Score One for Books (With Pictures)

Wimbledon GreenThis 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.

Below: Easy being green. The embossed cover to the graphic novel is a tactile joy.

Cool to the Touch

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.

Wimbledon Green Cover

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&#8217s; 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.

The Hobo Conspiracy

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.

  1. Why prefer things digitally? I don’t get that. The ‘digital’ world seems incomplete and shallow to me. I prefer the ‘touch’ experience of books.

  2. Good on you for blogging about a book. In doing so you’ve succinctly illustrated the limits of the screen, and at the same time the strengths of, and your love for, both types of media. Thanks to your blog you’ve enticed me to long for the book—not just any copy but that beautiful one in the picture. On the other hand if you had publicised your find in print I and many others would probably never have read about it and thus failed to appreciate it. Promise and disappointment. It’s even a bit absurd. Why do I prefer to learn how to make web sites from an ink and paper book? Dialectic of the Web, right here in a short and simple post. Please keep them coming, whatever the word count.

  3. I second the idea that print media is a better vehicle for sequential artwork than the internet. It simply feels better to hold a graphic novel in my hands, to flop on the couch with one, to lie in bed with one.

    To the review itself, you have raised my interest in reading the book. I’ve heard a lot of good things about Seth, but I’ve never read any of his work. This one sounds right up my alley.

    BTW, as a fellow lover of comics I recently posted a review of “Days Like This” on my blog. If you’re interested, click on the link.


  4. I’ve seen a lot of Seth’s work elsewhere and even read a little bit of it here and there, but I’d never sat down to read a full comic or graphic novel like this one. I’d definitely like to get my hands on more. One reticence I have about comic books is the relatively high ratio of entertainment v. dollar. Which is to say, for every 200 pages or so of comic book artwork, I feel like I don’t get quite as much entertainment as I do from 200 pages of a good book. It’s a simplistic argument, I know. It doesn’t diminish my respect for the genre, just my willingness to fork over dollars for it.

    That said, “Days Like This” looks very interesting too. I’ll check it out. Thanks!

  5. That’s a gorgeous looking book. I haven’t heard of it nor seen it here locally. I’ll have to take a deeper look.

    The only other graphic novelist I enjoy is Chris Ware for the same clean lines and style and era of the past made present.

  6. Like Gilbert, I don’t understand why you said you don’t like books, preferring digital. Half of your essay is about how much you love books. (I think what I ultimately like about digital is the ability to stop reading what you’re reading and immediately read something else.)

    I suppose the truth is that most *new* books suck design-wise. They suck as objects, and present no joy to hold in one’s hand. This is why, whenever I want to read any older (say, pre-1980) book, I immediately go to Alibris or eBay to find a nice old hardbound edition instead. Usually you can find a perfectly lovely used hardback illustrated edition of what you’re looking for on eBay for a fraction of what you’d pay new for a hideous flimsy new edition printed on crappy paper and sporting an ugly cover design.

    Still, sometimes the crappy paperback is preferable, especially if you want to read it on the train, bring it to the beach, or if you want the latest scholarship, translation, footnotes, etc.

    Coincidentally, I just did a book review of Don Quixote on my site. I really really wanted to read my 60-year-old Salvador Dali-illustrated hardback version, but my brand new paperback’s translation was so much better that I ended up reading it instead. Still, I will keep both in my library, probably forever.

  7. toronto reprasent

    seth, chester brown et al from the toronto/guelph “scene” are really good “reads”.

    altho not a comic book artist, my friend michael cho is also an awesome comic inspired illustrator based in toronto.

    and my old roommate alan hunt

    enjoy the nice colours.

  8. In my mind, you can not go any further in the exploration of the graphic novel without first reading Maus by Art Spiegelman. Run do not walk to the comic store for this one. When you’re done with that move on to Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, then Epileptic by David B., then the Joe Sacco anthology, by which point you’ve covered the best of the non-fiction variety. To me comics are more like watching films, a necessary contrast to reading text, on-screen or otherwise.

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