Trouble with Comics, The Last Comic Book

The Last Comic Book

It is such a worn-out and much-mocked cliché of autobiographical comics for the cartoonist to declare his own self-loathing, that when Seth does so at the end of a heartbreaking and presumably true strip at the end of Palookaville #20, one has to assume he is both unaware of the frequent citing of such moments as trite and self-obsessed by critics of the genre, and more importantly, that he is absolutely serious. How could he not hate himself, when everything he has spent the last 30 years doing has been a complete and utter waste of time? He’s thrown his life away, and for what? Comic books.

In many ways, despite being a $20.00 hardcover art object, the new Palookaville feels very much like the last comic book. In a long and introspective introduction (presented in Chris Ware-like teeny-tiny type that is a slap in the face to my aging and diabetic eyes), Seth explains why he went along with publisher Drawn and Quarterly’s suggestion that Palookaville transition (Like Acme Novelty Library, like Love and Rockets, like J. Michael Straczynski’s Superman, ha ha ha just fuckin’ with ya) from floppy, saddle-stitched comic book to hardcover “periodical.” (Yearly hardly seems periodical to me, and I am so old now that entire years go by in three weeks.)

Bemoaning (accurately, at that) the death of the comic book stings particularly for me, a guy whose best-fulfilled dream in life culminated in the creation and decade-long maintenance of a website two words of the three-name URL of which were “Comic Book.” How ironic that Seth (accurately, at that) declare the comic book dead and buried in the same era in which I more or less gave up “Comic Book _______” and declared, instead, my Trouble With Comics. Although in these unemployed and increasingly desperate times, it more often seems to be “Trouble, with comics.” Selah.

Being the last comic book, I find a further layer of irony in that the same day I expend twenty dollars (that I could have spent on rent or feeding my family) on a single “issue” of Palookaville, I eye-witnessed a superhero fan buying — and I’m not making this up, I heard him say it out loud and saw the pile — 140 superhero comic books at Earthworld in Albany, New York (where I could not find the new Palookaville; I had to go to the local indy bookstore The Bookhouse — not a comic book store — to accomplish that feat of latter-day and unwise comic book investing). And to be utterly frank, the fact that there are superhero junkies willing to spend hundreds of dollars on a pile of 140 frankly shitty superhero comic books (Marvel and DC together have not produced 140 good comic books in the past ten years, effendi) is not a sign of a healthy Direct Market, but rather the futile but comforting-to-the-surviving-family-members defibrillation of a patient whose heart stopped at least five years ago and whose organs aren’t deemed worthy of donation and transplant, but rather will be quietly interred in the dumpster out back of the hospital at the 11-dollar-an-hour (plus shift deferential) orderly’s earliest convenience.

And finally one has to gaze in wide wonder at the fact that the best content in the last comic book, Palookaville #20, is not the many dozens of pages of comics it contains (all of which are good and entertaining and thought-provoking and unutterably pretty and nostalgic in that Seth manner), but rather a photo-essay and written history of Seth’s Dominion project, a huge and mind-blowing collection of hand-drawn, obsessively-crafted cardboard buildings made out of old FedEx boxes. There’s no question at all that Seth’s creative spirit and longing for the past is finding its truest expression in this ongoing and amazing and strange art installation, and it’s coming to Montreal (a city I have actually driven to from my house and not freaked out about the expense or the distance) sometime this year.

If it’s not too late — that is to say, if I have found paying work or my unemployment benefits haven’t dried up or been shot and killed by the tea-bagging thugs that took over Congress this week — if it’s not too late, I’d really and truly like to go and see those crazy, motherfuckingly AWESOME cardboard buildings Seth has been creating. I’d like to shake the man’s hand and tell him how sad it makes me that I had to see off my entire first-print hardcover collection of Seth books a few months ago to make the rent (goodbye, Vernacular Drawings; so long, George Sprott; sayonara, It’s A Good Life If You Don’t Weaken; take care, Wimbledon Green; seeya again sometime, Clyde Fans). I’d like to thank Seth for listing all his books in the front of the last comic book, because I had them all, and I sold them to make the rent, in case I didn’t mention that.

But I bought Palookaville #20, mainly because I wanted to see the pictures of Seth’s cardboard city (which he says he fantasizes about as he drifts off to sleep each night), not because of the comics.

And because, as I have just explained, it is the last comic book.

Alan David Doane

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