Old age and all the regrets and musings about life it brings happen to us all. Have no doubt about this. We will grow old and die. This is the natural order of things, and I would not wish for it to be any different. Advances in science and social life may mean that I will live longer than my parents or grandparents, but I have no wish for an unnaturally long life or immortality. That would only add more to the crushing weight that the words “what if?” bring.
I’ve always tried to stay away from worrying about things I’ve done wrong in my life and how I would have done differently if I’d had a second chance. But sometimes- usually in the dead of night, when you can’t sleep- all your doubts and fears come racing in upon the crest of a wave, and you are lost.
The first part of Clyde Fans: Book One by Seth illustrates all these feelings perfectly.
Abraham Matchcard is the last survivor of the Clyde Fans manufacturing company. His family made electric fans during the ’30’s to the ’70’s and he was one of their top salesmen. But time, and the lack of foresight about air conditioning, means that all there is now left is the shop/living quarters in which he dwells in comfortable, but solitary, existence.
Seth uses the act of Abraham talking to the reader, but we are never quite sure if he is doing so or just talking to himself. Devices such as looking over the shoulder or directly to the reader are rarely used and the way Seth uses different angles to convey Abraham’s passage through his day, give more of a feeling that we are watching a well rehearsed monologue. A living testament to a life filled with both joy and regret.
Abraham’s lonely life doesn’t mean he hates the world and all it’s modernisms – even though throughout the whole story he goes no further than the front entrance of the shop. No, he just wants to get on with his life quietly and return to being the person who loved his own company before he had to take on the running of Clyde Fans. With his description of the life of a salesman being a lonely one, you would have thought that he already had this. But the pavement pounding, cold-stepping, constant rejection life of a salesman is a different kind of solitude. One where you must acquire a hard skin, learn a different view of hypocrisy and lose something of your personal integrity. Seth’s fluid inks and grey tone colours portray this to an excellent effect, wherein you feel not exactly on the twilight of somebody’s life, but more a feeling of something lost and never to return.
Seth portrays the passage of time and its pertinence to the tale Abraham is relating with old photographs, clocks, out of date calendars. How long it takes to have a hot bath. How long it takes to cook a ready-meal or egg. The way the snow falls outside or the changes in the other businesses on the same row as Clyde Fans. This seems to be melancholy and bitter, but again, Seth is not using a situation to provoke an emotion but let you know just how much time has a different meaning to older people.
Abraham patiently and slowly gives a detailed version of his life and family history along with his personal philosophy on the art of salesmanship, and it’s not until the end of the first part, when you have warmed to Abraham, that you realise that you have just been given a pitch. You’ve been sold Abraham Matchcard and his world view. Seth has become the master salesman and you’ve bought it. You need to know more and how it all concludes.
The second part of the book goes back to the ’50’s when Abraham’s shyer, more reclusive younger brother Simon, tried his hand at being a salesman. To say that he fails miserably is an understatement. Simon is a man who is torn by wanting to do more with his life and be more like his brother (who is, incidentally, more arrogant and assured than the person in the first part) -but at the same time, wishing that the world would just stop in time.
Simon is a maverick and certainly not used to life on the road. His dealings and rejections with buyers are painful to read and all the time he feels the oppressive weight of expectation upon him. Whereas Abraham’s tale in the first part was one man’s voice quietly told, Simon’s is lost amongst all the constant chatter that surrounds him. Only at the end, when he has divested himself of everything that reminds him of Clyde Fans, does he find a kind of peace.
Two stories from different time periods, but Seth manages to bring down the full weight of regret in both. Abraham feels regret at missed opportunities and his treatment of his brother. Simon feels regret at the loss of something intangible in a faster-paced world and that he has let his family down. But Abraham’s regret is somewhat lighter than Simon’s and Seth shows this by using a more cleaner line and lighter tone of grey and blue with Abraham whilst Simon’s story is full of dark shadows, fuller inking, and more darker shades of black and blue. It’s a perfect way of conveying mood in a media full of digital colouring.
As with most independent artists and because of the vagaries of the market, Seth is a trifle slow when it comes to his work being published (Clyde Fans was started in 1997). But by now going, exclusively, with the graphic novel route in Clyde Fans, it is to be hoped that the concluding part will see the light of day within the next couple of years. Clyde Fans is a quiet, patiently told, beautifully illustrated tale, a graphic novel that has maturity and style written all over it. It may seem like nothing actually happens in Clyde Fans (a criticism often levelled at Seth’s work), but it is a powerful insight into the human condition. It is well recommended and a worthwhile companion to Seth’s other work “It’s A Nice Life If You Don’t Weaken”.
Clyde Fans is written and illustrated by Seth and published by Drawn and Quarterly, available in hardback and priced £12.99. From all good comic-book shops now.