Page 45 Review by Stephen
Thank goodness we have discovered fresh stock, for this was once made Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month!
For sheer, immediate and arresting beauty this has to be one of the most magnificent books we have ever stocked. The cover alone takes my breath away with its silver and blue-foil titles embossed on an enormous, thick, antler-grey card and a black-cloth spine. Open it up and you've got the most indulgent double-page landscapes of snow and ice; painted, three-dimensional cardboard recreations of individual buildings significant in the strips; and the meticulously composed, delicately coloured vignettes themselves which together form the life and times of George Sprott.
Former Arctic explorer, lecture-hall regular and local Canadian television celebrity whose weekly series Northern Hi-Lights has long run its 22-year-old course, George Sprott is tired. He's tired and old and past his time, and this evening, on October 9th 1975, his life will to come to an end.
"Tonight, of all nights, George is preoccupied with death. Mind you, not his own. If you recall, this morning George read of the death of an old flame. This sparked a rather regretful mood in him. At this moment he is thinking of the death of his mother. Back in 1952. George has always considered himself a loving son. In fact, he'd prided himself on the depths of his tender feelings for his mother. Not much of love was ever said between them. Yet he had felt secure in the unspoken bond they shared. It was only as he sat by her deathbed that it occurred to him. As she lay gasping, he realised he had not visited her in two years."
So well written.
As the various vignettes accumulate - the recollections of his former colleagues, Sprott's own troubled dreams and memories, and indeed the narrator's occasional insights (Seth is in very mischievous mode: "As your narrator I must apologise for beginning yet another page with an apology.") - it becomes increasingly apparent that George is a bit of a sham and his life, when he can bring himself to think about it clearly, has been a disappointment not least to himself. His Arctic adventures weren't all that he made them out to be, and therefore the two careers he built upon them as lecturer and broadcaster are to some extent a lie. As to his time in a seminary, well, the dates (1914-1918) are as interesting as the episode there is telling. Here's one short interview that speaks volumes, with Fred Kennedy, the local TV channel's afternoon-movie host:
"George Sprott was a good friend of mine. I was with him at CKCK from the very beginning. God, we tied on a few together. Believe it or not, he was popular with the ladies. And I didn't mind picking up his discards. And yes, he could talk. But always about himself. He never asked you a goddam question. Ever! I hate to say it, but George was a crashing bore."
Seth's always been one to dwell: to dwell on the past and concern himself with memory itself. Here mortality and indeed legacy come into play, for George hasn't left one: his broadcasts were all junked by the station, he's barely remembered and he doesn't even know his own daughter. Given how he treated his wife, he's lucky to have the affections of his niece...
Seth's previous book, WIMBLEDON GREEN, was a similar exercise in composite collage and thoroughly enjoyable it was in its own right, but if that was an exercise then this is the finished performance, far more grounded in reality and set in a very specific time and place now long past. Like Eisner in DROPSIE AVENUE it's the cityscape itself which is of equal interest to those inhabiting it, Seth charting the history of individual buildings as time and circumstance like the Second World War dictate their evolution, their rise to prosperity and fall into dilapidation. Mark would have swooned at those cardboard constructs and indeed at every one of the pages here which give ample space to the magnificent art inside.
My favourite work from Seth to date, with plenty for you to ponder. Great little epilogue too: a throwback to WIMBLEDON GREEN in a way, which neatly ties together a few loose threads as we meet Owen Trade, collector/scavenger/thief.