Best of Fall 2012: graphic novelist Seth on illustrating the autobiography of Lemony Snicket

Best of Fall 2012: graphic novelist Seth on illustrating the autobiography of Lemony Snicket

The stylishly retro graphic novelist Seth illustrates the fictional autobiography of kid lit superstar Lemony Snicket (a.k.a. Daniel Handler)

Best of Fall 2012: Lemony Snicket

Who Can That Be at This Hour?How did this project come to be?
Daniel and I met a couple of years ago at a comic festival in San Francisco—we have some mutual friends. About six months later, his agent contacted me and asked if I was interested in working on the books. I wasn’t sure at first, because god knows I have enough of my own work to get done. But it seemed like a fun project and Daniel’s a really nice guy, so I thought I’d give it a shot.

Why does the Snicket character appeal to you?
I like the artifice—he is both the author and a fictional person. I guess it’s not much of a surprise that I might like a character who is complicated by a couple of layers of reality. I do that a lot in my own work—making up fake histories, mixing fact and fancy.

You must receive a lot of requests for your illustrations. How do you decide what to say yes to?
It’s just a matter of intuition: am I interested in the project or not? I’ve done enough books now where people have brought me in to provide some kind of wittiness or sophistication with a cartoon style, but I’m a little tired of doing that. Now I’m more likely to agree to something if it’s outside my normal area.

You usually write and draw your own books. Was it a difficult transition, learning to collaborate?
I’m not a compromiser by nature. When I got into cartooning back in the 1980s, nobody was paying any attention whatsoever, so you did what you wanted to do.

Sounds like you don’t play well with others.
I try to avoid leaving the house as much as humanly possible. I had a few conference calls with the editorial team, which is like pulling teeth for me. I like to be a dictator. I must say that the Snicket people were very gentle with me and put up with my nonsense pretty well.

Who Can That Be at This Hour? by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Seth.
Available Oct. 23

(Illustration: Adam Cruft)