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The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists Hardcover – October 11, 2011
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A sort-of companion piece to Wimbledon Green (2005), in which he limned a fictional history of comic-book collectors, Seth’s latest effort postulates an alternate universe set in a Canada where lionized cartoonists were viewed as important cultural figures, with membership in a prestigious guild, the G. N. B. Double C. of the book’s title. A largely unseen narrator leads a tour of the league’s expansive headquarters, now in disrepair but once the scene of clubby meetings of the nation’s cartoonists—a few genuine, but most contrived entirely by Seth, who details their careers with loving care, presenting lengthy samples of such colorful creations as Kao-Kuk the Inuit astronaut and patriotic superhero Canada Jack. The work’s deceptive modesty—Seth’s drawings are uncharacteristically casual, and he limits himself to an unvarying grid of nine uniformly sized panels—belies its impressive accomplishment, creating a fully realized world in which cartoonists receive the respect they’re denied in ours. Seth treats his profession with the same mix of affection and inventiveness that marked Guy Maddin’s wry mockumentary film about his Canadian hometown, My Winnipeg. --Gordon Flagg
About the Author
SETH is the cartoonist of Clyde Fans; It's a Good Life, If You Don't Weaken; Wimbledon Green; George Sprott; Bannock, Beans, and Black Tea; and Vernacular Drawings; the designer of the New York Times bestselling Peanuts collections; and a New Yorker illustrator. He lives in Guelph, Ontario.
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But, as a break from "Clyde Fans," Seth quickly made the light graphic novel Wimbledon Green in 2005, about the world's greatest comic-book collector, in a simpler, quicker style he called sketchbook. And -- possibly partly because of the strong response to that book, and possibly partly because "Clyde Fans" has been taking so long to be finished -- he came back six years later with another light-hearted sketchbook story with an inside-comics slant.
The G.N.B. Double C, as its cover calls it, is more diffuse and less successful than WIMBLEDON, which focused on a single character and his adventures. This new book instead is a leisurely guided tour of the headquarters of the title organization in Seth's fictional Ontario city of Dominion, and, along the way, of a mostly alternate history of 20th century Canadian cartooning. Seth does include some real comics, like Doug Wright's Nipper, but most of the details here are invented -- though, clearly, Seth intends them to parallel and comment on the real history of Canadian cartooning.
And that's part of the problem, for most readers, of GREAT NORTHERN BROTHERHOOD -- it's a book that was written as a love letter to something we're probably not all that familiar with. The ideal reader for this book -- the one who will get the most enjoyment out of it -- is Seth himself, and probably only a few dozen other Canadians will come close. (Those of us from other nations have even less chance of catching all of his references.)
That said, though, GREAT NORTHERN BROTHERHOOD is a fun little book, engrossing the way a collection of almost true stories always are, and Seth's "sketchbook" art is evocative and energetic, with a grey wash adding strongly to the elegiac feel. It might not be the romp that WIMBLEDON GREEN was, but it's a quirky, sweet plea on behalf of the importance of both the art of cartooning and the nation of Canada, from a creator who clearly closely identifies with both.
This could have been quite good, if developed properly and not just printed right out of the sketchbook. Imagine if there was an attempt made to make the various "cartoonists'" art that is shown look different from each other. Instead, every "sample" looks just like a Seth sketch. There is no real emotional depth, none of the haunting, poignant quality found in GEORGE SPROTT. There's nothing that makes me think I will want to pick this book up again sometime in the future and read it again.
Maybe I shouldn't expect a fully-developed masterpiece from something that is obviously a first (or early) draft, pulled right out of a sketchbook, with very little attempt to develop a great story from these initial jottings. But at $25 list price I don't think it's unreasonable to expect more.
In creating this magnificent work Seth goes to his own imaginary model town of Dominion where there stands a building erected in 1935 bearing the initials of G.N.B.C.C. The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists has their own local chapter where cartoonists have their own watering hole and local traditions and social get togethers.
It is in this creative setting that Seth sets out to explain the history of cartooning such as it is and was in Canada. As always Seth spends most of his time explaining the exploits and genres of all the important and influential artists in Canada. He tells the stories in short prose and wonderful depictions of drawings which in of itself shows of a nostalgic time of past pursuits in which shows a simpler and at times happier and at times somewhat sad displays. He also shows the artwork done by another artist, which of course is drawn by Seth. Seth shows the different styles of cartooning and goes on to explain the genre and actions of each individual artist.
In doing this work Seth goes from one artist to another in a rather seamless prose while exploring the rooms of the ancient G.N.B.C.C. In telling his stories of the artists, he is also giving us a short history of this rather unusual institution. This work is what I would consider his best effort yet, and that's saying a lot. All my reviews of his work have rated 5 stars. This work is no different. If they gave me more stars to work with, I would give it more! Bravo and I hope Seth can continue to go down the same road of nostalgia and entertain his audience.