Wednesday, September 06, 2023

Clyde by Jim Benton

I'm pretty sure I'm four to five times the expected age of a reader of this book, but, you know what: I don't care.

Jim Benton is funny, his characters are sarcastic and witty in hugely amusing ways, his stories take fun random zips and turns, and his cartooning is energetic and lively. So, yeah, he seems to have mostly done books for middle-graders, and I guess that means, as I poke through his books, I might be reading more MG graphic novels than I might have expected. Oh, horrors.

I came to Benton's long-form comics through his single-panel cartoons. As far as I've seen, he has two books of those published: Dog Butts and Love. And Stuff Like That. And Cats. and Man, I Hate Cursive. (Is this a good point to mention that I'm sure he has enough single-panel cartoons for another book? Maybe more than one?)

This one is clearly for younger readers, though - it even has a message, though Benton doesn't exactly play it straight. But it's a Benton book, full of quirky Benton characters with great dialogue and observations, arranged into a plot that mostly makes sense in its quirky way.

Clyde is a bear: a young one. He feels stifled growing up in Cubville, a nice town where everyone is nice. He knows he's really a bad guy, and wants to go somewhere where he can be as bad as he wants to be: the big, nasty town of Grizzly City.

We all know how that story will go: through a series of events, Clyde will learn not to be "a bad guy," will care about other people (maybe starting with his grandmother the turtle, who he throws into a pond just before leaving Cubville), and will become nicer and find some real friends.

He doesn't really do any of that, exactly: he does go back to Cubville, he does help people (resentfully, complaining), but doesn't seem to like other people any better or get any nicer. Which is even better, because people don't actually change like that.

Clyde changes, as much as he changes, which he would tell you is not at all, because he meets a butterfly who beats him up. But she's nice, actually: the kind of Pollyanna-ish character you'd expect in a book like this, the Jiminy Cricket figure. (Except Jiminy wouldn't tell a story starting "I was doing all the caterpillar stuff...eating other people's leaves...stealing cars...the usual.")

So they two of them rush back to Cubville to save Clyde's grandmother (the turtle, remember) from "fish jail." Benton's work is full of funny asides and details like that; there's something funny on every page, as he sort-of follows the outline of the standard plot you'd expect from the setup.

This is obviously meant to be a book for reluctant readers, especially boys, but it's also just a funny, semi-subversion of a standard kids-book trope. If you like funny, and you don't mind books for kids and their lessons (positive or negative; Benton goes both ways), this is excellent.

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