Vernacular Drawings

By Seth
208 pages, color
Published by Drawn & Quarterly

You have to be patient if you’re a fan of the cartoonist Seth. Seth’s comic Palookaville (collected into graphic novels as It’s a Good Life If You Don’t Weaken and Clyde Fans) is published once, maybe twice a year… but it’s always clear that each issue is a labor of love. I think that’s why when Drawn & Quarterly first published Seth’s sketchbook compilation Vernacular Drawings I was so excited, and why I keep coming back to it years later—the amount of time and passion that went into each one is always apparent.

Seth’s art in Vernacular Drawings uses a deep, thick line to flesh out his creations; you almost get a physical sense of weight from just looking at the finished product. On many of the pages you can see a literal heavy stroke of paint slapped onto the page, but its these broad strokes that helps give Seth such power over his subject. He’s got such control over these thicker lines and strokes that it makes the art almost pop out at the reader, grabbing their attention from the very first page.

Part of its power is certainly Seth’s slightly unusual subjects on display in Vernacular Drawings. Primarily inspired by old magazines and photos, we get poses of former, forgotten celebrities standing proudly to be seen. We view businesses tucked away on corners, with barbershop striped poles and discarded dairy containers on display. We get crooked grins from hockey players, cats dancing with pigs, and even the Justice Society of America. (I was surprised and delighted by that last one, too.) Seth’s art style helps bring across the idea of a “simpler time” in his subjects, with its stripped down style and to-the-point look and feel.

Don’t mistake the earlier description of Seth’s art as somehow being unskilled, though; that’s very much not the case. This is a deliberate look that is carefully crafted from start to finish. Looking at something as simple as the porch of a house, everything pulls together perfectly; the shades of blue and green that complement each other and give a unified color look to the piece, the carefully paced loose nails in the support beams, the box in the center of the porch serves as the focal point that everything else points towards, even the background houses that are just numerous enough that you know you’re in a town, but infrequent enough to not feel like a city. That’s the sort of thought that goes into every single piece in Vernacular Drawings and the reader is all the richer for it as a result.

Vernacular Drawings is a book that for several years now has regularly made it back onto the coffee table for easier access at the drop of a hat. Just flipping through the book always brings a real sense of joy and contentment, as Seth painstakingly recreates images from an earlier time that you get the impression he’d rather have lived in. Printed on thick paper and a strong hardback binding, Vernacular Drawings is beautiful from start to finish.

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  • […] Fans, It’s a Good Life If You Don’t Weaken and Wimbledon Green, a collection of sketches named Vernacular Drawings, and the comic book series Palookaville (also the name of Fatboy Slim’s fourth studio album, […]