This post is part of the LRC’s 25 year anniversary project. We are asking our readers for the most influential Canadian books published in the last quarter century. For more information, click here.
The Canada evoked by the cartoonist Seth (the pen name of Guelph-based Gregory Gallant) in his 2009 graphic novel George Sprott (1894-1975) is a place no one who ever spent time there will fail to recognize: a place of dullish colours and functional architecture, where everything seems to sag under the sheer damp weight of a permanent February sky. Men wore suits, hats and tidy moustaches, and women stood by dutifully enduring their lot as though indentured to domestic drudgery. And everyone seemed middle-aged, even if they were only twenty-six or so. The black-and-white of the television seemed to set the tone for the entire mid-century Canadian experience, and it is no small measure of Seth’s eerie powers of graphic suggestion that you can practically hear the incessant drone of mid-Atlantic voices keeping things properly somnabulised from coast-to-coast.
But it is a place where 81 year-old George, looking back over his long and stubbornly unremarkable career in public broadcasting—then, as now, a term begging for oxymoronic status—could actually tell himself he’d amounted to something. A smug, insensitive and utterly clueless bastard by just about any standard, George nevertheless drifts solitary toward oblivion—and, most likely, right out of history—with only the slightest flinching at his past infractions as they drift by. Unfolding in sequential panels that are as tidy, immaculate and studiously inert as George’s own sense of moral reckoning, Seth’s book almost manages the not unstartling feat of somehow making one miss this Canada nevertheless. Oblivious as it was, it was endearing in its obliviousness. Nostalgia noir is Seth’s singular stock-in-trade, and he’s in exactly the right place to look back and lament a nation living on cold toast and borrowed time.
Geoff Pevere is an author, movie critic, and broadcaster. He is the program director of the Rendezvous with Madness Film Festival in Toronto. His latest book is Gods of the Hammer: The Teenage Head Story (2014).