The inspiration for Clyde Fans came to Canadian cartoonist Gregory “Seth” Gallant as he gazed into a Toronto shop window almost 30 years ago. He calls it “the biggest book I will ever make”. This collected edition pulls it all together for the first time. It is a deeply realised labour of love.
It follows two brothers mired in mutual antagonism from the 1930s to the century’s end. Introspective Simon dreams of drifting unnoticed through life, while bullish Abe’s practised sales patter never quite hides the fractures in his heart. Their father founded Clyde Fans in 1937, when fans were a growing business, before abruptly leaving his family and his firm, and his absence is a wound that festers. Abe takes over, but underestimates the rise of air conditioning, and in the 70s the business crumbles in the face of so much cool air.
The narrative captures key moments through the decades: Simon’s one disastrous sales trip, their mother’s departure for a nursing home, Abe’s decision to close a vital parts factory. The 90s is a time of reminiscence, as he sits in the company’s deserted headquarters and looks back on life, contemplating what is left behind as it fades.
Time and place have always been central to Seth’s work, and Dominion – the fictional Ontario town that features in Clyde Fans – is both the setting for many of his comics and a set of model buildings, carefully constructed by the artist. Unsurprisingly, Clyde Fans is packed with affectionate detail: models of fans, contemporary adverts, wonderfully realised street scenes and re-creations of the hokey 20s postcards that Simon collects. Several pages scan through the brothers’ late mother’s possessions, giving bygone tat and beauty products the weight of relics.
The result is a sad symphony in blue and grey, drawn in a style that harks back to postwar newspaper strips. Thick lines form expressive faces and art deco facades, and panels linger on shadows, empty streets and daily rituals, lending the graphic novel a gentle but compelling rhythm.
This is a book about nostalgia and regret, but it finds magic in all manner of places: the creaking boards and shadows of an old building, paper floating under a dark sky, the romance of a miniature golf course at night. Seth presents an idyllic small-town Canada that he and his lonely, melancholic characters, finding solace in the past, know never quite existed. This artful and heartfelt book balances rosiness and realism, making precious fiction from the stuff of ordinary lives.
• Clyde Fans is published by Drawn & Quarterly (£42). To order a copy go to guardianbookshop.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £15, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99.