I’ve recently finished Seth’s It’s a Good Life if You Don’t Weaken. It was a weird experience as I only read it in little chunks of time here and there while the rest of my world had some kind of a fit. Me and my wife started house hunting but then her place of business just announced impending large cuts (she’ll be safe though so that’s okay), and I get to interview for my own job. So reading about a slightly misanthropic and depressed protagonist searching for some kind of meaning that may never exist wasn’t exactly my idea of escapism I usually seek in comics.
I did enjoy it though for what it is and it is a book I’ll certainly recommend to others looking for a certain type of read. I have to say that Seth’s quest for a past that somehow feels more honest and real hits close to home these days. He’s looking for something that exists in the creations around him – buildings, clothes, literature – but I’m just looking for a time when our current Prime Minister wasn’t in charge of anything.
At the moment I’m seeing a lot of Jean Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation in things I read because of another project, and really It’s A Good Life If You Don’t Weaken is a perfect example of searching for a more truthful and honest past that never exists. That what current life is simulating may never have existed in the first place. That can be a very powerful and depressing idea or it can free you to simply enjoy what is there now. It’s a frustrating story to read on quite a few levels, from Seth’s search for John Kalloway to his interactions with people and constant self-reflection. You both love the character and get frustrated by him which makes the character appear all the more real and human. He can’t be distilled down to a core idea or element (well, maybe the idea of moving forward while watching the road through a rear-view mirror – see Marshall McLuhan for more on that).
I love Seth’s lingue Claire artwork that feels as much like an anachronistic detail as the buildings and clothes surrounding the protagonist. It’s equal parts comic books and newspaper comics (as well as the New Yorker cartooning), that is somehow more expressive and clean than you feel it should be. It shouldn’t be able to portray the content because it is a style meant for gags and single panel cartoons but it is precisely the freedom of the style that allows for a beautiful world to be created. I’d say the art style hits at the core of the word decadence – something overly beautiful with something decaying at the core or as the subject in this case. Beautifully rendered buildings that are falling apart and the like.