Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Graphic Novel Review: It's a Good Life If You Don't Weaken

About a year ago, at the Emerald City Comicon, Scott Kowalchuk told me I should check out some of the comics works by a writer/artist that goes solely by the name of Seth.  Kowalchuk is an incredibly solid dude, and I figured his comic recommendations would follow the solid trend, so I filed the name away in the back of my head, and kept my eye out for Seth's stuff anytime I was browsing the shelves in various shops around town.  It took a while to track something by Seth down, but I eventually wound up with a couple of his titles, and decided to read It's a Good Life If You Don't Weaken first.

In this semi-autobiographical comic, Seth tells the story of himself and his obsession with tracking down comics by an obscure cartoonist from the 1940's by the name of Kalo.  Seth's compulsive search takes him on a journey of both distance and time and while on his search to find obscure comics, finds a bit of himself as well.

One of the things that most impressed me about this graphic novel was Seth's ability to tell an engaging story in a way that seems simplistic, yet upon further scrutiny, proves to be quite detailed.  Seth's art style is definitely on the cartoon side of things, but his buildings and locations all have a great power to evoke a strong sense of time a place.  His small towns, railway stations, living rooms, bookshops and cafe's all have an air of familiarity and warmth to them, which helped me feel right at home in the narrative.  This comfort opens up the door for the reader to pay more careful attention to the juxtaposition of Seth's personal development and his search for Kalo's comics.

Another impressive aspect about Seth's art is the amount of emotion he is able to portray in his panels.  To put it simply: his stuff is moody.  He achieves this through a combination of what the character is doing in a given panel, and what the character's surrounding environment is.  It seems like a simple feat to derive emotion in this way, but it's not something I've seen done very often or done as well.

Seth sort of lures the reader in with a slow burning start to the story, and maintains a relaxed pace throughout.  To be honest, the writing here didn't impress me nearly as much as the art.  I didn't relate so well to Seth's character, and didn't care too much about whether or not he found more Kalo comics either.  I more or less just cruised along reading the story, but was never very engaged by it. Still, the cruise was a comfortable one, and relatively pleasing as well.

It's a Good Life If You Don't Weaken is more about the journey than the destination, and it's an artful journey for the reader.  The illustrations here will most likely provide the lion's share of entertainment value as the story itself is not as strong.  Still, this graphic novel is a fine example of how comics, and the art side of the medium can really tell an evocative story.  Trust me, or trust Scott Kowalchuk, Seth's work is worth a look.  Definitely something different from the mainstream norm.

Grade: B

No comments: