If you know graphic novels, you probably know Seth (born Gregory Gallant). The comic illustrator and writer's work has been on New Yorker covers, in the complete collection of Charles M. Schulz's classic comic strip Peanuts, on an Aimee Mann cd cover, in the NY Times magazine, and of course in his own works like Palooka-ville. This week Seth and fellow illustrator Adrian Tomine will bring their book tour through New York (Thursday at the Strand and Saturday and Sunday at MoCCA). He recently told us about what he's working on now, spending his last day on earth at the Whitney, and the dangers of changing ones name when going through a goth phase.
You're about to start a book tour, is there any one thing that fans ask you the most? The number one question I receive is "When is Clyde Fans, Book two" coming out. It is a deeply shaming question because I have been working on this book for years and I still have a couple of years work ahead of me to finish it. It makes me look bad. But honestly—I'm working on it right now!
Does everyone call you Seth? When/why the name change? Yes, Everyone. I changed my name for the most pretentious of reasons back in the eighties when I was punky/gothy youth and wanted a scary name. I forced everyone to use the new name—even my mother. I would relentlessly correct anyone who accidentally used my real name until it became second nature to everyone.
I'm not so crazy about the fake name now. Be careful what you wish for because you might get it.
How do you feel about comics and graphic novels becoming feature films—would you ever experiment with that medium? It's fine with me , but of no more interest that the novel to film path. The only important fact is whether or not it's a good film. Usually they end up as different animals. If someone wanted to film my work I wouldn't be opposed to the idea. Especially if they were a good director or had a lot of cash to give me. I wouldn't want to be much involved myself. I love film but I am not an aspiring filmmaker. I'd rather stay home and work on my comics.
What are you currently working on? The aforementioned "Clyde Fans" storyline. My comic book series PALOOKAVILLE will be changing format this year from an old style floppy comic book to a slick little hardcover book format (about 80 pages in length). I've been serializing CLYDE FANS in PALOOKAVILLE for years and that will continue but the book will also showcase other works of mine, as well—my sketchbooks for example.
Is there an era you haven't worked in yet that you'd like to set a future graphic novel in? Maybe the future. That often crosses my mind. Like everyone, I have a post apocalyptic story in the back of my mind. It contains no zombies or leather jackets though.
Are there any up and coming graphic novelists whose work you're excited about right now? There are lots of younger cartoonists that have come up in the last decade who I think are fantastic—Kevin Huizenga, Sammy Harkham, Jonathan Bennett, David Heatley, Ron Rege—a handful of others. I hesitate to make too tight a list for fear of forgetting someone important. I am quite enthused about a young canadian named Ethan Rilley who just published his first comic—POPE HATS.
If someone is just starting to get into the world of comics and graphic novels, where would you suggest they start? Mini comics, I guess. Just draw your own comics and zerox them and get them out there. There is a whole world of young minicomics artist s and it seems like a very supportive and vital place to tap into if you are just starting out. Comics fesitivals like MOCCA, TCAF, APE and SPX are good places for young cartoonists to get a feel for the medium and the "industry". If you are any good you will find your way. There is really no other way to be an artist than to simply do the work.
What was the experience like of seeing your work in the NY Times magazine and on the cover of the New Yorker? My first cover for the New Yorker was "killed" before it went to press and that was a pretty big disappointment. So when the next opportunity arose I was emotionally prepared for failure. When it saw press I think I ruined it for myself by being too guarded.
In retrospect though that was a major milestone for me. I have had such a deep and abiding love of the cartoonists of the old New Yorker that it was a very important moment to somehow "connect" myself with that tradition. It's nice to have accomplished it and not have that unfinished goal hanging over my head. Every new cover is just gravy on the main dish.
Being in the Times was a great thrill because it was such a prestigious venue for my work. It reached an audience that likely would never have seen it otherwise.
However being a cartoonist is not like being in a band. You don't get to see anyone read the work. At best you vaguely perceive the work going out into the world. You're still all alone in the studio. Nobody applauds.
Is there anywhere your illustrations haven't been that you would like to see them? Nothing leaps to mind. I wish I had had some comics in RAW magazine or in WEIRDO but both those magazines are long dead and I don;t have a time machine. I mean, I was alive when those magazines were published and I could have had something in them, I guess, except for the simple fact that my work was utterly terrible back them.
What influences your illustrations and novels? Everything. It's a bad answer but it is true. What I'm reading, what I'm watching. Art i look at. Other cartoonists.
When it comes to the writing I mostly look to my own life—to my past. Often things get mixed up with whatever I am currently interested in. With George Sprott much of the story came out of myself and the people I have known but I made him a local tv host because I was very interested in local tv history at the time I started the story. If I had been reading about lumberjacks, for example, he might have ended up working in the lumber trade.
My drawing takes less influence then it used to. When I was young every new favourite artist left some mark on my drawing. Now, as a middle aged man, I find the drawing is pretty set it stone. Mostly I am responding to my own work—refining or trying to simplify. It takes less inspiration from other works. But, that's not entirely true—every few years I come across someone that makes me rethink how I am drawing. You never know.
What music are you currently listening to? When i was younger I listened to a lot of Jazz and Blues but not so much lately. My taste is more scattered. I listen to a lot of Maritime fiddlers. Some folk music. Not long ago a friend gave me a soundtrack album for CHARIOTS OF THE GODS and I listened to that for a couple of weeks pretty much constantly. However the main music I listen to is Glenn Gould. Everyday I listen to Glenn.
Please share your strangest "only in New York" story. I'm not sure I have really anything good that fits this question. I've thought long and hard about it and I can't seem to dredge up a good New York anecdote.
I do recall at one book signing there was a guy who refused to believe that I wasn't also the artist Maurice Vellecoop. I kept telling the guy that Maurice was a real person and not one of my pseudonyms . Our drawing styles are somewhat alike but that didn't seem good enough justification for this fellow's conviction. More bothersome was the fact that Vellecoop mostly draws pretty hardcore gay imagery. I'm not sure what signals I'm sending out unconsciously because it seems to me I'm the the person least likely to be doing such work—I'm really uptight! And it shows!
Which New Yorker do you most admire? God, what a question. That could cover anyone from Harold Ross to Joseph Mitchell to J.D. Salinger. I guess I will limit the question by sticking to contemporary cartoonists. Art Spiegelman's an obvious choice, I so greatly admire his masterpiece, MAUS and art is just such a smart and funny person. But I'd have mention Ben Katchor too. His work is so beautiful. So rich. I know you only wanted one—but I am picking those two guys.
In 24 hours the world will end, you are in NYC, what do you spend your last day on earth doing? Well—I might just spend the time in my hotel room on the phone with my wife. But if that's not possible I guess I'd head up to the Whitney and spend some time with Alexander Calder's Circus.