The graphic novel is often regarded as both a textual and a visual narrative, as it contains both illustrations, images or other visual media and text or prose. The textual storytelling in Seth's graphic novel It's a Good Life, If You Don't Weaken tells us a lot about his personal...
The graphic novel is often regarded as both a textual and a visual narrative, as it contains both illustrations, images or other visual media and text or prose. The textual storytelling in Seth's graphic novel It's a Good Life, If You Don't Weaken tells us a lot about his personal life and his personal experiences. When he discovers the creations of Kalo—a cartoonist from the 1940s who used to draw for The New York Times—Seth becomes obsessed with his work and is determined to find him; unfortunately, his new-found preoccupation takes a toll on his personal life.
This is where the textual narrative or textual storytelling comes into play; through it, we see how Seth's obsession to find Kalo actually shapes his character. For starters, we learn much about his personality and how he actually struggles with depression; he has a pretty negative outlook on life and heavily dislikes change. The only thing that drives him and actually matters to him are magazine cartoons and the cartoonists that create them. He often mentions cartoons and even compares them to situations in the real world, and praises many of the artists and cartoonists; for example, he says that he often thinks of Hergé's popular cartoon series The Adventures of Tintin whenever he's on a train. At one point, he even says:
It's funny y'know, no matter what I talk about, it inevitably seems to lead back to cartooning.
His mother and brother seem to have a rather normal, monotonous life, but they seem content with it. Whenever he visits them, he can safely retreat to his room and read about his favorite magazine cartoons and cartoonists. When he feels sad and depressed he reminisces about the past and focuses on one specific memory from his childhood—how he likes cardboard boxes. Seth compares his mother's apartment to a cardboard box, as he always feels comfortable and safe when he goes back to his hometown and spends time with his brother and mother; he likes how everything is familiar and how nothing seems to change:
My mother's apartment is sealed into amber. I guess that's why I'm always so torn when I leave. I'm anxious to go back to my own life in Toronto, but it's still hard for me to go. I don't like leaving my mother and brother, of course, but it's more that that ... Nothing changes here ... well none of the important things. No matter how many times I go, when I come back it's the same. I count on it to stay that way.
... I retreat to those memories when I'm depressed. This all leads me to an earlier memory—a key one that I think explains a lot. ... It seems I used to like getting inside cardboard boxes and close them up behind me. I enjoyed being in that safe, confined space. My mother's place is a lot like those boxes.
The textual storytelling also tells us about the way Seth connects with people, or rather the way he forms relationships with them. We learn that he broke up with his ex-girlfriend Mary because he was "tired of her, but once she left, he couldn't live without her."
The girl he meets later on manages to attract him, both physically and mentally, but it's obvious that Seth isn't deeply in love with her, nor is he particularly invested in his new relationship, as he's more focused on Kalo and his cartoons. His friend Chet seems to be the only one that tolerates his obsession and doesn't try to change him, as he's a good listener and is often there for Seth. When Chet asks him about his new girlfriend, Seth says how's she's "nice" and "a French major," but he chooses to focus more on the fact that she found a Kalo cartoon and then proceeds to talk about the recent discovery, which shows where his priorities truly lie:
So, what's she like? You haven't told me much about her.
Who? Ruthie? She's a student-French major ... I guess I don't know her too well myself yet. She's nice ... you'd like her. But get this—she opens up one of my old "Esquires" and BINGO she finds a contributors note on Kalo! Right under my nose and I haven't even looked.
As the story progresses, it becomes clear that finding Kalo is actually more important to him than his relationship with Ruthie. When they meet again after his "big trip" to find Kalo, Ruthie is primarily disappointed that he didn't take her with him even though she offered and angry with him that he hasn't contacted her in a while; thus, they decide to put an end to their relationship. Seth doesn't seem particularly affected, however—in fact, he's the one who suggests that they should stop seeing each other.
Ruthie is described as someone who likes and welcomes change and thinks about the future often—about the "civil rights or the women's movement and medical progress," but Seth wants things to stay the same, especially when they're nice, and the only thing that comes to his mind when he thinks about the future is "dread." He says to Ruthie:
I look forward to the future with nothing but dread. Things are getting worse and worse every year. As awful as things are right now, I'd be more than happy if the world would just stays relatively like this until I die. I can't face the next fifty years.
The most notable change for him seems to be the fact that his mother has more makeup than before and can "afford to pamper herself now—get all dolled up if she wants."
In the end, after a decade of searching, Seth fails to find Kalo; he leaves the readers with his "meager collection" of a dozen Kalo cartoons.
In conclusion, the textual storytelling is incredibly important, as it essentially carries the graphic novel. It helps the readers understand Seth and his perspective better—we can sympathize with him and acknowledge all of his character flaws and strengths. The textual narrative flows quite naturally and the audience can't help but feel for Seth and even relate to some of his personal experiences.