George Sprott 1894-1975 by Seth

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George Sprott 1894-1975
By Seth
Drawn & Quarterly

sethgeorgesprottcover“This book was created on a lark,” writes Seth, in the introduction to 2005’s Wimbledon Green. “Actually, it was never intended to be a book at all—merely an exercise in one of my sketchbooks[…] It’s an approach wherein you tell a longer story through a variety of shorter, unconnected comic strips.” As is often the case in art, what was born out of a lark (though, of course, the validity of the artist’s claims of nonchalance will never be known to anyone but himself) grew into a motif and has since become seemingly something of an obsession.

Wimbledon Green’s one and two page vignettes largely centered around the book’s own meta obsession with sequential art, borrowing heavily from the mid-20th century short story comic books that would have no doubt struck the fancy of the titular Scrooge McDuck-esque comic collector. And while Seth did inject the piece with character interviews and other non-sequential elements, he never strayed too far from his linear comic comfort zone. Still, it was rather obvious to anyone who read the book that Seth was scratching the surface of something interesting, a fact clearly not lost on the artist himself.

In some sense, George Sprott is a realization of many of Wimbledon Green’s flights of fancy, or, at the very least, their logical extension. Once again in the book’s introduction, for better or worse, the magician happily reveals his secret. This time, however, Seth is a touch more discreet. Whereas Wimbledon Green saw the artist spelling his intentions out—literally—in prose, issued like something of a disclaimer, he’s  subtler this time around, opening on something of an ethereal, dreamlike state, wherein Sprott, tumbling naked through limbo, questions the linear march of time, thereby setting one of the book’s major conceits, a general abandonment of chronology. It’s hard not to imagine that some of this move toward non-linear storytelling is due to the fact that the story was initially serialized in the pages of New York Magazine, a fact which no doubt afforded Seth some initial freedom to move away from more traditional forms of storytelling.

Like Wimbledon Green, George Sprott is, above all, a character study, but Seth’s insistence on decentralization a chronological narrative serve to take even more of the focus away from the storyline. The vignettes presented in the book ultimately, more than any other function, act to fill in the empty spaces of Sprott, the well-known host of a regional news program. The pieces, too, are more subtle than in their predecessor. After all, Sprott is a more fully-realized character than the playfully cartoonist Green. His adventures do not consist of helicopter races to secure mint condition comics, instead they’re far more realistic—and, by proxy, depressing—acts, like fathering and subsequently abandoning an illegitimate child.

Seth’s fictional source material is also more diverse, and often pages play out like visual scrapbooks, combining still keepsakes with dialogued comics panels, for some of the most effective spreads of the book. The artist also, happily, takes some visual cues from Chris Ware, constructing painted cardboard models of many of the book’s settings, which live on transitional pages between strips.

The character that ultimately emerges from these vignettes is not an especially redeeming one, and while Seth does make a point of  visualizing  some regrets, there’s little reason to believe that he was intended to be the target of too much empathy. Perhaps its symptomatic of the presentation, but despite the fact that we are allowed, on occasion, to step into Sprott’s thought patterns, it’s hard not to feel that, as readers, we’re never allowed to get too close to the character. In that sense, our experience is not unlike those characters who attempt to get close to Sprott in the book.

It’s a lack of depth echoed in the graphical presentation of many of the panels that comprise the book. In that sense, George Sprott maintains some of the sketchbook roots of its predecessor. The panels are often drawn in tight on their subjects, allowing for little background detail to infiltrate the frame. But, as is the case with much of the book, the importance is placed less on the individual detail than what they ultimately add up to, and in the case of many of the pages presented herein, the panels result in some of the more stunning layouts that we’ve seen from the artist.

In the end we’re left with what still feels like something of an experiment, albeit an exciting one resulting from an artist pushing into an new realm. It’s probably not quite accurate to suggest that George Sprott is ultimately more than the sum of its parts, but that doesn’t mean that the pieces, when taken together, aren’t worth an awful lot.

–Brian Heater

3 Comments to “George Sprott 1894-1975 by Seth”

  1. John Hartnett | March 18th, 2009 at 11:28 pm

    Of note; George Sprott is based on beloved somnolent George Pierrot, as Seth has acknowledged, who was an adventurer who traveled the world and showed his home movies of far locales, as well as that of other gentleman explorers. He started by lecturing at the Detroit Institute of Art in the Depression for a quarter a head. He ended up with five afternoon shows a week, live, entitled “World Adventure Series”, on
    WXYZ-TV in the 50’s and 60’s. If a guest were exceptionally uninspiring, the camera would occasionally show George, peacefully napping.

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