Clyde Fans: Book One (review: 5/5)

Clyde Fans: Book One, by the cartoonist Seth, is split into two halves. Each half tracks the memories and relationship between two brothers, both of whom worked for the family business, the Clyde Fans Company.
In the first section, set in 1997, we see the older Abraham walks from room to room in the old Clyde Fans storefront. Abraham keeps a constant monologue. As the only speaker in the first section, and perhaps the only family member remaining, he’s both narrator and the only repository of family history. Abraham reminisces as he wanders throughout the old building telling old jokes or digging up old stories—as you might daydream through your own past, stopping every now and then to pick up a memory and turn it in the light before you move on to another. Although he controls the story, he leaves the building only briefly.

Like Abraham’s nostalgia, Simon’s memory has him trapped, too. The second section rolls back 40 years to follow an anxious Simon, finally given a chance as a company salesman. His narrative, following him as he hoofs it from place to place with display sample in tow, always circles back to his memories: the high expectations of his brother, brush-offs from failed sales calls. The combination of his recurring flashbacks, his obsessive recall of failure, and his own expectations cripple him.

Beyond Seth’s good writing is the attention to detail that helps you trust his writing in the first place. It’s the subtle attention that wins you over. Take a look at this image from the first page. You can see the stars high up in the sky, and as in real life, the lights from the street make it hard to see stars closer to the horizon. There’s that band of darkness that shifts into a field of stars:

night city scene from Clyde Fans: Book One

And further into the first part of the book, there’s a stream of water from a faucet. Seth illustrates that sweet spot of water flow. At a certain water pressure, the flow is slow enough to not be forceful and straight, but fast enough that it escapes from the thin trickle. Seth draws that exact moment that makes the cool spiraling, helical column:

bathroom scene from Clyde Fans: Book One

And the faucet handles even have shadows playing on the tub. Seth drafts some great architecture throughout the book. There are the cityscapes and building snapshots to make the setting, of course. But like the faucet shadows, in the interior scenes you can find all sorts of little details that make the time and place come alive, like molding at the joins of floor and ceiling, or wainscoting, or the floor tiles that aren’t standard squares, but octagons with little diamonds between them. And shadows, always wonderful soft shadows falling and bending together.

The worthy detail makes it happen. When you can trust the writer as an observer, you can trust them as a storyteller that much more. You don’t have to draw or write every detail—Seth leaves out a lot—but a few well-chosen particulars make the rest of the story that much more compelling.

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