It's a Good Life, If You Don't Weaken

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It's a Good Life, If You Don't Weaken
First edition cover, Drawn and Quarterly, 1996
Creator Seth
Date 1996
Number of issues 4–9
Series Palookaville
Page count 176 pages
Publisher Drawn and Quarterly

It's a Good Life, If You Don't Weaken is a graphic novel by Canadian cartoonist Seth. It was serialized from December 1993 to June 1996 in issues #4–9 of Seth's comic book series Palookaville and published in collected form in 1996.

Though fictional, Seth presents the book as autobiographical, and features appearances of other figures in his life, such as close friend and fellow cartoonist Chester Brown. The book gained Seth a reputation as part of the autobiographical comics trend in the 1990s, especially alongside fellow Drawn and Quarterly cartoonists such as Brown, Joe Matt, Julie Doucet, and Adrian Tomine. It won two Ignatz Awards in 1997 and ranked No. 52 of The Comics Journal '​s "100 Best Comics of the 20th Century" list in 1999.

Background[edit]

Toronto-based cartoonist Seth had made a name for himself in 1985 when he took over art duties from the Hernandez brothers for Mister X, from the Toronto publisher Vortex Comics. In April 1991 he launched his own comic book, Palookaville, from Montreal publisher Drawn and Quarterly. By this time Seth's artwork had evolved to one inspired by The New Yorker cartoons of the 1930s and 1940s.[1]

The stories in the series had been autobiographical since the series débuted.[2] Friends of Seth's appeared in it, most prominently fellow Toronto-based cartoonists Chester Brown and Joe Matt, who were also known for their autobiographical comics featuring each other.[2] Though a work of fiction, It's a Good Life, If You Don't Weaken was initially presented as another autobiographical story.[2] Seth said his mother used the title phrase when he was growing up.[3]

Synopsis[edit]

While he searches for information on cartoonist Whitney Darrow, Jr., obsessive collector Seth comes across the work of Jack "Kalo" Kalloway in The New Yorker. Fond of this older style of cartooning which resembles his own, Seth sets off to find more about this obscure cartoonist, whose few published works appeared in magazines such as The New Yorker and Esquire. Seth discovers his own childhood hometown of Strathroy in Southern Ontario was where the elder cartoonist spent his life. Seth contacts Kalo's daughter and learns of his life: how he moved to New York to pursue cartooning in the 1940s and returned to Canada in the 1950s to get married and settle into a career in real estate. Appending the book is a collection of all the published Kalo cartoons Seth could find.[2]

Publication[edit]

It's a Good Life, If You Don't Weaken was serialized in issues #4 (December 1993) through #9 (June 1996) of Seth's comic book Palookaville, published by Drawn and Quarterly. It appeared in collected form in September 1996 from the same publisher.[4]

Style and analysis[edit]

By the time he began the serial Seth had developed a style derived from the cartoons of The New Yorker in the 1930s and 1940s.[1] His brushline is simple and organic, yet precise, and Seth pays attention to buildings, landscapes, weather conditions, and other background details.[5] In a metatextual twist he discusses his love of this style with Chester Brown in the story that itself is drawn in such a way;[6] Brown expresses his appreciation for such cartoonists but disappoints Seth with his lack of enthusiasm.[5]

The tone is melacholic and nostalgic—Seth pines for a past not his own and obsessively collects consumer items from from earlier in the 20th century. He goes as far as to wear an old-fashoined overcoat and broad-rimmed hat, and declares to Chester Brown: "I do think life was simpler then ... easier for people to find personal happiness." Brown disagrees, stating: "I think it's always been difficult for people to be happy." He dreads the future and allows his memories of childhood to dominate his thoughts.[7]

Reception[edit]

In the middle of its serialization reviewer Kent Worcester called It's a Good Life, If You Don't Weaken "one of the very few essential exemplars of the potential of the medium".[5] It won Seth two Ignatz Awards in the award's inaugural ceremony in 1997: one for Outstanding Artist and another for Outstanding Graphic Novel or Collection.[8] In 1999 the book placed No. 52 on The Comics Journal '​s "100 Best Comics of the 20th Century".[9]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Bongco 2000, p. 199.
  2. ^ a b c d Thalheimer 2010, p. 319.
  3. ^ Gary Groth (February 1997). "The Seth Interview". The Comics Journal (Fantagraphics Books Inc.) (193): 6. 
  4. ^ Thalheimer 2010, p. 318.
  5. ^ a b c Worcester 1995, p. 45.
  6. ^ Bongco 2000, p. 199–200.
  7. ^ Worcester 1995, p. 44.
  8. ^ Thalheimer 2010, p. 318–319.
  9. ^ Thalheimer 2010, p. 320.

Works cited[edit]