Wimbledon Green: The Greatest Comic Book Collector in the World
'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.