Jack Hardman, 1964, courtesy HeritageBurnaby
A couple of nights ago I attended an AGGV reception for new members, having become one earlier this year. It was an enjoyable event, and I appreciated the tours of the old Spencer mansion and the Looking Glass exhibit. Nevertheless, I think the high point of the evening was for me a brief conversation with one of the other attendees, who drew my attention to a series of books I’d never heard of. The series’ title is “Unheralded Artists of BC,” published by Mother Tongue Publishing on SaltSpring Island.
Having checked a couple of them out of the library today, I can confidently say the series promises to be a gold mine, given my already documented interest in obscure local modernists. Some of the artists, like Jack Hardman and D.D. Uthoff, I’d heard of but know little about. Others like David Marshall or LeRoy Jensen I hadn’t even heard of before, even though they had some kind of a presence in the local art scene of the time.
Nice looking books too; the publisher didn’t scrimp on the production values. I’ll review them individually as I work my way through the series.
I’ve never been much of a comic book guy. I probably would have been, in my youth, if I had been allowed to read superhero comics. But the parental authorities wouldn’t countenance anything more action-packed than Casper the Friendly Ghost, which didn’t exactly capture my imagination in the way that, say, the Silver Surfer might have. So I never made my way into comic book fandom, and from there into underground and alternative comics, the way I might have in some parallel universe where the restrictions of this one didn’t apply.
But while my ignorance of comics and cartoons is near total, this much I know: Seth is brilliant. My first exposure to his work was by way of a serialization of part of “Wimbledon Green: The Greatest Comic Book Collector in the World” in the Globe and Mail back in 2005 or so. That intrigued me enough to hunt down a copy of the book, which turned out to be both a great read and a highly covetable example of elegant book design. (For Seth it appears that the physical appearance of his books is an important extension of the content, which in this case managed to be both a nostalgic homage to classic comic books and a huge sendup of the people who collect them.)
I read it several times. All of his work rewards re-reading, at least if you’re like me and don’t pick up on the subtleties the first time around. It proceeds as a series of vignettes circling around the mysterious figure of Wimbledon Green, who might or might not have been a comic book collector named “Don Green” who was involved in some shady deals back in the early 70s. Whoever he was, he is now the self-proclaimed “Greatest Comic Book Collector in the World,” with a lifestyle matching the comic book heroes of yore, complete with a mansion, faithful retainers, an auto-gyro, and fancy cars. A jeux d’esprit, if ever there was one.