Quill and Quire

Canada's magazine of book news and reviews

Clyde Fans: Book One

by Seth

Of all comics artists, Seth has mastered the art of suspending time, making the reader pause and experience each panel. A prestigious Canadian illustrator, his style is reminiscent of New Yorker cartoons: deceptively simple and expressive lines, unhurried, exact, and luxurious; shading rich with texture. Silent panel-montages and dynamic line design draw the reader’s eye exactly where he intends. The reader pauses and feels the wonderful meditation that resonates in his stories of melancholy and nostalgia, of glorious decay.

And that’s what Clyde Fans is: the glorious decay of brothers Simon and Abraham Matchcard. The first part of Book One is the reflections of the aging older brother as he cruises through his dilapidated home, the old Clyde Fans building in Toronto.

Here Seth does a remarkable job of inverting the old axiom “show don’t tell.” The section’s sole character narrates his life as a traveling salesman, his brother Simon’s reclusion, and the success and ultimate failure of the family’s fan manufacturing business, all while going through the motions of a day that only marks time. Abraham tinkers with a flickering light bulb while telling us how some salespeople failed to get the sales pitch out properly; he straightens a painting of a lonely lighthouse saying: “Y’know, in some strange way, I couldn’t help but admire Simon’s inability to cope.”

Part two shows us Simon’s premature decline, his last-ditch attempt at a “real life” 40 years earlier. Seth credibly conjures up both the era and Simon’s growing panic, but the presentation borders on the melodramatic, repeating symbols too often, hitting the reader over the head. By the time Simon has abandoned his mission as a salesman, the tension is gone, the outcome predictable. But this is only the first book of what is to become a 350-page work. We will have to wait to see the conclusion.