Last month I asked my friends to write about books they loved (you can read all the essays here). This month, I invited them to write about their favorite graphic novels, and they selected some excellent titles. I hope you enjoy them! (Read all the Great Graphic Novel essays here.) — Mark
It’s A Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken, by Seth
An old fashioned looking guy (wearing a vintage overcoat, a hat and a pair of round eyeglasses) weaves his way through the snow to a second-hand bookshop in Ontario. He is obsessed with comic books, gag cartoons and newspaper strips of the past. Everything he does reminds him of situations and characters conjured up by Charles Schultz, Dr. Seuss, Hergé and other classic cartoonists. Fantasy merges with reality. The past merges with the present. Art merges with life. This artist can’t help himself. He collects the good old stuff.
It’s A Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken by Seth (a.k.a. Gregory Gallant) is dedicated to his mom Violet who repeated those words often. She didn’t invent the phrase; it has been around for a while. In fact, artist Gene Byrnes drew a cartoon called It's a Great Life If You Don't Weaken from 1915 to 1919 for the New York Evening Telegram and the phrase was a rallying cry for American soldiers during the first World War.
The title of the book has an air of melancholy about it, as does the main character’s habit of mulling over things. He thinks too much. Seth drew himself as the protagonist and we are privy to his thoughts (this book is written in the first person). Clearly nostalgic for the comfortable little things of his childhood, he doesn’t like change. Change depresses him. He likes the worn-down look of old things. He is annoyed by change and he is annoyed by people. He lets us know exactly how he feels. Seth’s memories of childhood moments are “sealed in amber” like his mom’s house and feel “safe” to him like the cardboard boxes he used to crawl in as a kid.
As I sit there reading this book (on my front porch under the butternut tree), I flash back to huge stacks of dog-eared Archie and Little Lulu comics. I see myself rocking back and forth on my grandmother’s porch swing, sucking on hard candies and reading those comics. Every so often, I would squint outside at my grandfather, working in his sunny rose garden. Life was good. I never imagined that the scene would ever change or that the house would one day be sold. Golden memories “sealed in amber,” as Seth would say.