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Saturday, January 28th, 2006


 

Wimbledon Green: The Greatest Comic Book Collector in the World

by Seth

'Wimbledon' Takes Match Point

A review by Chris Bolton

In his introduction, "The Origin of Wimbledon Green," the cartoonist Seth notes that this story began as a series of exercises in his sketchbook:

I had been particularly interested in a certain kind of storytelling I had noticed several other cartoonists working with -- specifically Dan Clowes, Chris Ware, and David Heatley. It's an approach wherein you tell a longer story through a series of shorter, unconnected comic strips. Cumulatively they add up to a bigger picture.

What separates Wimbeldon Green from the work of the aforementioned artists is its humor. Unlike Ware and Clowes, whose comics are generally without laughter (and in the rare instance that there is laughter, it tends to leave a bitter or sorrowful taste), Seth's graphic novel is generously ladled with humor. Much of it will be easily recognizable to those poor souls who have spent a good portion of their lives poring over the back-issue bins in comic book shops.

The titular character is a comic book collector of great wealth, renown, and mystery. Little is known about his past, and what information we glean comes from the testimony of those who have known or done business with Green in the past, and whose motivations, in many instances, are highly suspect. Speculation abounds that he had previously been known as Don Green, a slovenly, overweight fellow of modest means who stumbled upon an incredibly valuable comic collection and then disappeared. Sometime later, a man emerged of similar age, build, and appearance, but of considerably greater means and sophistication, calling himself Wimbledon Green. Some of the characters "interviewed" are certain they're one and the same, though others can't be quite so sure.

The plot of Wimbledon Green consists of a series of brief, often funny vignettes from the life of the titular character, related by almost everyone except Green, himself. (He speaks on occasion, though only elusively.) But it's the telling, more than the story, that makes this book terrific.

Seth plays with a variety of styles and approaches. Sometimes he has Wimbledon's colleagues and rivals speak in a series of talking-heads panels, while other times he illustrates their stories in brief flashbacks. Anytime the book edges toward a conventional narrative, Seth throws a digression our way: a full-page spread of classic comics from Green's collection; Green's own lecture on Fine and Dandy, a humor series (published from 1946 to 1951) that is the cornerstone of Green's collection; an excerpt from Fine and Dandy; even "The Green Ghost," a two-part adventure story in which Green is the protagonist who becomes amnesic while in pursuit of an incredibly rare comic book.

While depicted in an exaggerated, cartoonish style (some of their more grotesque features rival the work of Chester Gould's Dick Tracy rogues), the characters in Wimbledon Green will be readily identifiable to any comic collector, from the slovenly, obsessive fat guy to the older pseudo-academic who justifies his interest in "funny books" with heaps of jargon. These roles have become so iconic that readers with either peripheral or minimal interest in comic collecting might just as easily recognize them.

Despite the humor and cartoonish affectation of Seth's work, there remains an underlying melancholy similar to Ware and Clowe's creations. These collectors cherish long out-of-print books by work-for-hire artists, most of whom are either dead or languishing in impoverished obscurity, not only for the ridiculous dollar values but for the sentimental connection to a time (in some cases, merely a brief moment) of childhood idyll. These are grown men hiding in their own collections to shut out the unpleasantness of a world in which they barely belong. Seth captures this poignancy with a perfect, light touch without sacrificing the breezy pace of the tale at hand.

Seth's desire to try something new at every turn makes Wimbledon Green fresh, unpredictable, and riveting. His line work is deceptively simple yet beautifully precise. His finest inspiration is to portray the comic book collector and his world in the style of the very artifacts they cherish most -- classic humor comics. In doing so, Seth simultaneously pays homage to and lampoons a style that currently exists only as tribute or throwback. Reading the book, one easily imagines a real-life Wimbledon Green appraising Seth's work and lovingly tucking the volume away into his vault of classic comic books, a treasure to be sought after by collectors to come.


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