Published May 01, 2015At just 42 minutes, Seth's Dominion, Luc Chamberland's documentary about Toronto-turned-Guelph comics artist and illustrator Seth, is a tight, telling doc that reveals the artist through a series of interviews and short animations.
Seth's work on graphic novels (though he shudders to use that term) such as It's a Good Life If You Don't Weaken, Clyde Fans and George Sprott: (1894-1975) — all of which are either set in or concerned with the early to mid 20th Century — has earned him a reputation for being a nostalgist, but in an interview here, he delineates the difference between Hallmark schmaltz and what he does. Seth's comics aren't rose-tinted looks back at golden days; he tells the stories of people who, to paraphrase him, weren't necessarily successful at what they did. There's complexity and, more often than not, failure.
The film is full of nuggets like this, in which Seth articulates the nuances of his work that casual fans might not have picked up on. His work isn't about capturing moments but feelings, in the same way that memory — which he says is "like a photograph of a sensation," in that you can't look around at specific items in a memory, but you can feel their presence — does.
Seth's longtime friends and comics artists Chester Brown and Joe Matt make appearances throughout, and it's Brown who notes Seth's penchant for interweaving fact and fiction; that the quotation is followed almost immediately by one of Seth's short animations — "moving comics" might be more apt — is telling. Juxtaposed, the straight-up interview and the more symbolic, vaguely autobiographical animation shed light on the cartoonist in a way that either alone might not. It helps that Seth is candid throughout the documentary, offering snippets of his childhood and present life and explaining the long, hard effort it took to successfully get people to call him Seth, rather than his birth name, Gregory Gallant.
Chamberland should be commended not for getting Seth to talk — that isn't particularly difficult — but for assembling the film in such a way that it tells a story not unlike one of Seth's own. Seth's Dominion is told in bits and pieces, through fact and fiction, interview and comics. The difference is, unlike his characters, Seth's success at this point is inarguable.
Is it too soon to use the phrase "Canadian treasure"?