There's a quiet, wordless panel early in Ross Mackintosh's autobiographical Seeds when the doctor telling him that his father is dying of cancer pauses to squeeze some antibacterial gel onto his hands. It's a sad, silent moment that says more than words, and it's a gesture that's repeated several times throughout the book, each time with new and added significance.
Seeds is about the slow crawl toward death, beginning in July 2009, when Mackintosh's father (he of the self-imposed nickname "Zaz") is diagnosed with cancer, first of the prostate, then of the lungs. As so many deaths do, it all happened more quickly than expected, yet in painfully slow stages. The diagnosis comes first, unexpectedly, after Zaz complains that he is having trouble breathing. He spends a few weeks in the hospital, a few months at home, and then a few final weeks in hospice. He's gone before you know it.
At the same time, Seeds is also about life. Ross is his father's son, and he feels the imprint of his father's life on him at every moment of the day. Himself a father (although his kids are never depicted), he is passing his genes and family traits on to the next generation, all while struggling through the difficult transition to understand what the death of his father means to him.
Through it all, there are the moments that those of us have experienced this loss know so well: the late-night calls from a frantic mother, the pain of being a caregiver, the long-awaited hugs from a quiet father, and the darkness filled with so many unknown things and unanswered questions.
Mackintosh's artwork is simple, composed of strong, bold lines with minimal shading or added detail. More often than not, the faces he draws are just two dots for eyes and two curves for the nose and mouth, with maybe a few light worry lines to indicate pain or exhaustion. It's a good approach for Mackintosh, allowing him to tell his story plainly and clearly. It also adds universality to the artwork and the story: Since the drawings are not incredibly detailed, it's easy to add your own details as you read, making the story less about Mackintosh and his father and more about every son, father, and family going through loss and grief.
While the art may be simple, the storytelling is assured. Mackintosh paces the story smoothly and comfortably, using a six-panel grid that he only breaks once in a while, either to add dread to the moment his family realizes the specter of death is looming over them or to show a moment when Mackintosh was at his most vulnerable. It's very accomplished, and it is hard to believe that this is the author's first book-length work.
It's a rare book—let alone a rare comic—that talks about grief and death as openly and as honestly as Seeds. In his introduction, Mackintosh tells us that he gained some catharsis in creating this book, which he never even anticipated being published. In the process, he's given his readers a touching portrait of loss that should ring universal to anyone who has experienced the sad death of a loved one.
Reviewed by John R. Platt on July 13, 2012