he’s looping back into the original Clyde Fans material through autobiography.  Clyde Fans has been about dysfunctional relationships, a feeling of being out of place, and memory.  It still is.  But in this book, there is an extended piece, Nothing Lasts, which also mines this same territory, using Seth’s childhood and his relationship with his mother.  It’s quite painful to read in places, he bares himself out there.  It reads much like what one might tell their therapist in private.  Except it’s done in a grid of exquisite cartoons.  The 60-page Clyde Fans story is good, as usual, though to be honest, the chapter in Palookaville 20 affected me more.  Good nonetheless.  It takes place in 1975, and covers the deteriorating relationships of the protagonist, Abraham Matchcard, with his ex-wife and recluse brother.  The middle section of the book, pictured above, is Seth’s ‘Rubber Stamp Diary’ selections.  He has made about 30 stamps of his most useful images, and use it for a base to do quick diaries from.  It’s really fascinating, and creative.  The content is melancholic, troublingly so in some places, but shows the true honesty you (or at least I) want to see in a diary strip, and not merely cutesy daily foibles.  The two pages I’ve scanned for this review are more upbeat ones.

Overall, this is a masterful book, and I highly recommend it.  He’s an established underground artist at this point, but I don’t know exactly how well-known he is, especially since he avoids social media like the plague (I don’t expect him to Google himself and find this review).  The content is really in the “depression” category, which is sad, since his earlier work, while melancholy, also showed a lot of joy.  Maybe that’s just where he is these days, or maybe that’s where he always was and just covered it up well.  It doesn’t make me want to trade places with him.  

But good work is good work.