Seth explains drudgery behind cartooning

By Jordyn Marcellus

When it comes to being considered literature, comics and cartooning have had a hard slog. Only through re-branding the medium as “graphic literature” and “sequential art” have the art forms found any sort of interest amongst the academic literati.

Yet for a cartoonist like Seth, appearing at Wordfest Satutday, October 17 in the Art Gallery of Calgary at 3:30 as part of the “Graphic Language” event, the cartooning medium is one which requires far more effort and time than producing a book or novel.

“[Cartooning] is not an expedient art form in any way,” says Seth, born Gregory Gallant. “It’s a bad medium to pick if you had any choice in picking things. In the amount of time it would take you to do a graphic novel, someone could write two novels or make a film. There’s different strengths of course, but it’s kind of a crazy medium to work in because you have to put in so much work to produce such a short experience.”

The Canadian cartoonist explains that cartooning itself requires a certain amount of time to actually create a piece of work. For such a large time investment on behalf of the creator, readers end up spending not nearly the same amount of time consuming their cartoons or comics.

“One of the problems with cartooning is that it’s boring,” laments Seth. “It’s a laborious task. You have to spend weeks to produce work that someone reads in a minute.”

Like many independent cartoonists and comic book creators, Seth’s work is deeply personal. His first major breakthrough work, It’s A Good Life If You Don’t Weaken, featured Seth’s (fictional) account of trying to find a Canadian cartoonist by the name of Kalo. While the story was fictional, it explored numerous autobiographical elements.

Seth, who describes cartooning as “an introspective medium” feels that this is most often because of the amount of time spent working on the intensive drawing process, infusing the work with the cartoonist’s mental reflections.

“Most of the time you spend drawing a comic book, your mind is totally free to wander. You’re not in that focused state that a writer is in. I can have the TV on, I can listen to music — I can do whatever I want because mostly what I’m doing is working out the graphic elements. Even if I’m plotting out how story flows, it still isn’t the same as writing.”

Thoughts flow freely as another side of the brain is unlocked, one thought shooting to the next as he works on his comic art. This tends to help imbue his work with the personal, even when the story may not necessarily be autobiographical.

“You spend a lot of time with the work and the wandering of the mind at that point gets into the work,” says Seth. “It makes the work more introspective. I think that’s why cartooning work is more introspective than anything else. Even super hero work has an awful lot to do with people fantasizing.”

If Seth makes cartooning sound not nearly as interesting as it seems to be, that’s because it’s not. It’s a lonely profession, something suiting the quiet, be-spectacled Canadian whose love of pop culture past has found itself diffused throughout books like Wimbledon Green and George Sprott.

“If you want to be a cartoonist, you have to have a certain kind of personality that allows you to sit and work on things for a long time,” explains Seth. “For one thing I think you need to enjoy your own company because it’s a lonely profession. If you’re someone who really enjoys a lot of interaction with others it’s probably not a good career choice because you do have to spend a great deal of time in isolation. For the type of person who likes to sit and work on something slowly, it’s a good choice.”

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