Review: Seth's Dominion

Seth's Dominion


It had got to the stage where I'd installed the National Film Board of Canada's app, I was so hopelessly keen to see Seth's Dominion. I'd regularly scour through their collection of melancholic-looking films. It was never there. But maybe there was something appropriate in my ill-fated pining. Seth is my favourite comic artist and a lot of his work bows with a similar yearning for things gone, made invisible by time.

When it happened, it wasn't quite akin to chancing upon that last Kalo New Yorker strip in a musty old bookshop. But it was close. I spotted a tweet from publishers Drawn and Quarterly plugging the fact Seth's Dominion was playing at the Vue, Piccadilly on October 4. Herein was a feeling of real accomplishment. The thing was, metaphorically at least, to be mine. At last!

Directed by Luc Chamberland and shot over a period of seven years, this 42 minute feature is – as Seth himself might say – something of a reverie. It takes us into the almost motionless life of the artist born Gregory Gallant, whose work is probably best known through his Palookaville comic series, which spawned the fictionally autobiographical It's a Good Life, If You Don't Weaken. It's a beautifully made film, adopting various styles in a conscious mirror of the different mediums in which Seth works. Many of his private strips are turned into the most achingly beautiful animated shorts, narrated pitch-perfectly by the man himself. At other times the camera gently roves around his home, teasing us with bundles of artwork and self-bound books. Oh, my hands did twitch.

My only real concern before settling in was, how would I feel about the artist himself? Would getting to know Seth a little affect how I see his comics? Thankfully, no. Sure, he's a little mannered – but anyone who dresses in a fedora and 1930s duds is going to be. Mostly I admired his prodigious work ethic and his quiet, but absolute, fidelity to his projects. Here is a man who venerates his own output, building (albeit cardboard) cities in its image, making puppet theatre shows about his characters, and compiling beautiful volumes of hand-drawn diary pages, all feeling more like acts of preservation than celebration.

Seth's life is, as he would have it, solitary, but not lonely. One of my favourite insights was when he spoke about how comforting he found it to hear his wife on the floor above, laughing at the television. This idea of life going on, perhaps, while he's below stairs concentrating on his own world.

I don't know what the plans are for Seth's Dominion in terms of a theatrical release. I guess, follow @DandQ if you're on Twitter. Or undertake a vigil on the National Film Board of Canada's website, specifically this page here which teases an online version of the film could be 'Coming Soon'. The screening I went to was followed by a Q&A with Chamberland who indicated there has been discussion of Drawn & Quarterly marketing the feature on DVD, alongside a new comic from Seth in which he depicts the process of being the subject of a documentary. But that won't be any time soon.

But, Seth's Dominion is worth the anguish and the pining. If you want to, you will see it somewhere. And now I want to see it again. It has the power of a nostalgic memory. It has, in fact, the essence of what I find in Seth's work. For Chamberland to have discovered and accurately mirrored that world is a fine achievement. In the cardboard cinema in that cardboard town, one could imagine this film playing on a loop.