Clyde Fans Book 1 - Seth

I don't know much about the comic book artist Seth (who just goes by "Seth," no last name) but I read a little about him in a recent New York Times article, and an excerpt from the Clyde Fans story in the McSweeney's Quarterly and was intrigued.

The story is about the Clyde Fans company, a family outfit which sold electric fans around Canada. Abraham, the older brother and salesman, is now an old man, and he tells the story of the company as he wanders around the now-closed offices and the attached living quarters. There are also flashbacks: Part Two consists of a period in 1957 where Simon, the younger brother, attempts to go on a sales trip.

Seth's illustrations are mostly black and white, with some light grey and blue washes, and it really helps to set the tone of the piece. There are long passages with no dialogue at all—sometimes with no people or discernible action—which are almost cinematic, the sort of montage of images you would see as an establishing shot before the action begins.

There are hints of deeper things: why is Abe living by himself in this closed-up building, cut off from society? What's Simon's story? He appears to be somewhat autistic, having trouble interacting with people and living in his own world. Why are all the calendars in the house still open to 1978? In Part 1, Abe takes his time telling the story, interspersing it with thoughts about selling, salesperson jokes, reminisces about his younger brother. It's slow-paced, and really has the feel of somebody just talking to you, off the cuff.

Part 2 has a different feel, as we painfully watch Simon attempt cold calls on retailers. He's clearly not a salesman, yet he begged Abe for the chance to make the trip. The comics medium is well-suited for showing his misgivings and his disjointed thoughts, his fantasies about what he should have said, and the way he feels more comfortable listening to the conversations of others than having them himself.

It's the sort of book where nothing much really happens, but you get drawn into the atmosphere and mood of the book. Unfortunately, it took Seth seven years to finish this book, so it may be a while before I get to finish the story (unless I subscribe to his sporadic periodical, Palookaville).

Fed to jonathan's brain | August 11, 2004