I don’t do comics on screen. I want to get comfy, pour a beer and relish the artifact. I want to study the packaging, feel the paper, flick pages back and forth. It is all part of the comic book experience. I know the author knows that from first handling s/he can win or lose me. Production values count for a lot in this business, and consumers are happy to pay a lot, especially if we can tell the book by its cover.
Wimbledon Green is a beautiful book – the artifact, never mind what’s inside. Green and black with bronze embossed lettering and cover portrait of our eponymous hero, it oozes antiquarian bookshops, musty first editions and esoteric obsessions all the way down to its curved corners. Just holding it I felt nostalgic about my lost youth and confiscated Dell collection. The obligatory back cover blurb is a bland paper wrap bearing the instructions, ‘The artist requests that this band be disposed of upon purchase’. Removal reveals a gaggle of fans cheering, “Hooray for Wimbledon Green!”
I loved it for the first 16 pages comprising the inside cover, title page, introduction and various blow-ups of forth-coming scenes. Turning to the first page of the story my heart sank. I also don’t do small frames and talking heads. From Jimmy Corrigan to a raft of self-published mini comics, I have boxes of material I cannot bring myself to read. Too much like hard work, but it was such a joy to handle this book I couldn’t prevent myself peering into the matrix. By page two I had met the greatest comic book collector in the world, learned he smelled of buttered toast and could determine the date of a comic by its stapling, and seen him triumphantly spend $28,000 at auction on a ‘near-mint copy of All Bedtime Funnies’. I was hooked, and what comics nut wouldn’t be?
Even more than filmmakers, comic creatives have a propensity to make comics about comics, and here Seth has produced the ultimate. Told in seemingly self-contained strips, it is a series of face-to-face interviews conducted with comic collectors, fans, bookshop proprietors and anybody else who might have an anecdote that furthers the author’s quest to get to the bottom of who the hell Wimbledon Green really is. How did he suddenly appear on the scene with a collection to die for? Is he in fact the ‘low-ball’ collector Don Green who dropped off the map in the late Seventies, or maybe N. Arbor Grove, a bit player of little consequence? And while we’re about it, what is the truth of the disappearance the priceless Wilbur R. Webb collection, the ‘El Dorado of comics’?
Now and again we are diverted from Seth’s researches to follow a great yarn involving Wimbledon and some of his competitors, like Daddy Doats, Nelson H. Bindle and Chip Corners. The race for The Green Ghost #1, the rarest, most valuable and possibly non-existent comic on the planet is like something out of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World; full of incident, intrigue and competing autogyro, bullet car and private train. The ‘Short Talk by Wimbledon Green’ on Lester Moore’s seminal series of Fine and Dandy pays homage to the sorry abuse of the artist at the hands of an industry that casts Lester onto the scrap heap to die in obscurity. It could be the story of Steve Ditko.
But this isn’t just a tale about the elderly nerds in the insular world of comics collecting. Okay, ‘most collectors are reaching back to their childhoods; a beloved time when they first discovered comic books’, but isn’t that the story of every man or woman who becomes myopic about collecting coins, stamps, teddy bears or whatever memorabilia rocks their boat? At heart, they are avaricious, petty, deceitful and riddled with jealousy, Seth concludes, but then salvages their humanity in a masterful final chapter that reveals what drives his mystery man. Collecting is a ‘noble calling’, and in saving the seemingly disposable, collectors are ‘the last stop on the road to oblivion’.
Though dedicated ‘to my good friend, Chris Ware, who continues to show me the way’, don’t look for polished artwork or snappy layouts in Wimbledon Green. It is knowingly crude, immediate, rattled off at a pace that compels us to devour it in a single delicious gulp. Days later you will nibble at it again, and again, if only to double-check this wonderfully quirky, dark-hearted adventure is really as tasty as you first thought. If ever a comic was compulsive reading, it is this, which is unsettling.
Seth banged this out in six months between commercial jobs (125 plus pages), completing each page before he had dreamed up the next. He hadn’t a clue where the plot was going and had no intention of publishing what was essentially art therapy. Distressed by his mother’s critical health, Seth had plummeted into the black hole of depression. He became obsessive compulsive about churning out Wimbledon and his world of obsessive compulsives. All the more remarkable that he produced something so goddamn funny and admirably simple, but dark places can inspire creative people in the most astonishing ways.
10 – A class act, masterly, beautiful, desirable.