Every year, in the countdown to the Lakes International Comic Art Festival, we bring you a series of interviews with guests at the event. This “Festival Focus” for 2018 is Seth, the cartoonist behind the comic book series Palookaville, which started in the stone age as a pamphlet and is now a semi-annual hardcover.
His comics have appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Best American Comics, and McSweeneys Quarterly. His illustrations have appeared in numerous publications including the cover of the New Yorker, the Walrus, and Canadian Notes & Queries.
He is also Lemony Snicket’s partner for the new Young Readers series, All the Wrong Questions, and has illustrated and designed a new, deluxe edition of Stephen Leacock’s Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town. He is the designer for several classic comics reprint series, notably collections of work by Charles Schulz, John Stanley, and Doug Wright.
Seth has exhibited throughout the world in a variety of group and solo shows. He was the subject of a solo exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario, which showcased the first public display of his model city Dominion. He is now a part of the Gallery’s permanent collection. Dominion City subsequently toured Canada. He is the subject of a 2014 National Film Board documentary entitled Seth’s Dominion.
Seth lives in Guelph, Ontario, with his wife Tania and their two cats in an old house he has named “Inkwell’s End”.
What are you working on, comics-wise, right now, and when will it be published?
Seth: The big thing for me this coming year is the publication of a book I have laboured over for the last 20 years and which will finally be published this coming spring (2019) by Drawn and Quarterly titled, Clyde Fans. I wish it hadn’t taken twenty years to complete it — I originally figured on about five years — but…here we are. That said, I am rather pleased with it. I am also very pleased to be finally done with it forever.
Which comic project you’ve worked on are you most proud of and where can people see it or buy it?
Seth: Always a hard question to answer but i guess I would select my book George Sprott, published by D&Q. It’s available from all the usual sources.
How do you plan your day as a creator? (Do you plan your day?)
Seth: My day has been planned for decades. What I mean by this is that I follow the same plan pretty much day in and day out. My wife (a barber) heads out to her shop by nine in the morning and that’s when I descend the stairs to my studio. I work there all morning and afternoon until she returns for dinner at about six each day. After dinner (and an old man’s nap) I go back to the studio for a couple of hours. If I am particularly ambitious I may work until late. I follow this pattern everyday except on the weekends when we go out driving into the Ontario landscape and when i also usually have more than a few glasses of red wine.
What’s the best thing about being a comics creator?
Seth: Well, I wouldn’t have realised this when i chose the career but, for me, the greatest part of the job is the isolation. I take great satisfaction in the time I spend alone each day. I am not an introvert — in fact, I’m a very chatty person. However, I’ve discovered over the years that I am a much happier person if I have a lot of time to myself. Too much sociability wears me down. My creatively is directly powered by time spend in isolation.
And the worst?
Seth: It is easy to waste valuable working time when you work by yourself. Discipline needs to be maintained.
What most distracts you from getting your work done?
Seth: There is a tendency to putter about in the studio. Organising papers. Noodling away on little projects that no one ever sees. That sort of thing. Lately I have been wasting a tremendous amount of time following the exploits of that idiot in the White House.
Do you think it’s easier or harder for young comic creators to get published today?
Seth: It is a double edged sword, I imagine. When I started out the opportunities were quite limited. Just a couple of publishers and a comic book market so focused on superheroes that it was almost impossible to find an audience who were interested in the kind of work I do. Nowadays there are many many more opportunities.
But… there are also many many more young cartoonists (of great talent) to compete with. So, in some ways it was easier in my day. Less competition. I do feel quite lucky that I was around in those early years… allowing me to “get in on the ground floor” as they say. You really have to work hard to be noticed in today’s overpacked generation of cartoonists.
Have you ever been to the Lake District before and if so what did you think of it? If you haven’t, what are you expecting?
Seth: Yes, my wife and I were in Kendal a couple of festivals ago. We literally fell in love with the region. Before we came I was not entirely sure what to expect but I could not have been more charmed by the town and the countryside and the people. We speak of the visit often! I can see the place in my mind right now… I can feel the very rolling shape of the landscape beneath my feet as I type this nonsense.
Which one comic creator would you most like to meet, and why?
Seth: Probably Edward Grey (though he is quite dead now). Why? Well, it’s not because he is my very favourite cartoonist (he’s not) but I imagine he would be a most entertaining fellow to spend the afternoon with. I have read and reread his interviews over the years and he never fails to impress with his wit, his flippancy and his intelligence.
How do Festivals and other comics events help creators most, do you think?
Seth: Two simple ways. Firstly, They introduce the public to your work and give an opportunity for readers to engage with authors. Secondly, they give cartoonists a chance to meet one another (which would never happen otherwise since most cartoonists are like moles— always down in their burrow).
What one piece of advice do you offer people looking to work in the comics industry?
Seth: Forget about the industry. Don’t think of yourself as a professional. Think of yourself as an artist — like any other artwork (painting, sculpture etc.). Do the work and then find a way to get it into the world. Not the other way around.
What’s your favourite comic right now and where can people get it?
Seth, thank you very much for your time and we look forward to seeing you in Kendal.
• The Lakes International Comic Art Festival will be back in Kendal 12th – 14th October 2018. Tickets for the Festival are on sale now from: www.comicartfestival.com