Sunday, November 13, 2005

45. Clyde Fans Book 1

by Seth

I’ve wanted to read Clyde Fans Book 1 since coming across some of Seth’s work in McSweeney’s No. 13. I’d also, somewhere, heard the name before and was interested to know more about the Canadian artist. (Incidentally, a few months ago I had the chance to hear Seth speak in person at "The Cartoonist’s Eye," a gallery show of years of comic art. It was one of those great talks when you feel how much the craft has infused a person and bearing witness to their passion leaves you with a great sense of admiration for their being.) What drew me to Seth’s work is probably what draws most people in – the cleanliness of his lines, the use of greys and blues that give everything a sense of pointed nostalgia, the fact that the characters and the settings are just so aesthetically pleasing. What I wasn’t expecting, though, was how great this story was. Great artistry, decent story…sure, I’ll buy that. But great artistry and exceedingly well-told story? I imagine that’s a more rare combination.

Clyde Fans Book 1 collects a number of stories found in Seth’s Palookaville series. The first part of the book follows an old man’s remembrances of his life in the sales business. Instituted by and named after his father, Abe Matchcard headed the Clyde Fans Company for years until it closed, due to his stagnant thinking style. Instead of embracing air conditioning, Abe remained steadfast with the fans until, eventually, modernity won out and took his business with it. Part two of the book takes us back forty years earlier when Abe’s brother Simon, about whom we’ve learned a little through Abe’s ramblings, is embarking on his own sales adventures. Simon’s always been under his brother’s shadow and this trip to Dominion is his chance to show him that he can make it in the fan-selling world. Unfortunately, Simon’s nerves and lack of self-confidence get the better of him and we close as he abandons the task altogether.

What we’ve got in this book is two separate, distinct, and greatly detailed characters. At his stage in life, Abe is a bit regretful and we feel that he’s trying to find atonement for the things he’s done. He knows that the life he created for himself will probably go unnoticed once its gone and he reflects that all that really remains of his connection with the outer world are the countless little bits of yellow paper – receipts - on which he signed his name. He takes us through a couple of the closed down stores in his neighborhood, remembering how and when they shut their doors for good. “You know, when you get older, you don’t change. Don’t let anyone tell you that you do,” Abe says, as he takes us through his memories. “You stay the same. If anything you become even more entrenched in the patterns of behavior you’ve always shown. No, it’s the world that changes. The places you know disappear. The buildings get knocked down, the restaurants change hands or close, the streets are re-routed or renamed…the people die. Eventually, it’s only a world of memory. People, places, feelings – all existing somewhere in here.” He points to his heart.

It’s a sad statement, but it so greatly embodies Abe as a man whose only job is to shuffle through the cards in his memory. Through Abe’s narrative, we’re introduced to Simon who we know is no longer living. The nature and cause of Simon’s death are yet to be revealed in this book, but it’s clear that Abe feels some sense of responsibility for it. Indeed, when we jump to Simon’s narrative, we understand the pressure put upon him by his older brother and how it only enhanced his self-doubt. “Abe thinks this is a whim. He, of all people, should know better. This is my one chance to have some sort of life. Even now I’m gripped with fear. But I can feel things changing,” Simon writes in his journal. “Perhaps by exercising some self-will I can erase the fruitless years I’ve spent hiding. If only Abe could appreciate the degree of my weakness…”

It may be unnecessary to say, but Simon doesn’t conquer those demons and we end wondering what happened to him those forty years ago that’s left Abe so remorseful. Book 1 doesn’t include the snippet in McSweeney’s, so I’m curious to see how that plays in, as it was odd and involved mantle toys speaking directly to Simon. I know that the story is continued in Palookaville, but I’m not quite at the point where I’m buying individual comics. (For reasons of money and of sheer volume.) I don’t know when Book 2 is expected to come out, I hope the wait isn’t long, but I will most certainly be there when it does.

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