Seth’s It’s A Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken is an overcast Saturday morning rendered in comics form—melancholy, muted, meandering. Good thing I’m rereading it on an overcast Saturday morning, and that I like them as much as he does.
As a cartoonist, Seth uses the “Method acting” style. It’s a comic about Seth’s search for a long-lost, obscure gag cartoonist nicknamed “Kalo,” whose biggest brush with fame was a single cartoon published in The New Yorker. Seth, who has drawn covers for the magazine, draws in a style approaching the New Yorker greats of the 1940s and 1950s—small pointy feet, a zippy and jaunty line that appears to be a quick brushstroke, black-and-white drawing, simple, iconic faces and buildings with one (or maybe two) defining features, urban settings that emphasize older architecture. Though the comic takes place in 1980s Toronto, It’s A Good Life’s décor and costumes look four decades older.
This extends to the book’s design. The single color, painted fluidly to accent the background and key objects, is a soft, dull blue that looks like it’s faded, as if, twenty years ago, it was richer and bolder. It’s A Good Life is printed on a brown, thin paper stock that evokes the yellowing newspapers and magazines in which Seth finds Kalo cartoons. Many of his panels are wordless, with the words on the top or bottom of them serving as an ironic counterpoint on what we’re seeing—like a gag cartoon.
I tend to be a “Method” reader, so my experience with Seth is working right now. I make my environment as close to the book as I can. I began reading it today because it’s drizzly and chilly and gray. Seth obsesses over older popular culture—1950s cartooning, old jazz and 1940s crooners, gentle downtown decay, a time in which you could smoke everywhere. So, I’m reading it with Rendezvous with Peggy Lee, Dinah Washington’s September in the Rain, Eartha Kitt’s That Bad Eartha, and Dakota Staton’s Time to Swing in the background. (They’re all a little hipper and younger than his tastes but I’m listening to them on vinyl.) The cat’s in my lap, coffee’s in my left hand.
When I finish the book, I’ll go for a long walk in the neighborhood, because that’s what Seth spends so much of his time doing in It’s A Good Life. I’ve got so much wedding planning to do today that it scares me but I wouldn’t have it any other way. The hectic pace makes me appreciate, and pay attention to, these gray Saturdays. It’s not a bad way to spend a morning.