BACK TO SCHOOL
GROTH: Let me skip back for just a second. You went to art school. What art school was that?
SETH: The Ontario College of Art. I think it's Canada's oldest art college.
GROTH: And did you go there directly after high school?
SETH: Yeah, yeah. I went there immediately after grade 13.
GROTH: Grade 13?
SETH: I don't think you have a grade 13 in America.
SETH: It was a one-year grace period where you can take it or not — at least we used to have it — I think it's phased out now. And I stuck around in high school for one more year because I wasn't too sure what I was going to do. Which, in retrospect, seems insane, since high school was living hell for me — but I guess the devil you know...
GROTH: You went to art school, so you clearly wanted to be an artist of some sort.
SETH: I was intending to be a cartoonist. It was my plan to go and learn to be a cartoonist. While I was a teenager I definitely had ideas of opening up my own comic book company and turning out superhero comics.
GROTH: I see. But you actually stopped reading comics at about that time?
SETH: Yeah, in art school is when I became really confused. I didn't know what I was going to do any more. The problem was, I still was interested in cartoons. And I met a few other people, too, who were kind of interested in comics. Sort of different directions, though. I can remember meeting a guy who obviously came out of an underground background. And I was kind of perplexed by it. Because I had all that superhero baggage. But I still wanted to be a cartoonist, even by second year I didn't have a clue what I was going to do with my cartooning. I didn't think I was going to go work at Marvel. And I didn't realize there was much else you could do. And I started to just become disenchanted with me idea and sort of have this realization that, you know, I'd always planned to be a comic-book artist, and maybe that's not what I was going to do. And so I was kind of lost. Taking a lot of commercial courses, like illustration and graphic design and stuff, which I had initially taken thinking it would be good as a cartoonist. And then I just started thinking, you know, suddenly I was facing an unplanned future.
GROTH: It sounds like you're talking about approximately '81 to '83.
GROTH: Somewhere around there. But undergrounds were really on the wane, and alternative comics hadn't kicked in. If you know the distinction I'm making,
GROTH: So there was almost nothing coming out that was worth looking at.
SETH: Very little. I was discovering little bits of pieces of the underground past around that time, too. I can remember coming across that big Best of Rip-Off Press book, and that having some effect on me. I, at the very least, remember laughing a lot at the Crumb material I found in that book.
TIME IN RADIANT CITY
GROTH: After Steacy had rejected you and turned you onto Love and Rockets, I assume you did not return to Vortex for a while.
GROTH: How did the Mr. X assignment, which was in '85, occur?
SETH: That came about simply by coincidence, just luck. A girl I went out with in art school, after we broke up and lost contact, she got involved with Bill Marks. She's his wife now. But at that time while she was dating him I got back in touch with her. We started talking again. I had started doing new strips again. I hadn't done any for a little while, but I suppose I was kind of revved up by the Love and Rockets stuff I'd seen. So I started trying to do slightly more ambitious work. And I was getting together with her, and showing her what I was doing, and we were just talking about comics in general. Mr. X by the Hernandez Brothers was coming out at this point. I guess, this would be sometime just after they left the book, I guess Bill was looking for a new artist, and she suggested me to him, and through simple chance like that, I walked in the door, and he gave me the job.
GROTH: Let me just skip back a second. What kind of strips were you doing on your own that have not ever seen publication?
SETH: They were pretty terrible. It was all kind of pretentious. Oh, how would I even describe these things? I guess some of them I was taking the more surface qualities from what Jaime was doing. And trying to do quirky stories about punk rockers and, I don't know, their day-to-day life. They were pretty empty. And on the other hand I was doing, I think I was trying to do sort of a Gilbert kind of “Twitch City" thing. Science-fictiony hipster sort of stories. And I can barely look at these things when I see them now. But yeah, it was pretty empty stuff. And mostly what I was doing with them I think is searching around for a drawing style. Because a lot of them, when I look at them now, I can see that each strip is done in a pretty radically different way. Like I would try to do one strip with pen and ink and a lot of texture, and then the next one I would try to do really stark, with very simple compositions. I was just searching for my drawing style.
GROTH: Did you learn much in art school?
SETH: Well, it's a tough question. I don't think I did learn that much in art school. I don't think I was ready, to be perfectly honest. Probably the best thing I got out of art school was being involved with a lot of different people with really different ideas. The actual classes, well, I took a pretty commercially oriented program, and if I was getting technical details, I wasn't old enough to really learn them. I wasn't picking up technique in my drawing. Probably the best thing I was getting was the life drawing classes. And with typography and production and graphic design and stuff like that, I just didn't have a clue. I think I was too young to understand what they were teaching me. At least mentally young.
For example, in typography class, the only thing I really gleaned out of that was a couple of very broad rules. Most of the time I was guessing. With graphic design it just seemed like it was some sort of a magic thing [laughter]. I couldn't understand what they were looking for. They seemed to know what a good design was, but I couldn't figure out the difference between a good design and a bad design. It took me years to sort out this stuff on my own. Now it seems self-evident, but I was too young.
GROTH: The reason I asked is because your first Mr. X was actually fairly slick.
SETH: Well actually, I look at that first Mr. X and I can barely stand the sight of it. [Laughter.]
That was a real learning experience for me, the first one. When I first saw it in print, reduced and printed, I realized I had to simplify my style more. That's when I first saw that it was loaded with a lot of extraneous line work that I was just throwing in to fill space. Immediately, with the next issue, I began to simplify my drawing. And so, 1 think by somewhere in the middle of the Mr. X run, I started to understand a little better what I was trying to accomplish.
GROTH: The first one, at least, was inked by someone else.
SETH: Yeah, that's right actually. I forgot that. I think he was pretty faithful to what I did.
GROTH: Yeah, the inking looks pretty similar to your own inking in future issues.
SETH: I was opposed to having an inker, I can remember now. I just didn't have any clout to fight it [Groth laughs].
GROTH: Well, you must have gotten clout a few issues later.
SETH: At some point I made enough of a fuss that they let me ink it myself.
GROTH: Correct me if I'm wrong, but the first issue you did was #6?
SETH: Yeah, I think it was. There's four Hernandezes, and then there was that one issue by Klaus [Schoenfeld]. And then I came on with #6.
GROTH: If looked like you were trying for a smooth a transition between Jaime and you as possible. There are a lot of what look like tics and mannerisms of Jaime's in your first issue.
SETH: Oh, they'd definitely be there. If I could have done them better, it would look more like Jaime.
GROTH: [Laughs.] Right.
SETH: At that time, I certainly would be studying what they did very heavily. I was trying, I think — well, certainly I was having a lot of problems. I remember trying to draw Mercedes, which was extremely difficult because Jaime has such an incredible way of drawing women, and it's never been my forte. So basically I was looking at his drawings and trying to get down whatever he had in the character.
GROTH: I actually thought the women characters looked like Jaime's work the most.
SETH: That would probably be where I was trying to ape him the hardest. But I could quickly see I wasn't going to get away with that. [Groth laughs.] I didn't have the same drawing ability as Jaime.
Coming on board and trying to draw these characters that Jaime and Gilbert had designed was very difficult for me. If I were facing that today I'd have the confidence to draw them in my own style. But back then, I didn't really have a distinct drawing style yet. My only real visual impact on that series was in the architecture. That's where I had the confidence — and the interest —to design and draw things as I saw fit.