Mon 24 Apr
This weekend at The Strand, a downtown Manhattan bookstore that claims to sell “18 miles of new, used, rare and out of print books,” I picked up a copy of “Wimbledon Green, The Greatest Comic Book Collector in the World” a graphic novel by the popular alternative comics artist Seth. Though I have a soft spot for comic books, I often regard the romanticized, tactile quality of printed matter to be a bit overrated — when I can, I prefer to have things digitally. Not so in the case of “Wimbledon Green,” which is nothing if not physically beautiful.
This thoroughly charming graphic novel has the look of a Depression-era, hard-bound schoolbook. It ships with no dust jacket, opting instead for retro-style, two-color artwork embossed right into the cover itself. Its format is exceedingly pleasing, too: at approximately eight-inches tall and six and a half-inches wide, it has the feel of something very personal, almost like a private notebook. Indeed, it’s billed as “a story from the sketchbook of Seth,” and it fully has the feel of something intimate and warm in its story as well as its execution. It’s the kind of printed product that makes me think for a minute that there’s a whole spectrum of “user experience” factors that digital design can never approximate: the texture of a paper, the weight of a hundred and twenty-eight bound pages in your hands, the fine-grained fidelity of ink. None of which is news, I know.
As it happens, “Wimbledon Green” is also a tremendously engrossing read. Its absurdist take on the fictional world of high-stakes comic book collecting, is by turns hilarious, endearing and gripping. Seth uses a combination of documentary-style ‘interviews’ and comic strip conventions to methodically unveil a bizarre world of insanely competitive collectors and the scandals that plague their pursuits… it’s an oddball approach that works almost flawlessly, and it’s helped immeasurably by Seth’s confident, casual draughtsman’s; line, which compacts as many as twenty unfussy squares of comic narrative into each page without ever feeling oppressive. I couldn’t put it down.
I’ve promised to allow myself the luxury of not writing long, extrapolated posts, so I’ll say just one more thing: there’s a lengthy chapter about three-quarters of the way into the book in which Wimbledon Green himself gives a lecture on “Fine and Dandy,” a faux legendary comic book lost to the ages that concerns two hoboes named, you guessed it, Fine and Dandy. It’s a bravura piece of narrative, in which Seth uses the Green character to convincingly evoke a nostalgia for an imaginary, lost era, while simultaneously putting forward a wonderfully articulated argument on what makes for the best comics storytelling. The weird thing is that it does so through the odd mechanism of a pair of hoboes. Along with Jonathan Hodgman’s debut book, the similarly satirical “The Areas of My Expertise,” this makes the second book I’ve read this year that has a strangely prominent preoccupation with hoboes, with an imaginary underground culture of hoboes spread out all over the country, a shadow hierarchy of hoboes living in parallel with the American past. It’s weird. Something’s up with hoboes.