The Toronto Comic Arts Festival hits the city this weekend packed with a veritable who’s who of top cartoonists — both from Canada and abroad.
Headlining this event is the on-stage reuniting of longtime Toronto comic book icons Joe Matt, Chester Brown and Seth.
Just ahead of his get-together, Seth (yes, just Seth) took time out to speak with Metro’s Books Editor Jonathan P. Kuehlein about why TCAF is important, the many projects he’s got on the go and why it’s so much fun to torture Joe Matt.
JPK: Tell me about the significance of having Chet, Joe and yourself reunited on stage.
Seth: “We were close friends and working artists together for a long time, maybe 10 years, in Toronto. Then Joe moved away to Los Angeles and I moved to Guelph and it’s just been a long time since we spent any significant time together.
“Even though there’s a stage event of getting together, the nicest part is for us just to be together after a quite a bit of time.”
JPK: Joe recently published Spent, a collection of some issues of his comic, Peepshow, and the friendship between the three of you is a large element. Is the story an accurate reflection of your relationship with one another?
Seth: “It’s accurate in some sense and in others it’s not — which is one of the things we hope to take him to task for when we see him. Rereading the book myself, I was reminded of how inaccurate it actually was.
“You can’t really argue with someone’s interpretation of how they see you. I come off much more significantly mean than, well, my wife might think, but the truth is I was probably a lot meaner to Joe than I was to anyone else.
“When you read something like that you realize that you’re kind of a puppet for the other person’s opinions. A lot of the stuff in there where I say ‘this is nothing like me’ I think ‘well, this is exactly like Joe’. Because it’s just an opportunity for Joe to get someone else to say the things that he can’t have himself saying in every panel.
“But it’s a funny book, though. You can’t get too angry.”
JPK: What’s your impression of this weekend’s third biennial Toronto Comics Arts Festival?
Seth: “I think it’s a really good event for Toronto. I think it’s nice to actually get away from the idea of the comic book convention, per se, which generally have been focused on collecting. What’s nice about TCAF is that it’s really focused more on the art form. It gives people an opportunity to come out and see comics, not purely from that collecting sort of angle, and promotes it as an art form that is coming into its own finally.”
JPK: Do you enjoy getting the chance to meet your fans and hear their feedback?
Seth: “I’m not one of those people who really enjoys meeting the public. I’m comfortable with it, since I’ve done enough of it over the years now, but it’s just too hard to have a meaningful conversation with someone who’s coming up to have a book signed.
“I tend to be the type of person who’s happy to just sit in the studio alone at home.”
JPK: What do you expect from your stage appearance on Saturday night?
Seth: “I think we’re counting, on some degree, on being able to have an actual conversation.
“Chet and I have sat down and done a bit of talking about what kind of direction it might go. We certainly want to put Joe on the spot in some manner or other. He seems just sort of to demand that kind of behaviour from you.
“We’re going to focus on Joe, primarily, since he’s the one coming through town with a new book. We want to give him a chance to really talk about what his artistic choices were — and then hopefully we’ll tear him to pieces over it.” *laughs*
JPK: I understand you’re currently working on a project for the New York Times?
Seth: “I finished that up now and I’m working on expanding it into a book.”
JPK: Is that what you’re primarily working on right now?
Seth: “It’s one of a couple of things I’m working on. Right now I’m working on finishing up my next issue of my Palookaville comic which is continuing on a story called Clyde Fans, which I’ve been working on for years. I’m hoping on getting a couple more of those out within the calendar year.
“As soon as that’s done I’m back to what I was just talking about, which is George Sprott. That’ll take me probably a couple of months, to get that together into a book.
“At the same time as that I’m working on a collection for [Canadian publisher] Drawn & Quarterly on Doug Wright. It’s going to be a two-volume series on his life’s work.
“He was an amazing cartoonist. I collected his work and studied him for about 10 years at least, as a collector, planning this book series, but then when it actually got underway we actually tracked down his family and went into the archives where he has donated all his work and it really was an eye opener to see the amount of work and the quality of work he did in his life.
“I think it’s going to be an impressive series for Canadians to see, too, because I don’t think we have much of a sense of the history of cartooning here in Canada.”
JPK: And, of course, you’re still working away on the design for Fantagraphics’ Peanuts collections?
Seth: “Oh yeah. There’s one out now and I’ll have to start work on another in a couple of months — it’s going like clockwork. I can pretty much gauge where my life is going just by whether or not I’m working on one of those books or not.
“I enjoy working on it, but I’m looking forward to that day [eight years from now] when I can put volume 25 on the shelf and be done.”