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The Clarence Principle    by Fehed Said & Shari Chankhamma order for
Clarence Principle
by Fehed Said
Order:  USA  Can
SLG, 2007 (2007)
* * *   Reviewed by Lance Victor Eaton

The Clarence Principle is a haunting and gloomy but almost magical tale. The story centers around Clarence, a troubled youth who has just committed suicide after his heart has been broken. Awakening in a bathtub filled with his own blood, Clarence wanders into a world that he presumes is the afterlife. But someone is leaving him signs and what's more, he has been rejected from the afterlife, since his name is not to be found on the list.

So Clarence is left to wander the dark netherworld in hopes of finding some meaning or purpose. He comes upon several strange people in this unknown place and suffers a great deal of bodily harm, including losing an arm and being impaled by an arrow (apparently, when one is dead, such accidents are mere flesh wounds). But just when he believes he may have found meaning, he risks losing it.

Though there are parallels between The Clarence Principle and Alice in Wonderland, Clarence's most interesting introspective journey may be his ascension to manhood (or at least one step closer to it). There are also similarities to other tales of wandering strange new worlds, such as The Wizard of Oz. In his attempt to end his life (over a girl, no less), Clarence's journey leads him through a new world that will forever change his perspective on his old one. Even if he returns to the real world, he will no longer be the same.

Very little is said, which gives the graphic novel its own silent soundtrack, where readers may hear hints of the wind or the echoes of Clarence's footsteps. Though obvious, the manga-inspired art captures Clarence in ways that western comic art probably could not. His big soulful eyes and simple iconic face make him instantly agreeable to readers. The grayscale and conservative use of words add to the ambience of the story. The dark and gray landscapes of the afterworld (especially given the context in which Clarence enters) emphasize the solitude and bleakness of his journey. The violence enacted upon Clarence sounds gruesome, but the fact that he is already dead makes it seem almost a rather regretful but not necessarily violent incident.

Despite its flights of fancy, The Clarence Principle is still a sobering graphic novel that both older teenagers and adults can enjoy. Clarence's journey leads him down a dark road that many readers will be able to relate to, and even learn from.

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