Seth interview (May 2004)

May 3, 2004 | Interviews


Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang are finally getting the respect they deserve and much of the thanks can go to a local artist.
Seth, an acclaimed comic book artist who made his home in Toronto for 20 years, is the designer on one of the most ambitious publishing projects in years: The Complete Peanuts.
Charles Schultz’s classic cartoon strip, which ran for 50 years and brought the world such classic characters as: Snoopy, Woodstock, Lucy, Linus, Peppermint Patty, and good ‘ol Charlie Brown, will be reprinted in its entirety in two volumes a year for the next 12 years, all put together by Seth.
“My design ideas came from the simple thought that I wanted Peanuts to be packaged in a much more sedate and sophisticated way than it had been traditionally,” the Ontario College of Art and Design grad said. “I wanted to repackage it in a way that would make people look at it as the high-quality piece of work that it was.”
To that end, Seth got away from the happy, bright-coloured look and from the notion that Peanuts was for kids.
“Schultz’s work clearly was, in the early days, written for an adult audience,” he said. “Only through 40 years of over-merchandizing and TV specials has it come down to (a child’s level).”
Peanuts rarely got its due as a smart strip, said Seth.
“(Schultz) really showed how clearly and simply and beautifully you can use the comic strip medium,” he said.
“He had the ability to use the comic strip as a real medium of personal expression — it wasn’t just a gag a day. Even though it was very funny, he managed to infuse it with a great deal of melancholy that made up so much of his personality.”
Seth, 41, whose work includes underground classics Palookaville and It’s A Good Life If You Don’t Weaken, got involved in the project due to his connections to the publishers, Fantagraphics Books, and also because he’s always worn his love for Schultz’s work on his sleeve.
“He was a big influence on me,” said the artist, who now lives in Guelph. “He was the first cartoonist I was interested in as a child.”
The first volume, which covers 1950-52, is a fascinating look at the evolution of these now-beloved characters that is packed with firsts. Readers are re-introduced to Snoopy as a puppy, Lucy as a toddler, Linus and the piano-playing Schroeder as infants and, strangest of all, a smart-alecky little hellion named Charlie Brown.
“I think historically it’s very interesting for the reader,” Seth said. “It’s a very different experience to read anything in sequential order. You really get to see (Schultz’s) thought process.”
Being able to bring these strips together, some of them reprinted for the first time since they appeared five decades ago, has been both hard work and a privilege, according to its designer.
“I think it’s such quality work that it’s important for it to be in print,” Seth said.
“It’s something I’m proud to be part of.”

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