NY Times Book Review reviews Seth's Clyde Fans

“Reviewer John Hodgman reviews CLYDE FANS in a graphic novel round up for the NY Times Book Review.” / New York Times Book Review / John Hodgman / July 18, 2004

Unless there is a global crime syndicate conspiracy story line yet to emerge in the next installment, the narrative of CLYDE FANS: Book 1 (Drawn and Quarterly, $19.95), from the artist and writer known as Seth, is about as far from ''100 Bullets'' as you can get -- and not just because it is set in Canada, where I believe the nation shares just one bullet. Initially serialized in Seth's comic ''Palookaville'' (oh so patiently -- it began in 1997 and is still continuing there), it tells the story of two brothers, each paralyzed by a slightly different manifestation of shyness, who inherit the unenviable task of selling electric fans in Canada during the advent of air-conditioning. Part 1 is narrated by Abe, who hid himself in professional salesman's patter that he never quite bought (''You've got to get the buyer's attention,'' ''You must display a true belief in your wares''). Now he wanders the empty Clyde Fans headquarters in an endless round of lonely busywork, explaining to the reader and the air how to sell fans. You wouldn't think this would be very interesting, but you quickly realize you are being sold: Abe opens with a joke and slowly reels you in to the story of his life and that of his dead brother, Simon. The second half flashes back 40 years to Simon's one disastrous sales trip, his sole attempt to connect with the world outside Clyde Fans. Since Simon can hardly bring himself to order a grilled cheese sandwich, it is not surprising he can't sell a single fan and indeed ends up giving away his sample case. Seth loves silent panels, often lingering on an empty building on a cold night, a hat upon a chair, a desolate road, empty save for Simon's constant trudging, and I think it would be hard for text or even film to convey the same sense of shoe- and spirit-ruining legwork. ''Simon and I,'' says Abe, ''our lives didn't have much of a plot. Perhaps all lives are like that -- just a series of events with little meaning.'' You won't sell a lot of fans that way, I suppose. But Seth truly believes in his wares -- the little meanings of regular lives. Though it may take some time before the second ''Clyde Fans'' collection comes out, I am sold.

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