|Seth, Guelph, July 2018|
I WENT UP TO GUELPH A FEW WEEKS BACK TO TRADE SOME PHOTOS WITH MY FRIEND SETH for a portrait he'd done of me and my family. It was a hand-off we'd been trying to make for the better part of a decade, and it gave me a chance to take some new portraits of Seth. I'd first photographed Seth over twenty-five years ago, but I'd been sitting on this post until I could make my visit and get the new shots.
I have known Seth for over thirty years, if you count our first meeting, when he was in the throes of his youthful Goth phase, complete with bleached hair and a cane topped with a silver skull. When we met again several years later he had changed his look - the same hat and suits that are his trademark today - and begun making his reputation as a cartoonist on what was a new, thriving and terribly exciting scene that included artists like his friend Chester Brown, Peter Bagge, Daniel Clowes, Chris Ware, Julie Doucet, Adrian Tomine, Joe Sacco and others.
|Seth, Parkdale, 1992|
|Joe Matt, Parkdale, 1992|
|Chester Brown, Parkdale, 1992|
I had interviewed Chester as a young journalist, not long after meeting the Goth Seth, and around the time I dropped out of college. By the early '90s Seth and Chester were the linchpins of the Toronto graphic novel scene, and had become a trio when Joe Matt moved up here from the United States. I was a fan of all of them, and at some point renewed my acquaintance with Seth and Chet, somehow becoming part of their extended social circle.
It was around this time that I asked if I could do a portrait shoot with the three of them, together and individually. I was in the full throes of my Irving Penn fixation, and had in mind something along the lines of his portraits of H.L. Mencken with George Jean Nathan, or Willem de Kooning with Frederick Kiesler. I shot them in my Parkdale studio, asking them to sign the butcher paper covering the table top in front of them for their group portrait, and do drawings on the paper for their solo shots.
|Seth, Chester Brown & Joe Matt, Parkdale, 1992|
I remember it being a fun shoot, and was thoroughly pleased with the results. It might not have been much more than a straining homage to my biggest influence, but I felt I was close enough to touching the master's cloak to get some sort of satisfaction. At that point, it seemed the best way to deal with the anxiety of influence was to give in to the urge to imitate completely.
Not long after I did this shoot, Seth asked me about doing a trade - a portrait for a portrait. I eagerly agreed and asked for a drawing of me, as I imagined myself at my best in the mid-'90s - in an old suit, playing guitar, with my cats at my feet. (I was never really much of a guitarist, so that was just so much fantasy, but I did wear the suits and I'm grateful to have my much-loved and dearly-missed cats, Keebler and Nato, immortalized in a Seth sketch.)
|Portrait of Rick McGinnis by Seth, 1994|
|McGinnis family by Seth, 2015|
Time passes and life moves on, so when Seth asked for another portrait shoot with his then-fiancee (now wife) Tania in exchange for some more art, I asked him to make a sketch of my family. (Actually, I'm not sure we even had kids when Seth and I first talked about the trade, which gives you some idea of how long it took us to make this happen. Oh well - neither of us were obviously in any rush.)
|Seth, Guelph, July 2018|
I was curious to visit Seth in Guelph, where he's gone about creating a world around himself in the shelter of small town Ontario - the place where he was raised and where he seems to find much of his inspiration. We walked around and talked each other's ears off and compared notes on modern society (not favorable) and the peculiar experience of getting old (not without its difficulties, but still far better than youthful idiocy.)
Mostly it was nice to renew an old friendship. I've found that friendships are improved with the passage of time, with familiarity providing precious context. It's also nice to find a friend from those years of youthful struggle and unfocused ambition and find them still at work and creating. Seth in particular has increased his ability to mine his inspiration for new work over the years I've known him. I can't say that the world has caught up with him - that would oblige the world to go into full reverse - but he's made it slow down and acknowledge his insights on how the past calls to us, if we're even remotely sympathetic to what it says.