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Cotton Candy Interviews Daniel Clowes!

Updated January 7, 2014


"Interview: INSIDE THE MIND OF CARTOONIST DANIEL CLOWES"
Cotton Candy, Sep 11 2013

"As a comic book artist he has nearly 50 publications to his credit. And Daniel Clowes continues to be one of the most highly reputed magazine illustrators of our day, indeed a regular cover artist for The New Yorker. Of course, there are the titles of graphic novelist and Oscar-nominated screenwriter for the film adaptation of his 1997 book Ghost World. And now the work of Clowes is on public display with more than 125 original drawings and artifacts in a traveling exhibition, currently at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.
Clowes garnered great accolades with his influential comic-book series, Eightball, where much of his major works first appeared. And the artist’s career has since been inundated with multiple awards and a large following. However, the seminal cartoonist maintains a down-to-earth, witty persona that continues to translate into his work. Cotton Candy wants to share this candid interview with the Chicago-born artist, and as you might expect, Clowes proved to be nothing less than creative, charming and downright funny. Read on and get to know Daniel Clowes in his own words – and of course through his artwork.
Cotton Candy: When did you first realize you were talented?
Daniel Clowes: I don’t know if I am talented. I have a clear vision of what I want to achieve aesthetically and tonally, and work hard to get as close to that ideal as possible, but it’s a painstaking process of trial and error.
Who was your biggest encourager when you were first developing your ability to create comics?
Nobody. Everybody told me I was wasting my time. It wasn’t until I was 20 or so that anybody seemed to warm up to what I was doing. Granted, my comics were quite horrible back then, but still…
Describe how you were discovered.
When I was 23, I did an eight-page comic for my own amusement while trying (and failing) to find work in NYC as a magazine illustrator. I decided to send it out to a few comics publishers and one of them, Fantagraphics, decided to give me my own comic series. I was just looking for a little feedback, so it was kind-of surprising to say the least, but the comics business was pretty crazy back then.
What do you use for inspiration?
I’m sort of naturally inspired to do comics. It’s always fun and challenging and somehow never quite fulfilling in a way that keeps me coming back to the drawing board day after day.
Did you ever think your work would be featured on the cover of The New Yorker?
Of course not.
Why do you think such a large number of people like your work?
You have an interesting definition of “large.”
Have you met all of your career goals as a cartoonist and screenwriter?
My only career goal, at age 14, was to be an freelance inker for Marvel comics, so no.
Do you have a favorite work? If so, what is it and why?
Of my own stuff? I like them all to varying degrees. I’m proud of the successful ones, and I feel sorry for the failures.
Of other cartoonists? I go through phases. Right now, I’m kind of obsessed with a cartoonist named Bob Powell, who did really crazy horror comics in the 50s, usually involving demented scientists who are in love with their female lab assistants and display their affection in inappropriate ways (creating giant blobs of oozing, sentient flesh, e.g.)
Do you ever feel misunderstood as an artist?
It’s probably a good sign if you’re a little misunderstood. I’m always trying to see how specific I can get in transmitting the particulars of my own unspoken inner life to the outside world. It’s completely unpredictable as to what comes across and what doesn’t.
What drives you?
Insoluble personal issues, and the visceral thrill of putting black ink on paper.
If you could illustrate a customized comic book for anyone in the world, who would it be? Why?
That’s a really weird question! If I ever did do that, the lucky recipient would probably file a restraining order. I do like the idea of making only one copy of a book, which would then be sent around to readers on a one-at-a-time basis.
What’s your next professional goal? What’s your next personal goal?
I try not to think about goals.
For other artists who want to become professional storytellers, what advice would you give?
I don’t have any advice for storytellers, but when I meet a young cartoonist who asks my advice on how to make a living, I always tell them to draw their comics as actual physical originals and not on a computer. The one advantage we have over writers and filmmakers is that the byproduct of our creation can be an object of singular beauty all its own (at least theoretically)."
 
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Daniel Clowes

          



  The A.V. Club on superhero work by Gilbert Hernandez, Kate Beaton, and Daniel Clowes

Updated September 11, 2013


"Costumed-crusader comix: 17 superhero stories by alt-comic creators"

by Jason Heller and Oliver Sava
The A.V. Club, July 15, 2013

1. Bizarro Comics & Bizarro World (Various)
Using Superman’s warped reflection Bizarro as a starting point, DC brings in some of alternative comics’ top creators to offer a fresh point of view of its superheroes for two graphic-novel anthologies: Bizarro Comics and Bizarro World. Never before has Superman’s musculature been more grotesque or Batman’s costume more wrinkled, as most of the creators choose to spotlight the less glamorous side of superheroes. Dylan Horrocks and Farel Dalrymple craft a sad story about The Flash wanting to stop running, Mike Doughty and Danny Hellman put Aquaman onstage with an acoustic guitar, and Todd Alcott and Michael Kupperman depict a Justice League in the midst of its ultimate crisis: ennui. Actor/comedian/writer/occasional A.V. Club contributor Patton Oswalt pens a Batman story, and James Kochalka’s Legion Of Superheroes short lays the foundation for his later SuperF*ckers series. The creative pairings are inspired, from Harvey Pekar and Dean Haspiel on the titular character to Peter Bagge and Gilbert Hernandez on Red Bee and Jeff Smith and Paul Pope on Superman, exhibiting the type of refreshing creative chemistry that should be embraced by mainstream superhero comics.

2. Birds Of Prey Vol. 1 #50-55 (Gilbert Hernandez)
While his brother Jaime—who worked on the female dynamic duo of comix, Maggie Chascarillo and Hopey Glass—might seem like a more natural choice to write the adventures of DC’s premier female superhero team, Love And Rockets’ Gilbert Hernandez delivers a charming six-issue Birds Of Prey storyline that feels like it’s been pulled from a different era. A bright, Silver Age-inspired adventure that partners Black Canary and Oracle with Metamorpho, The Element Man, Hernandez’s story embraces the silliness of the superhero genre. The dialogue can get a bit hokey and overly dated—at one point Black Canary actually says, “Like Lucy, they got some ’splainin’ to do”—but Hernandez’s script benefits from Casey Jones’ clean, animated artwork. Jones has a more conventional superhero style than Hernandez, but it would be fascinating to see what the writer could do if he were given control of the visuals as well.

3. Shazam!: The Monster Society Of Evil (Jeff Smith)
Jeff Smith is one of those comics creators who is, and will likely always be, irreparably linked to one major work: the fantasy epic Bone. His most recent series, RASL, expanded his scope into darker territory, but his 2007 miniseries, Shazam!: The Monster Society Of Evil, has been his biggest departure from Bone. Not only does he work with Captain Marvel, one of DC’s most critically neglected characters, Smith unabashedly taps into the gosh-wow iconography of the (literally) boyish hero without suppressing the fluid dynamism and graphic boldness of his idiosyncratic, creator-owned work.

4. Zot! (Scott McCloud)
Even if Scott McCloud had never created anything other than his 1993 book Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, he’d be rightly lauded as a visionary in the medium of graphic narrative. But where Understanding Comics dissects and qualifies the hidden wonder of comics, McCloud’s lesser-known comic book from the ’80s, Zot!, embodied it. The 36-issue series—which McCloud briefly revived in 2000 and belatedly collected in 2008—chronicles the lighthearted yet conceptually sophisticated adventures of Zot!, a zippy, youthful superhero not too far removed from Captain Marvel. As McCloud’s follow-ups to Understanding Comics continue to roll out, Zot! feels increasingly like an oddity in his catalog—although it’s vital one.

5. Strange Tales I & II (Various)
Following the success of DC’s Bizarro graphic novels, Marvel engaged in its own alternative-comics experiment with two Strange Tales miniseries. The books share many of Bizarro’s creators, including Peter Bagge, Michael Kupperman, James Kochalka, Paul Pope, Harvey Pekar, and Tony Millionaire, but the Marvel miniseries places considerably more emphasis on superhero action. Super Spy and Mind MGMT creator Matt Kindt writes and draws a retro Black Widow adventure, Rafael Grampa tells a brutal tale of Wolverine in a fighting ring, and James Stokoe details the destruction caused by world-eater Galactus in chilling detail. There are plenty of lighter stories as well, including Kraven’s hunt for a prom date by Kate Beaton, a mustache-growing contest between The Thing and The Human Torch by Jacob Chabot, and hilarious comic strips by Perry Bible Fellowship’s Nicholas Gurewitch. It’s also the only place to find samurai Hulk, given life by Usagi Yojimbo creator Stan Sakai.

6. Fantastic Four: Unstable Molecules (James Sturm, Guy Davis)
What if the heroes of the Fantastic Four were based on real people? That’s the concept of James Sturm and Guy Davis’ Eisner Award-winning miniseries Fantastic Four: Unstable Molecules, exploring the cultural foundation of Marvel’s First Family by stripping away its powers and casting it as a middle-class American family in the 1950s. Dr. Reed Richards is a scientist stretching himself thin between his home and work; Susan Sturm is a neglected woman aching to escape her life of suburban domesticity but tied down by Reed and her rebellious kid brother, Johnny; and Ben Grimm is a deadbeat boxing trainer desperately looking for someone to love. It’s a brilliant piece of historical fiction that looks at the relationships among these characters in ways that haven’t been detailed before, and even includes a cameo appearance from the founders of Marvel Comics, who crash the party Susan throws for Reed’s co-workers.

7. God And Science: Return Of The Ti-Girls (Jaime Hernandez)
In its early-’80s infancy, the universe of Los Bros. Hernandez’s Love And Rockets encompassed a myriad of genres and probabilities, from subdued magic realism to pulp science-fiction. Jaime Hernandez returned to the latter—with a healthy dose of capes and tights—in 2012’s God And Science: Return Of The Ti-Girls. A collection of a serialized tale from the pages of L&R, Ti-Girls revolves around the series’ secondary player, Penny Century, and her tragicomic stabs at superheroism—with plenty of ultra-powered poignancy provided by L&R main character Maggie Chascarrillo.

8. The Death-Ray (Daniel Clowes)
In his epochal indie series Eightball, Daniel Clowes set about deconstructing everything he could put his pen to: David Lynch-esque surrealism, coming-of-age angst-fests, and even comics fandom itself. In a 2004 issue of Eightball, he introduced his ultimate pastiche: The Death-Ray. Fleshed out into a 2011 graphic novel, The Death-Ray not only spoofed and backhandedly honored Steve Ditko’s groundbreaking co-creation of the ectomorphic, misanthropic superhero (see: Spider-Man), it stretched Clowes’ postmodern oeuvre into the mythology of spandex.

9. Omega The Unknown (Farel Dalrymple)
When novelist Jonathan Lethem revived forgotten Steve Garber creation Omega The Unknown in 2007, he needed an artist that could balance superhero spectacle and slice-of-life realism for his haunting coming-of-age story. Pop Gun War creator Farel Dalrymple renders the New York City environment in meticulous detail, and shows an understanding of the full range of human emotion that is required for Lethem’s deeply personal, psychologically dense script. Following a teenage boy who discovers his parents are robots just before meeting a superhero that he shares a mysterious bond with, the miniseries breaks down superhero conventions to tell an experimental yet deeply poignant tale of a young man trying to find his place in the world. The superhero elements take a backseat to the character interactions, and Dalrymple’s talent for capturing the mundane aspects of civilian life brings even more impact to the moments of fantasy.

10. Batman: Year 100 (Paul Pope)
The thick inks and dynamic motion of Paul Pope’s work make him an ideal fit for the shadow-covered, action-packed world of the Dark Knight, and he gets free rein to do whatever he wants with the hero by jumping forward in time to tell story set in the Gotham City in the future. Pope’s sense of design is utilitarian with a heavy dose of sci-fi spectacle, creating a strikingly imposing urban environment that is grounded in gritty reality. Few Batman costume designs are as meticulously detailed as Pope’s, which calls attention to the folds in the costume’s fabric, the laces and tread of his leather boots, and the clips that attach his cape to his body armor. It’s such a great look that DC made a statue of it, and the three-dimensional model beautifully captures the sense of weight that Pope brings to his artwork.

11. SuperF*ckers (James Kochalka)
The best superhero spoofs cut to the core of the pratfalls and bathos that real people would suffer if given extraordinary powers. And then there’s SuperF*ckers. Collected in 2010, James Kochalka’s saga of his band of do-nothing do-gooders departs wildly in topic—if not tone—from his quirky-yet-heartfelt works like the autobiographical American Elf. It makes synchronous sense that SuperF*ckers was adapted in animated form starting in 2012; if ever there were a contender for a superhero parallel to Adventure Time (only with profanity), SuperF*ckers is it.

12. Wonder Wart-Hog (Gilbert Shelton)
The underground comix revolution that began in the ’60s went arm-in-arm with the ascendant counterculture—which means superheroes were about as welcome as narcs. Leave it to underground cartoonist Gilbert Shelton of Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers fame to mash together the two ends of the spectrum. Started as a lark in college humor magazine in 1962, the grotesque takedown of the Superman mythos—at a time when DC was doing its Silver Age best to make the real Superman look as ridiculous as possible—continued for years, eventually being recognized as one of the first instances of an independent cartoonist publishing his own warped mutation of the upstanding superhero.

13. Daredevil Vol. 2 #51-55 (David Mack)
Kabuki creator David Mack introduced deaf assassin Maya “Echo” Lopez in an earlier Daredevil storyline with artist Joe Quesada, but he takes complete creative control when he sends the Native American character on a vision quest years after her first appearance. Using his signature mix of pencil, paint, and collage, Mack creates a visually stunning story that reads unlike anything else Marvel published at the time. It’s stylistically and thematically similar to Mack’s creator-owned work, but replaces Japanese mythology and iconography with that of Native American culture. Being one of the publisher’s top characters, Wolverine has to appear in as many Marvel titles as possible, but Mack cleverly inserts him in the middle of Echo’s vision quest by casting the hairy mutant as her spirit animal.

14. Runaways Vol. 3 #1-9 (Terry Moore)
Terry Moore’s Strangers In Paradise shows an acute ability for depicting believable human relationships on a comic page, but that skill doesn’t translate when he’s working on superhero teens. Following in the footsteps of former Runaways writers Brian K. Vaughan and Joss Whedon isn’t an easy task, but Moore opts for a Saturday-morning cartoon feel that doesn’t gel with the more mature tone of the previous volumes. The writer backtracks on established character development to return the Runaways to the personalities they had in the very first issue of the series, and he loses sight of the book’s central concept: being on the run. Sales plummeted during Moore’s run, and despite Marvel’s best efforts to revive the title after Moore’s departure, it was quickly canceled, and the Runaways have not had an ongoing series since.

15. Wonder Woman (Kate Beaton)
Unlike Peter Bagge’s Megalomaniacal Spider-Man or Incorrigible Hulk, Kate Beaton’s recurring rendition of Wonder Woman is not officially condoned, licensed, or otherwise approved. Not that Beaton cares. On her Hark! A Vagrant webcomic, Beaton interprets the Amazonian superhero as a snarling, mean-spirited woman who only wonders why everyone around her—Superman and Batman included—are such idiots. Not only does Beaton poke fun at the many attempts by male creators over the decades to make Wonder Woman a strident feminist, it loops a mercilessly satirical Lasso Of Truth around the character’s inherent magniloquence.

16. Bighead (Jeffrey Brown)
For every muted, hushed, depressingly funny burst of autobiography that Jeffrey Brown has put on the page—from his 2002 breakthrough, Clumsy, to the superb new A Matter Of Life—the cartoonist has executed a goofy interpretation or parody of some pop-culture icon. Whether it’s the Transformers in Incredible Change-Bots or Star Wars in his current series of Darth Vader-as-hapless-dad books, Brown’s flair for parody is both cutting and loving. But he’s only dabbled in superheroes once; in 2004’s Bighead, he uses his titular crusader to illustrate how acting gentle, silly, and even deploying a non sequitur can save the day as easily as being made of steel.

17. Prophet (Various)
Brandon Graham’s library of erotic comics and sci-fi slacker stories makes him an unconventional choice to revive a Rob Liefeld property from the early ’90s, but his unique point of view is exactly why Prophet has become one of Image’s best series. Teaming with artists Simon Roy, Farel Dalrymple, and Giannis Milonogiannis, and occasionally contributing to the visuals himself, Graham has created a sprawling epic that is part Conan The Barbarian, part Dune, complete with a H.R. Giger-esque design aesthetic inspired by genitalia. Every few issues, Graham hands over the writing reins to one of his artistic collaborators, introducing even more distinct perspectives to the narrative. Prophet is one of the most bizarre, unpredictable superhero comics currently published, and the scope only expands with each new issue.
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Featured artists

Daniel Clowes
Kate Beaton
Gilbert Hernandez

          



Bad At Sports on the Daniel Clowes exhibit at the MCA

Updated September 11, 2013


"Meanwhile...the art of Daniel Clowes"

Bad at Sports, July 14, 2013

Daniel Clowes is one of the artists of his generation associated with bolstering comics’ status into the realm of literary inquiry. While Clowes’s widespread popularity is not necessarily intentional, it does allow me to assert that Clowes had a hand in making it possible for comics to be considered required reading while I was in college (no really, thank you). His work is haunted by teenagers and adults adrift in a lonely American landscape. All of whom are currently on the loose in Clowes’s eclectic, career-spanning retrospective, Modern Cartoonist: The Art of Daniel Clowes, exhibiting at the Museum of Contemporary Art. On view is an impressive collection of originals spanning all of Clowes’s publications to-date, including: Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron (1993), Ghost World (1997), David Boring (2000), Ice Haven (2005), Wilson (2010), and The Death-Ray (2011).

My initial reaction was not towards Clowes’s work, but rather an irksome canonical attempt. The show is fronted with a wall wide timeline of comics history by cartoonist, Paul Hornschemeier. The assumption being that the MCA’s audience has had little previous exposure to the medium. Even though it’s arguable that Clowes’s imagery is ubiquitously cross-hatched into American pop consciousness. The effect is awkward; awkward like an overbearing posi-parent who is clearly not comfortable with their teenager’s blossoming identity politics, but is supportive nevertheless. While the MCA has hosted comics exhibitions in the past (Chris Ware. 2006, New Chicago Comics. 2011) the timeline epitomizes a friction still present between comics and art institutions’ reluctant willingness to accept them as one of their own.
For viewers with no working knowledge of comics, the timeline is unfortunately ineffective in educating. Hornschemeier scripts a stringent and odd history: foregoing women’s participation in comics, jumping erratically between different nationalities’ connection to the medium, omitting important innovations in print technology, and a puzzling lack of references to Clowes’s influences. Clowes’s retrospective, in part, celebrates the diverse and rambunctious comic centricity of Chicago and the impact of Chicago on Clowes’s work. The city houses a high density of comics creators, enthusiasts, academics, and thinkers – Clowes himself a Chicago native. With so many smart comics folks wandering around you can’t spit without hitting one, I’m left wondering why Hornschemeier was selected for the task of canonization and whether the museum curators sought a second opinion. Thematically, Clowes’s work trends to showcasing his simultaneous self-protecting cynicism and affection of comics’ evolving place within an art context. While the show’s introduction is an embarrassing example of the potential root of Clowes’s uneasiness – it’s certainly not working in his favor.
Comics exhibitions are typically, perhaps even inherently, about process. The work on the walls is unstable and has not yet calcified into it’s final form as a work of art. Clowes’s comics are intentionally built to be read. The focus is on narrative structure and storytelling, as opposed to the flip-side of playing with the visual richness of the medium. Reading desks and large, upholstered nooks with copies of Clowes’s books dapple the space while original pages of his comics span the width of the galleries. The result is claustrophobic in a good way, providing a daunting depiction of the amount of labor involved in comics creation. Clowes’s work is more emblematic of illustration than that of a painter or print maker, albeit his skills as a draftsmen almost render the various changes that occur during printing production invisible: penciling or under drawings are rarely present, Clowes’s adept brush work meticulously cover the initial draft, and the gouache painted covers in the show are breathtaking. The flawlessness of the line work and the confidence embedded in Clowes’s drawings almost seem to undermine the self-doubt and alienation present within his stories.
One way of encountering the show as a whole, is through the logic of Clowes’s Ice Haven, a comic originally published in Eightball #22. The story follows the lives of residents in the small midwestern town of Ice Haven as they slowly become enmeshed in the kidnapping of a boy named David Goldberg. Each character stars as the lead in their very own comic strip. Each stylistically unique, Clowes occasionally appropriating from comic strip classics with nods to Charles Schultz’s, Peanuts and to the Flintstones. The move is a kaleidoscopic one, and serves as a metaphor for the inter-connectivity of the characters’ worlds even if the characters themselves are in a constantly tragic state of misunderstanding. Like Ice Haven (sans the kidnapping), the Daniel Clowes retrospective is an intimate microcosm in which each of Clowes’s character contain some small conflicting slice of his psyche. From beginning to end, his characters even seem to inhabit his own lifeline: from the bummed out art school graduate, to the cliché misanthropic middle-aged man. Whether the conflict lies between Clowes and the art world, his tumultuous love/hate relationship with alienation, or contained complexly between the characters in his comics, each contender stands ready to duke it out all the way to the disturbing and bitter end, yet secretly smitten for the other.

Special thanks as always to comics critic Brian Nicholson for being an all around smart guru.
 
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Featured artist

Daniel Clowes

          



  Chicage Tribune spotlights Daniel Clowes's Chicago Mural

Updated September 11, 2013


"Daniel Clowes previews Chicago mural in MCA show"

by Christopher Borrelli
Chicago Tribune, June 26, 2013

"Whenever someone mentions Chicago to me these days, whenever someone just says the word 'Chicago,' literally the first thing I think of are carpet ads," cartoonist Daniel Clowes said this week from his home in Oakland, Calif. "Magikist signs, Mohawk ads. Especially that 'HUdson 3-2700' jingle. That's lodged in my head. And that's my Chicago. I don't even remember the '90s, and I don't accept Millennium Park or The Bean. Chicago 1972 to 1979 is what I remember, and so I figured that's the Chicago that I'd give them."


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His Illinois, trapped in ink.

The large-scale retrospective "Modern Cartoonist: The Art of Daniel Clowes" opens Saturday at the Museum of Contemporary Art, and in addition to drawings from his seminal '90s comic "Eightball," a sampling of his celebrated New Yorker magazine covers and sketches that led to "Ghost World" (which later became an acclaimed film, earning Clowes an Oscar nomination for adapted screenplay), there will be a pair of new works. Neither were part of the show when it debuted last year at the Oakland Museum of California.

With good reason.

California probably wouldn't appreciate old carpet-advertising kitsch the way Chicago would. And so, flanking the ends of two MCA galleries will be a pair of enormous murals: on the east wall, Clowes' vision of Chicago facing east, looking out on a Lake Michigan teeming with alewife fish and tour boats, the old WFLD traffic helicopter flying past. And on the west wall, Clowes' jumbled childhood image of Chicago facing west, a riot of Near North skyscrapers towering over a Loop full of billboards for Vienna Beef and Garfield Goose.

Clowes is 52, and though he's spent the past two decades in Oakland, if you haven't figured it out, he grew up here in the 1960s and 1970s, a native of Hyde Park. "Modern Cartoonist" runs until Oct. 13, after which it travels to the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., then the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio. But only Chicago will see these large, insider-reference-stuffed works, or as Clowes put it, "Chicago the way Chicago seems in my head." What we have here is a preview, the mural for the MCA's west wall.

How many Chicago references can you spot?

[Follow the link] for Clowes' tour of the mural.
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Featured artist

Daniel Clowes

          



Wall Street International Magazine plugs Chicago's Daniel Clowes exhibit

Updated September 10, 2013


"Modernt Cartoonist: The Art of Daniel Clowes"

Wall Street International Magazine, July 9, 2013

The Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) Chicago presents the first-ever survey of internationally celebrated comic book artist and graphic novelist, Daniel Clowes. On view June 29 to October 13, 2013, Modern Cartoonist: The Art of Daniel Clowes features excerpts from the Academy Award-nominated graphic storyteller’s multifaceted career, with more than 150 works from 1989 to the present day. The exhibition includes both the original drawings from which Clowes’s cartoons, comic book series, graphic novels, and illustrations are made, as well as the original comics and graphic novels.

Organized by the Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) -- in the city that Chicago-born Clowes now calls home -- Modern Cartoonist is expanded significantly for its MCA presentation. Clowes has created two new commissions that occupy two massive endwalls of the installation and give the impression of “windows” where visitors look straight out onto a Clowesian view of Chicago. These murals are filled with wonderful Chicago-specific symbols and details, frozen in time from the 1970s when Clowes grew up in Chicago. They are displayed as part of an exhibition design that blends contemporary graphic style with shades of a Victorian parlor. Equally deft as a draughtsman and a writer, Clowes’s work features character-driven narratives, tinged with dark and witty realism. To date, he has published nearly 50 comic books and graphic novels including Ghost World, Art School Confidential, David Boring, Ice Haven, Wilson, and Mister Wonderful.

Throughout his 25-year career, Clowes has been at the forefront of artistic and cultural movements. In 1989, Clowes’s groundbreaking comic book series Eightball defined indie culture with wry humor, venom, and empathy. With each successive graphic novel he has been praised for his emotionally compelling narratives, which have earned him a large following and multiple industry awards including several Eisner, Harvey, and Ignatz awards.

Clowes gained wide recognition in 2001 with the release of Ghost World, the Terry Zwigoff-directed, Academy Award-nominated film for which Clowes wrote the screenplay. This was followed in 2006 by the release of Art School Confidential, based in part on Clowes’s own schooling. Today, an adaptation of Clowes’s graphic novel Wilson is currently in development at Fox Searchlight with Oscar award-winning director Alexander Payne (The Descendants) leading the project.

Clowes is also a highly acclaimed magazine illustrator with work appearing in Time, Newsweek, GQ, and many other magazines. Beginning in 2007, Clowes became a regular cover artist for the New Yorker and created the twenty-episode series Mr. Wonderful for The New York Times Magazine.

Modern Cartoonist: The Art of Daniel Clowes is organized by guest curator Susan Miller and OMCA Senior Curator of Art René de Guzman. The Chicago presentation is organized by MCA Curator Lynne Warren.
 
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Featured artist

Daniel Clowes

          



  "The beaten down faces of our great Chicago": The Chicago Tribune in conversation with Daniel Clowes

Updated September 10, 2013


"Portrait fo this artist begins on city bus: Clowes' art relies on Chicago faces"

by Chirstopher Borrelli
The Chicago Tribune, July 5, 2013

The other day I met with cartoonist Daniel Clowes. We walked around the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, which just opened a major new retrospective of his work. Clowes is thin and somber, with graying temples and the look of a stoic Midwestern farmhand. He is 52 and wore drab colors and a dark baseball cap and dark sneakers. He said: "You know, sometimes I wonder if I spent half of my childhood riding the Jeffery Express bus downtown from Hyde Park. I would get carsick, so I found myself staring upward and across, at the beaten down faces of our great Chicago." He laughed at his own melodramatic newsreel tone.

"I would not make eye contact," he continued, darting his eyes up and down, demonstrating technique. "Most people were staring at their shoes, so when they raised their faces I would memorize what they were wearing and what they looked like — what about that guy's face revealed that he was a hopeless alcoholic."

I nodded.

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Sometimes on the No. 147 I see a Clowesean face. A Clowesean face is marked by longing and regret, though rarely anguish. It has a haunted, lived-in placidity, as if whatever left its mark happened a lifetime ago. A Clowesean face feels uneasily real and never quite pretty. Indeed, a Clowesean face is every bad picture of yourself: The head is too large (or too small) and the forehead too prominent, the sags are sagging, the lips thinning (and teeth coming forward), the hairstyle is somewhat outdated (but perversely, intensely coiffed).

A Clowesean face is a face that could be torn from one of Clowes' comics, or vice versa — a face that Clowes, who grew up in Chicago, appropriated. For instance, one of Clowes' more generous caricatures is Enid Coleslaw, the freckled, black-bobbed dyspeptic from "Ghost World" — Clowes' best-known work (and later an acclaimed movie that landed Clowes a 2002 Oscar nomination for adapted screenplay). Clowes may have started "Ghost World" in 1992 just after leaving Wicker Park and moving to Oakland, Calif., but Enid is recognizably early-'90s Wicker Park, the sarcastic hipster archetype.

An Everyhipster — gawky features included.

Last weekend, at the opening of "Modern Cartoonist: The Art of Daniel Clowes," MCA curator Lynne Warren found herself staring closely at the fans who lined up to have their show catalogs signed by Clowes. "Certain artists, they become a part of your visual repertoire," she said. "You occasionally see a Chris Ware comic or Roger Brown silhouette out in the world. Dan's faces, though, I see all the time."

Because you have one.

I have one.

"You may think of a Clowes face as distorted," said Ken Parille, editor of the new "Daniel Clowes Reader" (a kind of alternative catalog to the official catalog), "but go into any public place and look twice at someone when they are not looking — that's when you begin to realize there's a weird photo-realism to his work."

So much so that recently, when I stumbled onto Daniel Bertner's startled, grimacing, video-camera portraits, I thought immediately of Clowes' faces. Last February, Bertner, who graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago last year, set up a surveillance camera outside his Pilsen apartment, at Damen Avenue and 21st Street. He attached a note of explanation: This camera, connected to facial recognition software, is an art project; your photo is being taken and posted on Twitter without your consent.

Looking at his Pilsen portraits (on Twitter at @chicagofaces), two thoughts come to mind:

The first is that portraiture — both consensual and surreptitious — is thriving. On the harmless side, there are movie posters (more likely now to be character portraits than storytelling panoramas) and street-fashion blogs (which seem to proliferate daily). On the more-likely-to-rankle-privacy-activists side is portraiture such as Bertner's, which he said he conceived as a portrait of the Pilsen community and its "emotional gestures." Visually, though, it's more reminiscent of the grainy images found on Skype, another form of portraiture. (You might even argue that the outrage over the National Security Agency surveillance program and its desire to keep the communications records on millions of Americans is in part a debate about unauthorized portraiture.)

My second thought: Clowes has been doing this for 30 years — only slowly, subtly.

As you walk into his MCA show, you're greeted by a projection of 300 of his faces, many of which originated in Chicago: defiant faces morphing into desperate faces, geeky into dour, crazy into sober. More interestingly, you're also greeted with a wry, self-denigrating portrait of Clowes: Wall text at the entrance claims that he "defined the indie aesthetic of his generation" and "captured the dissatisfaction and alienation of a generation." Turn the corner and, like a visual wedgy, you see "Pussey!" — a portrait of Clowes' creation Dan Pussey, a cartoonist who finds fame and dies alone. The walls are lined with Clowes' original drawings and test pieces clustered around each of Clowes' graphic novels and comics and projects; the final "Pussey!" piece, for instance, shows two elderly women in Dan Pussey's nursing home tossing out his life's work.

On the other hand, on the be-careful-what-you-wish-for end of the self-flagellation scale, there's also a portrait of Clowes as a cartooning robot ("which is how I felt at the time"), moving through a convention, signing a comic with one hand and strangling a fan with another, drawing a comic with yet another hand and all the time using X-ray vision to spy on a couple sipping Champagne far from the cartoon world.

As we walked around the MCA, Clowes said the show is much larger than its initial incarnation last year at the Oakland Museum of California: "In Oakland it felt like walking into a retirement party. Here, in my hometown, it's surreal, like coming upon a shrine to yourself — I can't grasp how the kid on the Jeffery got here."

Like many cartoonists, he can be lavishly self-deprecating: He likens the art on the walls — many pieces of which are the original art created for his books — more to "the honeycomb a bee leaves" than a work of art intended for a museum. The handful of paintings in the show — painstakingly created over weeks to achieve a flat, bright color that publishers could never reproduce correctly (which is why there are so few paintings here) — he considers not his thing. "I don't enjoy paint as much as ink, which has this visceral feel to me," he said. "Ink is like blood, so much so that when you wash it off your hands at the end of the day, it pours out over the sink like blood, exactly as blood does when you have a cut. Ink's a part of me in a way paint isn't.

"My stuff's not meant to be seen as abstract shapes across from a gallery," he continued. "It doesn't have that thing where a shape pulls you across a room. It's drawn at arm's length and to be read at arm's length."

We walked on.

I stopped at a portrait of a child, a hairy, downtrodden mass of a kid — almost a furry egg on legs.

"Hair and glasses make a character recognizable," Clowes said. "Even with a very realistic comic you are losing maybe 80 percent of the information you would get from a photo of the same thing. There's always more."

Which is ironic to hear, considering that Clowes is one of the more technically accomplished cartoonist working, "a more sophisticated renderer of faces than your average accomplished visual artist," Warren said, "operating more in an old-masters tradition, the kind not valued very highly in a lot of art schools right now." Indeed, Susan Miller, the San Francisco-based curator who organized the show, said: "Dan is accessing a tradition of portraiture that doesn't even have much to do with the art world, because his portraits are embedded within comics. His book, 'Wilson,' for instance, is a portrait, but it requires reading, assimilating the character over the course of the book — because Dan has extended the concept of what a portrait is."

There's a mix of nostalgia and disgust going on in many of his portraits, as though Clowes, who draws heavily from bright pop designs and characters of the '60s and '70s, hates himself for being unable to leave his childhood behind. Parille described this odd feeling as the result of "a guy who can deliver Henry James but make it look like 'Hagar the Horrible,' wedding the absolute clarity of a Sunday comic with incredible inner complexity."

I told Clowes that his characters often look like comic strip characters aged in real time.

"Yup," Clowes said.

We stopped in front of a strip, made for his comic book "Eight Ball." It shows a cheerful man extolling Chicago while behind him the locals grunt, ask for deep dish and insist: "If you can't find it in Chicago, you don't need it!" The man continues his hosannas, praising "the mighty waters of Lake Michigan" and retaining his boosterish spirit — even as he swan-dives off the Hancock building. The man is sweating and delusional (and his fly was down the entire time). Look closely, at arm's length. The guy looks a lot like Daniel Clowes.
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The Art of Daniel Clowes at Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art

Updated September 10, 2013


"What Chicago Looks Like As a Daniel Clowes Illustration"

by Jason Foumberg
Chicagomag.com, July 2013


At 52, Ghost World creator Daniel Clowes is the elder statesman of a generation of Chicago comic artists who color the world with equal shades of tragicomedy and Midwestern banality (Exhibit A: Chris Ware).

And while Clowes now lives in Oakland, California, his formative years in Hyde Park and Wicker Park cafés still influence his work.

Witness Looking at the City: Daniel Clowes, which inspired a new mural on display through October 13 at the Museum of Contemporary Art.



The Skyline

“The Hancock Tower [A] was the tallest building in Chicago for a long time. There was a sense of pride in this huge building.” Clowes says that the scene is “totally inaccurate”: “I didn’t look at photos or anything. All my visions of Chicago are circa 1978.”



The Midwest Archetype

John Belushi [B], the late Chicago comic known for The Blues Brothers and Saturday Night Live’s Billy Goat Tavern cheeseburger sketch, “embodies the ‘Chicago guy,’ ” says Clowes, “with the physical presence of someone who grew up eating Vienna hot dogs [C].”



The Media

“I had a chip on my shoulder,” Clowes says about growing up in Chicago in the 1960s and ’70s. “I felt inferior to NYC because all the good artists were there.” Likewise, there were no major media outlets in the city. “Roger Ebert [D] was the first Chicagoan to be a national [media] figure. He spoke at my grade school. He seemed like a Chicago guy.”



The Ad Industry

“Every kid my age remembers the Magikist ad [E],” he says of the carpet cleaner’s famed campaign.



The Childhood Association

The shadow characters [F] in the windows and on the streets are specter-like homages to Clowes’s own relationship with the city. “I feel like I could easily never go back to Chicago ever again,” he says. Chicago is a “haunted” place where he experienced “the loss of my childhood.”



The Art Community

“In the ’90s, I lived in Wicker Park in a nice apartment. It was not a good neighborhood, but you could get large places [for cheap].” Clowes recalls Chris Ware once coming home from the School of the Art Institute at 2 a.m. and spotting Clowes in the window at his drawing table [G].

GO: Modern Cartoonist: The Art of Daniel Clowes runs through Oct. 13 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago Ave. For info, mcachicago.org.
 
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  Literary luminaries call out Clowes, Brown and Modan for notice.

Updated June 5, 2013


"A roundup of graphic novels worth reading"

The Chicago Tribune, May 25, 2013

....Daniel Handler, the author aka Lemony Snicket

Where to start: Kyle Baker's "Why I Hate Saturn" is great for beginners. It has a twisty-but-linear story that feels like a smart, weird HBO series — the kind you rewatch just to catch all the surprises.

An essential: Dan Clowes' "The Death-Ray" is everything a graphic novel should be: The story is colored like an old comic but sinks in like a book, and its fragmentary technique moves the story so speedily so that you might not notice that its structural inventiveness would have bagged a Pulitzer had it been entirely textual. It's often overlooked, although that might be because Clowes has given us at least four other essential graphic novels....

....Anders Nilsen, author of "The End" and "Big Questions"

An essential: Aside from the stuff I read as a kid — particularly Tintin — the comics that were most influential to me were Chester Brown's work in the '90s. His autobiographical work is the best in comics, but his otherworldly "Ed the Happy Clown," for me, is a real masterpiece of the medium. It's some of the most inventive, exuberant, funny, strange and disturbing storytelling on the planet. True brilliance. It's been out of print for years, but was finally reissued last year.

Where to start: A great starting point for someone new to the medium might be the work of Rutu Modan. Her book "Exit Wounds" of a few years back was really wonderful, touching on large world events, but on a very human scale, with very real characters navigating human foibles. Her drawing and color are both straightforward and beautiful....
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Rutu Modan
Daniel Clowes

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The Death-Ray




Huffington Post Interviews Dan Clowes

Updated June 4, 2013



"Dan Clowes, Comic Visionary, On His Chicago Retrospective And Life In Oakland"

By Priscilla Frank

The Huffington Post, May 15, 2013 3:52 pm EDT

There was a time when comic book pages were occupied by superheroes and masked avengers, but now many are filled by the trials and tribulations of misfits, loners, sad sacks, pervs and total weirdos. For this we largely thank Dan Clowes, the visionary comic behind "Ghost World," "Mister Wonderful," "Wilson" and "The Death Ray."

While Clowes' name is on the tip of most tongues when discussing graphic novels, the art world has been a bit slower on the uptake, until recently. In 2012 the comic force, whose aesthetic has been compared to Pop artist Alex Katz, received his first museum retrospective in Oakland.

This summer, his hit exhibition, "Modern Cartoonist: The Art of Daniel Clowes," is heading to his hometown. MCA Chicago will present 125 of Clowes' original drawings, along with gouache paintings of select comic covers. In anticipation of Clowes' journey home to the Windy City, we reached out to learn more about what our favorite misanthrope has been up to lately. Scroll down for a slideshow of his work.

HP: How does it feel to be returning to Chicago for your retrospective?

DC: I am excited about the show. Having grown up in Chicago and left it 20 years ago it is always painful to see how different it is. It is such a part of the world I am drawing every day, [but] everything I remember is gone, and on some level I still feel like it is 1974.

HP: How do you think experiencing your work in a museum setting affects the experience? Do you think it's possible to get the full effect of the comics?

DC: It's a very different experience. People who go to a museum are a very different crowd than the people who read comics. I am hoping people give it some attention and maybe some people will want to see it in its true form and, you know, read the books. I am hoping people who read the books will enjoy seeing the actual work as it was done by hand. I know at least for me, looking at the work of other cartoonists with other mistakes and erasures to give it that kind of humanity is a very powerful and moving experience.

HP: When you were thinking of backup jobs after art school what were some of the main contenders?

DC: I had no backup plan. I had no skills, I wasn't a good people person, I really put it all into trying to make a living either as an illustrator. I would not encourage that for any other kids! If I had had any other viable backup career, I probably would have gone into that.

HP: You've said "I was a child until I had a child." Did having a kid affect your imagination or creative habits?

DC: Not in the way that you imagine it. You think that when you have a kid you'll tap back into your childhood but it's more that you understand the importance of being an adult. It has changed my work in that I used to feel like a perennial adolescent and now I feel like I am coming at my work as a man and a father -- someone who has a weight on his shoulders.

HP: Are you in Oakland for life? What is your favorite part about the city?

DC: I think so. I like California. I like that the oldest things around here are from 1890. There is still lots of wilderness; it is kind of remarkable how little of the state parks have been destroyed. It is always kind of shocking when you drive up the coast and you are like nobody has actually put up billboards. When I go to New York I am just overwhelmed. On a given day in Oakland I see 100 people walk past me in an entire day and in New York I see like 500 immediately when I get off the train.

HP: You've expressed discontent about our cultural obsession with technology. Is there any technological device you couldn't live without?

Of course I have every single thing. The other day my son expressed an interest in taking apart a computer -- he is like nine years old. I thought I had one or two old computers in the basement, but we went down there and realized we had like 11 computers. And I was thinking, Oh, we're technophobes, but, no, we're real Apple suckers! Of course that makes me hate myself.

HP: You've said that growing up shy was a horrible experience. Do you feel like you've become more confident as an adult?

DC: I am not as self conscious as I was. I don't really care much anymore. I think that is part of having a kid. I have to be a good model for him, showing him how to interact with people. He is very at ease with everybody, so he is kind of a good role model for me.

HP: How old you do you feel?

DC: Right when I wake up I would say, like 28. That would be the number that popped up in my head. Which is good because it used to be 13. By the time I die it will be about 35.

"Modern Cartoonist: The Art Of Daniel Clowes" will show from June 29 until October 13, 2013 at MCA Chicago.
 
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Daniel Clowes

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The Death-Ray




  Washington City Paper's "gifts for nerds" lists Ware, Tomine, Clowes, and Tamaki

Updated January 15, 2013


International Ink: Gift Ideas for Comics Nerds (Part 1 of 2)
Posted by Mike Rhode on Nov. 26, 2012 at 12:30 pm
In which we take a look at a great big pile of review copies of comic books, cartoons, and graphic novels.

Somehow with the turn of the millennium, a weird cartoon switcheroo occurred, and alternative cartoonists became more mainstream than mainstream cartoonists. Chris Ware, Daniel Clowes, and Adrian Tomine are regulars in the New Yorker. Ivan Brunetti edits textbooks on cartooning for Yale. Illustrations by Tom Gauld, Lille Carre, and Jillian Tamaki routinely appear in the New York Times.

Tomine and Clowes' recent, lovely art books can be found at reasonable prices: New York Drawings (Drawn & Quarterly, $30) reprints the illustrations that Tomine has done for the New Yorker, along with additional illustrations of the city. The book is almost textless, but the art is all beautiful full color. The Art of Daniel Clowes: Modern Cartoonist, edited by Alvin Buenaventura (Abrams ComicArts, $40), is a catalog to accompany an exhibit of his work that is scheduled to arrive at the Corcoran in 2013. This book covers Clowes' entire career, even delving into unfinished sketches, layouts, and color guides alongside finished art. The text, meanwhile, explores movies based on Clowes' works, and includes essays by Chris Ware and book designer Chip Kidd.

Ware's Building Stories has been getting loads of attention this fall, but consider the academic collection, The Comics of Chris Ware: Drawing is a Way of Thinking, edited by David M. Ball and Martha B. Kuhlman (University Press of Mississippi, $55 hardcover, $28 paperback). Overall, its 15 essays are a little dense—but that's OK for this relatively difficult artist. Howard University professor Marc Singer even plunks down a 16-page essay on him.
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Adrian Tomine
Chris Ware
Daniel Clowes

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Rolling Stone interviews Los Bros Hernandez, Chris Ware, and Daniel Clowes

Updated January 14, 2013


Q&A: Comix Stars Daniel Clowes, Chris Ware and Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez
Four of the greatest graphic novelists alive on cartooning, bullying and Scarlett Johansson
By Sean T. Collins
September 26, 2012

Meet the men who made comics worth caring about.

When brothers Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez – affectionately known as "Los Bros" – burst onto the moribund comics scene in 1982 with the first issue of their tag-team anthology series Love and Rockets, they pioneered a new kind of comics storytelling: more thoughtful and character-based than the taboo-shattering undergrounds of the R. Crumb era, more sophisticated and wider in scope than the superhero slugfests that dominated the stands. The "alternative comics" movement they kickstarted was soon joined by Daniel Clowes, whose series Eightball allowed him to craft long-form, novelistic stories about intense and isolated characters, eventually collected in book format as graphic novels like Ghost World and David Boring.

Several years younger than his counterparts, Chris Ware made up for lost time with The ACME Novelty Library, a solo series of staggering ambition whose diagrammatic drawings zero in on devastating emotional moments in graphic novels such as Jimmy Corrigan and Jordan Wellington Lint.

Together, they're the Four Horsemen of Altcomix, the medium's most important figures. Their latest releases – Clowes's career retrospective Modern Cartoonist: The Art of Daniel Clowes; Ware's astonishing graphic-novel box set Building Stories, in which an apartment building's story is told in 14 separate books and pamphlets; and volume five of Gilbert and Jaime's Love and Rockets: New Stories, which sees them continue the saga of their sprawling casts of characters whose lives they've chronicled in real time for 30 years – comfortably back up that claim.

With Los Bros touring in support of Love and Rockets' 30th annniversary, and both Clowes and Ware making rare East Coast convention appearances at Bethesda, Maryland's Small Press Expo (SPX) last weekend, Rolling Stone sat down to talk shop with all four – the first time they'd been in a room together since a stopover at Chicago O'Hare in 1990. "It's almost like how Hillary Clinton couldn't go to the convention," Clowes explained. "One of us always has to be elsewhere in case something happens."

What's changed since the last time you were together?
Chris Ware: What hasn't changed?

Daniel Clowes: Chris was still in high school then. He was my ward.

Ware: [Little boy voice] Anything you say, Mr. Clowes.

Clowes: There are more than three girls at the comic conventions now.

Jaime Hernandez: Some of them even draw comics.

Until Love and Rockets started, the people who were out there saying comics could be smart were almost speaking theoretically.
Clowes: I remember when these guys came along, it was like, "OK, we finally have something!"

Ware: I came along right at the time when that sort of stuff was very visible. It was inspiring to me. I didn't have to plow the field and throw the rocks out.

Gilbert: So you didn't have to read Savage Sword of Conan.

Ware: No, but I did read Savage Sword of Conan. [Laughter]

Jaime: I sometimes think, "Well, these younger kids, a lot of them don't even know any of that old stuff!" Then I go, "What am I complaining about?"

Ware: You can look at the generation before our generation, the mainstream cartoonists – Marvel and DC guys who didn't get to keep their artwork or were treated poorly. It was much worse for them, and for the generation before that.

Clowes: Who were basically slaves.

How much do you keep up with what else is out there?
Gilbert: I don't even think of anybody else in this room when I'm drawing a comic. I don't. I don't think of anything but what I'm doing. And the last movie I saw, maybe.

Clowes: If there's somebody really good out there, you'll hear about it so much that you can't miss it.

Ware: Well, there are better cartoonists now than there ever have been. I firmly believe that. There's some amazing work being done.

Do you ever get emperor's-new-clothes'd?
Gilbert: You mean like a negative response to our work – "You guys aren't all that"?

Yeah. I've seen that happen.
Clowes: [feigning outrage] What?!

Gilbert: All four of us have established ourselves pretty well in comics, so there's not much of a threat. Young guys who say [surly voice] "Wuhh, you guys are fake, we're hot" – that never happens, because they suck. [Laughter]

Clowes: There's always gonna be that resentment. I had that when I was 25: "What makes that guy so great?" But then you hit a certain age and go, "Oh, I see."

Jaime: Sometimes, even if you don't particularly like the work yourself, you can't argue with what's on there, or what people who actually know what they're talking about are saying about it. Personally, I keep it to myself.

Gilbert: I have a pretty good eye, and I have yet to see any cartoonists that do what these three guys have done, but better. Nobody's done it, because we've placed our personalities in what we do, and that can't be repeated.

Ware: That's fundamentally the goal. You guys certainly did that amazingly well. I can't think of two other guys who did it better.

Clowes: I can't imagine doing anything like what you guys do. I like to kill the characters, be done with it and start over. "Ugh, I screwed that up, now I have to start something else." It's such a great feeling to start anew.

There's been a revival among alternative-comics circles toward a new pantheon of sci-fi/fantasy stuff, like old Heavy Metal comics.
Ware: I was not aware of this.

Gilbert: I have to toot our horn again: They don't have any personality! You're not really talking about anything but escapism. That's fine, I'm all for escapism, but the reason we do alternative comics is because it's all totally from our personality.

Clowes: I have to say I have a recently rediscovered fondness for Heavy Metal. That was a big deal when it came out: "Wow, you can draw robots with tits!" It has a certain charm to it, especially the really weird, unpleasant stuff in it. All that Richard Corben stuff was so disturbing.

Gilbert: You can tell the difference between artists: Who's the madman, and who's the guy just doin' it? That's why guys like [Joe] Kubert and [John] Buscema and John Romita, who were really amazingly skilled artists, there's just nothing there other than they're just really skilled artists. Then you see Crumb, who was just a complete nut.

Clowes: Or [Jack] Kirby, who was the opposite.

Gilbert: Or [Steve] Ditko. They're crazy men. "Who let them do this?" [Laughter]

Ware: When you talk about a pantheon . . . When I went to art school and I went to the art history classes, we were taught this very specific progression of where art came from and where it supposedly was going. It was almost like these pills you had to swallow that had been established by art critics and art writers. One of the things that appealed to me most about comics was that you can pick the ones you like and build your own personal pantheon. I've never met these younger kids who are more interested in – I just said "younger kids." I can't believe that. [Laughter] Younger artists are interested in Heavy Metal – that's great. That's something else completely to start from.

Gilbert: That's what was missing from alternative comics after us: The art got less and less good.

Jaime: Less and less important.

Gilbert: It was more about the writing. Eventually people are gonna rebel and say, "Where's the good drawings?" It's in Heavy Metal! I think that's what's happened – a backlash against blandness.

Clowes: Yeah, we spawned a lot of guys who just wanted to tell their funny little stories.

Gilbert: You read a lot of good comics like that, but you can see why Joe Public is going to see The Avengers. There's a reason.

Ware: Well, that's complicated. There's a lot of reasons for that. [Laughter]

Gilbert: It's funny: When Ghost World came out and Dan was nominated for the Oscar, I could just picture someone like Gwyneth Paltrow saying, "Dan Clowes' comic book . . . "

Clowes: And she did!

Gilbert: It was the most bizarre prediction ever. I just picked her out of a hat – I bet you somebody like that's gonna say it.

Clowes: I was sure she was gonna pronounce my name wrong, but they must have coached her. I thought that would be the perfect thing, to have the cute girl in class pronounce your name wrong when you're in the Science Fair.

Ware: A defining moment.

Gilbert: And this is probably the first time she ever mentioned a comic book in her life, and a few years later she's in Iron Man.

Ware: And Scarlett Johansson went on from Ghost World to do another comic book movie.

Clowes: I have to say she had such disdain for comics. [Laughter] They were the lowest.

Ware: I find it amazing that the stuff that I got made fun of and jumped in the hallway for reading, and spat upon – literally, some guy spit in the coat pocket of my jacket – is now mainstream culture.

Clowes: I saw an attractive teenage couple on the subway saying "Should we see Thor?" When I was a teenager, if I'd said, "Hey, wanna come over to my mom's house and read my original Kirby issues of Thor?" I'd have been peppersprayed. [Laughter]

Do you have to define yourself against that stuff anymore?
Ware: I don't think we ever did.

Clowes: Well, I would say half the interviews I do, they still ask, "With all the great comic-book movies coming out, which are your favorites?"

Jaime: It's hard to shake that old way of thinking. When I get really good responses from the mainstream, I wonder, "What are they looking at?" I can't picture them looking at our comic like an alternative fan. I picture them going "Hmm, let's study this! What is the concept with this character? Where is he going?"

Gilbert: They're waiting for the punchline. They're waiting for the kick. They don't understand how life flows – it's like, "Where's the revenge angle?"

Comics are taught in colleges now – that's a big change from even 2000 or so, when art professors would insult you to your face for that stuff.
Ware: That's what I went through. Maybe it's better. I don't know if it's better, but I found it was something to work against.

Clowes: It gave me so much energy, to be rejected like that. If everything I wanted to do in art school had been indulged, I don't think the art would have necessarily been good. I'd have just been guided along a path.

Ware: Most people who are teaching art are painters or sculptors, and they're not used to reading anything. They're not used to reading an image, they're used to looking at it. Which is fair.

Clowes: They're completely separate disciplines.

Gilbert: They're also bitter and jealous because they don't have a name and we do. [Laughter]

Ware: I've fought the idea of comics being illustration many times. To even mention them in the same breath is not helpful. If you're illustrating stories, then you're not writing comics. The real power of comics is writing as you draw.

Jaime: When I do illustration work on the side, it's totally different. I'm less than 100 percent satisfied when I finish the illustration, no matter how much work I put into it, because there's just something missing for me.

When you come to a place like this, is it a "hail the conquering heroes" moment for you?
Jaime: "These are our people?" No, though yesterday Dan dubbed us the Grand Old Men of Comics.

Ware: Absolutely not, no. I find it very painful and emotionally challenging.

Jaime: Everything is so –

Clowes: Factionalized.

Jaime:. Yeah. I know coming in here that there are people who've never heard of us.

Ware: I just feel so incredibly lucky. I never, ever thought I'd be able to make a living doing this. When I was 11 years old, I thought, "All I really wanna be able to do is my own comic book," and I'm doing it. I don't have any other real ambitions. I have nothing to conquer at all.

Gilbert: Wait – you make a living doing comics? [Laughter]

Jaime: People have asked, "When did you feel like you'd arrived?" My first issue.

Clowes: Nothing ever felt better than that.

 
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Chris Ware
Daniel Clowes
Gilbert Hernandez

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  After more than a decade, Rolling Stone reunite the Four Horsmen of altComix for a Q&A session

Updated January 14, 2013


Q&A: Comix Stars Daniel Clowes, Chris Ware and Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez
Four of the greatest graphic novelists alive on cartooning, bullying and Scarlett Johansson

By Sean T. Collins
September 26, 2012 12:40 PM ET

Meet the men who made comics worth caring about.

When brothers Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez – affectionately known as "Los Bros" – burst onto the moribund comics scene in 1982 with the first issue of their tag-team anthology series Love and Rockets, they pioneered a new kind of comics storytelling: more thoughtful and character-based than the taboo-shattering undergrounds of the R. Crumb era, more sophisticated and wider in scope than the superhero slugfests that dominated the stands. The "alternative comics" movement they kickstarted was soon joined by Daniel Clowes, whose series Eightball allowed him to craft long-form, novelistic stories about intense and isolated characters, eventually collected in book format as graphic novels like Ghost World and David Boring.

Several years younger than his counterparts, Chris Ware made up for lost time with The ACME Novelty Library, a solo series of staggering ambition whose diagrammatic drawings zero in on devastating emotional moments in graphic novels such as Jimmy Corrigan and Jordan Wellington Lint.

Together, they're the Four Horsemen of Altcomix, the medium's most important figures. Their latest releases – Clowes's career retrospective Modern Cartoonist: The Art of Daniel Clowes; Ware's astonishing graphic-novel box set Building Stories, in which an apartment building's story is told in 14 separate books and pamphlets; and volume five of Gilbert and Jaime's Love and Rockets: New Stories, which sees them continue the saga of their sprawling casts of characters whose lives they've chronicled in real time for 30 years – comfortably back up that claim.


'Ghost World' by Daniel Clowes, 'Love and Rockets' by The Hernandez Bros. and 'Building Stories' by Chris Ware
Fantagraphics (2), Random House
With Los Bros touring in support of Love and Rockets' 30th annniversary, and both Clowes and Ware making rare East Coast convention appearances at Bethesda, Maryland's Small Press Expo (SPX) last weekend, Rolling Stone sat down to talk shop with all four – the first time they'd been in a room together since a stopover at Chicago O'Hare in 1990. "It's almost like how Hillary Clinton couldn't go to the convention," Clowes explained. "One of us always has to be elsewhere in case something happens."

What's changed since the last time you were together?
Chris Ware: What hasn't changed?

Daniel Clowes: Chris was still in high school then. He was my ward.

Ware: [Little boy voice] Anything you say, Mr. Clowes.

Clowes: There are more than three girls at the comic conventions now.

Jaime Hernandez: Some of them even draw comics.

Until Love and Rockets started, the people who were out there saying comics could be smart were almost speaking theoretically.
Clowes: I remember when these guys came along, it was like, "OK, we finally have something!"

Ware: I came along right at the time when that sort of stuff was very visible. It was inspiring to me. I didn't have to plow the field and throw the rocks out.

Gilbert: So you didn't have to read Savage Sword of Conan.

Ware: No, but I did read Savage Sword of Conan. [Laughter]

Jaime: I sometimes think, "Well, these younger kids, a lot of them don't even know any of that old stuff!" Then I go, "What am I complaining about?"

Ware: You can look at the generation before our generation, the mainstream cartoonists – Marvel and DC guys who didn't get to keep their artwork or were treated poorly. It was much worse for them, and for the generation before that.

Clowes: Who were basically slaves.

How much do you keep up with what else is out there?
Gilbert: I don't even think of anybody else in this room when I'm drawing a comic. I don't. I don't think of anything but what I'm doing. And the last movie I saw, maybe.

Clowes: If there's somebody really good out there, you'll hear about it so much that you can't miss it.

Ware: Well, there are better cartoonists now than there ever have been. I firmly believe that. There's some amazing work being done.

Do you ever get emperor's-new-clothes'd?
Gilbert: You mean like a negative response to our work – "You guys aren't all that"?

Yeah. I've seen that happen.
Clowes: [feigning outrage] What?!

Gilbert: All four of us have established ourselves pretty well in comics, so there's not much of a threat. Young guys who say [surly voice] "Wuhh, you guys are fake, we're hot" – that never happens, because they suck. [Laughter]

Clowes: There's always gonna be that resentment. I had that when I was 25: "What makes that guy so great?" But then you hit a certain age and go, "Oh, I see."

Jaime: Sometimes, even if you don't particularly like the work yourself, you can't argue with what's on there, or what people who actually know what they're talking about are saying about it. Personally, I keep it to myself.

Gilbert: I have a pretty good eye, and I have yet to see any cartoonists that do what these three guys have done, but better. Nobody's done it, because we've placed our personalities in what we do, and that can't be repeated.

Ware: That's fundamentally the goal. You guys certainly did that amazingly well. I can't think of two other guys who did it better.

Clowes: I can't imagine doing anything like what you guys do. I like to kill the characters, be done with it and start over. "Ugh, I screwed that up, now I have to start something else." It's such a great feeling to start anew.

There's been a revival among alternative-comics circles toward a new pantheon of sci-fi/fantasy stuff, like old Heavy Metal comics.
Ware: I was not aware of this.

Gilbert: I have to toot our horn again: They don't have any personality! You're not really talking about anything but escapism. That's fine, I'm all for escapism, but the reason we do alternative comics is because it's all totally from our personality.

Clowes: I have to say I have a recently rediscovered fondness for Heavy Metal. That was a big deal when it came out: "Wow, you can draw robots with tits!" It has a certain charm to it, especially the really weird, unpleasant stuff in it. All that Richard Corben stuff was so disturbing.

Gilbert: You can tell the difference between artists: Who's the madman, and who's the guy just doin' it? That's why guys like [Joe] Kubert and [John] Buscema and John Romita, who were really amazingly skilled artists, there's just nothing there other than they're just really skilled artists. Then you see Crumb, who was just a complete nut.

Clowes: Or [Jack] Kirby, who was the opposite.

Gilbert: Or [Steve] Ditko. They're crazy men. "Who let them do this?" [Laughter]

Ware: When you talk about a pantheon . . . When I went to art school and I went to the art history classes, we were taught this very specific progression of where art came from and where it supposedly was going. It was almost like these pills you had to swallow that had been established by art critics and art writers. One of the things that appealed to me most about comics was that you can pick the ones you like and build your own personal pantheon. I've never met these younger kids who are more interested in – I just said "younger kids." I can't believe that. [Laughter] Younger artists are interested in Heavy Metal – that's great. That's something else completely to start from.

Gilbert: That's what was missing from alternative comics after us: The art got less and less good.

Jaime: Less and less important.

Gilbert: It was more about the writing. Eventually people are gonna rebel and say, "Where's the good drawings?" It's in Heavy Metal! I think that's what's happened – a backlash against blandness.

Clowes: Yeah, we spawned a lot of guys who just wanted to tell their funny little stories.

Gilbert: You read a lot of good comics like that, but you can see why Joe Public is going to see The Avengers. There's a reason.

Ware: Well, that's complicated. There's a lot of reasons for that. [Laughter]

Gilbert: It's funny: When Ghost World came out and Dan was nominated for the Oscar, I could just picture someone like Gwyneth Paltrow saying, "Dan Clowes' comic book . . . "

Clowes: And she did!

Gilbert: It was the most bizarre prediction ever. I just picked her out of a hat – I bet you somebody like that's gonna say it.

Clowes: I was sure she was gonna pronounce my name wrong, but they must have coached her. I thought that would be the perfect thing, to have the cute girl in class pronounce your name wrong when you're in the Science Fair.

Ware: A defining moment.

Gilbert: And this is probably the first time she ever mentioned a comic book in her life, and a few years later she's in Iron Man.

Ware: And Scarlett Johansson went on from Ghost World to do another comic book movie.

Clowes: I have to say she had such disdain for comics. [Laughter] They were the lowest.

Ware: I find it amazing that the stuff that I got made fun of and jumped in the hallway for reading, and spat upon – literally, some guy spit in the coat pocket of my jacket – is now mainstream culture.

Clowes: I saw an attractive teenage couple on the subway saying "Should we see Thor?" When I was a teenager, if I'd said, "Hey, wanna come over to my mom's house and read my original Kirby issues of Thor?" I'd have been peppersprayed. [Laughter]

Do you have to define yourself against that stuff anymore?
Ware: I don't think we ever did.

Clowes: Well, I would say half the interviews I do, they still ask, "With all the great comic-book movies coming out, which are your favorites?"

Jaime: It's hard to shake that old way of thinking. When I get really good responses from the mainstream, I wonder, "What are they looking at?" I can't picture them looking at our comic like an alternative fan. I picture them going "Hmm, let's study this! What is the concept with this character? Where is he going?"

Gilbert: They're waiting for the punchline. They're waiting for the kick. They don't understand how life flows – it's like, "Where's the revenge angle?"

Comics are taught in colleges now – that's a big change from even 2000 or so, when art professors would insult you to your face for that stuff.
Ware: That's what I went through. Maybe it's better. I don't know if it's better, but I found it was something to work against.

Clowes: It gave me so much energy, to be rejected like that. If everything I wanted to do in art school had been indulged, I don't think the art would have necessarily been good. I'd have just been guided along a path.

Ware: Most people who are teaching art are painters or sculptors, and they're not used to reading anything. They're not used to reading an image, they're used to looking at it. Which is fair.

Clowes: They're completely separate disciplines.

Gilbert: They're also bitter and jealous because they don't have a name and we do. [Laughter]

Ware: I've fought the idea of comics being illustration many times. To even mention them in the same breath is not helpful. If you're illustrating stories, then you're not writing comics. The real power of comics is writing as you draw.

Jaime: When I do illustration work on the side, it's totally different. I'm less than 100 percent satisfied when I finish the illustration, no matter how much work I put into it, because there's just something missing for me.

When you come to a place like this, is it a "hail the conquering heroes" moment for you?
Jaime: "These are our people?" No, though yesterday Dan dubbed us the Grand Old Men of Comics.

Ware: Absolutely not, no. I find it very painful and emotionally challenging.

Jaime: Everything is so –

Clowes: Factionalized.

Jaime:. Yeah. I know coming in here that there are people who've never heard of us.

Ware: I just feel so incredibly lucky. I never, ever thought I'd be able to make a living doing this. When I was 11 years old, I thought, "All I really wanna be able to do is my own comic book," and I'm doing it. I don't have any other real ambitions. I have nothing to conquer at all.

Gilbert: Wait – you make a living doing comics? [Laughter]

Jaime: People have asked, "When did you feel like you'd arrived?" My first issue.

Clowes: Nothing ever felt better than that.

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Daniel Clowes
Gilbert Hernandez

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Vice Magazine interviews Daniel Clowes

Updated August 27, 2012


CHECKING IN WITH CLOWES

byChristina Catherine Martinez
August 2012


Immersing yourself in one of Dan Clowes' graphic novels feels like reading Nabokov and watching a David Lynch movie at the same time. Talking to him is a similarly overstimulating and nerve-wracking experience. Yes, we’ve run a few interviews with the man already, but since he’s got a first-ever retrospective of his work happening his homeland of Oakland, we decided to check in with him again.

VICE: Do you think comics as a discipline will continue? People always worry that the internet generation doesn't know how to concentrate.
Daniel Clowes: Although I would have thought that, there are a whole bunch of guys who are 25, 30 right now, who are really good and really dedicated. They grew up reading my comics and stuff like that. They put in the time to learn how to do this stuff, and I would have never imagined that. So I don't know. It does seem really unlikely that anything like that would ever continue to happen. I can't imagine I would have drawn comics if I had Facebook at 13. The whole reason I was doing it was to communicate somehow with... aliens of the future or something. I had no idea who would ever read any of the stuff I was doing. And thank god no one did and I burned it all. It was certainly done with the impulse of reaching out to the world in some way, and would I have done that if I could meet girls who read comics on some website?

But the attitude toward comics fans portrayed in those early comics is so... I don't want to say antagonistic, so I'll say ambivalent.
No, it was very antagonistic.

OK, yes... It was like you threw out the fishing line and weren't very happy with what it was bringing in.
There's a bit of that. That's something I remember talking to other artists about at a certain point. Part of the process, probably of being any kind of an artist, is almost curating your audience. You want to have a public appearance and look out into the audience and think, every person I see out there seems like a guy I would have over for dinner. It's really all about the quality of your audience as opposed to the quantity. I remember doing a signing at a convention and I was standing next to some really popular Marvel comics guy, and he had this endless line of zit-faced 13-year-olds. Just, the most horrible teenage boys. There are no boys that age who aren't horrible, and that's all it was. And I had like three female adults in line for me. Totally normal people. And I thought oh man, I'm so thankful that I don't have those 13-year-old boys to deal with. That would really make me feel bad.

Those events must be hard. People who make visual art usually do so because that's the best or only way they know how to communicate. But then other people always want to make them talk about it.
Absolutely. That's why I've enjoyed doing the interviews for this show, because it's not about a single book. When you're talking about a fictional book, what are you going to say? "Well, I did this book. It's all in there. Everything I have to say is within that book. Read the book. I have no explanations.” Anything I would say is just going to obfuscate things or throw you off track. I'm only going to give non-committal answers for that reason. Whenever I hear fiction authors on NPR talking to Michael Krasny, explaining their book, I always think, How can you... don't do that! Don't talk about your characters like that. It's so embarrassing.

Well, writers love to talk.
They love it. They love it. They'll talk about characters like they're real people. It's like talking about your childhood imaginary friend. It's really embarrassing.I watched a video of a signing you did at Meltdown Comics in Los Angeles.
The one with the lady wearing the Enid mask? That was unbelievable.

It all seemed very flattering and wonderful... but also quite awful.
It didn't feel like it was about me. It felt like it was about some heartwarming, beloved actor. It felt a little strange.Are you surprised that, of all your characters, Enid is the one that people are most attached to?
Not really. I sort of knew it, the minute I started drawing her, that there was going to be some connection. She just felt like an archetype that hadn't yet been articulated. Now, it's definitely a type of character, but at the time it really felt like nobody else had quite done this thing.

I was still in high school when the movie came out, and my dad told me I should go see it.
There were a lot of Dads seeing it and telling their daughters, "This is just like you! An obnoxious brat."

I said I'm not interested in what a middle-aged man thinks teenage girls are like.
All Enids would think that.

Even though Enid has become an archetype, the attitude of ownership she has over culture and discovering culture is kind of moot now. You can't be petulant about finding something cool or obscure, because you probably found it on a blog.
How would you do it? I can't even imagine how an 18-year-old could find something nobody else knew about. It's not even conceivable anymore. I'm actually surprised that book still seems to resonate. It's like a book about the 1920s at this point. It seems closer to then than to now. She has a dial telephone, she has no computer, she's unreachable when she leaves the house. Who lives like that? It's a very different thing now. Even then it was a little weird, but at least it seemed plausible.

Those incidental aspects of the character and the period are now considered affectations.
It's true.
When did you know you didn't want to make superhero comics? There's a real tension in Death Ray between the classic superhero visuals and the story itself, which is about how we wouldn't really know what to do with superpowers. The way they fail in that reality is quite sad.
I had always sort of assumed that's where I was headed, because that was really the only way to make a living as a cartoonist that I could see. I didn't think I was going to get a daily comic strip—it seemed like you had to win the lottery to get that. I just imagined I would be one of those guys that inks comics for Marvel or DC. This is when I was 13 or 14 years old. At a certain point that seemed really great, a really great job. Then the older I got the more it seemed like a nightmare, but I still felt that's what I had been basing my life around, and I was ill-prepared for anything else. At a certain point I decided I'd rather do anything than that, it just seemed like absolute torture. It was a long process of coming to grips with that, and realizing that I really did not like, or even approve, of those kind of comics. I'm doing my own comics and but also being stuck in that world without intending to. I've had to talk about superhero comics so much of my life, beyond the point of being interested in them. It's a very strange thing. It'd be like if John Updike had to constantly talk about Westerns. It doesn't necessarily relate to what I do, but it became such a part of my daily life that it had to come out in some way.

And those are still the only point of reference. There's superhero comics, and everything else is just "alternative comics" even though there's a lot of diversity within that category.
That's certainly a trope. I think they sell well, and I think publishers can kind of understand those books. It's kind of thing they publish in other fields and other forms, so they're ready to sign up any kid who's willing to go to the Middle East and write and draw about it. Joe Sacco is the guy who did it first and by far the best, and I can't see how anyone could ever top what he's done. It seems almost pointless.Do you consider your work crass? If I'm reading one of your books on the bus, I feel like I have to hide it half the time from the person sitting next to me.
Sometimes I'll catch a glimpse of one of my comics, and… like, I was working on the script for Wilson and my son came in and he was looking over my shoulder and I realized, oh my god if he's reading what's on the screen it would be mortifying. I'm just trying to amuse myself and I obviously have a very low sense of humor.

Your son is still very young. Do you anticipate him discovering your work with excitement or dread?
From talking to other cartoonists whose kids have grown up around their work, they tend to be utterly disinterested. Or if they read it they don't really want to talk about it. I was never interested what my mom or dad was up to, until after they died. Then all of a sudden I was very interested. So I probably won't be around when he finally sits down to read through the old man's works. I have mixed feelings about him reading some of it. I hope he'll be forgiving. I hope it doesn't embarrass him in any way. I would hate if his future wife's parents read my work and didn't want her to marry him or something.

Because he inherited some strange, genetic ass obsession?
It could happen. I don't know. We have yet to figure out where he's going with all that stuff.


"Modern Cartoonist: The Art of Daniel Clowes" is on view at the Oakland Museum of California until August 12th, then continues on to the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (June - October 2013); the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC (November 2013 - January 2014); and the Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, Ohio (February - April 2014). Check danielclowes.com for updates and stuff.
 
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The Death-Ray




  MTV Geek anticipates Daniel Clowes' "The Landlord"

Updated August 23, 2012


Daniel Clowes Goes To HBO with 'The Landlord'


7/25/12
by Eddie Wright

Little Miss Sunshine filmmakers Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, who's Ruby Sparks is in theaters now, are teaming up with genius cartoonist Daniel Clowes for the HBO pilot The Landlord.
Dayton explained to SF Gate:

Dayton: We are doing a pilot for HBO written by (Berkeley writer and artist) Daniel Clowes. We go back with him to a music video we all did together on (rock band) the Ramones. The pilot is called "The Landlord," and it is about a college professor who inherits an apartment building, and he has an ideal expectation of how he is going to run it.
Clowes wrote Ghost World and Art School Confidential, both of which are adaptations of his own work. He was also involved with the film based on the shot-for-shot remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark by a group of teens but as far as I can tell, that project is warming its keister in development heck.
The Landlord is the first original project we'll see from Clowes as a screenwriter if HBO decides to run with the series.
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Featured artist

Daniel Clowes

          



"I had wasted my life doing a lot of comics, at least;" Daniel Clowes interviewed by the A.V. Club

Updated July 25, 2012


Daniel Clowes
By Keith Phipps May 30, 2012
The A.V. Club

Rightly named among those responsible for making comics such a vibrant, growing medium over the past few decades, Daniel Clowes proved his ambition with his first significant work, Lloyd Llewellyn. The noir-inspired series mixed acerbic humor with a free approach to genre and storytelling style, and it foreshadowed Clowes’ next major project, Eightball. A one-man anthology combining serialized narratives, short stories, short humor pieces, and whatever else Clowes wanted to include, Eightball ran for 23 issues between 1989 and 2004 and included long-form works such as Ghost World, Like A Velvet Glove Cast In Iron, David Boring, Ice Haven, and The Death-Ray, all subsequently reprinted as independent volumes. Since the end of Eightball, Clowes has published Mister Wonderful, a surprisingly sweet middle-aged love story originally serialized in The New York Times Magazine, and Wilson, a stylistic tour-de-force in which one difficult character confronts his own mortality.
During the same stretch, Clowes had his own brush with mortality in the form of a heart problem, since corrected through surgery. He’s also stayed busy working on screenplays, adapting Ghost World and the art-school satire Art School Confidential, both with director Terry Zwigoff. Now he’s the subject of the fine, career-spanning monograph The Art Of Daniel Clowes: Modern Cartoonist, edited by Alvin Buenaventura. The book coincides with a traveling retrospective of Clowes’ art, which can currently be seen in his adopted home of Oakland at the Oakland Museum Of California. While in Chicago, Clowes spoke to The A.V. Club about his long, varied career and the ways the Internet has made obscurity less mysterious.

The A.V. Club: Did you ever foresee this kind of retrospective attention coming your way?
Daniel Clowes: Oh, God no. Not in a million years. It wasn’t even on the radar. I had delusional fantasies of grandeur that went as far as I thought they could go, and they wouldn’t have included that. I would have thought, “Maybe I’ll get in The New Yorker someday,” that would be as far as I ever would have gone. The world has changed a lot since I began. [Laughs.] There wouldn’t have been a monograph behind any cartoonist at that time. Maybe that Winsor McCay book would have been the kind of thing, someone who’s been dead for 80 years. But that’s about it.
AVC: We last spoke in the late ’90s, and at least part of that conversation was about comics gaining respectability. That seems like a conversation you don’t have to have anymore.
DC: No, and it seems like a subject that’s been beaten into the ground at this point. Though to the average person that you’ll meet on an airplane, if you tell them you draw comics, they’ll still have sort of the same response—not like that’s seeped into the culture at large, that comics are not just for kids. They might have seen some of the superhero movies, so they’re a little less resistant to superhero comics as inherently stupid, but that’s about it. They still don’t know quite what to make of it.
AVC: You no doubt had to revisit a lot of your work for this project. What surprised you about looking back?
DC: There’s a lot more stuff than I thought. I tend to only look at the covers, and I have my books on my shelf in my office, and I look at them if I have to get a page number for something, or am sending something to a foreign publisher. But I never read them, and I never take in the totality of the experience. Just to go through the files, I haven’t gone through my flat files ever, really. I just keep adding stuff to them. To go through and see what was at the bottom of those was unbelievable.
AVC: That’s your original artwork?
DC: Yeah, just all the artwork. One of the main reasons I agreed to do this book is, I’ve wanted to organize all my artwork and get an inventory of it, because I really have no idea what I have anymore. I thought this would be the perfect opportunity for that. I would have guessed that I had somewhere in the range of 300-400 pages, and it was closer to 900, I think. It was a lot of stuff. It felt much more like I hadn’t wasted my life, or that I had wasted my life doing a lot of comics, at least. [Laughs.]
AVC: So you hang on to your original artwork now?
DC: You know, I used to sell it. That used to be my main source of income back in the old days.
AVC: I remember the old catalogue.
DC: When I look back at those and see what I sold things for, it makes me cry, because I was giving them away. But you know, I needed the money at the time. I haven’t sold anything since around the time I talked to you. That was pretty much the last time, around 1998, 1999. And I’ve sold 20 things since then, maybe, but that’s about it.
AVC: Would you have always have hung on to your artwork if you could have afforded to?
DC: I didn’t care about it that much. It was kind of exciting for me to see people willing to pay, oh, a hundred dollars for a cover or whatever. [Laughs.] But now in retrospect, I definitely wish I had had it all. It would have made putting this, both the book and the museum show together a lot easier if we had the stuff.
AVC: Looking at your old pieces, what changed the most in your assessment of it from the time you made it?
DC: I can look at my early work and see what a pained struggle it was to draw what I was drawing. I was trying so hard to get this specific look that was in my head, and always falling short. I could see the frustration in the lines, and I remember my hand being tensed and redrawing things a thousand times until I finally inked it, and just having this general tense anxiety about every drawing. I think that comes through in the artwork, and gives it this certain kind of manic energy, this kind of repressed energy, so you feel like it’s sort of bursting at the seams or something. For a long time, I’d look at artwork from that era, and I would have to squint my eyes to not really look at it clearly, because it was so far from what I wanted it to be. But now I can appreciate it in retrospect as an artifact of that time, and what I was going through.
AVC: Is that energy anything you’ve ever felt the need to reclaim with your current artwork?
DC: I’m trying to find it in any parts of the comic. I’m trying to really not obsess over the kinds of things I was obsessing over, and I’m trying to focus on getting this very specific look exactly right, and on making the stories come alive. That’s been my main interest for the last 15 years, is to really make sure the story and the characters take precedence over everything else, and that I give them everything I can to make them exist as actual people.
AVC: Is there a point where that shifted for you?
DC: I think there was a point that I realized I could do what I wanted to do in terms of the drawing. I used to run around a lot of things. I would shy away from certain things that I realized would be horrible for me to draw, and just wouldn’t be fun. At a certain point, I realized that I could draw anything, and there was nothing I should avoid—I could make it work. That’s opened me up to being able to be much more comfortable telling any kind of story.
AVC: What was something you would avoid then that you don’t avoid now?
DC: I had sort of a moment of revelation when my son was about 2 years old and he was obsessed with trains, and so every day, he wanted me to draw trains, and I had never drawn trains. That’s the exact kind of thing that I would have never tried to draw. I got all these books and learned how to draw a train, and then he’d have all these inventive stories about the train coming at you, so I had to draw the train in perspective, which that’s the kind of thing that seems very difficult when you’re sitting down to write a story. “I’m not going to draw a train with horses running out of the way” and all that stuff, and the next thing I knew, I was doing 20 of these a day and could draw any variation of any kind of train. I knew how to draw all of the different smokestacks on the old trains and all that stuff, and then I realized that if I can draw trains, which is the thing I was probably the least interested in in the world at the time, I can do anything and find a way into it that will be interesting.
AVC: And you picked up a new collaborator on the way, too.
DC: I very much did. Now he looks back at those and says, “Why did I like trains? I don’t get it.” He’s totally not into trains anymore. One day, it’s like one kid says “Trains are stupid,” and “Okay. He’s right.”
AVC: I wonder when that changes, and when your obsessions calcify.
DC: Yeah. I can look at his obsessions, and they’re all weirdly related. Now he’s really into electronic circuitry, and the thing he liked about trains was making the tracks where they all connect and have little things along the way, and that’s very similar to electronic circuits, where they have switches and transformers. So he’s into some kind of circuitry in some ways. I’m not sure where that goes. Probably into horse-racing or something.
AVC: What was the first thing you remember being obsessed with like that as a kid?
DC: I had an older brother who bequeathed me his stack of comics when he moved on to Playboy and Zap and all that stuff. So I was very much obsessed with that. I had like a two-foot stack of old Marvel and DC and Archie Comics and Mad magazine, stuff like that. It was this very finite group of comics. Ones that I just read over and over and over and studied. I remember I read them before I could actually read, and trying to figure out the stories just based on the pictures, and that’s a really great thing for kids to have to do. To try and learn that language. I feel like I understood the language of comics. I had a real fluidity with that medium at a very early age.
AVC: It’s funny, because comics from that era are so packed with words, but if you look at them, they don’t really have to be.
DC: I just found a bunch of my early Jack Kirby Marvel comics, and I cannot believe how many words Stan Lee would write in. There’s like 10 people talking in every panel—violates every rule of comics I know. You try not to have more than one or two balloons in a panel. That sort of represents a moment where people are talking, and in those Fantastic Fours, there’s like 15 people talking and a caption and it covers things up, and you think, “Wow, what did he draw under there?”
AVC: And Avengers’ last pages, where there’s almost nothing but text. It’s like, “We gotta wind this up, so here you go.”
DC: There’s a Belgian strip, Blake And Mortimer, about British adventurers, and there’s many, many panels like that, where it’s a little head in the bottom, talking, but just paragraphs of text. It has the weird effect of just a guy frozen in space, blathering without moving at all. There’s something very disconcerting about it, but I like that. [Laughs.]
AVC: Come to think of it, though, your comics have gotten less packed with words over the years as well.
DC: More and more, I tried to make comics in the way I like to read comics, and I found that when I read comics that are really densely packed with text, it may be rewarding when I finally do sit down and read it, but it never is going to be the first I’m going to read, and I never am fully excited to just sit down and read that comic. It takes a little bit of effort to get to it. There are certain comics that just seem like they have this perfect balance between dialogue and image that I can’t not read. I’ll want to save it for later, and the next thing I know, I’m reading it. That’s what I’m kind of trying to do with my comics.
AVC: What’s an example of that?
DC: Oh, Love And Rockets. You know, Jaime [Hernandez] is sort of the master at that.
AVC: And seems to be getting better at it over the years. “Love Bunglers” is such an amazing story.
DC: That’s how it is when you’ve got that kind of talent. It doesn’t go away.
AVC: You finished art school in…?
DC: ’84.
AVC: You had five years between that and the first issue of Eightball. Were you ever worried that it wasn’t going to happen for you?
DC: Oh yeah, I had my comic Lloyd Llewellyn very quickly out of art school, really. It seemed like the longest time in the world between graduating and that happening, but it was about a year and a half. That was sort of this huge opportunity just thrown in my lap. “Here, do your own comic. It’s all yours. Let’s see what you can do.” When that was cancelled, with sales that would now be decent for a Dark Horse comic—it was, I think, 6,000 or 7,000 when it was cancelled. I still don’t understand why they cancelled it, exactly, but back then I guess they just expected all comics to sell 12,000 or 15,000.
AVC: Well, it was kind of the black-and-white boom.
DC: It was on the tail end of that, and everyone was getting a little scared, but I remember the day that ended, I just thought, “Well, that was my big chance. Now I really have to figure out what the hell I’m going to do.” I really thought, “I’ll just do one more comic.” I thought “I’ll do one or two issues and just want to do exactly what I want to do, just to have it out there, just so I can get that stuff into print, and then I’ll move on from there.” Then, by some miracle, that was what people wanted all along.
AVC: Was there a conscious attempt to showcase everything you could do in Eightball? There’s such a plethora of styles in those.
DC: It was really just more that I had all of these ideas. When I first began Lloyd Llewellyn, I wanted it to be more like Eightball, more just an anthology. [Fantagraphics’ publisher] Gary Groth—and this was the conventional wisdom of the time—said that you had to have a character, and that’s the only thing that people would buy, and no one was interested in something that had a bunch of different characters. So I stuck with Lloyd Llewellyn, who I had no real ideas about. I didn’t have any thoughts about him other than the one story that I did, so I had to kind of pull all of my ideas in and make them work around this character, and it was impossible. I had all of these other things I wanted to do that had nothing to do with Lloyd Llewellyn, so I kept saving them for somewhere down the road, and those were all the things that went into Eightball. All of those first stories were things I’d been thinking about for years.
AVC: When did you realize you had a following for it? I think in the monograph, you mentioned that there was no feedback for Lloyd Llewellyn at all.
DC: You know, there was a bit. I had my own little base of fans who really liked it. I’d get 20 letters per issue, and that was life-changingly big for me. But I finally got the sense that it was a very limited crowd of people who were really specifically into that kind of comic, and I would go to conventions and stuff and people would be nice—“Oh, I like your comic.” But I never got the sense people were really into it, except for one or two exceptions. Then when Eightball came out, I remember sitting there and person after person coming by that just had that look on their face, like, “This is great!” the way I had seen people talk to the Hernandez brothers and other people around me. All of a sudden I could just feel that, “Okay, this has connected with people in a much different way.”
AVC: Have you kept up with any of the people you’ve met through the letters section?
DC: A lot of those people went on to do big things, go on to be in comics themselves. A lot of them turned out to be more important than I would have imagined at the time. I used to get letters from Bob Odenkirk of Mr. Show and guys like that. A lot of them, I’ll be at a signing, and they’ll show up 20 years later and say their name and say “I wrote you,” and I’ll remember everything about them because I used to read those letters over and over again, because that was the only feedback you got. You’d get reviewed in two places. You’d get in the Comics Buyer’s Guide, which would always hate it, and Amazing Heroes, which would also hate whatever I did. They used to give letter grades in the Comics Buyer’s Guide, and I remember Eightball #1 got a D+. [Laughs.] Which is really about the worst grade you can get. It’s worse than D-, it’s worse than F. It’s really bad.
AVC: “It’s bad, but I don’t feel strongly enough about it to give it an F.”
DC: [Laughs.] Exactly. It’s like, “It’s got a little promise enough to give it a plus, but it’s horrible.”
AVC: Where do you get that feedback now? You get reviewed everywhere, but do you have a lot of feedback from readers?
DC: Now I have cultivated a little crew of people whose opinions I understand. It’s like the way you’d follow certain film critics because you know what their criteria are, and you may not agree with them, but you can glean from their opinion how you will feel about a film. I have readers like that, who are people who I know are reading the stuff carefully and with a generous spirit. They’re looking for the best in it. I look to their response. But I’m not as interested in that kind of connection anymore as I was when I started. Now I’m more in my own head, trying to do things for myself and hoping others will go along with it. I used to be about really about connecting with people.
AVC: I don’t want to repeat too much from the monograph, but I was interested in what you said about how the old pop-culture ephemera you used to draw on is now so readily accessible, it’s changed how people relate to it. Is there an equivalent to that now, or has the Internet flattened things out and made the obscure easy to find?
DC: I don’t think so. That was a thing I noticed looking back on the old comics. I would do panels that were based on really obscure records and things from my collection. For one thing, it was charged with something that I got something out of, which was my main reason for doing that, but I also liked the idea that somewhere out there, there was some guy who also had that record and would see that image and connect to it in that way I was connecting to it. That is just gone now. Someone can just find all of those images in 10 minutes and post them on the Internet and then it just looks like, “Oh, this guy just found all those images on that Tumblr page.” It doesn’t have that same feeling of two weird guys finding these obscure things in the detritus of 20th-century culture and connecting on some other level.
AVC: Do you see a positive to that at all?
DC: Yeah, it’s one of those… There’s a net loss and a net gain. It’s hard to figure out which takes precedence. Certainly it’s great to be able to talk to your friends about something. They might mention a film, and you can find all about it, and you don’t have to wait months until you can find a book that might cover the subject and keep it in your head. You can have that kind of immediacy. But there’s also something about it, where all the knowledge seems kind of fleeting. All the stuff I learn about in that way, I can be interested in for a day and then it’s gone. It used to be that you had to go through such effort to find out about the things you were interested in that you would accumulate all this other stuff along the way, and it would became part of you in a way that it doesn’t anymore. At least I find that personally.
AVC: I’m sure you saw Shut Up, Little Man!
DC: Yeah.
AVC: It is fascinating to think that that would maybe live for a day on the Internet now, and people would move on and forget about it.
DC: It would be an obsession for millions of people for a week, and then be gone. But back then, it was this thing that we were all listening to for months and months at a time, and you didn’t have anyone to talk to about it. You would wait until someone came to your house and inflict it upon them. Ninety percent of the time, they would think you were out of your mind to listen to something like that.
AVC: I keep thinking about that Mr. Show sketch about the guy that would show up with the underground tapes. I don’t think people would understand that sketch anymore.
DC: No. The stuff in Ghost World is like that. They don’t have the Internet or cell phones. I think Enid even has a rotary phone in her room. [Laughs.] All the girls I knew had old-fashioned, weird phones.
AVC: Well, it seems like the Ghost World film came out at the last moment where that was still possible.
DC: Yeah, that is literally true.
AVC: Did you have any awareness of that at the time?
DC: It’s hard to put your finger on where things were going at the time. I know a lot of people who at the time, at least, that we wrote the script, were really resistant to ever getting involved in the Internet still. So I positioned Enid as one of those people, and Seymour definitely. By the time the film even came out, it seemed less likely that that would be true. I remember that Terry Zwigoff didn’t have a computer for years, and was very resistant to it. I think while we were making that film, he started going on eBay. Then he was just obsessed, 20 hours a day, buying old records and stuff. So I could see, “Well, that’s probably what would happen to the real Steve Buscemi character.”
AVC: With eBay, suddenly everything you dreamed about finding was out there.
DC: Especially back then. It had a feeling like anything could turn up.
AVC: You abandoned a graphic novel about Hollywood. Can you speak broadly about what sort of experiences that would draw on, or what you’ve taken away from your time working in Hollywood?
DC: The idea of the book was really a collection of just many experiences that I’ve had, both good and bad, in trying to relate them through characters and it’s still something I may do at some point, but it’s one of those books that felt like homework. At a certain point, I was getting up in the morning and thinking, “What else could I do besides work on that?” [Laughs.] And that’s sort of the exact opposite of what you need to have. You need to be, like, turning down high-paying illustration work because you want to work on your comic. That’s when you know you’re doing something good.
I’ve had a real lucky time working in Hollywood. I’ve talked to other screenwriters, and they’re all kind of beaten down and their spirits are crushed, because they work on these screenplays and these projects, and then directors either take them and change everything, rewrite them and make them worse, or they film them and they’re nothing like how they imagined it to be. And I don’t care about that stuff, really, because I have my comics, and that’s my thing that I’m putting into the world that’s my pure, undiluted vision, and I get absolute satisfaction out of that. So writing a screenplay, I’m like, “All I’m responsible for is that final script, and I take great effort and pride in that.” But once I give it to someone to make, I can disassociate with it entirely and not worry that my vision isn’t being represented, because I understand fully that that’s not how it works.
AVC: Do you ever worry about it cutting out of your time making comics?
DC: Not really, because I need something else to do besides comics. Doing comics full-time for over 30 years—I mean, really since I’ve been 14, I’ve been doing them full-time—you need to get a different perspective. I remember Robert Crumb suggesting I take up sculpture. He said that would be a good thing to do. But writing screenplays is very freeing from what you can do in comics in a lot of ways. You can change things around. I can take great delight in writing 40 pages, then just pressing delete and getting rid of it and not thinking about it ever again. Whereas in comics, if I had put that kind of effort into it, I couldn’t go on [Laughs.] if I had to get rid of 20 pages or something. So it can be a lot of fun, and I try to only work on the screenplays for a few hours a day when I’m in my most voluble mood, just sort of writing whatever comes into my head. It’s a very freeing thing. Then it feels great to go back to the comics and have that different kind of experience.
AVC: Why a retrospective now?
DC: It wasn’t my choice. Well, it was ultimately my choice, but the people that approached me, Alvin [Buenaventura] about doing the book and Susan Miller about doing the show, just happened at the same time. It was in a moment where I was looking for something. I was looking to start saying yes to things that I had always said no to. I’d had this heart surgery and had just gotten out of the hospital and was feeling better than I had in many, many years, and I realized there were all these things that I just always reflexively said no to, like museum shows or art galleries, and people were always wanting to do books about my sketch books and things like that. I just thought, “I’m going to agree to things for a while and see how that works.” [Laughs.] So it was right in the upswing of that. They came to me right at that moment and I said, “Yes, let’s do it.” [Pause.] Also thinking that it would never actually happen.
AVC: You’ve portrayed getting older in your work before. Had your work prepared you for the experience of looking down mortality in any way?
DC: No. And I feel like before that, I wouldn’t ever have written, at least as a main character, an older character, because I would have felt, “I don’t understand what that feels like,” and now I feel like I could do that. I feel like I could write an 80-year-old and get what that feels like.
AVC: How has that changed your way of approaching your work and how you look at things?
DC: Well, as I said, when I emerged out of the hospital, I all of a sudden realized that for the past couple of years, I’d been just physically feeling worse and worse and not really understanding why. It’s that kind of feeling that you tend to have at certain times in your life, and you’re like, “There’s got to be a reason…” and then you realize “Well, maybe it’s because I haven’t exercised in two years” or something. In this case, there really was an actual, physical reason, and when it was fixed, all of a sudden I felt like I should have felt. I felt sort of rejuvenated, but I also had a sense of what it feels like to get old and fade into the woodwork. I felt like I came out of it with more of an understanding of the mysteries of death than I would have had without it. I felt like I can sort of see how people deal with that, because I really had a few months there where this might be the end.
AVC: So many of the stories in the Caricature collection are about periods of transition, particularly from childhood to adulthood. Ghost World is about that, too. What surprised you most about entering other periods of transition? How have you seen your points of view change?
DC: I think that’s what I’m dealing with in my books. I think Wilson is certainly about that. And Mister Wonderful, to some degree. Even The Death-Ray has some of that. It’s an interesting process. Working on this book and this museum show, it feels like a demarcation point of some kind. It feels like this certain part of my life and career is in the past, and now I have to reinvent myself again, so I feel like I’m yet again on the cusp of some kind of transition in the way that I did, maybe when I was doing Ghost World or something like that.
 
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  High Low Comics on Daniel Clowes' "The Death Ray"

Updated July 25, 2012


FRIDAY, JUNE 8, 2012
ROB CLOUGH
Great Responsibility: The Death-Ray And Daniel Clowes' Film Career
High Low Comics

Daniel Clowes' super-hero story The Death-Ray provoked a lot of very interesting commentary. The two best articles on the subject are from Isaac Cates (published at the time the original source material, Eightball #23, came out back in 2004) and Ken Parille, upon the re-release by Drawn & Quarterly last year. I will address some of those points in bullet-point fashion, but I wanted to start with an observation not many have discussed.

To wit: few critics have addressed the effect that becoming a screenwriter has had on Clowes. While film has always been an obvious influence on his work Like A Velvet Glove Cast In Iron makes that clear, but the humorous follow-up strip where the Hollywood version of LVG is a huge, embarrassing flop that eviscerates Clowes' original text is interesting in light of him adapting his own material for film. Beyond the psychological and eschatological themes that run through much of Clowes' work, the three issues of David Boring (Eightball #19-21, published annually in 1998, 1999 and 2000) are structurally produced like a three-act Hollywood script. There are so many film-related trappings in this comic that I could film an entire column, but the film-poster cover of Eightball #21 lays it all bare. These comics were created at roughly the same time Clowes was writing the script and working with Terry Zwigoff on the film version of Ghost World. The infatuation with film so present in this comic may well reflect Clowes' creative enthusiasm in writing the script and seeing it come to life in such a satisfying way.

Conversely, the reality of distributing and promoting a film as well as the all-encompassing nature of its release, may well have had a significant impact on the creation of Ice Haven, originally released as Eightball #22. Regardless of the motivation, it seems obvious to me that Ice Haven is a reaction to film as Clowes endeavors to put the language and feel of the comic into very comic-book terms. It's as anti-cinematic a comic as I can imagine, fracturing the narrative and look of the comic into newspaper-style strips. There are frequent narrative digressions into killer bunny rabbits and cave men that have nothing to do with the temporal narrative but have significant connections to the emotional narrative that moves in a straight line from strip to strip. More to the point, the character of Vida (the struggling zine writer who proves to be kidnapper Random Wilder's poetic nemesis) is about to quit writing when "a phone call came from Hollywood!" Improbably, she was "being summoned immediately to work on a big movie project!!" She promises to "be the biggest, richest, most popular writer in history! You just watch dear reader, I'll be the biggest whore ever!" It doesn't seem to be too much of a leap to see this as a sardonic autobiographical statement about how Clowes felt as an artist while working in Hollywood, especially as he started to take on work that wasn't based on his own comic.

Still, there's a joy at work in Ice Haven that celebrates the language of comics and the way it can easily mash up genre, obscure language, and convey meaning in ways no other art form can. It's still his master work in my opinion, as his formal command of comics is dizzying and his characterization is rich, complex and frequently hilarious. People tend to forget just how funny Clowes can be, and Ice Haven displays his merciless sense of humor at its sharpest. The central conflict of Ice Haven winds up having no teeth, as even the kid who seems like a thug is just all talk. It's all a put-on, a joke Clowes shares with himself and the reader as he makes you do a little bit of work in deciphering the text.

By contrast, The Death-Ray feels uglier and more cynical. It was originally the 23rd and final issue of Eightball, and it feels like a coda of sorts to a certain body of work. Isaac Cates said in his article that the critic Sean Collins said that this book isn't so much a super-hero story as it is the origin story of a serial killer. After the success of the film version of Ghost World, Clowes followed that up with Art School Confidential, an ugly and cynical film that was a huge critical and commercial bomb. If Ghost World represents a film that accurately conveys the spirit of the original and substantive source material, then Art School Confidential represents a film made from the slightest of source material (the original short story is more a rant than an actual narrative) dressed up with an absurd serial killer plotline. Sure, Clowes pokes fun at this with the metatextual commentary of the filmmaker in the story doing something sillier, but the fact is that Clowes wrote a serial killer movie. In his own parlance, he perhaps "became the biggest whore ever!" There are things to recommend in this film, not the least of which is the daring choice of making every one of the characters completely despicable by the end of the film. The character of Andy from The Death-Ray even reminds me a bit of Jerome, the protagonist of Art School Confidential: at the beginning of each story, they are naive if alienated. By the end, they have completely shed any pretense to moral or ethical behavior as a result of being buffeted by the forces surrounding them. Something in them simply snaps, and when they cross the line, there's no coming back.

Steeping The Death-Ray in the language of comics and Steve Ditko's Spider-Man in particular creates a tension between the exaggerated ethical struggles Spider-Man found himself faced with and the fact that Andy and his sidekick/instigator Louie had to create all of their own struggles. In both cases, the "heroes" triumph because of their superior application of violence rather than the correctness of their own moral position. Unlike Spider-Man, and because of the uniquely brutal nature of his titular weapon, Andy only occasionally feels pangs of guilt. He gets to decide who lives and who dies, a power that would overwhelming for anyone, much less the typical Clowesian alienated loner desperate to make connections. Like Steve Gerber's Foolkiller character, the line between "evil" and annoying behavior is a thin one--is it just to murder a jaywalker or litterer? There are no good or evil characters in this story, per se, just frustrated and angry people. Or perhaps, there are no heroes to be found, but plenty of Marvel-style villains: misunderstood misanthropes who lash out after a lifetime of abuse or neglect, paying back their misery a thousandfold when they find themselves with powers. Louie is clearly the protagonist of his own story (as are all teens) but winds up acting as a sort of malicious Greek chorus for Andy, pushing him and pushing him to act so as to fulfill his own dark and juvenile urges until Andy finally does it. That's when he understands that there's a line, and that he's pushed Andy across it, and there's no turning back now. There is no justice, no retribution, no resolution. Even Clowes teases the reader with a "choose-your-own-adventure" ending, with a couple of them winding up as typical genre resolutions and the third being in line with the rest of the book: Andy keeps living his life and occasionally "falls off the wagon" and kills some more people for ridiculous and selfish reasons. It's not surprising that Clowes' later comics (Mister Wonderful in particular) were far more in touch with humanity and connecting with others in a successful manner (despite many pitfalls); The Death-Ray represents Clowes at his darkest, most cynical and most grim, and I don't blame him for not wanting to return to that place anytime soon.
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Daniel Clowes exhibition celebrates the artist and the medium

Updated June 14, 2012


Oakland cartoonist Daniel Clowes goes from underdog to top dog
By Lou Fancher
04/19/2012
Contra Costa Times

Daniel Clowes may have grown up during the era of Underdog, the 1960s canine super hero who slew villains with his atomic breath while causing TV-watching American kids to slurp vast quantities of breakfast cereal, but he's a top dog now.
With a major retrospective of the comic book artist's work opening at the Oakland Museum of California before moving on to major art institutions in Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio, Clowes emerges as a superhero.
"Growing up in Chicago in the '70s, you very much felt like an underdog," Clowes admitted in a preshow interview. "During my childhood, the sports teams there? Not a single championship. In fact, if my teams were winning, I felt bad. I got much more used to the pain of losing than other kids."
Feeling the hurt turned into award-winning comic books ("Eightball"), graphic novels ("David Boring," "Wilson" and more), screenplays ("Ghost World," "Art School Confidential") and a tendency to exist in alternate realities.
"Comics are the one language I feel I can say exactly how I feel and have no self-consciousness at all. In real life, I try to make everybody happy and smooth things over."
Guest Curator Susan Miller has gathered 100 original works, displayed with deep-rooted understanding by designer Nicholas de Monchaux, in a gray-hued gallery fronted by an enormous sloping wall on which Clowes' characters morph from one masterful portrait to the next. A comic
frieze traveling atop the wall-mounted works shows off iconic strips and sliding panels embedded in enormous cubicles that mimic the one-frame-at-a-time way we view comics.
Should the urge to curl up with a book hit museum visitors, a tufted, upholstered lounge area beckons, or drafting stools poised in front of a collection of books.
"I don't want my comics read on the Internet," Clowes insists, a preference reinforced by the exhibit's lack of high-tech gizmos. "Books are a much better module for imparting what I do."
Embarking on a career in art, Clowes wanted only to draw, but dissatisfaction with existing comic books and a yearning to be in control eventually led him to write.
"I started writing by default," he explains, "to this day, I don't even think of myself as a writer."
Regardless of his self-perception, the literary world pools admiringly at his feet. Film critics herald his truthful dialogue, The New York Times Magazine published 20 installments of his serialized graphic novel "Mister Wonderful," and NPR book reviewer Glen Weldon described "Wilson" by writing, "The net effect is like reading a series of Bazooka Joe comics written by Jean-Paul Sartre."
"I write dialogue purely by how it sounds," he says, claiming not to be schooled, but demonstrating a learned-from-life skill with concise sentences. As a draftsman, Clowes' line work is deft, and the dropped horizons and ant's-eye perspectives mirror the dark, underground humor.
Clowes is unafraid to switch drawing styles to make a story seem disjointed, and one of the great pleasures of the exhibit is seeing his "corrections." Careful examination reveals overlays -- redrawn or rewritten pieces of paper taped or glued over an original leg here, a stray "shush!" there. A common question, about inspiration, elicits a confession.
"If I need an idea, I'm out of luck. It has to come out of the blue. Having dinner with my wife, walking the streets of Oakland -- often that will help me solve a problem."
Since recovering from heart surgery, which stole time but not motivation from his daily comic creating, the 51-year old says he knows what it's like to be an old man on his death bed.
"The heart surgery thing is fading somewhat, but certainly fatherhood is something that's on my mind every day."
It's a typical comment for "Clowes the Diplomat," who shines a direct light on a grim experience then skips to lighter material with a few, swift strokes.
"A good character is like children: you set them up in one direction and they never go that way. They're always surprising and confounding and interesting."
A description of his hometown runs parallel.
"I find Oakland very beautiful, but in a way that would be hard to sell to tourists," he muses. "It has an old-movie, lonely quality that seems filled with some kind of emotion."
The same could be said of his life's work, and with words more apt than those of another, Clowes draws his self-portrait.
 
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  Daniel Clowes featured in museum retrospective

Updated June 14, 2012


Humanity’s Discomfort, Punctured With a Pen
By CAROL KINO
The New York Times
March 30, 2012

IT was a gloomy winter day, and the cartoonist Daniel Clowes was taking me on a tour of his neighborhood here, including a downbeat stretch of Piedmont Avenue that has served as a setting in some of his recent graphic novels. He pointed out the bench where Marshall, the alienated loner of “Mister Wonderful” (2011; serialized in The New York Times Magazine in 2007-8), sulks after being kicked out of a party, and the nail salons that the titular sad sack of “Wilson” (2010) curses when he returns home from prison. Although he was supposed to be talking about his coming retrospective at the Oakland Museum of California, Mr. Clowes kept returning to the subject of his hometown of nearly two decades. “It’s such an underdog,” he said admiringly.

He saved one of his favorite places for last: the Chapel of the Chimes, a gloriously over-the-top columbarium filled with ferns, splashing fountains and wall after wall of glass-fronted compartments stacked with crematory urns. As he wandered through its rooms, Mr. Clowes said that he sometimes comes here to write. Then he pointed to an array of urns shaped like leatherbound tomes. His face lit up. “That’s my dream,” he said blissfully. “That’s going to be my last book.”

Mr. Clowes, 50, may have a fascination with the mordant and the downtrodden, but he is also one of today’s most successful and respected graphic novelists, lauded for his stylistic genius, his mixing of heartfelt emotion and biting cynicism, and his prolific output: 14 books, not to mention dozens of comics like the pioneering Eightball. In the last two years alone he has published three graphic novels, including “The Death-Ray” (2011), about a teenage boy who becomes a superhero when he smokes cigarettes, which helped land him a 2011 PEN career achievement award. Two of his comics have become independent films, 2001’s “Ghost World” (starring a young Scarlett Johansson) and 2006’s “Art School Confidential”; and “Wilson” will be a movie from the director Alexander Payne, who just shared an Oscar for the “Descendants” screenplay.

“I liked this bizarre portrait of a misanthrope,” Mr. Payne said in a telephone interview. “It’s a great part for an actor. And who would play that hideous ex-wife?”

But for all of the plaudits Mr. Clowes has received from the cartooning, literary and film worlds, he’s never quite gotten his due where visual art is concerned. Although his work has turned up in group shows, and he had a 2003 solo show at Richard Heller Gallery in Los Angeles, he has never had his own museum exhibition.

But now the art world is finally catching up. This month Abrams will publish “The Art of Daniel Clowes: Modern Cartoonist,” his first monograph. And on April 14 his first museum retrospective will open at the Oakland Museum, featuring 100 works dating to 1989, all but two the original ink drawings and gouaches for his cartoons, books and New Yorker covers. After closing on Aug. 12 the show will travel to the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; the Corcoran Gallery in Washington; the Wexner Center in Columbus, Ohio; and very likely to Europe and Asia.

According to Susan Miller, the independent curator who organized the show, the recognition is overwhelmingly deserving. “Not only is Dan a great storyteller who gets dialogue cold,” Ms. Miller said, “but he’s rendering his images with a kind of facility that you see in some of the masters.” The clarity of his character depictions, she added, often remind her of the portraits of the Pop artist Alex Katz.

Many fine artists admire his work, like the German painter Neo Rauch, who included Mr. Clowes in a show of his favorite cartoonists at the Bonnefantenmuseum in Maastricht in 2002. “Dan’s work stands out because of its precision,” Mr. Rauch wrote in an e-mail. He was also “fascinated by its underground, slightly creepy aspect,” and added, “Plus, he has a very dark humor that appeals to me immediately.”

Mr. Clowes can create a striking face with a few deftly placed lines or brush strokes, often seizing on some specific characteristic that summons up an indelible personality. Think of Enid Coleslaw, the snarky teenage anti-heroine of “Ghost World,” and her big, black nerdy-hip glasses; they cover most of her face, but they can’t conceal the tiny shifts in expression that loudly telegraph her mood. As Art Spiegelman, the author of the comic book memoir “Maus,” observed, the same can be said for Mr. Clowes’s knack for creating a sense of place. “He’s a really terrific comic artist,” said Mr. Spiegelman. “He’s also very observant. The little details that come up in setting his stage are based on having a very keen look around him.”
Judging from his work one might expect Mr. Clowes to be a dyspeptic misfit himself, hunched over a drawing table in some squalid cartoonist’s lair. Instead he lives in a spacious California Craftsman house with Erika, his wife of nearly 17 years, their adorable 7-year-old son, Charlie, and an equally winning beagle, Ella. And though his studio is crammed with vintage comic books, pulp magazines, comics encyclopedias and Mad magazine memorabilia, everything is neatly organized and artfully decorated with Arts and Crafts furniture.
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Then there is the man himself: tall, skinny and soft-spoken, but vastly more affable and kindly than the surly beings who spring from his pen. While talking about his early days as a cartoonist, Mr. Clowes mentioned having “a lifetime of resentment to pour out.” When asked why he appears so easygoing, he guffawed. “I get a lot of it out in comics, you know?” he said.

Mr. Clowes’s reservoir of resentment really began to seethe in art school. He arrived there obsessed with comics: growing up in Chicago, his older brother had bequeathed him piles of 1950s and 1960s classic titles like Archie and The Fantastic Four, and later introduced him to the early underground work of Robert Crumb. But when he moved to New York in 1979 to attend the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, his dream of becoming a cartoonist himself was quickly dashed. “I just assumed that art teachers would be open to whatever you wanted to do,” Mr. Clowes said, “but they were to a man deeply resistant.”

After receiving his B.F.A. in 1984 he spent a miserable year trying to find illustration work. To cheer himself up he drew “Lloyd Llewellyn,” a parodic comic strip about a private eye. Because he had no idea how full-color cartoon panels were made, he laboriously painted them on animation cels in reverse order like a monoprint. “It was totally crazy,” he said.

Mr. Clowes sent the cels to the cartoon publisher Fantagraphics, hoping to get advice. Instead, to his amazement, one of its founders, Gary Groth, called to offer him his own Llewellyn comic book (which ran from 1986 to 1987), only to cancel it, because of slow sales. “It was the worst thing that ever happened to me,” Mr. Clowes recalled, laughing. “I was doomed.”

He decided to assay one last project before giving up. That’s when he devised the hit anthology series Eightball, which combined different comic genres and drawing styles. Mr. Clowes became a star of the rising alternative-comics scene of the early 1990s, and Eightball won industry awards like the Eisner, the Harvey and the Ignatz most years it came out. That’s because the concept seemed so revolutionary, said Ken Parille, a professor of English at East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C., and a recognized authority on the work of Mr. Clowes. (He also maintains the site danielclowesbibliography.com.) “One story would be a Surrealist comic, and another would be a rant,” Mr. Parille said. “Then there would be short gag comics followed by serious fiction. And he was doing it all himself, operating in all these different genres and hitting on so many different emotional registers. I had never seen a cartoonist do anything remotely like it.”

In 1998 “Ghost World,” a strip serialized in Eightball, became a book, the coming-of-age story of Enid, who is often compared to Holden Caulfield. “ ‘Ghost World’ was a real turning point in his career,” said his friend and fellow cartoonist Adrian Tomine (the series Optic Nerve). “To me it was the beginning of him dropping this veneer of sarcasm and satire. I think it surprised people when he started taking a stab at real, earnest storytelling.” Meanwhile the director Terry Zwigoff and Mr. Clowes adapted “Ghost World” for a film, eventually earning both an Oscar nomination for the screenplay. Mr. Clowes was on the set every day and found himself fascinated by the editing room — how a film could be completely changed by assembling the scenes differently or adding a single shot. “You learn how strong this medium of telling stories through images really is,” he said. “It was very inspiring, but it made me realize how much less malleable comics is than cinema, because you can’t add in a panel of a guy turning a doorknob once you’ve drawn the whole book.”

His approach to 2005’s “Ice Haven” was directly influenced by this experience: it’s a “Rashomon”-like kidnapping tale told from the perspective of different characters, each of whom appears in separate stories drawn in different styles. “The idea was once I was done I could move things around much more easily,” he said.After that, two events slowed his output: the birth of Charlie in 2004 and open heart surgery in 2006. “When they were shaving my chest, and I was about to go under,” he said, “I felt like I had more courage than I thought I would have. It made me feel a little more like a grown man, rather than a child — that and having a kid.”
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Then, in 2008, his father died. Wilson, hostile and clueless, first came to life in Mr. Clowes’s notebook while he sat in his father’s hospital room in Chicago. From that moment, Mr. Clowes said, “everything Wilson did surprised me.”

Wilson’s visual expression is also surprising: each page is drawn using a different approach, ranging from Mr. Clowes’s own version of naturalism to the more exaggerated styles seen in strips like “Mutt and Jeff,” “Hagar the Horrible” and “Popeye.” “The styles are very appropriate to the mental state of Wilson and the story at that particular spot,” Mr. Spiegelman said. “What’s impressive is how seamless it is. Only in a few places do you go, ‘That character looks like a refugee from ‘Peanuts.’ ”

Certainly Wilson’s characterization remains so consistent that it’s easy not to notice the stylistic changes at all. “That’s my goal,” Mr. Clowes said. “To get you not to remember that you’re reading a comic, to feel like you’re in this story.”

And that too is his goal for the retrospective. “I never thought of myself as a museum artist who’s doing work for the wall,” he said. “For me the book is the final result.” He assumes that most people who see his work at the museum won’t know who he is. “But if they have some connection to something they see,” he added, “and then they read the book, the more I’ll feel like the show was a success.”
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Booklist's Top 10 graphic novels of 2012 include 2 Drawn and Quarterly authors!

Updated June 14, 2012


Top 10 Graphic Novels: 2012.
Chipman, Ian
Booklist

Big Questions. By Anders Nilsen. Illus. by the author. 2011. Drawn & Quarterly, $69.95 (9781770460447).

This enormous work, 15 years in the making, balances a minimalist drawing style with unusual touches of magic realism in a story about finches, philosophy, and the mysteries of life.

The Death-Ray. By Daniel Clowes. Illus. by the author. 2011. Drawn & Quarterly, $19.95 (9781770460515).

Returning to the arena of adolescent alienation that defined Ghost World (1997), and tossing in a lacerating takedown of superhero comics and pop culture, Clowes depicts a teen boy who derives low-level superpowers from smoking cigarettes.
 
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  Daniel Clowes talks about THE DEATH-RAY with Details Magazine

Updated January 12, 2012


October 12, 2011
Jason Chen

First published in 2004, Daniel Clowes' The Death-Ray tells the story of a teenager who acquires superhuman powers (and the killer ray gun of the title) after inhaling his first cigarette. Here, we asked the author some probing questions about the book.

It's been seven years since the Death-Ray story first came out in Eightball. What made you decide to publish it as a hardcover book now?

Soon after it came out as an issue of Eightball, I realized I had made a really dumb mistake by not just releasing it as a book. As a comic it was only available to those brave and/or foolish souls who shop in comic stores, but at the time I was still having trouble "letting go" of the old magazine-and-staple format. I have now achieved clarity.

How did you come up with the idea for The Death-Ray originally? Knowing that it came out in 2004 (at a time when the world was full of uncertainty) seems to inform the understanding of the story.

I was talking with another cartoonist and we agreed that the stupidest kind of comic to attempt would be an earnest, non-ironic superhero comic. I was arguing that the only good superhero comics are those with some sense of their own absurdity—the early Marvel comics, Plastic Man, fifties Superman. But then, for weeks after, I kept thinking about a story I had come up with in high school about a skinny teenager with superpowers and a disintegrator ray and how deeply personal and psychologically relevant it had been in retrospect, and the next thing I knew I was digging out my old Steve Ditko Spider-Man comics for inspiration.
Andy gets his superpowers after smoking his first cigarette. How symbolic was that of how the Death-Ray saga would unfold?

Smoking felt like the perfect trigger for that sort of adolescent power fantasy. It's exactly the same kind of thing, a childish version of adult power that becomes a destructive, enduring habit.

How do you feel about how the book works in 2011? If you were to update the opening sequence with "2011" instead of "2004," would you change anything?

I think it actually works better, in some ways. The Andys of the world were hanging in there back in 2004, before the economy imploded, but in 2011 our man would only be that much more frustrated, desperate, and resentful.

The protagonists in your work often seem to be fallible people who still very much have a clear sense of morality and how the world should be. Would you agree, and if so, what about that kind of person resonates with you as an author?

I'd say that someone who draws comics for a living is very likely a guy (or gal) who's in search of some form of control over something. I draw comics, it often seems, to relieve my anxiety over living in a world that seems dangerously chaotic and random, so it would only make sense that the characters that seem the most interesting to me are those with the same sort of issues. Having the power to erase human beings from your comics (or perhaps to cover them with Wite-Out) is not so dissimilar to wiping them out with a ray gun in many ways.

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Daniel Clowes on the Montreal Gazette on the graphic novel

Updated January 12, 2012


October 14, 2011
Ian McGillis

Daniel Clowes depicts Gen-X anomie, with dry humour

“It’s a really difficult thing to do.” Daniel Clowes is trying to describe the hard-to-name form – we’ll call it the graphic novel for the sake of convenience – of which he is one of the undisputed masters.

“You have to be able to do so many different things well, and yet the actual storytelling of cartoons is something that you can’t get from being good at any of the other fields, like drawing and writing and graphic design. It’s got to be a specific cartooning gene that you have.”

The 50-year-old Chicago native, now living in Oakland, is probably best known beyond the comics subculture for the much-loved screen adaptation of his graphic novel Ghost World. Visually, his work is on the rarely attained plain where cartooning meets fine art; thematically, his stories and characters pinpoint a certain Gen-X anomie with delicacy and dry, dark humour.

His newest book, the realist fantasy The Death-Ray, features a middle-aged man looking back on his adolescence, when he discovered smoking gave him the kind of supernatural powers that many a disaffected teen has dreamed of having. The book marks the first widely available release of a story Clowes first published in 2004 in his limited-edition Eightball comic.

“It was an obscure way to release something,” he says. “So I thought, ‘I’ve got to redo this in book form and try to get it out to people who don’t go to a comics store every week.’ ”

Revisiting a 7-year-old work brought back a lot of memories for Clowes, personal and otherwise: “You actually remember things like what music you were listening to, what was going on in your life. I was reminded that I worked on that story during the buildup to the Iraq war. The story is not overtly political in any way, but you can see that the character, and the sort of hollow American jingoism that the character espouses, is informed by my frustration at watching that inevitable slide toward militarism.”

Like two of Clowes’s more recent protagonists – the socially hapless Marshall of Mister Wonderful and the misanthropic but somehow lovable title character of Wilson – The Death-Ray’s hero, Andy, bears a certain resemblance to his creator, and marks a gradual drift toward more sympathetic figures in Clowes’s work.

“I decided at a certain point that one of my goals is to find a way to connect with the characters no matter how awful they may seem or how hard they are to be around, to try to look at their humanity and find a way to love them by the end,” he says.

“In The Death-Ray I mostly focused on the teenage version of Andy, but I wound up liking the older version, too. I liked the idea of this frustrated middle-aged man who had this terrible power. That led me to do Mister Wonderful and Wilson, who were versions of that, of myself facing middle age. Now I feel like I don’t need to do that character anymore. I can move on to other things.”

For Clowes, who once felt part of a community of like-minded artists but finds that the old gang is breaking up, the tour that brings him to Montreal next week with fellow comics luminary Seth – whose new The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists is being launched along with The Death-Ray – is especially welcome.

“One of the main reasons I agreed to do this tour was to get to hang out with Seth for a couple of weeks. It’s the only way we get to see each other. It’s funny, I was just thinking of how The Death-Ray is a very American work, and how I really respond more to American artists than to international ones, and then it occurred to me how two of my five favourite cartoonists, Seth and Chester Brown, are Canadian.”

As for the ongoing issue of what to call what people like Clowes and Seth do, the man who’s on record as disliking the term “graphic novel” sounds ready to give in.

“I somehow can’t write that term without putting it in quotes,” Clowes says. “Often you’re talking about a ‘novel’ that’s actually a memoir; it’s non-fiction. When I say the term to people I know are well versed in literature, I can see that they’re rolling their eyes. But we cartoonists have had 10 or 15 years among us to come up with a better term and nobody has even proposed anything. So if ‘graphic novel’ works for the public, and clarifies a certain type of book, then we’ll just stick with that and stop worrying about it.”

 
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  THE DEATH-RAY is "an incredible story" says iFanboy 5 star review

Updated January 12, 2012


Zack

Rare is the time that I feel intimidated before I open my big fat mouth; however, every now and then I question whether or not I am actually worthy to critique a book. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. Dan Clowes’ Death Ray led me to one of those instances of anxiety. A lot of my anxiety came not just from Clowes’ standing in the comics/cartooning community, but rather a combination of that standing and my embarrassing lack of direct familiarity with his comics work. Fortunately, it didn’t take me long to get over that initial embarrassment, so I threw caution to the wind and decided to tackle Death Ray.

I have a general familiarity with the visual aspect of Clowes’ work and greatly enjoyed the film adaptation of Ghost World (I haven’t read the book yet…sorry), so I kind of had a good idea of how the book would feel visually and figured that I could guess the kind of complex, often odd, characters I would encounter. Additionally, I own several of Clowes’ earlier works, this just happens to be the first I have actually read. Having taken all of that into consideration, I had received the solace that I convinced myself that I needed before taking on such a giant of a cartoonist. The fact (that’s right, fact) that Death Ray is an incredible story, naturally, put my mind further at ease, and made it very easy for me to feel comfortable commenting on it.

Originally published in 2004 in issue #23 Dan Clowes’ Eightball, Death Ray is the tale of a teenage boy named Andy and is awful friend, Louie. Andy’s invisible. He’s not literally invisible though. Rather he’s invisible in that way only a teenager can be. With the exception of Louie, Pappy (Andy’s grandfather), and Pappy’s caretaker, not many people are more than vaguely aware of Andy’s existence. Most anyone else who would potentially care about Andy has passed on. His mother died very young when a blood clot lodged in her brain, and his father and grandmother were victims of cancer, leaving Andy with only Pappy and his aunt left to call family. In many ways, Andy is a more tragic version of Peter Parker. He lacks Peter’s genius, but, like Parker, Andy is an orphan with only a sickly, aging relative left to care for him. Andy’s tragedy exceeds Peter Parkers in that at least Peter’s losses were sudden and uncommon. Andy lost his family to the slow, heartbreaking cruelty of disease; while Peter Parker never got the chance to say “goodbye,” the reader must assume that Andy had to watch his father slowly succumb to death’s grasp. He must also have watched his grandmother do the same, and the reader is forced to witness, along with Andy, the agonizing deterioration of Andy’s grandfather. Where Peter Parker’s losses, most notably of Uncle Ben, were sudden and certainly tragic, Andy’s losses must have been soul-crushing, leaving him in the hollow state that we find him in in the opening pages of this story.

With such tragic beginnings, it’s only natural that Andy must have something else extraordinary happen to him—this is a comic book, after all. It must be something so extraordinary as to completely change his life and give him the opportunity for a better one. A better life, that is, if Andy can keep himself together emotionally. For the purposes of this story, Andy must become a superhero. Previously unbeknownst to Andy; as a child, his father injected him with a special hormone. That hormone could be activated with the use of nicotine, giving Andy super strength. However, the strength is only temporary and Andy must regain his abilities through smoking…yes, Andy must smoke in order to become a superhero. In addition to his nicotine-activated-super-strength, Andy’s father also left him an odd-shaped pistol, a death ray. The death ray pistol can only be operated by Andy and has the ability to completely disintegrate any target that it hits.

The trouble is, can Andy actually keep himself together long enough to learn to always make the right decisions without going mad with his moderate amount of power? Can Andy stave off the aggravating peer pressure that his best friend saddles him with? Can Andy be a hero? Can he be Peter Parker? Or will he ultimately retreat back to his overbearing sense of personal inadequacy and the all-too-human urge for exerting his power through passive-aggressive means? Clowes addresses all of these issues in a way that can only be done in comics and he addresses them in a way that is uncomfortably honest. Imagine visiting a friend and asking the banal question, “How are you?” Now imagine that they respond by saying, “I’m an emotional wreck. My grandmother died and I just don’t know what to do with myself.” The certain type of tension and uncomfortableness that comes from such a response is what Clowes captures in Death Ray and he makes it the tone for the whole of the narrative.

Andy’s journey is an interesting one. Andy’s life has not been particularly cheery, and he has just one friend, Louie (who is of morally questionable character); his lack of friends is a result of bad past experiences and his own cynical nature. Yet, even with his cynicism, Andy considers Louie to be a rare, true friend. The relationship between Andy and Louie is complex. It almost seems that they’re both using each other for emotional reasons and there is a clear struggle for dominance in the relationship. Early on, Louie (who has a troubled home life of his own) is the dominant partner of the two. He bosses Andy around while trying to exploit and manipulate Andy’s new found super power. What’s worse is that he doesn’t just try to exploit Andy for personal gain; he tries to convince Andy that it’s okay to use his abilities for morally questionable acts—and in some cases morally reprehensible ones. Part of Louie’s motivation for trying to get Andy to use his powers in such a way is clearly a result of his home life and disdain for his family members, but it’s also a clear result of his trouble with girls. It’s Louie’s douche baggery that creates significant strain on the relationship between the characters.

Andy initially struggles with what to do with his abilities and eventually makes a conscious, if not over-compensating effort, to be a good person after he gains a better understanding of his ability and the power of the death ray pistol that his father left him. He almost tries to be too good. It’s as though he’s trying to emulate the black and white morality of Golden Age superheroes. It’s not the captivating black and white morality of later, more complex characters like Steve Ditko’s Question or Mr. A. Rather, it’s much more child-like and it ultimately sets Andy up for failure with its impossible to maintain ideals. What’s even more fascinating about Andy’s choice to try to be a better person is its ultimate result, which is Andy developing an almost sociopathic sense of authority over who lives and who dies. In Andy’s warping sense of morality there are many people who are permitted to live only as a result of his generosity.

What’s most captivating about this shift in Andy’s moral outlook is that creates a significant change in the dynamic of Louie and Andy’s relationship. Andy becomes the clear, dominant force and it’s Louie that ultimately becomes sympathetic, submissive member of the friendship and it is he who is forced to retreat to a Jiminy Cricket-type role. Perhaps Louie was a Jiminy Cricket archetype all along, except he transitioned from a morally questionable one into the more relatable, sympathetic, version. In the end, it was this shift in dynamic and its necessary result that made this story memorable. It’s a wonderfully well-crafted tale, but it’s this moment that stopped the work from just being good and made it great.

Dan Clowes’ mastery of storytelling isn’t just limited to character moments, as savvy comic readers should well know. Clowes utilizes the visual aspect of the medium as well as any creator ever has. He takes great advantage of the methods of storytelling that are only possible in comics and uses them in remarkably subtle and impactful ways. While Clowes’ layouts appear simple and straightforward, they invest the reader with the characters by forcing them to consider them only within the limited existence that Clowes’ permits them. Reading Clowes’ panel layouts is similar to reading a Sunday comic strip. On a page where several dozen characters may appear, the reader is forced to limit those characters to the small squares in which they exist. The reader knows that Hi & Lois won’t be appearing in Garfield any time soon; they know that’s the case because of the layout of the Comics page and the way that each cartoonist lays out their panels. Whether it was intentional or not, Charles Schultz utilized this to a remarkable effect. When people read Peanuts, it doesn’t matter what else is on the page, nothing else exists outside of Charlie Brown’s world. No one is thinking about any other strip or character on the page, they are completely invested in Schultz’s characters. Clowes taps into that exact same sentiment and reader reaction with the page layouts in Death Ray. The design forces the reader to be only interested in the little moments that Clowes provides them. Nothing else exists outside of Andy and Louie’s small world, and even less exists in between the panels.

In addition to Clowes’ Schultzian mastery of layout and storytelling, he accents and bookends the story with brilliant, yet brief, interludes that allow the readers insight into what others think of Andy. These interludes allow for a satisfying reflection on who Andy was, who Andy became, and provide a needed sense of closure for the story. Clowes chooses an unconventional, but somewhat expected, ending for the story that builds on that sense of closure that was provided by the interludes and also gives the reader a sense of control over Andy’s ultimate fate. It’s that combination that makes the story not just memorable, but satisfying.

Dan Clowes is inarguably a comics master and in Death Ray he offers a superhero tale that only he could tell. He utilizes an astonishing range of sequential story telling styles that draw influence from the great superhero comics of the Silver Age, newspaper comic strips and the tools that Charles Schultz mastered, and mixes them together with his own distinguished visual sense and unique way of character building and development. If one were to look at this as an overall commentary of the evolution of the superhero, it’s easy to watch Andy transition from the Golden Age do-gooder to the more introspective Silver Age hero to the morally complex anti-hero of modern superhero comics, and Clowes makes the transitions subtle and emotionally satisfying. Between Clowes’ work and the topnotch production values that Drawn & Quarterly puts into this edition, Death Ray has more than earned a spot on every sincere comics fan’s shelf, and is one of the finest collections to have been released in 2011.
Story: 5 - Excellent
Art: 5 - Excellent
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Dan Clowes shares his favorites with WNYC

Updated January 12, 2012


October 20, 2011
The Leonard Lopate Show


Cartoonist Daniel Clowes was on the Leonard Lopate Show recently and he also told us what he's been reading and listening to.


What have you read or seen over the past year (book, play, film, etc...) that moved or surprised you?

Andrei Rublev - Tarkovsky

Lint - Chris Ware


What are you listening to right now?

The Beatles with my 7-year-old son


What’s the last great book you read?

Stoner by John Williams


What’s one thing you’re a fan of that people might not expect?

The California Arts and Crafts movement, Gustav Stickley and his ilk


What’s your favorite comfort food?

Pizza

 
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  Dan Clowes interviewed on Propeller

Updated January 12, 2012


This month Daniel Clowes is on tour to promote his latest book, The Death-Ray (Drawn + Quarterly), which first appeared in 2004 in his long-running comic series, Eightball. In The Death-Ray, an orphaned teen hero named Andy gets super-human powers, allowing him to take revenge, if he chooses, on bullies. Recently, Clowes told an interviewer with Oakpark.patch.com that Andy looks like he did in the 1970s, and, like Andy, he lived with his grandparents and was harassed by other kids. Clowes explained the cathartic effect of this book: “Having the power to erase human beings from your comics (or perhaps to cover them with Wite-Out) is not so dissimilar to wiping them out with a ray gun in many ways.” Clowes has won numerous awards for his cartoons, including the 2011 PEN Center award for graphic literature. He lives with his wife and son in Oakland. His wife does not knit, nor does she like the goose droppings at Lake Merritt, but she does support his use of PowerPoint slides on his book tours. —Alex Behr

PROPELLER: When I went to Powell’s Books last May for your book tour of Mr. Wonderful, I introduced you to my son, who’s around your son’s age. I said I’d give all my old Eightball comics to him one day, but when I reread them, I was like—no way. He has to discover some subversive things on his own. Do you censor things you’re working on from your son?

DANIEL CLOWES: I try to keep the more “adult” stuff out of his line of vision, but I don’t make a big deal out of it. Every once in a while one of his friends will come in the studio and I’ll realize I’m looking at some hideous Italian horror comic to copy the logo typography and have long ago tuned out the image of the nude woman on the cover being branded by becloaked sadists. I’m guessing at some point secret visits to Dad’s studio will be a big draw...

PROPELLER: Some of your talk at Powell’s had to do with The New York Times Magazine’s censorship during the serialization of Mr. Wonderful. It seems like the NYT editors feared that people might cancel their subscriptions, based on one complaint from a Christian in Arkansas, so you were told to take out “offensive speech” (the word schmuck) in the next installment. Your way to protest was an empty dialogue box. Was that satisfying to you, or just a necessary compromise?
CLOWES: “Schmuck” was actually just preemptively censored by the editors, fearing some revolt of Yiddish-speaking subscribers. And no, it wasn’t satisfying. It was the kind of thing that makes you realize why most mainstream culture feels dead and over-processed.

PROPELLER: The NYT must have chosen you in part because you have cachet as someone who takes risks and is from the cartoon underground. Did that seem cynical of them to come back and try to censor you? Did you hear back from anyone associated with the NYT after your book tour?

CLOWES: No, they have long ago moved on from any interest in their failed efforts of the past.

PROPELLER: I first heard of Pete and Ray’s recorded rants through friends in Bay Area bands, like the Thinking Fellers Union Local 282, and Seymour Glass of Bananafish fanzine. They had gotten copies of these secretly recorded fights from Eddie Lee Sausage, Pete and Ray’s neighbor. At parties, my friends would recite, with precise intonation, Pete and Ray’s invective. You didn’t have to be drunk to feel like you were going insane. Later, Gary Leib and you drew a cartoon for Seymour Glass’s comic Shut Up Little Man. You chose the quote: “… I love people … I love people … I love a lot of things, but I sure the fuck can’t love a fuckin piece of shit like you.” The rhythm of that dialogue is spot on. And now you appear in the 2011 documentary about Pete and Ray, Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure. How did you first hear the tapes? Did they become mesmerizing to you, or oppressive?

CLOWES: I too heard them via your buddy, Seymour Glass, and later through Eddie Lee Sausage himself. I found them oddly comforting to listen to, like demented old-time radio shows.

PROPELLER: In a current project on Salon.com, writers interview bullies from their past. What would you ask a bully from your past? Or which comic would you direct him/her to?

CLOWES: At a certain point, I realized that virtually everyone who’s ever done anything bad to me wound up having a miserable, unfulfilling life. It almost feels like I made some kind of pact with the devil and then had it erased it from my memory. I can think of nothing I’d want to do less than ever see any of them again.

PROPELLER: What is the current version of your imaginary reader doing right now? Does he still look like you?

CLOWES: He has more hair and a healthier complexion.

PROPELLER: In parts of your book Wilson, I viewed the buildings and vehicles as characters, since the guy’s wandering by himself. When you walk around Oakland, do you make up or work on stories?
CLOWES: Yeah, I finally feel like I understand what it means to be a Californian. I didn’t take to it for the longest time, but in the past few years I’ve started at last to be able to feel like I’m a part of this world and not just a chilly Midwestern observer.

PROPELLER: My son, when he was five, said, “If we used up so much soap we’d get shiny and stars would come off our bodies.” I wrote it down because I fear the day when he’ll get control of language or feel self-conscious about using it imaginatively. Do you feel that way as a dad?

CLOWES: My son rarely says those kinds of things, and I always feel like I’m straining a bit to see the poetry in his word choices. He’s a very precise speaker and has no patience for my often unclear and fuzzy illogical syntaxes.

PROPELLER: I heard a Jonathan Franzen interview on NPR (yes, I’m one of those types) the other day. He defended his cynical, depressive characters in his books, saying, “There’s nothing like putting a couple of Eeyores into text to make it a little bit funny.” I read somewhere that you hate hippies—is that why?—not enough Eeyores? Too many dancing bears?

CLOWES: No, I don’t mind the idealism of hippies; it’s much more personal. My childhood was going along pretty well until the hippie thing kicked in and then it went all to shit. Suddenly my parents were divorced and my brother was taking drugs and all the things I cared about like Christmas and baseball were suddenly corny and irrelevant. My hero at age nine was Sgt. Joe Friday on Dragnet, especially when he laid into the hippies for drowning their baby in the bathtub or some other sloth-induced atrocity.

PROPELLER: When I interviewed the artist Amy Cutler for this magazine, she said after 9/11 she questioned “the importance of making paintings about my insular imaginary world.” She said, “The twin towers were still burning and I couldn’t see how my narrative paintings mattered in the context of what was happening outside my window.” But then she read Aimee Bender’s stories, which created a “great escape.” Have you ever felt you had to stop drawing because of current events, or has it always been a release?

CLOWES: No, I tend to shut down my emotions in the face of catastrophe and to retreat even further into the only place where I can exert any control.

PROPELLER: In an interview, you said The Death-Ray was influenced by the buildup to the Iraq War. Now that The Death-Ray is being rereleased in hard cover, and we’re still at war, do you feel cynical? Is the only cure escapism through, say, watching zombies on TV?

CLOWES: I’m sick of zombies. I don’t get how something one guy—George Romero—invented all of a sudden became a “genre,” and now everybody’s allowed to rip him off with endless permutations of his vision. It’s his thing!

PROPELLER: What did you like about John Williams’ novel Stoner? Is there anything you’re reading now that you like as much?
CLOWES: I thought it captured the totality of a life very effectively. I haven’t read much fiction lately though I liked the Jennifer Egan novel. Lately, I’ve been reading a bit about the Theosophical movement in the late 19th century, an interesting array of annoying crackpots and con-men, and am somewhat obsessed with the California Arts and Crafts movement of the early 20th century.

PROPELLER: For the next issue of Propeller, I’m interviewing Christine Shields, an artist and friend of yours. What do you like about her comics or paintings?

CLOWES: They are all beautiful and her images are genuinely haunting. Also, she’s a really nice person and that comes through in her work.

PROPELLER: Even as a kid I felt secure looking at the sturdy lines in Harold and the Purple Crayon. I like how the lines create surprising causes/effects and quick shifts in mood. I had never heard of Crockett Johnson’s Barnaby series until now. How did you get involved with the reprints (coming out on Fantagraphics)?

CLOWES: My mom and dad were big readers of the Barnaby comic strip in the ’40s and they gave me a Dover reprint book of the strips when I was a little kid. I had been badgering various publishers to reprint it for years, but the rights were hard to pry loose. Eric Reynolds at Fantagraphics finally worked his magic and got them to agree to a three-volume set, which I will be art-directing in as unobtrusive a manner as possible. Ω
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THE DEATH-RAY gets an 8.2 on Paste

Updated January 12, 2012


November 2, 2011
Garrett Martin

The Death-Ray
by Daniel Clowes
Drawn and Quarterly, 2011
Rating: 8.2
Yep, this is the same Death-Ray that ran in Eightball #23 back in 2004, only now in a nice oversized hardcover edition. It’s still a gloomy Bildungsroman about teenage disillusionment and vigilante justice, focusing on an arrogant and mostly friendless teenager who gets superpowers from a forbidden vice in the late 1970s. Egged on by his angry punk friend, he uses those powers to beat up bullies and other wrong-doers. Eventually he discovers the weapon of the title, which immediately blinks its target out of existence, and the stakes are raised from mere beatings to weighing judgment on the merits of existence itself. Clowes’ literary superhero tale scatters its story into a number of vignettes, aping the styles of various comic genres while tracking one outcast’s increasing separation from society. Clowes examines the combination of condescension, guilt, and self-righteousness common to both adolescence and superhero vigilantism, while also working in a bit of middle-aged disappointment via the present-day framing device. It’s a brief read given the price, but likely one you won’t soon forget. (GM)

 
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Dan Clowes and Seth at the International Festival of Authors

Updated January 12, 2012


Aww!

Daniel Clowes and Seth in conversation, Oct. 21
Photo: Sue Carter Flinn

Quill & Quire
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CBR reviews THE DEATH-RAY and THE GNBCC

Updated January 12, 2012


November 3, 2011
J. Caleb Mozzocco

The Death-Ray (Drawn and Quarterly): I have two distinct reasons to be exceedingly grateful to Drawn and Quarterly for republishing Daniel Clowes’ 2004 comic book Eightball #23 (originally published by Fantagraphics) as a bound hardcover album, bearing the title of the comic’s full-length story.

The first is highly personal. While I greatly enjoyed reading the issue in its huge, newspaper-sized, stapled format, as soon as I finished, I was faced with a problem: Where on earth do I put the damn thing? Obviously it wouldn’t fit in a long box or on any of my bookshelves, either laid flat or standing. If I simply set it on an end table or a coffee table, not only would it take up a lot of space, but it would collect dust and need regularly dusted. And it wasn’t like I had a lot of comics of similar size—only Lauren Weinstein’s Goddess of War, really—so I couldn’t stack it up with my other gigantic comics in a corner somewhere.

Ultimately, I stuck it in an oversized shipping envelope and hid it in the space between a bookshelf and the wall of my apartment, although even there it bothered me, as I knew it was there. And, of course, every time I moved I would pull it out, look at it, and realized I’d have to find a place to keep it in my new apartment as well, before I ultimately would decide to hide it behind a bookshelf in my new place. (It occurs to me now that while Clowes probably didn’t plan that experience for me, it does replicate the feelings of some of the characters in the story, who come into possession of something they can’t really get rid of, but can’t have others know about and have to secretly store for years).


But now that it’s got a spine and hard covers, now that it’s a book-book instead of a floppy, it can stand up on a bookshelf next to other similarly-sized books! The problem is solved! (Although I’m not quite sure I can bring myself to part with Eightball #23 just because I have the same story in an easier to store format now…)

The second reason I’m grateful for the re-release of this story in the new format is a more general one: It gave me another excuse to reread it, another excuse to write about how great it is and it will give a the world a new chance to read a truly great comic, one of the better superhero comics of the last decade, even though a lot of superhero comics fans probably didn’t consider it as such, given that it was published by two art/lit comics publishers and was created by the guy who did Ghost World and Wilson.

After a bold new cover of its star, wearing a Mike Allred-esque, vaguely Spider-Man like costume and clutching the titular weapon and a title page in which the tile glows in an explosion of pink radiation, we meet a middle-aged man named Andy in the year 2004. He talks directly to the reader, before he notices a man littering and confronts him.

When the man challenges him with “What are you going to do about it?,” the tale begins in earnest, as we learn the secret origin of Andy, aka The Death-Ray, who has the most terribly perfect weapon imaginable (Not only does it cause death, but it completely erases its target from existence, leaving not a molecule of physical remains for evidence, and it only works for Andy).

The panel-packed pages are mostly drawn in Clowes’ default style, in flat but brilliant colors that evoke maximum old-school superhero comics. The style gets looser or tighter here and there, but it doesn’t fluctuate as much or as intentionally as in some of Clowes’ more recent works.

The story does drift in and out of differently formatted comic strips though, so that the two page spread “The Origin of Andy” features him talking about his life and his default best friend Louie, the next page brings a series of headshot panels of Andy’s high school classmates following a title panel “What Do You Think of Andy?”, followed by newspaper Sunday strip-sized “Louie At Home,” in which we watch Louie have dinner with his family.

Andy’s story echoes that of Spider-Man’s and other post-Spidey relevant and relatable super-stories, as he’s the orphaned son of a famous scientist who secretly did experiments on him, and doesn’t discover them until he’s a put upon teenager just about to come of age.

The problems he faces are more real and more troubling though. He doesn’t have a single supervillain or rival superhero he ever has to trade blows with, but he does have to deal with a world full of damaged people hurting one another constantly, intentionally and accidentally, and figure out how to use his incredible power responsibly, or, at the very least, not make things all that much worse (“How the hell does one man stand a chance against four billion assholes?” is how adult Andy puts it).

It’s actually pretty terrifying, but it’s also pretty funny and a perfect example of a rather rare animal you probably here about all the time, but harldy ever encounter: A superhero comic book for grown-ups that is itself actually grown-up; one that doesn’t just add adult content like too much frosting on a child’s cake, or deconstruct superhero conventions in nihilistic or semi-sarcastic fashion, but is actually a piece of literature with aims beyond entertainment and time-killing.

Now in a more convenient format.


The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists (Drawn and Quarterly): Seth explains the province of this work in an introduction, an explanation alluded to in the banner along the bottom of the cover reading “A Story From the Sketchbook of the Cartoonist ‘Seth’.”

Apparently it began in his sketchbook, and it wasn’t something he had any intention of publishing, nor was it something he felt was entirely publishable at the time it began. He abandoned it to work on Wimbledon Green, a work with which it shares a worldview and tone, a fantasy version of comics in comics are the most exciting thing in the world; in otherworlds, a point of view that literalized the way a lot of us feel about the medium. In Wimbledon Green, it was the readers and collectors who were the focus; here it’s the creators.

Encouraged to publish, however, Seth returned to the story and finished it, reworking portions of it now that its audience was broader than just himself.

The resultant book is a guided tour—presumably conducted by Seth himself, as the few glimpses we get of our docent resemble the artist—of the The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists club headquarters. It’s an amazing place, something like the old 19th century explorers’ clubs of London and gentlemen’s clubs in the U.S., although it is devoted to Canadian cartoonists, and it’s a little too amazing in its conception and design.

Essentially, Seth has created a fantasy Garden of Eden for himself, one full of so many quirky details, from an elaborate history to the sorts of niggling political and interpersonal problems that you’d find in a real place rather than an imagine paradisical one, that it all sounds, looks and feels completely real—or at least just on the other side of the line between realistic and fantastical.

In the process, the Seth character also gives the reader—imagined here as a guest he is leading through the rooms of the club–a guided history of Canadian cartooning and comics, and again the line between what’s real and is invented is a bit blurry. Real names and characters are in there, like Doug Wright and his creation Nipper, but so too are a lot of characters that seem like they can’t possibly be true, and some, especially among the cartoonists, who seem like they have an equal chance at being real and being invented by Seth for the purposes of this book. That’s how good he is at detailing and selling his fantasy world.

And it is a whole world. While the Seth and reader character never leave the grounds of the G.N.B. Double C. (as the club is called), it’s an entire world that is being imagined and evoked. It’s pretty much identical to ours, save for the place cartooning and cartoonists have in it.

I suppose part of the mysterious, almost magical effect of Seth’s blending the real and the ideal into such a convincingly told story, the appearance of a middle ground between obviously true and obviously not in which a reader is unsure of whether or not he is being told the true truth, relies on the Canadian setting, and the chance that the reader—like this particular reader—has never been farther into Canda than Niagara Falls, and thus it’s a place that is only slightly more real to me than, say, Narnia or Middle Earth or Metropolis and Gotham. “Canada” is a place I read about all the time, but never really see for myself.

I think this is at least a tiny, tiny part of the reason Scott Pilgrim hit as it did with readers—a Canadian could tell an American that Toronto magical land, and chances are the typical poorly traveled American can’t count on her own personal experience to refute it.

Basically, Seth could knock on my door and tell me that elves account for 2.5-percent of the modern Canadian population, and while I would be quite skeptical, I wouldn’t know for an absolute fact that he was lying, particularly if he lies as elaborately and convincing in person as he does in comics. (I can’t even look up some of the dubious-but-not-impossible characters and creators on the Internet as I write this, as I am doing so in a house without an Internet connection; I didn’t look anything up while reading the book for the first time in early October because I couldn’t put it down).

Beyond the considerable virtues of Seth’s abilities as an artist, world-builder and storyteller The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists should appeal to anyone who loves comics—for what they are, for what we wish they were, for what they could be and for what they will never be.

 
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  THE DEATH-RAY reviewed by the Edmonton Journal

Updated January 12, 2012


November 5, 2011
José Teodoro

“That which does not kill us,” wrote Friedrich Nietzsche, “makes us stronger.” But what of those things that kill us only very gradually? And what is great strength with no suitable arena in which to exercise it?

The Death-Ray by writer/illustrator Daniel Clowes, which originally appeared as a story in Clowes’ comic book, Eightball No. 23 back in 2004, addresses these questions playfully, poignantly, and a little perversely. It relays the story of Andy, a teenaged orphan who discovers hidden reserves of fierceness and super fortitude after casually trying cigarettes for the first time. He also inherits a trumpet-like pistol which apparently zaps its targets out of existence. Andy is the only one who can use “the Death-Ray,” and while that thing Spiderman said about power and responsibility sounds nice, what exactly is a high school outcast supposed to do once he realizes that he wields the power to, as he puts it, erase someone from the landscape?

Clowes, author of Ghost World and David Boring, has chronicled youthful alienation before; he’s also proved deft with tales that fuse banal, white, American experience with the fantastic and the surreal. The Death-Ray distinguishes itself from Clowes’ other work most obviously through its interrogation of super hero myths, appropriating numerous origin story tropes, only to follow them through to their more plausible conclusions. Andy narrates his adolescence from the perspective of his frustrated middle-age, by which point he’s been through two wives and several dogs — the very first panels find him doing nothing so super-heroic as picking up Diane’s poo — and finds the temptation to light up and revive his super powers an ongoing struggle he can’t entirely master.

Young Andy describes himself as “a straight-shooter and a stand-up guy.” He’s mortified when he causes a squirrel to disintegrate and is reluctant to use the Death-Ray ever again. But his pal Louie, far more enthusiastic about seeking opportunities to exact revenge, introduces Andy to someone he might genuinely help. Louie’s endearing but pathetic friend Sonny used to date Louie’s sister, who is now going steady with an unsavoury gentleman who may or may not be abusing her. The possibility of eliminating the new boyfriend promises to put Andy’s abilities to good use, though the results could haunt him for the rest of his life.

Clowes uses some terrific devices to create a larger panorama of Andy’s world, such as opinion polls involving supporting characters that resemble talking heads in documentary films. By the time this graphic novella reaches its surprisingly satisfying end, we’ve come to know both the younger, idealistic Andy and the older, angrier one, and we sense how, as with anyone else, events both positive and negative transpire in Andy’s life, the extraordinary is dwarfed by the mundane, and life just sort of goes on. What consolation remains comes not from the accretion of power or glory, but from fleeting moments shared with a rare true friend, or a fireworks display observed from some desolate park bench, with a frightened dog taking comfort from your caress.

José Teodoro is a former Edmonton playwright now based in Toronto.
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DEATH-RAY discussion on the Comics Journal

Updated January 12, 2012


November 10, 2011
Ken Parille

The Death-Ray Discussion Forum

This edition of GRID features ten thoughts about Daniel Clowes’s just-released graphic novel The Death-Ray, covering areas such as genre, politics, form, Freud, narration, and color. These observations are followed by three excerpts from recent interviews with the cartoonist. I encourage readers to respond to any of these comments and/or post on a topic of their choice. Perhaps we could generate something that, on the web, isn’t always too easy to get started or keep going: a sustained conversation about a comic book.

1. Grim and Gritty v. Deadpan.
Some readers have argued that The Death-Ray is the only “purely [whatever that means] revisionist superhero comic.” Other comic books may claim to fully re-imagine the superhero, but they really don’t. Like Watchmen etc. they work implicitly within, and therefore endorse, the grandiosity and power-fantasy modes of “The Superhero Story as Modern Myth.” Or they simply go “extreme” in the opposite direction, by making superheroes into super creepy villains, which isn’t really much of a revision, given that most superheroes are law-breaking, self-serving vigilanties. Clowes’s deadpan comic is perhaps the lone “realistic” [whatever that means] superhero comic.

2. What The Death-Ray Is Not About.
The Death-Ray really has nothing to do with superhero comics—it’s a character study disguised as a superhero story:

It’s really the story of two boys and their complex friendship, which slowy turns into a deadly rivalry. Like Clowes’s Wilson, it’s about the need for companionship.

To focus on genre is to miss the point. An interviewer once asked Clowes the following:

Q: Did you think of The Death-Ray as a kind of critique, in this case of problems you saw with superhero comics or their readers, who might respond to these stories primarily as violent revenge fantasies and not as ennobling tales of justice? Like Andy, the average teenager who gets a superpower would go around killing people who were mean to them or their friends or who spit on pigeons.

A:[Laughs.] I didn’t do it to make anyone feel bad for reading superhero comics or to make them reexamine their choices if that’s what they like to do. It wasn’tabout that, necessarily. . . . You know, it’s not about anything; it’s just about this particular character having super powers, a guy I understand completely inside and out, and about what that would mean, and really following that up and not thinking at all about other superhero comics as I did it. [source]

Note the reference to Livermore, Ca. Andy’s father was a scientist, and gave his son superpowers via an injection of a special hormone. Perhaps when in Livermore, he worked at The Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, which played a key role in WW II and post-war US military weapons development. Maybe Andy’s origin is tied to this place and US government experiments . . . They also lived in Tennessee, where Andy’s father “worked at a lab”: an important atomic research facility for The Manhattan Project was located in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Andy’s deep origin seems to be connected to origins of many ’60s superheroes, whose stories involve atomic power and experiments.

3. Occupy Comics.
Has Clowes finally gone all political on us? Forget Frank Miller’s crazed anti-Islam comic Holy Terror, The Death-Ray takes on the unholy War on Terror and an American Mind that’s in thrall to a foreign policy based on aggro forms of acting-out against flamboyant international super villains/dictators: The US government as global mass-murder who justifies its crime with the rhetoric of ‘god-sanctioned American exceptionalism.’ By the comic’s end, has Andy has morphed into a pudgy Rush Limbaugh-esque commentator on American values, a man who who wishes he could project his personal death-wish on the world?

Can we take this socially-invested comic as an invitation to reread Clowes’s earlier stories in political terms? Is Wilson, for example, an exploration of the plight of a marginalized 99%-er? Is his lack of ambition and complete rejection of conventional modes of success (i.e., $$$) an explicit indictment of cherished Tea Party principles as promulgated by Fox News? (hmm; perhaps that analysis goes too far).

4. Ditko in The Death-Ray.
This comic displays Steve Ditko’s crucial influence on the young Clowes, who was fascinated by Ditko-drawn and plotted Spider-Man issues. This influence has been at work throughout Clowes’s career, though often buried in his current ‘aesthetic unconscious’ in ways not always instantly recognizable. Both artists share an obsession with heroic and un-heroic action, frailty and ugliness, revenge and violence. According to Clowes, he has even turned into a Ditko character!: “Now I resemble The Vulture from the early Steve Ditko Spider-Man comics” (source: Ghost World: Special Edition).

Every time Clowes draws a water tower, think Ditko:

In recent interviews and features, Clowes talks about the seminal cartoonist:

a. When I was about Andy’s age, about 16 years old, I was obsessed with the Steve Ditko Spider-Man comics, and I was so moved by them that I tried to create… Well, I didn’t think of it at the time as my own version of that, I thought of it as something totally unique, but it really involved the same emotions. It was about a kid who lived with his grandfather, and his grandfather was killed, and the kid was bent on vengeance. The kid had these superpowers, and I didn’t bother to figure out how he got them, but he also had this ray-gun. I think I’ve had the fantasy of a ray-gun that could erase the world from the time I was a very little kid. [source]

b. When [Clowes] was 18 years old . . . he tracked down the reclusive cartoonist Steve Ditko, co-creator of Spider-Man, who happened to be living above a hardcore pornography theatre in New York. “This was before 42nd Street was like a Disney store,” said Clowes. “This was a really sleazy area; it was right out of Taxi Driver.” When he finally made it up to Ditko’s front door, though, all he got was a fleeting glimpse of the apartment and a door slammed in his face. “That was probably the greatest moment of my life.” [source]

5. Freud and Feces.
The Death-Ray takes up where the short story “Black Nylon” (1997) and graphic novel David Boring (2000) left off, furthering Clowes’s exploration of (parody of?) Freudian ideas within an action/adventure context.

The Death-Ray opens with a covert allusion to Freud’s concept of the “anal stage.”

During this stage of development, children are invested in controlling the release of their urine and fecal matter. If parents practice improper toilet training (punishing rather than praising or being overly strict), children develop an anal retentive personality, becoming inflexible and obsessed with order and cleanliness, just as our hero is:

The incident that bookends the narrative is a scene in which Andy gets very angry because he sees someone littering . . .

Is Clowes saying that the superhero’s origin story is traceable back to his toilet training!? Ha! Is the superhero sometimes/always a “case study” in stunted psycho-sexual development?

6. Colors: The Pink Spine and The Yellow Streak.
In Clowes’s David Boring, the title character’s father created a superhero named The Yellow Streak, an name synonymous with cowardice. Clowes once said all “superhero comics are, on some level, autobiographical”— by choosing this name, is David’s father unintentionally revealing something about himself? (after all, he later abandoned his family, surely a coward’s move).

How are we to interpret the pink spine of The Death-Ray. To what aspect of the superhero story does it refer? Why such a prominent place on both spine and front cover? Color has narrative, symbolic, and emotional meanings in the comic, so why not here?

7. The Great Easily-Overlooked Moment.
The story is full of them. One of my favorites is Clowes’s use of the “non-character reaction shot.” After Andy reveals his tragic family history, Louie has no response, failing to sympathize with Andy’s plight. (This failure condemns Louie, the story’s true villain—a sidekick motivated by jealousy of the hero’s power.) The media image—George Jetson’s pained face on the TV—provides the appropriate “reaction shot” to Andy’s revelation. Why is it that we let the media and cartoons do our feeling for us?

8. Color, Lines, and Visual Narrative Unreliability.
The muted color scheme (even Andy’s words are “colored”) may suggest that the story’s visual narrative (which is often distinct from Andy’s narration) is unreliable.

When we begin reading, we leave the full color of our reality and enter “Andy’s World” (a chapter title). Clowes’s muted visual choices here become narrative choices; they signal that something’s not right with our narrator—things are missing, lines don’t come together. What at first looks like objective third-person visual narration is in fact subjective. Similarly, in the next chapter Clowes doesn’t complete the living room blinds next to Andy: they just stop. The visual POV here is also third-person, but its objectivity, too, is compromised. Maybe Andy’s unreliability has infected the visual narration.

9. New Graphic Forms of Narration.
The slightly pointed corners of the first two balloons indicate its unusual function, so calling them a “word balloon” doesn’t seem right. Let’s call these a “past-tense narration balloon” (many of Clowes’s narration balloons are present-tense). This sequence and those that follow feature a narration balloon fully situated in two panels: the first has no border (signaling its connection to Andy’s interiority) andthe second does (signaling its connection to exteriority). The white gutter between panels typically represents un-narrated time. But here this function is erased—the voice-over narration binds both panels into a single unit of “trans-chronological narration,” another Clowes innovation. Andy 2004 speaks from the future through Andy 1978 as he lights up for a fight. This cross-temporal split occurs at a psychologically and physically traumatic moment: Andy soon goes ballistic on the school’s macho jerk Stoob, who’s pummeling Andy’s friend Louie. Though it’s an odd and unwieldy name, I might call this mode something like first-person past-tense textual narration (delivered from the future) with third-person past-tense visual narration. Regardless of the term we use, Clowes’s narrative approach makes for a compelling and haunting scene. (Look at the strange intensity in Andy’s eyes.)

10. Fantasy and Form.
The Death-Rayis a fantasy in the sci-fi, superhero sense: impossible things happen. As the above scenes show, it’s also a fantasy in its approach to form, mixing realistic and artificial narrative elements—the possible and impossible—throughout the story, and even in the same panel. Who is the visual narrator in scenes where the teenagers’ dialogue is superimposed on superhero imagery?

If the entire comic portrays Andy’s memories, as many readers (wrongly, I think) claim, then the answer’s clear. But perhaps Louie makes occasional cameos as visual narrator. More so than Andy, he’s obsessed with superheroics. It infects his thinking; he talks about the Hulk and yells catchphrase-worthy dialogue like “It’s Justice” as they beat someone up (perhaps unjustly). Or is the visual narrator (a disembodied ‘character’) mocking both characters’ power fantasies, showing how silly they look when visualized: two scrawny boys in long underwear playing Spiderman and Batman?

Clowes Interview Excerpts.
An Artistic Creation/Destruction Allegory:
A: I’d say that someone who draws comics for a living is very likely a guy or gal who’s in search of some form of control over something. I draw comics, it often seems, to relieve my anxiety over living in a world that seems dangerously chaotic and random, so it would only make sense that the characters that seem the most interesting to me are those with the same sort of issues. Having the power to erase human beings from your comics (or perhaps to cover them with Wite-Out) is not so dissimilar to wiping them out with a ray gun. [source]

Cutting Off Dialogue in Comics and Film:
Q: . . . many word balloons and narration boxes overlap each other in varying ways. Is coming up with a new approach like that a challenge you set for yourself, or did it grow out of the story?

A: Yeah, it just grew out of necessity. I think I began doing that in The Death-Ray, and I think I learned it a little bit from writing screenplays. I’veoften found that dialogue works much better if you cut off a line before it’s finished: a guy starts to say something andanothercharacter cuts him off, so you don’t really get the whole picture of what he’s going to say. Sometimes it’s much more powerful that way, so I was trying to figure out a way to make that work, trying to capture that sensation of not quite being able to make out what people are saying beyond a few little snippets.

On Frank Miller and The Motivations Behind Criticism:
A: I said something mean about that guy Frank Miller one time because I don’t like his comics. I was just goofing around. But then of course I met him and he was like, “I love your comics,” and oh God, I felt like such an asshole. [laughs] It’s usually all just based on jealousy or some misconception about what they’re doing or something. It’s rarely that you really think their work is destructive. Though in Frank Miller’s case I would say that’s possibly true. [source]
 
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  Vancouver Sun talks with Daniel Clowes about THE DEATH-RAY and more

Updated January 12, 2012


October 15, 2011
Ian McGillis

"It's a really difficult thing to do." Daniel Clowes is trying to describe the hard-to-name form - we'll call it the graphic novel for the sake of convenience - of which he is one of the undisputed masters.

"You have to be able to do so many different things well, and yet the actual storytelling of cartoons is something that you can't get from being good at any of the other fields, like drawing and writing and graphic design. It's got to be a specific cartooning gene that you have."

The 50-year-old Chicago native, now living in Oakland, is probably best known beyond the comics subculture for the much-loved screen adaptation of his graphic novel Ghost World. Visually, his work is on the rarely attained plain where cartooning meets fine art; thematically, his stories and characters pinpoint a certain Gen-X anomie with delicacy and dry, dark humour.

His newest book, the realist fantasy The Death-Ray, features a middle-aged man looking back on his adolescence, when he discovered smoking gave him the kind of supernatural powers that many a disaffected teen has dreamed of having. The book marks the first widely available release of a story Clowes first published in 2004 in his limited-edition Eightball comic.

"It was an obscure way to release something," he says. "So I thought, 'I've got to redo this in book form and try to get it out to people who don't go to a comics store every week.'"

Revisiting a seven-year-old work brought back a lot of memories for Clowes, personal and otherwise: "You actually remember things like what music you were listening to, what was going on in your life. I was reminded that I worked on that story during the buildup to the Iraq war. The story is not overtly political in any way, but you can see that the character, and the sort of hollow American jingoism that the character espouses, is informed by my frustration at watching that inevitable slide toward militarism."

Like two of Clowes's more recent protagonists - the socially hapless Marshall of Mister Wonderful and the misanthropic but somehow lovable title character of Wilson - The Death-Ray's hero, Andy, bears a certain resemblance to his creator, and marks a gradual drift toward more sympathetic figures in Clowes's work.

"I decided at a certain point that one of my goals is to find a way to connect with the characters no matter how awful they may seem or how hard they are to be around, to try to look at their humanity and find a way to love them by the end," he says.

"In The Death-Ray I mostly focused on the teenage version of Andy, but I wound up liking the older version, too. I liked the idea of this frustrated middle-aged man who had this terrible power. That led me to do Mister Wonderful and Wilson, who were versions of that, of myself facing middle age. Now I feel like I don't need to do that character any more. I can move on to other things."

For Clowes, who once felt part of a community of like-minded artists but finds that the old gang is breaking up, the tour that takes him to Montreal next week with fellow comics luminary Seth - whose new The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists is being launched along with The Death-Ray - is especially welcome.

"One of the main reasons I agreed to do this tour was to get to hang out with Seth for a couple of weeks. It's the only way we get to see each other. It's funny, I was just thinking of how The Death-Ray is a very American work, and how I really respond more to American artists than to international ones, and then it occurred to me how two of my five favourite cartoonists, Seth and Chester Brown, are Canadian."

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Chester Brown
Seth
Daniel Clowes

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Washington Post reviews THE DEATH-RAY

Updated January 12, 2012


November 12, 2011
Aaron Leitko

Teenagers love superheroes, but they don’t have much in common with them. Superman’s Clark Kent was a slickly coiffed, overachieving jock; Batman’s Bruce Wayne was a millionaire playboy with a fancy car. But with “The Death-Ray,” graphic novelist Daniel Clowes finally gives blemish-battling everykids a man of mystery they can relate to.

In “The Death-Ray,” Clowes — also the author of “Ghost World” and “Mr. Wonderful” — applies his darkly comic touch to the caped-crusader genre’s most beloved narrative. His hero is Andy, an ordinary, 90-pound weakling living in 1970s Chicago. After his best friend peer-pressures him into smoking a cigarette, Andy discovers that nicotine imbues him with super strength and, later, the ability to wield a cereal-box-style laser gun as a sort of existential peacemaker.

Heroism and derring-do are not natural territory for Clowes. His protagonists are often mundane, ordinary and slightly irritating folks, prone to irrational hang-ups. His storylines are subtle, cynical and not at all given to the operatic tone that typically fuels the exploits of masked men. “The Death-Ray” employs the core super-hero conventions — the origin story, the costume and the sidekick — in the most banal ways possible.

In Clowes’s hands, super strength is not liberating. Andy dogs the varsity baseball team, ignores the popular kids and neglects to use his powers for the benefit of mankind. Instead, he settles petty grudges for his antisocial best friend, Louie, and nurses an awkward crush on his grandfather’s middle-aged housekeeper. He can turn over a car but remains a prisoner of his own hormones.

Clowes highlights the moral ambiguity and fuzzy logic of super-powered justice. After irradiating a squirrel, Andy is grief-stricken. But when he zaps Louie’s sister’s boyfriend out of existence for little more than being a stoner, he views it as a profound coming-of-age moment. And, having just brutalized a pair of burglars, Andy ponders, “Somebody has to impose some kind of structure on the world, I guess. Otherwise everything would just fall apart, wouldn’t it?”

In Clowes’s other comics, characters frequently morph through different forms — alternating among deformed egg-shaped selves, googly-eyed caricatures and realistic portrayals. In “The Death-Ray,” Clowes sticks mostly to realism, however, which highlights the ridiculousness of Andy’s situation. His super-suit clings to his spindly form like a pair of sweaty Underoos. His fight scenes are rendered as ugly and brutish exchanges.

First published in 2004, in Clowes’s semi-regular comic book serial, “Eightball,” “The Death-Ray” is, in part, a post-9/11 parable in which a well-meaning but ultimately fallible hero fails to do justice appropriately. Even more, it’s a clever tweak on a well-worn series of cliches. At a time when comic book heroes are regularly delivered to the big screen in three-hour epics, goosed up with psychodrama steroids, Andy’s unwillingness to rise to remarkable heights of heroism or villainy is weirdly refreshing. “[People] surely are the ugliest creatures in all of nature,” he laments, pudgy and balding, hauling a bag of groceries back to his single-bedroom fortress of solitude.


Leitko is an editorial aide for The Washington Post’s Reliable Source column.
 
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  Barnes and Noble praises THE DEATH-RAY's "virtuosity and ingenuity"

Updated January 12, 2012


November 14, 2011
Paul Di Filippo

Once, during an interview conducted by Tom Disch, the novelist John Crowley made a notable observation. When asked what he esteemed as his best book, Crowley declined to pick a favorite. But he did note that in any creator's career, the artist will probably do his or her best work at the midpoint, neither at the start nor the end of their powers.

Right now Daniel Clowes is voyaging through the prolonged and impressive midpoint of his own career, an era which began with Ghost World in 1997 and shows no sign of diminishing. Everything he produces at this juncture is rich with mastery, fertile with invention, and stamped with his ineffable individual touch. You cannot go wrong by picking up any of his latest offerings, from Mr. Wonderful to Wilson. In these books you will find formalistic innovation in the graphical novel medium, deft storytelling, and a worldview that is as bracingly bleak as any weltanschauung expressed by some hi-falutin', beret-wearing, Gitanes-smoking French existentialist. (This comparison deliberately involving a stock character Clowes would delight in depicting.)

The Death-Ray originally appeared in 2004 as issue number 23 of Clowes's periodical comic Eightball. Limited in availability and impact by this format, the story has been rescued by current publication as a luxuriously oversized hardcover. The original comic was also outsized, but the gorgeous artwork really has a chance to shine in this fresh manifestation. Additionally, Clowes provides great new endpapers, and even the doublepage spread of copyright info embodies fine new illustrations.

We open in the year 2004 with a rather quotidian monologue from a mysterious middle-aged sad sack named Andy. He seems to be concealing something unusual about himself, however. The majority of the book will reveal Andy's secrets though extended flashbacks to his teenaged and young adult years, before the narrative returns to the mature Andy and leaves us with the enigma of his future.

Adolescent Andy is a wimpy loner and loser, too sensitive and unmotivated for the bone-headed, competitive 1970s high-school environment in which he's trapped. Befriended only by a similar, if more rebellious and irascible kid named Louie (recalling the pairing of Enid and Rebecca in Ghost World), Andy seems destined for featureless misery until he can escape. But then he smokes his first cigarette and miraculously ascends to an access of superhuman powers. It turns out that his scientist father, now deceased, endowed Andy with these latent nicotine-triggered abilities. And, moreover, has also crafted a raygun of deadly power as Andy's legacy.

Of course, Andy handles this endowment about as well or as badly as any other average teen who has read too many superhero comics would, resulting in tragedy all around. But the greatest tragedy happens to Andy himself, for his entire life is blighted by this "gift." Dare we read into Andy's fate a parable of how any creative soul is estranged from humanity by his talents? That's one allegory, but not even the dominant one, in the face of Andy's very specific car crash of a life, which is fleshed out in brilliant detail.

Clowes tells his story in discrete, discontinuous segments, a method he would later employ in Wilson. This staccato, bricolage narration keeps the reader in suspense more than a strictly continuous and linear storyline would. Likewise, the artwork leaps about in unpredictable protean playfulness. Consider, for instance, page seven, which is a pinup of Andy's remote, quondam girlfriend Dusty, companioned with a block of text representing a recent letter sent to her by Andy. It's simultaneously a frozen quiet moment (the text), and also a living snapshot (Dusty singing with a garden hose as microphone). Practically every single page displays comparable virtuosity and ingenuity.

Clowes's simultaneous affection and disdain for the pop culture and fashions and consumerism of this and past eras is always on display. He has a sure eye and hand for parsing the junk that fills our lives, evoking a kitchen table or stoner hairstyle that says more than any amount of wordage could. The world he depicts is both instantly familiar and yet oddly radiant for being limned so precisely.

Like Charles Burns and Chris Ware, Clowes masterfully depicts the lives of characters who are both average and yet as majestically tragic as any Greek or Shakespearean stumblebum.
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The Death-Ray




THE DEATH-RAY on Playback:stl's Best of 2011

Updated January 12, 2012


January 11, 2012
Steve Higgins

10. Mister Wonderful and The Death-Ray (W / A: Daniel Clowes, Pantheon and Drawn and Quarterly)
These two books by Daniel Clowes saw print before this year in other ways, Mister Wonderful in New York Times Magazine and The Death-Ray as Eightball #23. In the former, some additional material is available in the hardcover collection, but in The Death-Ray nothing has changed from the original edition to this reprint. In the end, it might seem odd that two books full of material that largely saw print before 2011 would be on a best of 2011 list, but if you haven't read them yet, you should. These books are great character studies and the best works Clowes has done since Ghost World.
 
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  PW Comics World Critic's Poll 2011: ONWARDS, PAYING FOR IT, THE DEATH-RAY

Updated January 11, 2012


January 10, 2012

TWO VOTES
Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths, Shigeru Mizuki (Drawn & Quarterly)
Set in World War II on a pacific island, this fictionalized memoir offers a detailed and comic record of life in the Japanese Imperial army as a prelude to a horrific and tragic account of the awful fate of its soldiers. An unforgettable account of the nightmare of war.—CR

Paying For It, Chester Brown (Drawn & Quarterly)
The foreword by Crumb is great, and Brown's matter-of-factness in telling the kind of story he's telling is something to behold.—GD

The Death-Ray, Daniel Clowes (Drawn and Quarterly)
The superhero myth is taken to a it’s logical, bleak conclusion in a tale of emotionally stunted white-trash kids who encounter a force beyond their moral abilities. Although Clowes is aware of how small-minded his protagonists are, he never entirely loses sympathy for their plight.—HM
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Chester Brown
Daniel Clowes
Shigeru Mizuki

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Paying For It
Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths




Brian Ralph picks the DEATH-RAY among top reprints for 2011, on Atomic Books

Updated January 11, 2012


January 9, 2012

This year, we asked a number of our friends who are also cartoonists and comics publishers and editors what their favorite comics of 2011 were. Over the next few weeks, we'll be posting those lists.


Brian Ralph's sharp collection, Daybreak, came out this year from Drawn and Quarterly and changed forever what we expect from zombie comics.

THE DEATH-RAY by Daniel Clowes
This is the least crusty and ancient of the reprints I’ve listed. I’ve read stories about disenfranchised teens finding themselves with superpowers before, but man this is the most depressing, hopeless, and frightening of them all.
 
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Daniel Clowes
Brian Ralph

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  Globe and Mail calls THE DEATH-RAY "brilliant"

Updated January 10, 2012


November 18, 2011
Brad MacKay

As pop culture institutions go, the superhero has proved remarkably durable. Ever since Superman first pulled on his red-and-blue woollens 73 years ago, superheroes have captured the imagination of millions, raked in billions and have been subject to countless reinterpretations, onstage, on screen and, more recently, in serious fiction.

Now there’s The Death-Ray, Daniel Clowes’s foray into the costumed crime fighter canon. Part sincere homage, part social commentary, The Death-Ray is Clowes’s first and only superhero story – and probably the last one you’ll ever need to read.

Originally published in 2004 as a stand-alone (and now sold-out) issue of his celebrated comic book series Eightball, it is now available for mass consumption in a hardcover edition from Drawn & Quarterly. Besides a new cover and a handful of new illustrations (which includes one of the most engaging indicia pages I’ve ever seen), this new version of The Death-Ray is identical to the original. And why shouldn’t it be? The original was close to perfect in the first place.

Based on a superhero character Clowes concocted when he was 16, The Death-Ray centres on Andy, an ordinary teenage misfit in the mid-1970s faced with run-of-the-mill teenage troubles (girls, feelings of alienation, a surplus of spare time). But of course, Andy isn’t ordinary at all.

Andy is raised by his kind but doddering grandfather after his mother and father (a famous scientist) die. His life is changed forever in an fateful instant when he takes a few puffs of a cigarette. He later wakes up in a sweat to find himself gifted with extraordinary strength. In short order, Andy has fashioned himself a costume and begins using his new powers to enforce justice.

Sound familiar? It should. The costume is a dead giveaway: royal-blue and red with a full mask that boasts white slits for eyes, The Death-Ray is essentially a homage to Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s classic 1960s Spider-Man. (Clowes even does a reverent job here of recreating Lee’s original snappy writing: “I could actually hear the electric crackle of overheated synapses popping in my skull.”) But once he’s roped you in to his superheroic tale, Clowes promptly delivers a hard, dark twist.

Soon Andy discovers a gun (willed to him by his father) that allows him to erase any living thing from existence. Egged on by his friend/sidekick Louie, Andy begins doling out an indiscriminate form of justice, targeting (and in some cases, destroying) high-school bullies and abusive dads, but also litterers, rude bartenders, adulterers or anybody else who’s unfortunate enough to cross him. In Clowes’s world, superpowers are not redeeming; they’re corrupting. Pretty soon, Andy transforms into a dark, bitter soul who uses his powers to end problems, rather than to solve them.

Call it Spider-Man vérité.

Of course, Clowes (who is known for Wilson, David Boring and Ghost World) is not the first cartoonist to offer his or her own incarnations of the superheroic archetype. The past 25 years have seen countless takes, from the stylish ultra-violence of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s postmodern Watchmen.

But unlike these works, Clowes avoids indulging in escapism, the original engine of genre. In fact, he recently explained that The Death-Ray’s dark narrative was inspired by the post-Sept. 11 invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan by U.S.-led forces. Viewed through this lens, the middle-aged Andy that we later experience in the book serves as a harsh critique of the United States’ present mood. Bitter and alone, he wields what power he has left to push others down, and then presents his actions as being in the interest of the greater good.

But no matter how you choose to interpret Clowes’s latest graphic novel, one thing is for sure: He has single-handedly brought the superhero to its logical and grim end. The Death-Ray is a brilliant and fitting headstone for the genre as a whole.

Brad Mackay is an Ottawa writer who co-edited The Collected Doug Wright: Canada’s Master Cartoonist Volume 1. He is also the director of the Doug Wright Awards, a non-profit organization that recognizes the best in Canadian comics and graphic novels.
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THE DEATH-RAY and HERGE on the SF Chronicle's holiday gift guide

Updated January 10, 2012


November 20, 2011
John McMurtrie

The Death Ray, by Daniel Clowes (Drawn and Quarterly; 48 pages; $19.95). The Oakland cartoonist's latest work - a coming-of-age tale - is both poignant and mordantly funny.

The Adventures of Hergé, by José-Louis Bocquet and Jean-Luc Fromental; illustrated by Stanislas Barthélémy (Drawn & Quarterly; 66 pages; $19.95).

 
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Daniel Clowes
Jose-Louis Bocquet, Jean-Luc Fromental & Stanislas Barthelemy

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The Death-Ray
The Adventures of Herge




  HARK! and DEATH-RAY on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Updated January 10, 2012


November 25, 2011
Sam Thielman

Remember, at the very end of "Hamlet," when Fortinbras, aghast at the pile of corpses produced by the play's final scene, turns to the only other surviving character and says, "Tell me honestly, Horatio, is everyone in my new kingdom totally nutballs?"

No?

Then you've made the terrible mistake of not reading Kate Beaton's hilarious "Hark! A Vagrant," the long-running Web comic now collected in book form (Drawn & Quarterly, $19.95).

"Hark!" may be the most intellectually fertile cartoon on the Internet - certainly the most literary. With a keen ear for the absurd and an astonishing command of historical minutiae, Beaton tackles subjects ranging in tone and seriousness from "The Great Gatsby" to her childhood notions of what an '80s businesswoman would act like on a date, and always comes away smiling.

Along the way, you'll notice particular things that push Beaton's buttons: jerks who steal all the credit (Thomas Edison from Nikola Tesla, among others), the predominance of white dudes (like, say, Lewis & Clark) in areas where women (such as, oh, Sacagawea) did just as much good. It's heady stuff for a cartoon with a lot of silly jokes about needing to go to the bathroom and a sidesplitting extended sequence called "The Adventures of Sexy Batman." Be warned, future historical movers and shakers: Step out of line on Beaton's watch, and people will be laughing at you for years to come.


Speaking of offbeat superhero books, the protagonist of Dan Clowes' "The Death Ray" (Drawn & Quarterly, $19.95) might be the least appealing superhero in the history of the genre. He's a guy whose superpowers come from smoking cigarettes, he possesses a gun that can obliterate a person or animal without a trace, and he's kind of anti-social. But he's certainly a hero - at least in his own mind.

Clowes' obsession with the pettiest characteristics of a character can wear pretty thin at times, but in this brief, beautifully drawn volume, he casts his jaundiced eye on a guy who would be either a lot darker or a lot lighter in another cartoonist's hands. Yes, Andy, who wields the death ray, has powers and abilities beyond those of mortal men, but does he have morals beyond those of mortal men, as well? Can you love humanity and hate people? Clowes takes only 48 pages to provide answers, and they may be the highlight of his career so far.

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Featured artists

Daniel Clowes
Kate Beaton

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The Death-Ray
Hark! A Vagrant




Critical Mob reviews THE DEATH-RAY, "truly unique"

Updated January 9, 2012


Phil Guie


The kids are not alright.

Originally published in Daniel Clowes' alternative comic Eightball and re-released by Drawn & Quarterly, The Death-Ray is both a satire of superheroes and a haunting tale of teenage alienation. The book opens in the mid-2000s, introducing readers to Andy, a middle-aged man who lives by the principle of doing right, despite his obvious cynicism. The narrative flashes back to Andy's high school years, where he is an outcast whose only friend is Louie, a fellow student and anti-social teen. When Andy smokes his first cigarette, he discovers that nicotine gives him super-human strength, and he and Louie decide to dedicate themselves to defending the innocent. On the surface, The Death-Ray may sound like standard Marvel fare, but by putting godlike power in the hands of two kids whose fantasies of being "super" aren't balanced by an understanding of how to be heroes, Clowes spins the genre. What results is a gradually building nightmare as recklessness and a growing distance between Andy and Louie—who never had much in common beyond their pariah status—has tragic repercussions. Teen angst may be a frequent theme in superhero comics, but the way Clowes tracks it into Andy's adulthood, showing disillusionment to be an enemy no power can vanquish, makes The Death-Ray truly unique.

 
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Daniel Clowes

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The Death-Ray




  HARK! and THE DEATH-RAY on Newsday Bookshelf

Updated January 9, 2012


November 10, 2011
Sam Thielman

Remember, at the very end of "Hamlet," when Fortinbras, aghast at the pile of corpses produced by the play's final scene, turns to the only other surviving character and says, "Tell me honestly, Horatio, is everyone in my new kingdom totally nutballs?"
No?
Then you've made the terrible mistake of not reading Kate Beaton's hilarious "Hark! A Vagrant," the long-running Web comic now collected in book form (Drawn & Quarterly, $19.95).
"Hark!" may be the most intellectually fertile cartoon on the Internet -- certainly the most literary. With a keen ear for the absurd and an astonishing command of historical minutiae, Beaton tackles subjects ranging in tone and seriousness from
"The Great Gatsby" to her childhood notions of what an '80s businesswoman would act like on a date, and always comes away smiling.
Along the way, you'll notice particular things that push Beaton's buttons: jerks who steal all the credit (Thomas Edison from Nikola Tesla, among others), the predominance of white dudes (like, say, Lewis & Clark) in areas where women (such as, oh, Sacagawea) did just as much good. It's heady stuff for a cartoon with a lot of silly jokes about needing to go to the bathroom and a sidesplitting extended sequence called "The Adventures of Sexy Batman." Be warned, future historical movers and shakers: Step out of line on Beaton's watch, and people will be laughing at you for years to come.


Speaking of offbeat superhero books, the protagonist of Dan Clowes' "The Death Ray" (Drawn & Quarterly, $19.95) might be the least appealing superhero in the history of the genre. He's a guy whose superpowers come from smoking cigarettes, he possesses a gun that can obliterate a person or animal without a trace, and he's kind of antisocial. But he's certainly a hero -- at least in his own mind. Clowes' obsession with the pettiest characteristics of a character can wear pretty thin at times, but in this brief, beautifully drawn volume, he casts his jaundiced eye on a guy who would be either a lot darker or a lot lighter in another cartoonist's hands. Yes, Andy, who wields the death ray, has powers and abilities beyond those of mortal men, but does he have morals beyond those of mortal men, as well? Can you love humanity and hate people? Clowes takes only 48 pages to provide answers, and they may be the highlight of his career so far.

click here to read more


Featured artists

Daniel Clowes
Kate Beaton

           Featured products

The Death-Ray
Hark! A Vagrant




Clowes talks about taking his work to the big screen

Updated January 9, 2012


November 11, 2011
Jonathan P. Kuehlein

Daniel Clowes is finally ready to take a proper shot with The Death-Ray.

The Academy Award-nominated screenwriter and cartoonist first presented this highly acclaimed story — about a teenager named Andy, who derives superpowers from smoking and who gains control of a high-tech pistol that can erase its targets from existence — in the final issue of his cult-classic comic book series Eightball back in 2004.

But even then, Clowes knew this story deserved more.

“I really should have had the courage right then to end Eightball and just do The Death-Ray as a book initially, but I just couldn’t let it go. I was still having separation anxiety from not doing a comic book,” said the 50-year-old creator.

“But the minute it came out, I thought, ‘This made no sense at all to do this as a magazine that’s unavailable to really 99 per cent of the public.’ Those can only be sold in comic stores — no book store would sell a magazine with a different title from the actual work. So I planned, kind of from that minute on, to do it in book form, so that the rest of the world could actually read it.”

Clowes, best known for two other Eightball stories, Ghost World and Art School Confidential — both of which were made into Hollywood films (the former earned him an Oscar nod for Best Adapted Screenplay), got his wish last month as The Death-Ray was finally given the deluxe hardcover treatment by Montreal publisher Drawn & Quarterly.

This edgy yet colourful story has also attracted the eyes of filmmakers and Clowes says he’s hard at work on a draft of the screenplay.

“The movie is very different from the comic; it’s kind of an inversion of the comic in that it focuses more on the older Andy and the younger Andy is kind of enveloped into the middle,” he said. “We’ve just completed a new draft of the film, and we have a director we’re talking to and it’s in that development process.”

Despite the sometimes arduous task of adapting his comic book tale for film, Clowes says the work is paying off.

“I would say, of the scripts I’ve written, this is the one I’m happiest with. It’s the one I’ve worked hardest on and it’s really very unique to the comic. It’s got a lot of different things from the comic that I really wanted to get in the comic and couldn’t,” he said. “So, this is one I feel like it would be, if it was made the way I envision it, could be a really strong film. But, you know, once it’s out of your hands you never know what’s going to happen.”

Clowes said he’s also busy converting his first original graphic novel, 2010’s Wilson, for the big screen.

“I am working on a screenplay for a Wilson movie, for Alexander Payne (Academy Award-winning screenwriter/director of Sideways and the upcoming George Clooney film, The Descendants), and I’m working on a long graphic novel that I’m not ready to talk about, because I’m not sure it’s going to be what I think it’s going to be yet,” he said.

Also on the horizon is The Art of Daniel Clowes: Modern Cartoonist, a monograph due out in spring that will celebrate the cartoonist’s acclaimed work.

“It’s got a lot of things people have never seen,” Clowes said. “I let this guy, Alvin Buenaventura, who’s the editor of the book, I just let him go through my files and archives that I’ve never even looked through myself. I just saved everything and put it all in my closet, and so he started digging through stuff and found stuff that I had no memory whatsoever of doing. It’s got artwork from every phase of my career, and then it’s got all the main pieces that I’ve done over the years and essays and things.”

Having a career retrospective done on you at age 50 is a very unusual feeling, Clowes admits.

“I feel weird about it, because it’s not my book; it’s a book about me, so, I mean, I shouldn’t be promoting it because it feels arrogant to talk about a book about me rather than something I’ve actually done myself,” he said.

“I think it came out as good as I can imagine; I’m the worst judge, obviously. It’s one of those things I kind of wish it just wouldn’t even exist, because it’s embarrassing to see all that stuff. But as far as those things go, I think he did an amazing job.”
 
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Daniel Clowes

          



  DEATH-RAY lands on TIME's Top 10 Fiction Books of 2011

Updated January 3, 2012


December 7, 2011
Lev Grossman

10. The Death Ray by Daniel Clowes

Daniel Clowes continues to plot a lofty, lonely course through the subconscious of popular culture with this hilariously bleak graphic novel starring a superhero who, in his venality and triviality, makes the heroes of Kick-Ass and Watchmen look like Supermen. Andy, a skinny loser-type growing up in Chicago in the 1970s, discovers that smoking a cigarette gives him superstrength; later he comes into possession of the titular death ray, which looks like a classic Hugo Gernsback–style prop, except that it actually works. Andy is too lost and feckless to organize any kind of actual heroic activities — which, let's face it, is a pretty realistic assessment of how things would work out — and we watch helplessly as he, with the help of a weird outcast friend, completely and utterly squanders his gifts.


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Daniel Clowes

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The Death-Ray




DEATH-RAY "offers an unnerving critique of the superhero conceit" according to Brooklyn Rail

Updated January 3, 2012


Bill Kartalopoulos

Daniel Clowes
The Death-Ray
(Drawn & Quarterly, 2011)

The last thing anyone expected from cartoonist Daniel Clowes is The Death-Ray, a dense, elliptical comics novella about a teenage superhero. Neither a send-up, nor a satire, The Death-Ray engages the concepts and tropes of superpowered comic book heroes as a lens through which to examine the American superpower. A striking achievement of the comic book form and format, The Death-Ray undermines the conceits of its own genre so thoroughly that the book, like its titular protagonist, may wield the power to make superhero comics disappear—without a trace.

For more than 20 years Clowes has produced nuanced, socially critical, humane, and narratively complex comics. A standard-bearer for comics as an expressive art form, Clowes’s career trajectory tracks the shifting place of comics and graphic novels in recent American culture. In 1989 he began publishing his seminal comic book series Eightball, which began as something of a post-pubescent response to MAD Magazine. Bitingly sarcastic and arrestingly perceptive, Eightball was initially characterized by incisive comics screeds (“I Hate You Deeply”), adults-only gags and satires (“Needledick the Bugfucker”), maladapted observational pieces (“The Party”), and longer, surrealistic narratives (Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron). The series initially gained traction within a milieu of avant-garde, so-called “alternative comics” that followed the countercultural underground comix of the 1960s and ’70s and blossomed in the 1990s.

In a pre-Internet era, comics like Clowes’s Eightball, Peter Bagge’s Hate, Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez’s Love and Rockets, Julie Doucet’s Dirty Plotte, and a growing body of others were diamonds in the comic book rough: artistic, nonconformist works, indifferently and sporadically stocked in specialty comic book shops that mainly catered to an aging audience of superhero comic book fans and collectors. Perceived as a kind of “misfit lit” (as a 1991 exhibition called them), these alternative comics became a touchstone and totem for comics aficionados and for readers with subcultural tastes in music, cult cinema, zines, and D.I.Y. culture. But in the broader cultural landscape, these artists, their publishers, evangelical readers— and the occasional feature writer—were forced to define this work against the generic, heavily merchandised superhero comic books that have commercially and culturally dominated the form since the early 1960s. Art Spiegelman’s Maus was among the few available reference points for work like this. But Spiegelman’s book, with its synthesis of daring form and difficult historical subject matter—and its place in Pantheon Books’s catalogue—seemed to many a sui generis outlier rather than the distinguished representative of a coming wave of ambitious comics.

Clowes, like many of his peers, turned toward longer stories, and over the course of a decade his Eightball evolved from a one-man anthology to a site for first serialization of book-length narratives, including Ghost World, a crisply observed tale of cultural and interpersonal alienation; David Boring, a lusting, pre-apocalyptic metafictional-noir; and Ice Haven, a comic strip collage, ostensibly about a child’s kidnapping, that playfully unmasks local communities as sites of disconnected, agglomerated self-regard. His characters developed from the first-person mouthpieces of early Eightball stories into still-opinionated but flawed and multidimensional personalities. Clowes’s narrative interests increasingly turned toward the dynamic between self-conceit and behavior, and the ways in which this resonates with the relationship between a tale told and its teller.

Clowes engaged themes consistent with those of literary fiction in visual terms and in bookstore-friendly formats, and he was not alone. By the turn of the millennium there emerged a critical mass of graphic novels ready to join Maus on the shelves of bookstores and libraries, and some far-sighted publishing insiders took notice. Chief among them was Chip Kidd, the acclaimed book designer for Knopf who also consulted on a handful of comics projects at Pantheon (Spiegelman’s publisher). Kidd perceptively encouraged Pantheon to make a stronger commitment to the comics form, and in late 2000 the publisher debuted two books: Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth and Clowes’s David Boring.

Ware’s critically lauded book, originally serialized in his Acme Novelty Library series, somewhat overshadowed Clowes’s deadpan investigation into lust and obsession. But the simultaneous publication of these two works by a major publisher made an unmistakable statement: a generation of cartoonists laboring in obscurity had come of age, and a welcome mat had been lain before the mansions of traditional book publishing. This perception was ratified by a flurry of activity: press attention (most prominently the New York Times Magazine cover feature “Not Funnies”); a sunshower of book advances for established and still-developing cartoonists; dedicated graphic novel sections in bookstores and libraries; and some museum attention. And, surely, independent film adaptations of Clowes’s Ghost World and Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor did not hurt.

While champions of art-comics felt, at long last, vindicated by the embrace of mainstream literary culture, publishing remains marginal relative to the true mainstream of mass culture: film, television, pop music, video games, and interactive media. This distinction was not lost on the corporations producing superhero comic books for an aging and diminishing fan base, which repositioned themselves more directly as intellectual property firms. The 1999 success of The Matrix signaled that a popular audience would accept CGI-enhanced superhero-style entertainment if presented stylishly and with some star power. Thus 2000’s X-Men film, a latex-clad box office success, followed by the financial grand slam of 2002’s Spider-Man (which even warmed some critical hearts).

In an irony that Clowes could surely appreciate, publicists from the two major superhero-based intellectual property managers were able to capitalize on the new public appetite for superhero-themed movies to redirect attention to their comic book lines. After all, if comic books like Clowes’s could merit serious critical attention, should not some be paid to the comic book characters lighting up cineplexes? A series of narrative stunts with easy media hooks followed, such as Marvel’s “Civil War,” a thin political allegory pitting Captain America against Iron Man. The specious implications that superhero comic books were popular because their filmed counterparts were successful, and that superhero comic books deserved to benefit from the cultural reevaluation initiated by art-comics, reinforced each other strongly enough that many mainstream media organs, which once trumpeted the distinction between Clowes’s work and comics’ pop cultural legacy, now regularly spill breathless ink on the doings of Marvel and DC Comics.

Enter, then, The Death-Ray, Clowes’s superhero graphic novel about self-rationalization and unintended consequences. The protagonist and sometimes-narrator of the book is Andy, an orphaned, withdrawn teenager who lives with his grandfather. Following the tropes of the genre, the table has been set for a traditional origin story. But rather than some gamma bomb explosion, Andy’s superpowers are activated, in a Clowesian twist, by the first puff of a cigarette: an icon of teen alienation, but in Andy’s case an initiation into a world of adult experience from which he seeks to shield himself. Andy now finds himself capable of tearing The Odyssey (his homework reading) in half and beating a schoolyard bully to a bloody pulp. The stakes escalate dramatically when he receives his unique legacy: a ray gun that can erase its targets from this mortal sphere, in the blink of an eye and with nary a trace.

This is a chilling power to place into any hands, let alone those of an emotionally developing teenager. The superhero genre is premised upon such gifts, grounded in the presumption that power will be employed to virtuous ends against an array of conveniently identifiable villains. This may be a reasonable fantasy for children (although an influential critic of comics in the 1950s eyed with suspicion stories that encouraged children to admire a “Superman,” given the still-fresh memory of Hitler’s Germany). But the mythology of virtuous super-power, now presented as mainstream adult entertainment in the cinema, is connected here to the animating ideology of modern American power. Andy wears a Bicentennial T-shirt on the book’s back cover, and throughout mouths traditional platitudes: “Really I’m kind of an All-American type—a modest guy with common sense who knows the difference between right and wrong.” If the superhero genre is to be taken seriously, Clowes suggests, the intriguing issue is not the use to which power is put, but rather its justification. In crafting a serious superhero story, Clowes exposes the self-rationalizing culture of the powerful state.

Andy finds rationale for the use of his deadly gift in the implicit ideology that he helplessly reproduces by uncritically serving his turbulent emotional impulses. “I’ve never done anything to anyone they didn’t deserve,” he tells the reader. “My justice is nothing if not merciful.” Andy’s perceived enemies are both social and personal: a litterer, a sexual rival, an irresponsible neighbor, the sidekick who turns on him. Andy believes that his motives are pure, but they are confused; they are only consistent as extensions of his emotions, amplified by access to power. He is bolstered by the fantasies of American superhero comics that inform his self-image, rendered by Clowes in dynamic, oversized panels, until he graduates, by middle age, to pure, unsupported self-validation.

The book’s images of the Death-Ray in action are pure pop, filtered through Clowes’s queasy aesthetic and part of a shifting register of styles that manipulates the book’s visual dynamics. While The Death-Ray offers an unnerving critique of the superhero conceit, Clowes recovers and re-enlivens the formal conventions developed within commercial comic books. Primary colors, thought bubbles, hand-drawn sound effects (“Pop!”), five-pointed stars of pain, and other iconic comics motifs—which have nearly vanished from contemporary superhero comic books, as artists and editors have sought to more closely mimic the moody, widescreen aesthetics of films and video games—are present throughout The Death-Ray. Employing comics-specific aesthetics as both visual effects and as cultural reference points, Clowes’s anti-superhero comic book looks, at times, more like a traditional superhero comic book than its commercial counterparts do.

This past decade’s public enthusiasm for the graphic novel may have already peaked. The comics form continues to blossom as an exquisitely expressive medium, but its fortunes have now been partially tied to a book industry facing major contractions as eyes turn warily toward e-books and tablet devices (the latest focus of P.R. by Marvel and DC). If comics continue to merit serious attention—and they will—they are not likely to be the superhero comics whose fortunes are more closely tied to film. And if superhero comics can be adult literature, they are more likely to look and read like Daniel Clowes’s book than the slickly produced pamphlets featuring more well-known characters. Based on the effective critique articulated by The Death-Ray, there may not be a need for any more.


 
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Featured artist

Daniel Clowes

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The Death-Ray




  USA Today picks HARK! and DEATH-RAY among the best of 2011

Updated January 3, 2012


December 16, 2011
David Colton, John Geddes and Brian Truitt

5. The Death-Ray, by Daniel Clowes (Drawn and Quarterly, $19.95)
Fans of alternative comics will love this latest work by Clowes, creator of Eightball and Ghost World. Here an awkward (to say the least), teen decides to have superpowers, and the result is a true monster from the Id — with a ray gun to match his attitude. Winner of multiple awards, Clowes once again shows he is a master of current-day absurdity — with heart.

2. Hark! A Vagrant, by Kate Beaton (Drawn and Quarterly, $19.95)
You'll cry over this hilarious collection of webcomics but for an altogether different reason. Beaton winningly takes snarky shots at and explores the absolute absurdity of historical figures, literature and pop culture with strips titled "Dude Watchin' with the Brontes" and "Suffragettes in the City." Hipster World War II battalion? Check. Monks writing fan fiction? Check. Jules Verne crushing on Edgar Allan Poe teen-girl style? Check. A summit of Canadian historical figures including hockey legend Maurice Richard? Check. Not only will you laugh out loud, your guffaws will disturb the neighbors.
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Featured artists

Daniel Clowes
Kate Beaton

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The Death-Ray
Hark! A Vagrant




THE DEATH-RAY and PAYING FOR IT also make Readings' Best of 2011

Updated January 3, 2012


November 28, 2011
Fiona Hardy and Andrew McDonald

The Death-Ray
Daniel Clowes
First published in 2004 as a one-shot issue of Clowes’s serial Eightball, the film adaptation of The Death-Ray is already in development and it’s easy to see why. It’s a strange and brilliant story; as anti-superhero as you can get (our ‘hero’ Andy gets his superpowers after smoking a cigarette!). Like his classic Ghost World, this one will stay in your graphic memory for quite some time. – Andrew McDonald, Readings Online Manager.

Paying For It
Chester Brown
A graphic memoir about Chester Brown’s life as a john, Paying For It jumps headlong into the political, ethical, legal and other issues that surround prostitution. It’s a fascinating perspective of, and an argument for, the world’s oldest profession. We learn just as much about the inner workings of the author’s mind as we do his 'life as a john’ and whether you agree or disagree with him, it’s one of the most honest memoirs you're likely to find. – Andrew McDonald, Readings Online Manager.
 
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Chester Brown
Daniel Clowes

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The Death-Ray
Paying For It




  HARK! A VAGRANT and THE DEATH-RAY on Amazon's Best Comics of 2011

Updated January 3, 2012



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Featured artists

Daniel Clowes
Kate Beaton

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The Death-Ray
Hark! A Vagrant




PURE PAJAMAS, DEATH-RAY, ONWARDS TOWARDS OUR NOBLE DEATHS among Montreal Gazette's top picks of 2011

Updated January 2, 2012


December 29, 2011
Ian McGillis

Regular readers of Montreal Mirror cartoonist Marc Bell will embrace Pure Pajamas (Drawn & Quarterly, 96 pages, $22.95), a collection from a sui generis artist whose characters’ small heads and huge feet bear the unmistakable influence of R. Crumb, but whose work takes a more benign, childlike view of humanity and its discontents. Don’t let the small page count mislead you: There’s enough going on in a typical Bell page to keep you absorbed for as long as most whole books would.

Also: The Death-Ray, by Daniel Clowes (Drawn & Quarterly, 48 pages, $19.95) makes one of the Ghost World author’s most sought-after limited edition comics available in book form for the first time; Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths, by Shigeru Mizuki (Drawn & Quarterly, 368 pages, $24.95) sees the father of modern manga telling a shattering Second World War tale of soldiers betrayed by their commanders.

 
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Featured artists

Marc Bell
Daniel Clowes
Shigeru Mizuki

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The Death-Ray
Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths
Pure Pajamas




  Daniel Clowes interviewed by Rookie Magazine

Updated January 2, 2012


December 28, 2011
Tavi Gevinson

This interview is super long, so I’ll make this intro super short. Daniel Clowes is responsible for such beauteous works as Ghost World, Mister Wonderful, Ice Haven, Wilson, and, most recently, The Death Ray. He’s also partially responsible for comics being thought of as a real art form nowadays. Most important, he is responsible for the line “You guys up for some reggae tonight?” And, while I may not be up for reggae, I am up for you reading this interview! Ha-ha! Haaaa. Ah, sometimes I hate myself. Enjoy!

TAVI: Many of your characters are kind of pathetic and lonely, but somehow your observations seem more compassionate than condescending. Are you concerned at all with making sure you’re not making fun of them, or does it just end up that way? Do you think you’ve ever made fun?

DANIEL CLOWES: I try not to worry about that too much, but I try to make fun of myself more than I would make fun of anybody else. I try to hold myself to the same amount of scrutiny that I would any of my characters, so I would hope anything I do never comes across like I’m trying to show myself as being better than my characters or making a point about how people shouldn’t live this way or anything like that.

Do you find it comforting or terrifying that people can relate to characters that are closer to you?

It is comforting. In a way that’s the whole idea, I think: to try to get across things that I feel are so personal that they actually can’t be put into words, trying to create characters that will express these feelings that I can’t quite articulate, and to have people actually respond to those things in an emotional way. That kind of connection with other people, I think—that’s what you can hope for when you’re doing this kind of stuff.

Our theme this month is Home, and Enid Coleslaw [from Ghost World] seems to have kind of a mixed relationship with her hometown, as do the citizens of Ice Haven, and a lot of that is about being surrounded by a kind of low-brow culture. So I was really surprised to learn that you grew up in Hyde Park, Chicago, with a professor grandpa talking with other smart people like Saul Bellow in the next room.

At the time it was just boring. It was like, “I wish he’d just shut up and come to dinner so we can eat.” It wasn’t until years later when I heard other people talk about the people who had been over at my house that I realized, “Oh yeah, those guys are actually famous.” I just figured they were other old boring professors like my grandpa.

My dad went to Woodstock, and when I was younger he tried to get me and my sisters into that music, and I thought it was really lame, and then later I liked it and I felt like I’d been cheated.

[Laughs] You’d been cheated cause you didn’t get to go to Woodstock?

No, because like my parents had tried to make us like that stuff first.

Oh, I see, so you didn’t get the joy of discovering it on your own.

Yeah, and then I thought it was lame for a long time.

I think about that a lot with my son. I don’t want to inflict the stuff I like onto him. He’s only eight, so right now I could get him to like anything, pretty much, but when he’s a few years older I really don’t want him to respond to anything because I like it too much or not enough. I want him to sort of find his way into his own stuff, so it’s something I have to constantly modulate. I don’t want him to associate this music with me, I want him to discover it on his own and then I’ll go like, “Well, I happen to have all their records!”

That’s healthier, I think. There was an article on the Onion that was like, “12 Year-Old Girl Isolated From Peers Because of Cool Dad.” Her dad makes her listen to the Talking Heads and everything, and then she can’t relate to anyone else.

And now is the era of the Cool Dad. I know lots of parents who I just think, like, “God, if my parents had been like that I would’ve been into all this cool stuff.” Luckily they weren’t, so I discovered all that stuff on my own and they sort of disdainfully shook their heads at the stupid stuff I was interested in. But there are a lot of things that I don’t respond to. I’m not into video games, so I can just see my son becoming, like, a video-game tester as his job or something. Developing video games.

Nerds and underdogs are in a weird place right now where they’re kind of cultural insiders. How important do you think it is for there to be outsiders and a counter-culture?

That’s probably a bigger question than I can answer. I used to feel sort of a kinship with people who were into stuff I couldn’t be less interested in. Things like fantasy novels about elves. I realized those people were sort of seeking some kind of comfort in fiction, in this kind of escapist literature, that I could kind of relate to as a teenager, and now those kind of people just seem like…that’s everybody, you know? Like everybody is into the kind of stuff that only a very small group of damaged, shut-in nerds were into back when I was a teenager. So it’s really kind of hard to understand that world. I can’t quite grasp that a girl in high school would see the Thor movie. That is just unfathomable to me. When I was in high school, if I’d gone up to a girl and said, “Would you like to go read some of my Thor comics with me?” they would’ve just thought I was the lowest form of human life. That would’ve been so unimaginable. I was actually on the subway in New York and saw this, like, Attractive Teenage Couple, and the guy was like, “Hey, wanna go see Thor tonight?” and the girl was like, “Yeah, yeah.” And I just thought, that is just blowing my mind that that is happening right in front of me.

I feel like every actor will be in an interview and be like, “I’m such a nerd secretly! I like Star Wars!”

Every actor! It’s always like, you know, Brad Pitt—“I was a total nerd!” No you weren’t!

You’re Brad Pitt!

It’s impossible!

You’ve talked in the past about the depressing strip mall-ness and commercialization of the world, and you’ve talked about the greatness of discovery being kind of lost now because of the internet. So I’m wondering if people my age have anything to be happy about.

[Laughs] No, you don’t! No, it’s just a whole different apparatus for finding things. You used to be able to drive across America and every town would have a little junk shop, and you’d go in there and you could find some weird old book or something that you’d never heard of, and that would lead to you seeking out other stuff. You used to have this sense that if you just kind of drove off the freeway a little bit, you’d run into some interesting little pockets of culture. And now you’re just gonna see another Applebee’s or whatever. All that stuff is gone. It’s been plowed over. So really the only way to find stuff now is on the internet. I could tell you right now about some obscure filmmaker and you could know more about him by midnight than I would’ve been able to find out in 10 years when I was your age. But I don’t know that it would mean much to you unless you really connected to the guy and kept following it and doing more and more research. It’d just be like, “Yeah, I know about that guy,” and then you’d move on to the next thing. There’s something about having it be like a mystery that you have to solve and figure out that really connected you to this weird culture back then.

On days when I’m more optimistic I feel like then the real good stuff stands out, though.

That’s certainly true. It also used to be like, you’d buy an album by a recording artist and there’d be one or two good songs on it, and there’d be all the rest that were just kind of to fill up the album, and you’d work your way through that and learn to like the other songs after a while, and then you’d wait till the next album came out. And now it sort of feels like everything is all the greatest hits. You learn about a musician and you immediately can figure out what their 10 greatest songs are, and you just listen to those and you don’t experience the full breadth of their failures and mishaps and all that stuff. I feel like that’s how all culture is. And I’m as guilty as anybody else now—if I hear about an author or something I go straight for their most well-known book and read that first, and, you know, I don’t have that experience of kind of building up to that. You don’t wanna read the rest of their books after that because you figure, “Well, I’ve already read the best one. It’s not gonna be much better than that.”

I hadn’t thought about that. Maybe we should be using this interview for a site for people who don’t like the internet or something.

[Laughs] Like a site where you have to write a letter to somebody and they’ll print it out.

Exactly. So we’ve had a couple articles this month about growing up somewhere boring and how to make the best of it, and Enid is kind of a reference for us for that. How would you explain her attitude towards growing up in that kind of environment?

You know, people used to write reviews and say, “She’s cynical and depressed,” and I think she was the exact opposite of that. She figured out a way to make her life more exciting just by imagining the things around her being charged with some kind of mystery and energy that’s possibly not actually there, but that she’s giving to them. She’s able to look at people on the street and imagine these huge, important stories about them and to create drama out of very small things in her life. And I think that’s kind of the best you can hope for when you’re stuck like she is.

She is often lumped together with other moody young women like Daria or Margot Tenenbaum. We’re guilty of that on Rookie. Do you see that comparison or no?

Daria came along after Enid, and I always felt like it was influenced by it, though I have no great specific evidence for that, so I was always somewhat resentful of Daria, though I’ve actually never watched it. But I’m sure there was sort of a zeitgeist of that type of character floating around in the air at the time. Enid first appeared back in 1993 when I did that first episode of Ghost World [in Eightball], and it really felt more like you weren’t seeing that type of person at all in any type of culture.

You’ve often used settings that are sort of boring-town-y, but it’s not a Stepford, white-picket-fence, creepy-happy thing. Do you consciously avoid that?

Yeah, ’cause my comics aren’t really about suburbia ever, you know. I never lived in surbubia. I lived in Hyde Park my whole life, and then I moved to a horrible neighborhood in Brooklyn, and then I’ve lived here in Oakland, which is another urban environment, for the last 20 years, so I never lived in the suburbs at all. It’s really a matter of kind of paring down the environment that the characters live in so it’s not about where they live as much as who they are and how they’re interacting. The places they live are supposed to be kind of nondescript. And it’s always funny, ’cause people will say, you know, “I thought that was really cool that you set Ghost World in North Oak, Virginia!” or some other place that I’ve never been in my life, just because it has something that feels like where they live. That’s sort of the sign that you’re onto something, when you can make people feel like it’s about them in some way.

People have written that the characters of Ghost World and The Death Ray are these average, relatable teens. Do you think of them that way, and did you set out to create characters people would relate to?

You know, I’ve never set out to create a character that people could relate to, because I think people tend to flatter themselves in terms of…if you want to create a character that people relate to, it’s usually a character that people imagine themselves to be, somebody who’s sort of heroic and courageous but not recognized as such by others. And I always found that to be kind of false. I feel like it’s sort of pandering to a certain kind of narcissism on the reader’s part. So I’m always trying to create characters that seem like plausible human beings in whatever situation they’re in. Which to me usually means that they’re sort of erratic and scared and confused and trying to move toward their own comfort and safety at all times. That seems to be the general principle of how humanity operates.

There’s a kind of anti-art-school feel to Art School Confidential and the art class scenes in Ghost World. What do you have to say for yourself now that there are comics courses in art school and people like you are so fancy?

The thing is, all that stuff [in Art School Confidential and Ghost World] is a response to being in art school in 1985. It was really such a different world. I used to tell my teachers I wanted to do comics and I would try to show them Robert Crumb and Art Spiegelman and other examples of people doing really great comics that have clear value to them, and they’d just shake their heads, you know, like, “Why would you want to do that?” And then they’d try to teach you whatever weird thing they were doing, and it was always something like neon sculpture or something. Like, that’s fine for you to do that, but why would you ever presume that’s what anybody else should be doing? It was really deeply frustrating. You were kind of put in a world with these people who should’ve been the very first people to recognize that comics could be a viable art form, and they were the most resistant of all.

What kept you wanting to do comics, despite all that?

Of course I tried to do all that stuff, but it was literally a guessing game. I would just throw some stuff together like, “Maybe this’ll work?” Every once in a while it would be like, “This is great! You get an A!” and I’d have no idea why. I’d try it again the next week and it’s like, “No, this is terrible, you get a D.” I had no clue what it was all about. Still don’t. Luckily I had a really clear sense of what I wanted to do, and I was sort of fueled by the resistance. It made me feel like I should really dig in my heels—I had that kind of adolescent thing of, “I’ll show them! I’ll prove them wrong!” And all these schools that teach comics, I don’t know that anybody good ever comes out of any of those. I don’t know, I think it’s something you have to learn on your own. Pretty much any art form is like that. You can learn a few little basic tricks, but you gotta figure out your own way of doing things.

A lot of typical superhero stories have that “I’ll show them!” attitude, but in The Death Ray Andy doesn’t really seem to want to get back at people who made fun of him or whatever.

If I think back to myself at that time, I would’ve felt like I was being oppressed by others, like really seriously, but if I were to look around and try to find a specific target for my anger, it would’ve been pretty tough. It was mostly, like, people just sort of dismiss you by ignoring you or in very subtle slight ways. Most people don’t bother with a kid like Andy. It’s not like they spend time picking on him—they just don’t think about him ever. That’s hard to respond to. So I wanted to capture that feeling of having a desire for revenge but not necessarily having a target for it.

The book kind of loops back to that, to ignoring versus negative attention. When characters are killed there’s no bloody death scene—they just disappear and aren’t on the next panel.

Yeah, I find that really disturbing, too. I used to have dreams a lot when I was a kid about, like, people disappearing—like they’d just be gone. And I’d wake up screaming. It was just extremely horrifying. Somehow a body riddled with bullets is like, “Well, there it is, and now I understand why they are no longer living.” But the thought of just not existing and being gone is really terrifying. There’s something about drawing comics too, where sometimes I’ll draw a guy in the background or something and he doesn’t look right and I’ll just erase him, and then I’ll have this feeling of like, “I just obliterated this human life.” Like, here was a guy who never existed before and I put him there and now he’s gone, and there is something really disturbing about that.

Have any of your characters ever made their way into your dreams?

Every once in a while, yeah. I’ll have a dream where one of my characters is just like, a guy. Like Wilson actually seems to me like a totally real guy.

Are they weird real-life versions or are they drawings?

The few times I can think of they’re real-life versions, which is really very disturbing. Another dream I have all the time is where I’ve finished some comic and I’m looking through it and it’s just some totally made-up comic, and in the dream I often think, “Wait, I’m dreaming of this really cool comic, I gotta remember what it is so I can replicate it in reality!” And then as I’m looking through it it starts to change into something else and it’s this feeling of, like, Aw, I’ll never remember what I’m looking at! It’s frustrating.

You’ve talked about being into comedy like MAD magazine growing up. What comedy do you like today?

I like all the typical stuff, like Sacha Baron Cohen and Ricky Gervais and all those guys. Curb Your Enthusiasm. There’s actually this new show on HBO by Mike White called Enlightened, with Laura Dern, and it’s so subtle that it’s not even a comedy—it’s so close to just being like a really unbearable soap opera or something, but it’s just over the edge of being comedy, and I find myself laughing my head off at it without really understanding why. It’s kind of brilliantly on that razor’s edge. But, I don’t know, I’m sort of a sucker for anything that’s even trying to be funny.

Ghost World the movie was nominated for an Academy Award for “best adapted screenplay.” Was that weird for you? Like, first you couldn’t even get your art teachers to understand why you wanted to do comics and then you had to do Oscars stuff?

Yes, it’s quite a leap. That’s kind of how it is being any kind of an author, I think. You’re spending so much time alone where you’re just desperately hoping the FedEx guy will come so you have somebody to talk to during the day. You’re just really living inside your own head in this little tiny microworld in your studio, and then all of a sudden you’re out speaking in front of Russell Crowe or something. There’s no in-between like where you go and speak to five people and then 20 people, it’s just you’re doing one or the other, so I think it’s actually really bad for your mental state. I much prefer the staying-at-home part of it.

It’s a very monklike way of living. Would you ever be able to share a studio?

No, I can’t imagine that. I’ve actually always wanted to hire somebody to help me do stuff, and it would save me a ton of time, but the thought of just having someone in my studio…I’d feel like I’d have to make lunch for them and constantly entertain them. When my son has kids over I feel like I constantly have to keep them entertained. I don’t have the personality to just turn everything off and ignore people and focus on my work. I have to really be completely alone.

What was influential to you growing up, visually?

Just the whole world. As a kid I loved the look of the early ’60s, kind of the pre-hippie era, just the haircuts and clothes and the way women dressed, it was really appealing. And then all of a sudden people started wearing, like, filthy clothes and messy hair and stuff. That seemed really hideous and horrible to me. It definitely relates to what was going on in my life at the time because, as with many kids who grew up then, my family was just disintegrating while all that stuff came in, so it represented this chaos that was entering my life. But I still have an affection for that pre-1968 look, that kind of saturated Technicolor look. That seems like the real world to me, or like the way things should be.

Say someone finishes this interview and wants to get into reading comics. Where should they start? Other than your new book.

[Laughs] Yes, I would start with all of my work! You know, the publishers I’ve worked with, Drawn & Quarterly and Fantagraphics, you kind of can’t go wrong with 90% of the stuff they publish. Go to drawnandquarterly.com or fantagraphics.com and just look through all the stuff they’ve published over the years. There are many, many great things. There are great artists like Robert Crumb and the Hernandez brothers that have these gigantic bodies of work that could take years of your life just to get through, and then there are other artists that have much less out there that are much easier to navigate like Chester Brown, who has made four or five books, but they’re all amazing. There’s lots of stuff out there. I wouldn’t recommend anything specific because I feel like we’re at the point now with comics where people can kind of figure out on their own what they like.

What would you say to someone who wants to make comics? Not about a career as a cartoonist, but about the actual process of making them?

A good way to start is to make comics about your own life. Sort of a good way to learn how to create fiction, if that’s what you wanna do, is if you’re really honest and do something that feels like you’re kind of revealing a secret to people. I’ve never read anything like that that isn’t interesting, no matter how crudely done it was. And I would always say don’t try too hard starting out. You get people who have been doing comics for two weeks and they’re like, “I’m gonna do a 500-page graphic novel about the Civil War!” or something. It’s like, you’re gonna do three pages of that and then never ever draw comics again because you’ll realize what a horrible, boring idea that would be. I would say just keep it to two or three pages and then build up from there. But don’t overshoot your abilities. ♦
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Featured artist

Daniel Clowes

          



Paste calls ONWARDS "brutally honest" along side DEATH-RAY on Best Reissues/Collections of 2011

Updated January 2, 2012


December 4, 2011Garrett Martin, Hillary Brown and Sean Edgar

4. The Death-Ray
by Daniel Clowes
Drawn & Quaterly

Clowes’ gloomy Bildungsroman about teenage disillusionment and vigilante justice focuses on an arrogant and mostly friendless teenager who gets superpowers from a forbidden vice in the late 1970s. Egged on by his angry punk friend, he uses those powers to beat up bullies and other wrong-doers. Eventually the stakes are raised from mere beatings to weighing judgment on the merits of existence itself. Clowes’ literary superhero tale explores the combination of condescension, guilt, and self-righteousness common to both adolescence and superhero vigilantism. (GM)

3. Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths
by Shigeru Mizuki
Drawn & Quarterly

Mizuki’s powerful counterpoint to America’s enduring love affair with World War II doesn’t belittle America or make the Allies look disreputable. Even as American bullets rip through Mizuki’s characters, the true villains remain the Japanese leaders who send their men to pointless deaths. Mizuki based this 1973 book on his experiences at New Britain in Papua New Guinea near the end of the war. Mizuki’s soldiers realize and resent their treatment as cannon fodder by glory-seeking officers and a military culture that views surrender or imprisonment as dishonorable. Mizuki makes Japan’s leadership look as bad as any jingoistic American World War II movie, but replaces the offensive racial stereotypes of Western entertainment with realistic depictions of normal men trapped in a horrible situation. Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths is a brutally honest and human look at an unfortunate group of men more dehumanized by their own commanders than their enemies. (GM)
 
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Featured artists

Daniel Clowes
Shigeru Mizuki

           Featured products

The Death-Ray
Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths




  BOMB interviews DANIEL CLOWES

Updated December 29, 2011


December 29, 2011
Alexander Chee

Daniel Clowes, renowned comics artist, talks to Alexander Chee about his newly reissued The Death Ray and his distaste for superheroes and wrestling.

Daniel Clowes is currently one of America’s most celebrated comics artists. He frequently illustrates the pages of GQ and the covers of the New Yorker, he publishes with major publishers, he has been nominated for an Academy Award for his screenplay adaptation of his graphic novel Ghost World, and is at work on several other film projects. It would, in short, be easy to be suspicious that this success had dulled his edge. And yet reading his newest work, it’s clear he’s allowed his success to encourage him to take more risks, to push himself harder.

No one knows the American loser—or loves the American loser—quite like Daniel Clowes. Clowes’ comics have from the beginning of his career consistently outlined a vast country of the self-deceiving and the lonely, the heartsick and the heartless, the cruel and the lovable—America, basically, but as it is really lived. Even at his most bitingly satirical the jokes are only funny because they’re true. At a time when so much of American media remains obsessed with showing us pictures from a country of smooth perfect people who never are lonely, sick or sad for too long, Clowe’s recent stories come from the place we know is ours. They are the revenge of the real. His characters are both unlike anything you see elsewhere in literature and completely familiar from life. The shock of recognition you get while reading him is that feeling that somehow the artist has found this thing you were sure no one else had seen.

While much of what passes for emotional realism in contemporary fiction looks a little shallow next to Clowes’ work, his comics draw on the familiar flat shapes and colors of the Sunday Funnies of yesteryear, if the Sunday Funnies troupe slipped away, that is, to get high, steal a car or move to a new town and get new friends. Or, in the case of the hero in his new edition of The Death Ray, to use the Death Ray his dead father left him.

First published as a standalone comic in 2004 in his groundbreaking comic series Eightball and reissued this year by Drawn and Quarterly, The Death Ray is something of a departure for Clowes: there’s a hero vigilante in a mask. I conducted this interview with him on the phone in late November on the occasion of the reissue of The Death Ray, and we spoke about everything from the origin of that masked hero to the death of underground culture to whether there was something in the water in Chicago that was good for making comics.



Alexander Chee So, a friend of mine who knew I was going to speak to you asked me to ask you about a pamphlet he said you wrote several years ago [MODERN CARTOONIST, 1998], about how important it was for comics to be an outsider art. Does this sound about right? We wondered, what do you feel about that now?

Daniel Clowes It was many years ago and it was half serious and half kidding. I liked the idea that cartoonists were all insane and so it was really about realizing that and making this pamphlet and I was hoping my publisher would print it and I could just leave it on subways like a Jack Chick comic.

AC Who is that?

DC He’s the guy who does those fundamentalist Christian comics, probably the most widely published cartoonist in the world. I think some of those have like 100 million copies printed.

p(aa).I have not re-read the thing in many years so I don’t want to comment on that but I think the so-called acceptance of comics is all in the minds of journalists and desperate booksellers. My comics sold fairly well when it was a completely unknown underground thing and they seem to sell vaguely the same numbers now as they did then, it’s just a different audience. Back then it was only people involved in the underground culture and now it’s a general audience at bookstores.

AC So, do you think indie bookstores are becoming the new underground culture?

DC If you looked at the number of people who buy books there it would be a very small percentage of the population, far less than those who’d buy an indie movie. I mean, probably several million people saw the Ghost World movie, for example, but it’s in the hundreds of thousands for the book—a small percentage.

AC Related to the shift in your audience, what do you think is underground culture now?

DC I don’t even know if there is anything like that anymore. Anything that would once have been spread only among the cognoscenti years ago is now immediately disseminated to a huge audience. There used to be the excitement of finding the original true voice of a minicomic or zine from this guy in Oklahoma and now it’s tweeted all over the place instantly and I can find out about something like this from my mom.

AC Has your mom actually told you about a comic?

DC No. But . . . videos, for example. I’m always the last person to find out about the latest cat video and I forward it my friends and they’re like, we liked that last September. I’m always hearing about it from someone who is just incredibly square, like a year later.

AC I wondered what is it like having Death Ray appear as a book amid the publication of both Mr. Wonderful and Wilson? I say that because it was originally published, if I’m getting this right, as Issue 23 of Eight Ball Comics, back in 2004. Why bring it out as a book now amid two other major works?

DC Back when it appeared I was in the world of the birth of my son, who’d been born about 2 months before, and I was completely unaware of anything by the time it came out—unaware of how it was received in the world. I did feel like it was the best thing I’d ever done up to that point. I remember it sold out immediately and then was unavailable for all these years. It was painful to me that people couldn’t see it, and that for this new audience, this was completely missing from my body of work to them. So I’ve really wanted to get it back in print since then.

I feel like my career has a completeness to it now that it didn’t have before, like a big part that’s been filled in.

AC Reading it, I didn’t know that it first appeared in 2004. It struck me as being a part of a group of books about the problem of the superhero that have appeared in the last ten years.

DC I haven’t read or shown the slightest bit of interest in a superhero comic since the ’70s. I really can’t even look at them. They hold zero interest for me the way magazines about crossword puzzles hold zero interest for me. But I did have a big interest in them as a kid, and I loved the pop-art style of the early Marvel and DC comics.

I did not write it with the intent of making a point of any kind. I write by coming up with a character that I have an emotional connection to and coming up with an interesting situation for them. If you know the character well enough, they take it in an interesting direction, and they tell you what to do. That’s what I hope comes through.

AC There was no grand statement then.

DC The times I’ve tried to make comics with this or that statement, well, it’s never gone past the stage of trying to figure them out. It all had to go back to the drawing board. I was never interested in making one of those books where the characters feel like figures on a chess board that the artist is moving around.

AC In some ways I think the only hope you have of making a grand statement is by giving up on making a grand statement.

DC I think that’s true. I have tried to do that, and I now know better.

As a teenager I had really grandiose plans to do sweeping works that I was too lazy, thankfully, to get off the ground. I would have really embarrassed myself.

AC Let’s talk about The Death Ray. This is such a beautiful book, as an object. I like that the cover of looks like Spider Man stole Flash Gordon’s gun.

DC That’s almost exactly right. The costume is something I made up when I was 15 or 16, and the very basis of the story—a skinny kid who lives with his grandparents and has a ray gun—is something I was trying to write back then. Thankfully I never got it together. My uncle or someone had an old Buck Rogers gun from the ’30s and it made this totally anomalous popping sound. It was unnerving to hear—not what you expected—and I liked that for the story. That’s why I had the gun make that popping sound.

AC It is unnerving. There’s something more horrible about it. You were making comics back then?

DC I was. I started making them, well, really early, I’ve been making them forever.

p(aa).I am really not into fighting or guns. This was the only time I ever drew a gun. I think it had more to do with the quality of erasing all your problems instead of the violence. When I was a kid and read superhero comics, I used to skip over all of the fighting and I was totally into the soap opera, the family drama and relationship stuff of the heroes. I think it’s why I stopped reading them finally. It’s like watching professional wrestling to me, I have all of these friends who are really into professional wrestling but to watch it for more than three minutes totally bores me out of my mind.

AC That brings me back to my friend, actually, who for some reason suggested I ask you about who your favorite professional wrestler was. I guess that’s answered. (laughter) What we wanted to know also is, what comics do you read now? What are the really cool comics no one knows about?

DC I wish someone would tell me about the thing I don’t know about. I just read all the, you know, underground alternative comics. All the guys like the Hernandez brothers and Adrian Tomine and Chris Ware, and a lot of younger guys I’m really into like Kevin Huizenga, Michael Deforge, from Toronto. He’s great, he’s just a kid.

AC Did you have a go-to comic as a kid? One that you just had to get?

DC I would just buy comics. I just liked to read any comic—Cracked, Richie Rich, anything. Once I started learning how to buy the early comics, I really loved the Steve Ditko Spider Man, he was the only one I could relate to. Before he became a muscle-bound frat boy.

Also Jack Kirby. I haven’t finished a lot of them but I could just look at them all day. I find them a little tedious to read for some reason.

AC Is it okay to ask you to comment on what’s next?

DC I’m working on a longer comic book but I’ve learned not to talk about it because it just dissipates my energy and it makes me self-conscious and I find if I just keep it to myself I’m not self-conscious in the slightest and I can do everything without thinking about anyone reading it and then it’s too late to turn back, or take it back. Some time late next year or the year after.

AC I’m glad to hear you’re working on something longer. It seemed to me reading Wilson, Mr. Wonderful and The Death Ray, together, that all of them occupied somehow the same landscape, that there were places in between where all your work met. As if all of your books were windows into one world, one that was yours.

DC I like that idea, that all these worlds are related somehow and certainly those three works are works where I thought about them a lot and had lots of ideas for their worlds, but they’re very condensed now. The one I’m working on now I am trying to give myself room to go wherever I like, so it’s not so pared down. Though it may be by the time I’m done.

AC And how is that editing done? How much tech is involved in how you work now, for example?

DC There’s no technology. The only thing I’m really using is coloring, done on the computer, as it is the only way to get that really flat comic book color that I like. Everything else is done on paper. The best way I find to work is to really think about it before I start and try not to get bogged down in too much extra sketching and planning, just to have it all clear in my head without having to stop and rethink things.

AC I recently heard Gabrielle Bell talking about why she didn’t do mini-comics much anymore. She was talking about how she used to like doing the small books, and how she felt she made more money from them sometimes, and then apparently distributors raised the requirements on how many copies you needed to sell before being distributed and that went away. How have these changes affected you and your work?

DC Back in the old days I really used to feel like I knew all the readers personally, like they were a certain type of person. At a comic con I used to feel like I knew at the briefest glance if it was one of my guys or one of the superhero fans, and now it’s impossible to tell. But I try not to think about any of that stuff. I have a great publisher now, and they do a great job with all of that.

AC I was looking at the old covers for Eightball and I noticed the way in which they referenced horror comics. And it struck me that your comics are partly about how the monster is really you—a kind of horror comics starring the self.

DC Absolutely. I think we all have to own up to that or its dishonest. Whenever someone’s doing comics and making themselves the victim or the hero it always feels dishonest, or delusional somehow.

AC In teaching comics over the years, I’ve noticed one trope that I thought I’d ask you about, the Suicide joke. It seems like something of a standard in comics, the suicide that is also funny.

DC Where have you seen this?

AC It’s intensively a part of Chris Ware’s anthology of comics for McSweeney’s, for example. Many examples there, like the Little Nun, where each strip ends with her praying. She’s also often dying at her own hand.

DC You can do the most extreme things in comics and get away with it in a way you can’t with film or literature. Things like that are read more easily as a joke. Something about the language lends itself to doing really objectionable stuff, and so I’m always shocked when people are offended by comics.

AC Given that, would you say there’s something of yours that couldn’t be made into a film?

DC I feel like, to make a film, you have to make it as a film and figure out how something works as a film. I would hope that all my stories could be done that way, but very few of them would leap gracefully into script form without changing things around pretty drastically.

AC How much is Chicago still an influence?

DC How can it not be? Whenever I have a nightmare of getting lost in a city it’s still Chicago in the ’70s. It’s imprinted on my unconscious. A big part of my inner life is there. I’ve been in California 20 years now and it’s only recently that I’ve started to feel like it’s seeping into my work. I think wherever you spend the childhood it’s always going to be the backdrop for whatever you do.

AC Was there something in the water, because how is it that so many amazing comics came out of Chicago?

DC It was one of the first cities to have fluoridated water, so maybe.

It was pure coincidence that Chris Ware and I ended up living a block away from each other. He got a scholarship to the Art Institute to go there for free, and for me, where I was, that was where I grew up, and so we just ended up being very close to each other.

Cartoonists can live anywhere, they don’t have to be anywhere in particular, so most cartoonists live wherever their wives want to live. That’s why I’m in California now.

AC I love Chris Ware’s sketchbooks, but I’m always amazed at how different they are from his comics.

DC He has a way he believes comics should be done that’s very different from drawing. He’s figured out the optimal level of detail that should go into a comic and anything he says, we should take notice, because he knows what he’s talking about.

AC Do you keep a private sketch journal?

DC I used to, but I felt like I was doing it because I was supposed to. It just felt like homework. I used to think it was really helpful to sit there and sketch a car, but it wasn’t that helpful, as I was always thinking about other things. I decided to just save my energy for when I was making comics. It was more useful to sit and observe things and to bring that back into the studio and apply that thinking back into my drawing. The work became much more spontaneous and less like something I was forcing myself to do.
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Featured artist

Daniel Clowes

          



DEATH-RAY, ONWARD TOWARDS OUR NOBLE DEATHS, WORTMAN'S NEW YORK make AV Club's Best list!

Updated December 29, 2011


December 29, 2011
Noel Murray

Top Three Reprints

1. Daniel Clowes, The Death-Ray (D&Q)
Previously available as an unwieldy oversized magazine, the contents of Eightball #23 are now the graphic novel they always should’ve been, packaging Daniel Clowes’ meltdown of superhero mythology under a sturdy hardcover. Broken into one- or two-page chapters—drawn in a range of styles, from simple cartoons to naturalistic sketches to full-scale, dynamic action layouts—The Death-Ray is narrated by Andy, a tense, middle-aged loner who recalls his high-school years in the late ’70s, when he was a scrawny outsider who acquired superhuman strength and a weapon capable of disintegrating its targets without leaving a trace. With a keenly developed sense of justice and no super-villains to battle, Andy and his proto-slacker sidekick began a covert terror campaign, directed at the jerks in their lives. The Death-Ray can be read as a critique of American foreign policy, or a kiss-off to superheroes, but it’s also another of Clowes’ keen dissections of teen ennui, with the details of a young man’s first cigarette and his first punk-rock album serving as more than just coming-of-age signifiers. In the devastating final two pages, Clowes returns to Andy in the present day and sucks the air out of the piece, as fireworks pop and the hero explains that the petty grudges of young adulthood never fade, but resolve themselves into a system of values, guiding the way the world is run.

3. Shigeru Mizuki, Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths (D&Q)
Based on Shigeru Mizuki’s memories of fighting in World War II, the 1973 graphic novel Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths combines detailed, often beautiful illustrations of small Pacific islands with characters rendered far less elaborately, setting up the climactic suicide mission of the book’s title, where men become little more than meat. A character dies roughly every 10 pages in this 368-page book, typically in ways that are more blackly comic than tragic. Soldiers get shot while sneaking off to extract a few drops of water from tree roots, or they choke while trying to carry fish in their mouths. Those are the kind of quirky details that could only come from personal experience, and they’re mixed in with page after page of soldiers dealing with hunger, illness, horniness, and the dehumanizing abuse from their superiors. It’s hard to picture the Imperial Army as the robotic fanatics of legend after reading Onward, with its mass of rounded faces all yearning for an extra spoonful of rice and one last shot at getting laid before they charge into the abyss.

Top Five Archival Collections

5. Denys Wortman, Denys Wortman’s New York: Portrait Of The City In The 1930s And 1940s (D&Q)
Denys Wortman drew cartoons and illustrations for multiple New York magazines and newspapers between the ’20s and ’50s, but never became as well known as some of his peers, perhaps because his dense panels, sketchy lines and whimsical captions lost some charm when reduced to a quarter-page. The James Sturm and Brandon Elston-edited Denys Wortman’s New York: Portrait Of The City In The 1930s and 1940s arranges hundreds of Wortman originals—saved in a shed by his son—into a tour through the city over the course of a single day. The impressions of city life over a half-century ago are invaluable, but even better, Denys Wortman’s New York features one panel per large-sized page, which does due justice to the artist’s detailed, dynamic drawings of fire escapes, busy lunch counters, jumping dance halls, and dimly lit parlors.
 
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Featured artists

Daniel Clowes
Denys Wortman
Shigeru Mizuki

           Featured products

Denys Wortman's New York
The Death-Ray
Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths




  THE DEATH-RAY is Clowes' "best [and] richest work to date" according to CBR!

Updated September 8, 2011


The Death Ray by Daniel Clowes.

Clowes’ rare dip into super-genre waters involves Andy, a withdrawn and awkward teen being raised by his grandfather who discovers his late scientist dad gave him the ability of super-strength whenever he smokes a cigarette, as well as a special gun that helps … get rid of unwanted things and people. Unable to find a good use for his newfound powers — his attempts at heroics fall flat on their face — things quickly spiral out of control. Yes, to some extent the book is a comment on the superhero genre’s inability to deal with or examine real life issues, but Clowes is not drawing on snark here; Death Ray is a haunting character study of a young man whose inner demons drive him to do horrible things. Easily Dan Clowes best, richest work to date, Drawn & Quarterly is releasing a spiffy new hardcover edition of the book this fall, so there’s really no excuse not to check it out.

- Chris Mautner
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Featured artist

Daniel Clowes

           Featured product

The Death-Ray




The Thousands reviews DAN CLOWES' WILSON

Updated July 11, 2011


Angry young men, angry old men, bitter assholes, condescending pricks… Dan Clowes paints in misanthropy the way ice sculptors chainsaw ice.

Best known for the film adaptations of Ghost World and Art School Confidential, Clowes' characters seem much sweeter, much sadder, and much more likable when drawn in his stark, tender, mannered style.

Wilson could be Clowes' most unlikable character yet - a bad tempered, opinionated, lonely old man. His story of family mishaps and losing touch is told through a variety of drawing styles, in single-page gag comic strips - sorta like Peanuts, if Peanuts had punchlines like 'Jesus Christ, that bum is taking a shit right on the sidewalk!'

The device can be disjointing, but it also elevates the story to work on several levels. Because Wilson isn't just a comedy, or a drama, or a spoof - kinda like real life.

Ultimately, Wilson says all the worst stuff you often think, but would be too timid, too polite, or too sane to say. He's a thwarted idealist and an old-fashioned romantic. And his rants about modern society and brainless blowhards are hilariously spot-on.

 
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Featured artist

Daniel Clowes

           Featured product

Wilson




  Introducing your DEATH-RAY action figure!

Updated June 6, 2011


As announced on danielclowes.com this weekend, this Thursday, June 9th, the Oakland Toy Company in conjunction the esteemed Press Pop of Japan will debut The Death-Ray Action figure. WOW!

This is a limited edition of 200, so it will be sure to sell out very quickly. Set your alarm clock to the appropriate time this Thursday: 7:30 PM Eastern, 4:30 Western and buy yours here:
click here to read more


Featured artist

Daniel Clowes

          



John Valania talks to DAN CLOWES for Phawker

Updated May 4, 2011


Daniel Clowes’ 30-plus-year career as a cartoonist/graphic novelist/screenwriter has seen some remarkable reversals of fortune. Back in the mid-80s, when Clowes was fresh out of Pratt and looking to take the graphic design/illustration world by storm, he couldn’t get art directors to return his phone calls. These days, post-Ghost World, the New Yorker and The New York Times plead with him to return their calls. When not busy cranking out darkly hilarious comic works like Eightball, Dan Pussey and David Boring, or illustrating Ramones videos and Supersuckers album covers, or working with Coke to create the infamous OK Cola anti-marketing campaign, Clowes forged a successful secondary career as a screenwriter, which resulted in an Oscar nomination for the screenplay to Ghost World. More recently he has focused on the long-form comic strip, investing works like Wilson and the just-published Mr. Wonderful with both his distinctive graphic imprimatur and a gift for story-telling and character study that rivals any of the big-wigs of contemporary fiction. Not bad for a form that heretofore aspired to little more than indulging the fantastical yearnings and hormonal angst of pimply-faced teenage boys. If Clowes is not careful he will wind up being remembered as the guy who made comics respectable. Clowes will be appearing at the Free Library tonight to promote the recent publication of the aptly-titled Mr. Wonderful. Long a fan of Mr. Clowes’ work, we got him on the horn to discuss recent work like Wilson and Mr. Wonderful along with Ghost World, Lloyd Llewellyn, Eightball, Jack Black, Like A Velvet Glove Cast In Iron, Thora Birch, Art School Confidential, Rudy Rucker, Raiders Of The Lost Ark, Michel Gondry and the advantages of male pattern baldness.



PHAWKER: Can you just identify yourself please?

DAN CLOWES: Daniel Clowes: Oakland, California.

PHAWKER: Terrific. Listen, before we get started, you and I actually go back a ways.

DAN CLOWES: Your name seemed awfully familiar.

PHAWKER: Oh, did it?

DAN CLOWES: Yeah.

PHAWKER: You probably don’t remember, but, in the early 90s, I had a rock band called The Psyclone Rangers and…

DAN CLOWES: I do remember!

PHAWKER: Oh, awesome. And I convinced you to let us use one of your hilarious panels about the inventor relaxing at home with the sort of…

DAN CLOWES: Yeah, yeah.

PHAWKER: old timey masturbation device.

DAN CLOWES: Yeah, yeah. You know what? I’m actually putting together a monograph. So I’m going through all my old files and I came across it pretty recently.

PHAWKER: Awesome. Listen, do you have that digitized? Is there any way you could send that to me so we could include that in this interview?

DAN CLOWES: It’s in this humongous pile of stuff so I would have to look again. I’ll see if I can dig it out.

PHAWKER: Awesome. Anyway, that’s great. I’m flattered that you remember because, I mean, I’ve been a long time fan and was really pleased to see that you’d made it to the Big Screen. And I’ve been following you all along and I was just realizing when I was looking at your bio that I guess I kind of got in on… Well, I was under the impression that Eightball kind of went on a long time before I found it. But it turns out it was there from the beginning.

DAN CLOWES: Yeah.

PHAWKER: Anyway, enough reminiscing about the good old days. Shall we jump into the proper interview?

DAN CLOWES: Sure.

PHAWKER: Let’s just start at the beginning. So how did you get into this business? What prompted you to get into cartooning in the first place?

DAN CLOWES: Well, it wasn’t much of a choice. I mean, when I was a little kid, we didn’t have a TV. And I had a brother who was about 10 years older than me and he left a gigantic stack of old comics and science fiction magazines and all his teenage crap in my room. And for a four or 5-year old that was like my source of entertainment. So I would try to figure out my way through these comic stories not knowing how to read really. Just kind of absorbing the imagery and trying to imagine what was going on. From that time on, I was just obsessed with the language of comics and the weird mystery that those old comics have. My mother tells me that from the age of, I think, 4, I said “I want to grow up and draw comics for a living!” And most people have some crazy thing like that when they’re 4. They want to be a fireman or something and then they change their minds when they’re 6. But I stuck to my guns.

PHAWKER: You held onto the dream.

DAN CLOWES: Exactly.

PHAWKER: Ha ha.

DAN CLOWES: Living out the 4-year old’s fantasy.

PHAWKER: That’s incredible. Mister Wonderful, which I thoroughly enjoyed by the way, was originally serialized for The New York Times Magazine where it ran for about 20 weeks. That was a long way from the old Eightball days, which I used to find tucked away in the back book shelf of the local Indie record store next to probably some psycho-tronic film guide or something like that.

DAN CLOWES: And that was one of our more high-end places. I was talking about how, when I first began doing comics, the best we could hope for was to be sold at comic book stores. There was no way a real book store was going to sell comics at all. That was not going to happen. So we hoped we could get into a comic store, but comic stores were all, you know, super heroes and elves and trolls and all the stuff that those guys like. And so there would always be a box in the back of the comic store, like a cardboard box that just said “ADULT”, and they would stick our comics in there along with the elf pornography or the unicorn pornography; all that crazy weird stuff. So it wasn’t like you could tell any normal person where they could go buy your comics. There was certainly no Amazon or anything like that. It wasn’t like you were going to tell your girlfriend’s parents like “Yeah, go to the dingy comic store across town. There’s a box in the back marked “ADULT” and go through the really weird pornography till you get to Eightball. And there you are”.

PHAWKER: I mean I think you just answered my question which was: Did that experience make you feel legitimized in a way that previous publishing experiences maybe did not?

DAN CLOWES: Well, here’s the interesting thing: at the time when we were in that box, I would get 20 to 30 letters a week from people who were reading the comics and when I did the thing for The New York Times, there was literally no response at all. It was like it was invincible, you know. It was in the one magazine in America that people actually would read every week.

PHAWKER: Wow. And how do you explain that?

DAN CLOWES: It wasn’t just me. I talked to all the other cartoonists and the other writers and they all said the same thing. I think it had to do with just being so out of context that people didn’t know quite what to make of it, and even my biggest fans were like “I’ll just wait for the book”. They would miss a week. You know, not everybody buys the paper every week and after missing a week they think “Ahh, I don’t want to start reading it now that I don’t know what’s going on” and so it was sort of a failed experiment. And that’s why it doesn’t exist anymore, I think.

PHAWKER: Interesting. I am a regular buyer/reader of the Sunday New York Times and a huge Dan Clowes fan and I completely missed it — and I always read the Sunday magazine.

DAN CLOWES: Ha ha, I hear that a lot. I never met anybody who said “That’s how I learnt about your work”.


PHAWKER: Yeah.

DAN CLOWES: And that was really my whole thought. I thought “Here I can expose myself to this huge audience”.

PHAWKER: Sure. Several million copies of it, right?

DAN CLOWES: Yeah …that had never seen my work. And I’m assuming that it’s sort of subliminally entered the brains of a few people who happened to skim over it a few times and they later saw my other work and something clicked, perhaps. But it was kind of remarkable how little effect it had.

PHAWKER: Yeah, that is shocking. It’s too bad that didn’t work out. I remember when they started doing that. I thought that was a great idea.

DAN CLOWES: I think if they had just given artists four or five pages per issue to do a complete story people would have read that. But nobody wanted to commit to some long thing where they had to remember stuff every week.

PHAWKER: Yeah, I think you’re right about that. Okay, moving on. I know you’ve discussed this often but let’s bring this up again. Why are you, or why were you, so opposed to the phrase “graphic novel” and do you still feel that way?

DAN CLOWES: I was opposed to it just because I thought it wasn’t going to work. I mean it’s an inaccurate term because all the stuff that’s described as graphic novel is things like Art Spiegelman’s Maus, which is not at all a novel unless you’re a Holocaust denier and call it fiction. And a novel is fiction and most of the stuff is non-fiction. So I thought it was kind of a sloppy term and I kept thinking, well somebody’s going to come up with great term for what these are and I also tried to think of something and all my friends who are cartoonists tried to think of something and none of us ever did. So we have given up, and now it’s almost like the words “graphic” and “novel” don’t matter. It’s “graphic novel” is something very specific to, if not an audience, then at least to people who work in book stores, and so that’s sort of the key. So I’ve given up. I find I just use the term without even thinking about it, whereas it used to make me grit my teeth every time I heard it.

PHAWKER: Yeah, maybe you were over-thinking it a little bit. I mean it’s sort of like The Beatles or Led Zeppelin; no one actually thinks about those names. If you think about it, they aren’t really very good.

DAN CLOWES: Right. The Beatles is a horrible name.

PHAWKER: It’s a terrible name, yeah. But they made it mean something else.

DAN CLOWES: Yeah, and that finally happened and I’m willing to go along with it at this point. Because, you know, any other name is going to sound really gimmicky and it would be a sort of bland name.

PHAWKER: Do you think the rise of the quote-on-quote “graphic novel” represents a dumbing-down of modern society? Or are we just naturally more visually-oriented than we are verbally-oriented?

DAN CLOWES: I think it’s a bit of both, probably. I mean it’s a very appealing medium and it was not served well for many many years in its history. There was not a variety of stuff for general audiences. But there’s no reason that it shouldn’t be a mass medium, at least as much as prose novels are. It’s something that 5-year olds are drawn to and adults can be drawn to for subject matters, interestingly enough. So I think there’s some reason that it’s caught on. You can certainly pick up a graphic novel and decide if you’re going to like it at a glance which you can’t do with a novel. You know, you can kind of look through it and see if the images appeal to you. You can kind of get a feel for it. It’s like being able to look through a movie without watching it.

PHAWKER: Yeah.

DAN CLOWES: Beforehand or something.

PHAWKER: Exactly. Much easier to engage with casually. I loved Wilson...

DAN CLOWES: Yeah, all the old Eightball fans love Wilson.

PHAWKER: I did love it. But, man, it was really bleak and brutal.

DAN CLOWES: Ha ha. That’s the idea.

PHAWKER: Well, perhaps you could speak of some of the motivations for the tone and the story lines…

DAN CLOWES: It kind of came out of a dark place in my life. I mean I had a sort of similar experience to Wilson in the book where my Dad was in the hospital on his last legs and that was really where Wilson was born. I just trying to amuse myself in the hospital and started drawing these sick little comic strips in my sketch book without giving it a thought. You know, it was really automatic writing and this character Wilson quickly emerged. So he came out of a kind of bleakness and when I got home I just couldn’t stop thinking about him and I found him really hilarious. I found that in every situation you put him in he would surprise me and that’s the kind of character you look for as an author. You look for somebody who will take you in directions you don’t imagine. So for any given strip I would start out with a little germ of an idea and he would take it off in his own direction. He really took over my life there for a while.

PHAWKER: On a related note, it occurs to me that you are incredibly unforgiving in your depictions of male pattern baldness.

DAN CLOWES: Ha ha. Well, that’s my curse. It actually doesn’t bother me that much. It’s one of those things that as a young man I thought, “Boy, if I ever lost my hair that would be the worst thing in the world!” Now I kind of like it. There’s something about it that marks you as a certain kind of old middle-aged guy.

PHAWKER: A wise man.

DAN CLOWES: Yes.

PHAWKER: A village elder.

DAN CLOWES: Right.

PHAWKER: Fair enough. Going back to the very beginning again. What was the inspiration for Lloyd Llewellyn?

DAN CLOWES: God, there wasn’t much, you know. I was, at the time, trying to get work as a magazine illustrator in New York and it was not going well. And so I, just to keep myself sane, decided to draw a comic. I hadn’t drawn a comic in quite a while and I just sat down and started drawing and I came up with a character off the top of my head in like 3 minutes. It was no thought at all. The only thought was that it was funny to have a character with all those Ls in his name. Back in the 60s, they had this thing in the Superman comics where they made a big deal out of all the double Ls. Characters like Lois Lane and Lex Luthor and Lana Lang. It was just this ridiculous thing. And so I thought “Let’s have the ultimate Superman character. A guy who’s got like nine Ls in his name. So that was really all I thought about and I just drew this guy who was sort of like the typical 50s detective kind of guy and made up this thing as it went along, never really intending to do much more with him. I sent that one story to a bunch of publishers hoping to get the one story published and I sent it to Fantagraphics and they called up and said “How would you like to do your own comic book?” which was nothing I even imagined in a million years was going to happen. And I was all excited about that. I kind of wanted to do more of a thing like an Eightball anthology comic and they said, “We think comics only work if you have one character that you focus on, so we want it to be about Lloyd Llewellyn.” So I was sort of stuck doing it; too much of a neophyte to say “No! I don’t want to do that!” I just went along with it and quickly ran out of ideas after a few issues.

PHAWKER: Although that, too, seems like a natural fit for an animated treatment or a movie treatment. Has there ever been any consideration to that?

DAN CLOWES: Somebody once wrote a horrible screen-play based on it that fortunately was never made back in the 80s. But, I don’t know, it’s certainly nothing that interests me that much. If somebody else wanted to do it I’d listen. I agree, I think it’s sort of a ball of things identified the best animated. It’s completely outside my realm of interest at this point.

PHAWKER: It is a long long time ago, isn’t it?

DAN CLOWES: 26 years ago.

PHAWKER: 26 years ago. Man.

DAN CLOWES: Yeah, it’s a lifetime.

PHAWKER: What was the inspiration for Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron? I couldn’t put it down and I couldn’t wait for the next one. I was deeply invested in that story. It seemed very David Lynch-ey which is partly what pleased me so much. Was he an influence or was that just a coincidence?

DAN CLOWES: I was very influenced by Eraserhead when it came out. That movie was a revelation to me. And the funny thing about Velvet Glove is that everybody always thought it was influenced by Twin Peaks because they are very similar.

PHAWKER: Right.

DAN CLOWES: But, Velvet Glove actually pre-dated Twin Peaks by more than a year and it was all figured out by the time that came along. So it was something in the air at that time. Really, it was about my first marriage in many ways, but I didn’t realize that as I was working on it. I was trying to write using really personal daydreams and actual dreams and just completely unfiltered things from my own tortured inner life that were all sort of bubbling to the surface. Then when it was all done, I sat down and read the whole thing in one sitting and realized that everything kind of correlated to moments in my first marriage. Although, obviously not literally just to all dream-like metaphors for things that happened.

PHAWKER: Do I have this wrong? Do I recall you talking about you smoking a lot of marijuana at the time, or no?

DAN CLOWES: No, I definitely wasn’t.

PHAWKER: Okay. Maybe I was just projecting.

DAN CLOWES: I had a little phase where I smoked pot for like 2 months, but not enough to affect my work. I kind of just made it so I couldn’t work. I would get really tired and not do anything, so I stopped.

PHAWKER: So drugs never had any sort of creative impact?

DAN CLOWES: No, not at all. Not at all. I can’t imagine…

PHAWKER: Moving on. Can you explain for people that weren’t there in the early 90s the premise of the OK Soda campaign that you were commissioned for?

DAN CLOWES: Ha ha, yeah. It does seem ludicrous when you explain it. Coke decided at some point that they were going to try to market a soft drink to this new Generation X of grunge/Nirvana fans that was emerging as a demographic in the early 90s. They hired this ad agency, Wieden & Kennedy, from Portland who have done a lot of really innovative ad campaigns and just sort of gave them free range to come up with something. They came up with this idea of doing a soft drink. The intent was just to sell it to make it like any other soft drink – there’s no real reason you should pick this one over any other. I don’t think it’s ever been done in the history of advertizing or large corporate products. So they hired me and Charles Burns and a few other artists to draw, instead of happy characters who are excited to be drinking a soft drink, these blank dead-pan characters on the can that sort of represented the dull ennui of the average consumer. And it was really one of those things that I can’t believe actually made it into the stores. It never went national, it was only in test markets. These things actually were printed and actually existed. The one I was working on – I was sure it was never ever going to be released to the public. But it was released to the public and it was the biggest failure this side of new Coke that has ever happened. Any company that sunk millions of dollars into it did not make a cent. It turned out people don’t want to be told the truth. In advertising they kind of want to be lied to because it did not work at all. The audience they were aiming for were totally resistant to that so it hit no audience at all.

PHAWKER: Exactly. I mean it was essentially trying to affect the disaffected, correct?

DAN CLOWES: Right. Which, you know, was an ill-conceived idea. But, of course, there was also something really brilliant and deeply cynical about it.

PHAWKER: Well, I mean they’ve become sort of collector’s items now too. The extent art…

DAN CLOWES: Of course it’s got a huge following. I wish I’d kept more of the cans actually. The coolest thing I have is a face for an OK Soda machine, so it’s like a gigantic plastic vision of the face I drew.

PHAWKER: Oh wow.

DAN CLOWES: Like 6 feet tall.

PHAWKER: Moving on. The protagonists of Ghost World are 2 teenage girls, which you are not now nor have ever been.

DAN CLOWES: Ha ha. Not that I recall.

PHAWKER: What prompted you to use 2 teenage girls for your protagonists? Were you, in a way, trying to buck the stereotype that comic books were largely read by males who are unable to connect with the opposite sex?

DAN CLOWES: I wasn’t necessarily thinking about that, but I’d felt like I’d been very male-centric up until then. You know, I’d done the Lloyd Llewellyn and Velvet Glove stories and then Pussy and all that stuff. I thought I wanted to do something different. I felt like all my characters were obviously stand-ins for myself, and people were reading into stuff and assuming it was autobiographical way more than I intended them to. So I thought I’d try to do something with characters that were not at all me and that nobody would mistake for me.

PHAWKER: So how did you get into the mindset of teenage girls? I mean, did you do some kind of research or were the characters really just you but with the gender transposed?

DAN CLOWES: It was a little bit of that, but it was mostly from knowing girls like those two. Knowing lots and lots of girls like those two. Especially my wife, my current wife, who I’d just met at the time. And just hearing her stories of when she was in high school and just kind of getting a sense of the way girls were in friendships. I was always a very quiet guy that girls kind of felt comfortable around and so I would just be there when they talked normally and they would forget I was there. So I felt like I had a sense of how they interacted that I’d never seen anywhere else. I couldn’t understand why there weren’t movies or TV shows where they showed girls interacting in the way I knew them to interact. So it was very easy to do it. Of all the books I’ve ever done, that was the one that took the least effort. It was just sort of, you know, channelling these two characters and writing down what they said.

PHAWKER: You strike me as someone who’s innately skeptical of Hollywood. What was your experience working on the Ghost World movie like?

DAN CLOWES: It was so far outside Hollywood. I mean that’s the thing; any of the movie stuff I’ve done is the equivalent of the Fantagraphics of the movie world. It’s people who have the same sort of mindset of being opposed to the main culture of Hollywood. We had our meetings with big studios where you are just sort of met with blank stares. You know, we had our share of horrible disappointments trying to raise money. For the most part, it wasn’t your typical thing where the studio wanted to re-cut the film. Luckily the film was so un-commercial from the get-go that there was really nothing they could do to ruin it. There was no way that they could re-shoot a few scenes and make it commercial. They knew immediately that it was not going to be a huge hit. Although it actually did very well, considering.

PHAWKER: It did very well what?

DAN CLOWES: Considering that it was a completely unadvertized film that only showed on 150 screens at its height, it did very very well in theaters. It was considered a big success for an independent film.

PHAWKER: Yeah, I would agree. Now how did that contrast to your experience of working on Art School Confidential? Most of the reviews for that movie were quite unkind.

DAN CLOWES: Yeah. You know making a movie especially when you’re the screen writer is like 50% luck. It’s like with Ghost World, there were many many things that I thought weren’t going to work and the ball bounces the right way and suddenly it works. With Art School it was like everything bounced the wrong way; stuff didn’t work. So it’s a very careful tightrope walk and if you get it right everything kind of falls into place and if you get it a little off everything doesn’t quite gel. So it’s a weird experience to sort of be inside that and you kind of have a feeling that it’s going to go one way or the other, but you really can’t tell until it’s too late.

PHAWKER: Just a couple more questions here, Dan, and most of these are regarding film projects that you are connected to. For the sake of those not in the know, can you give readers the broad strokes of Death Ray?

DAN CLOWES: Well Death Ray is going to be my next book, first of all. It was comic book I did several years ago that’s never been reprinted that I consider maybe the best thing I’ve done. It’s a story of a teenage superhero set in the 70s that’s going to be released in book form later in the year.

PHAWKER: It was the second to last Eightball, correct?

DAN CLOWES: It was the last edition of Eightball.

PHAWKER: Oh, it was the last one? Okay. I have it, by the way. I bought it.

DAN CLOWES: Oh, there you go. A few of you guys bought it. No, it sold out kind of immediately when it came out, but it’s been out of print now for 6 or 7 years.

PHAWKER: Oh, wow. Well you made us wait so long. It was a lot of hunger.

DAN CLOWES: Yeah, yeah. I just sort of never quite had time to put it together. I had to sit down and figure out how to make it into a book. But, anyway, that’s later in the year and there’s a movie version that I’m sort of talking about with the director, a guy named Chris Milk, at this point, which is very different from the comic. It’s sort of an alternative version of the comic in a way that Ghost World was.

PHAWKER: And Jack Black’s production company’s connected to this?

DAN CLOWES: Yeah, he came in and got me a deal to write the script and he’s involved kind of as a producer and there’s a supporting character that he would play in the film.

PHAWKER: And where is that in terms of development?

DAN CLOWES: We’ve got a script and I’m basically waiting until the director’s schedule is clear to meet with him and see what we can do from there. It sounds like he wants to do it later this year, but I try not to talk about any of that stuff because it all changes so drastically all the time.

PHAWKER: Right. Tell me, did you find transitioning into screenplay to be fairly effortless. I mean, what sort of things did you do to facilitate that?

DAN CLOWES: Well, it definitely wasn’t effortless. It took many many attempts to get anything even passable for Ghost World. The thing is when I write my own comics, I know how I’m going to draw them and I know how the story’s going to be told and so I have a sense of how things will work or not. But when you’re writing a screen play, you’re then giving it over to somebody else and they have to understand what you’re talking about. So I find I have to be much clearer in my intent in writing the screenplays. That was a hard thing to learn; to write descriptions of things that people could actually understand so that there was no ambiguity about it, or at least lead them in the right direction. But in terms of putting together scenes that are propelled by visuals and dialogue, it’s got a lot of similarities to writing comics. But, you have a lot more leeway in writing a screenplay because you can change much much easier than if you’ve already drawn them.

PHAWKER: Now, you’re also attached to a film treatment of Rudy Rucker’s Master of Space and Time…

DAN CLOWES: You know, that was a project that I think, in 2005, I got together with Michel Gondry and we put together a whole prospectus for that film and we pitched it to a few studios. This film would cost $150 million and it would be a completely un-releasable art film that would make like $700,000. So we gave up on it. I mean we could either turn it into something commercial which meant starting from scratch or we could try and make it for no money which just wasn’t possible the way the story is written.

PHAWKER: Now were you already a fan of the book or had read the book?

DAN CLOWES: No, I had never heard of it. Somebody had sent it to Gondry many many years ago and he always wanted to do it. It would be a very funny and interesting movie, but it absolutely would not be a big blockbuster. You know, the character changes from a man to a woman like two-thirds of the way through for no reason, so you’d have to get a different actor to all of a sudden be the star of the movie. You know, most stuff that a studio would never go for.

PHAWKER: And how did you form this collaborative relationship with Michel Gondry?

DAN CLOWES: He had a girlfriend for a while who was a cartoonist and she kind of turned him onto all this stuff. I guess he’d read my comics; he had read Velvet Glove that was coming out. And he just thought I would be a guy who might be interesting to work with, so we met up and really liked each other.

PHAWKER: One last question, then, and that is: can you explain this Raiders [of the Lost Ark] project?

DAN CLOWES: It was three kids in Mississippi who made their own version of Raiders of the Lost Ark in the 80s and it was an incredible feat that took up their entire childhood where they re-shot the film shot for shot.

PHAWKER: Over many years, correct?

DAN CLOWES: Yeah, over like 8 years and it’s just one of these unbelievable human endeavors deserving of all kinds of fame and glory. But, of course it can’t be released because it’s the supreme copyright violation of all time. Several years ago, the studio wanted to make a film about these guys and about their childhood and about the making of this film, so I was called in to write a screenplay for it and I wrote something. And just as I was finishing, Paramount announced that they were going to release the new Raiders of the Lost Ark film. I guess it was the fourth one with Harrison Ford being like 85-years-old or whatever.

PHAWKER: Right.

DAN CLOWES: That came out a couple of years ago, and once that was in the works – once that was actually going to happen – they basically told us that there was no way they were ever going to make our film. They didn’t want to have anything out there that seemed like a comment on their big franchise or that could confuse anybody. Obviously it would have been a very small film and they just didn’t see any reason to grant us the rights to use Raiders of the Lost Ark if they had this big tent pole franchise out there. You know, every screenwriter has a thousand of these stories. They all write 50 screenplays that don’t get made and every one of them has a reason that it didn’t get made. Just some small conceptual thing that’s just not worth the hassle of trying to get it made; it’s not a big blockbuster kind of a thing.

PHAWKER: I take it you have seen this movie?

DAN CLOWES: Oh yeah, I’ve seen it many times.

PHAWKER: And…?

DAN CLOWES: Oh, it’s amazing.

PHAWKER: Really?

DAN CLOWES: Luckily these 3 guys have gotten quite a bit of press about their film and so they travel around the country and if they appear in person and show the film they’re allowed to show it as a museum piece or something. It sort of skirts the copyright violation. They’ve traveled everywhere so just keep your eye out for these guys and they’ll show up in your town at some point.

PHAWKER: Amazing.

DAN CLOWES: And they’re great guys. They’re really what you’d hope for, for guys who make something like that. Just really good guys.

PHAWKER: Okay. I think that’s it. I was going to ask you what comes next but you already answered that with the Death Ray thing.

DAN CLOWES: Yeah, well I’m working on a Wilson movie too, which is the thing I’m most excited about, for the director Alexander Payne who did Sideways and all that.

PHAWKER: Wow. So where is that in the timeline of development?

DAN CLOWES: I’m working on the screenplay right now. [Alexander Payne] is working on a movie right now and when he’s done with that movie we’ll see if he likes this one.

PHAWKER: Excellent. Well, listen, thank you very much for your time.

DAN CLOWES: Sure. Thanks for calling.
 
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Featured artist

Daniel Clowes

           Featured product

Wilson




  WILSON, PICTURE THIS and CATLAND EMPIRE make See Magazine's best books of 2010

Updated March 4, 2011


For fans of graphic novels, Daniel Clowes crafted an innovative new style with Wilson, integrating overlapping storylines for his sad-sack protagonist through multiple drawing styles and interconnected one-page narratives. Brace yourself for the same blunt, caustic humour and existential ponderings as his past masterworks Ghost World and David Boring.

Lynda Barry served up more of her enigmatic doodle collage mash-ups with Picture This: The Nearsighted Monkey, while Keith Jones’ Catland Empire was great for a few vibrant, surreal chuckles. However, the most surprising use of colour came from Charles Burns’ X’ed Out, the Black Hole author/artist’s first entry in a trilogy moving away his trademark black and white. Playing off Herge’s classic Tintin comics, Burns presented a bizarre-o world character named Nitnit, dancing between dreams and reality in a disorienting swirl.
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Featured artists

Keith Jones
Lynda Barry
Daniel Clowes

           Featured products

Wilson
Catland Empire
Picture This




ACME NOVELTY LIBRARY 20 and WILSON round out CBR's Ten Best Comics of 2010

Updated March 4, 2011


10. Wilson

Written & Illustrated By: Daniel Clowes
Published By: Drawn & Quarterly

I think this is Clowes' meanest book, but not for the reasons you think -- it's not Misanthropy On Parade like a lot of his old, witheringly sarcastic rant comics were. No, what's mean about "Wilson" is that Clowes keeps giving his loudmouth, obliviously cruel protagonist a chance, right down to the often incongruously cute cartooning and "Wilson" keeps slapping that chance away. Sympathetic portraits are often the most unflattering ones; no wonder so many people wanted to look away.

- Robot 6 Blogger Sean T. Collins

Dan Clowes always delivers for me, and Wilson was no exception. There is a school of meditation where the participants are encouraged to empty their minds by engaging in constantly opposing behavior. This book is like the embodiment of that practice, with extremely opposing styles used to tell the story of one man. While it can be read like a newspaper strip, randomly and in no particular order, there is great satisfaction to be had from piecing together the terrible contrasts and feeling out the path Clowes lays out for us.

- Comics Should Be Good Columnist Sonia Harris

Like his contemporary Chris Ware, Daniel Clowes knows how to compose a mountain of vignettes about the mundane nature of day to day life and the abrasive individuals who wallow in it with authority and spite. Clowes pulled another loser out of his hat for 2010's "Wilson," and the title character shines like a bronzed turd in the sunlight as provocatively as anyone to come before him in the pages of "Eightball."

- CBR Contributor Brian Warmoth


1. Acme Novelty Library #20: Lint

Written & Illustrated By: Chris Ware
Published By: Drawn & Quarterly

Each time around, I am astonished by how Chris Ware takes it up a notch. In "Lint," he absolutely blew my mind with this strikingly complex life study.

- Comics Should Be Good Editor Brian Cronin

The life of Jordan Lint in all of its contradictory glory. Or lack of glory, in typical Waresian style.

- CBR Columnist Timothy Callahan

The most lauded cartoonist around, Ware proves why he deserves every ounce of praise with this encapsulated look at the life and sorry saga of one Jordan Lint. An encapsulation in some ways of everything he's done since, Ware draws a sharp critical eye on Lint's inner thoughts and outer actions and weaves an unforgettable story about family, parenthood, responsibility, memory and how we constantly forget that, just as others are supporting characters in our lives, so are we in theirs.

- Robot 6 Columnist Chris Mautner

Chris Ware's latest foray into his "Acme Novelty Library" continues to evolve and expand with volume #20. Certainly the most elegant and beautiful object of the library it is a beautifully bound book and an object to desire. Then we look inside. A strange book, but then isn't that to be expected from this master of the an almost cubist surrealism? A culmination of sorts, as Ware's continued "Acme Novelty Library" continues to evolve and expand. "Lint" works as an incredible stand-alone novel, telling the life story of one Jordan Lint, from his experience of the exact moment of his birth to that of his death. Complete and elegant, the story is as creepy and touching as you would expect from Ware. The intimacy, vibrancy and attention to detail betray the author's affection for his character.

- Comics Should Be Good Columnist Sonia Harris

This 20th volume of Acme Novelty Library explores the life (and I mean the entire life) of Jordan "Jason" Lint, a one-time bully of Rusty Brown who is now explored in the traditional Chris Ware exceptional and microscopic detail. As Ware shows us Lint's story from birth to death you cannot help but be moved and transfixed seeing a man's life laid out as only Ware can. In "Lint" Ware continues his experimental and highly effective examination of just what the comics medium is capable of. It's a must read, and as a bonus, for those new to his work, it stands on its own just as nicely as it does a part of the larger whole of "Acme Novelty Library."

- Comics Should Be Good Columnist Kelly Thompson

The most influential cartoonist of the past quarter century assigns himself the task of chronicling an entire life, from birth (and before) to death (and beyond?). In so doing he takes an unsympathetic bit player from his massive "Rusty Brown" storyline and crafts his single finest and most moving stand-alone work to date around him; launches a virtuosic, pyrotechnic display of formal mastery yet still manages to make the most important parts the stuff he never shows you. It culminates in a final page so dizzying that I actually felt physically stunned, as if someone had taken the book from my hands and struck me in the head with it. Not just the best comic of the year, but the best comic I have ever read.

- Robot 6 Blogger Sean T. Collins
 
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  WILSON and ACME NOVELTY LIBRARY 20 featured in The Austin Chronicle's Year in Books

Updated March 4, 2011


In the graphic-novel firmament, the brightest stars (although often with the darkest lights) were Daniel Clowes' Wilson (Drawn & Quarterly); Chris Ware's Lint, aka ACME Novelty Library #20 (Drawn & Quarterly); Dash Shaw's psychedelic BodyWorld (Pantheon); and the first two issues of hentai bestial hijinks called I Want You (Pigeon Press) by Lisa Hanawalt.
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NPR Best Comics of 2010 Roundup Features Acme 20, Wilson, and Market Day

Updated February 9, 2011


The Most Memorable Comics and Graphic Novels of 2010, With Caveats
by Glen Weldon
December 29, 2010

I know, I know. Still yet another list, this one appearing during the last week of the year, a time when the national incidence of list-fatigue reaches its annual zenith.

Look, I’ll make you deal. I’ll keep this short. Ish.

If I’ve already written about a book, I’ll just link to it. If I haven’t, I’ll say a few words and link to someone who has.

The usual caveats apply, here: This list is not meant to be definitive – I haven’t read everything. And it’s not even intended as a "best of" list, as my personal reaction to a given comic's style and subject will likely have little to do with yours.

Because the metric I'm using is one of indelibility: The books below are the ones that I found myself thinking about for days, weeks and (on several occasions) months after I finished them. Several very good books that will surely turn up on other "Best of 2010" lists – Darwyn Cooke’s Parker: The Outfit; Greg Rucka and JH Williams’ Batwoman: Elegy; Marvel’s Strange Tales, Volume II; Jim Woodring’s Weathercraft and many more – didn’t quite make the final cut because, for whatever reason, they didn’t linger in my memory after I closed their covers. (I liked the first chapter of Charles Burns' X'ed Out, but its frustrating slimness (just 50 or so pages) prevented it from making a lasting impression.)

So: Here are the books that got their hooks into me this year; I'm reasonably certain they'll do the same for you.


New Work from Old … er, Experienced Hands

Market Day, by James Sturm. I loved this quiet, wistful, elegaic tale of a turn-of-the-century rugmaker finding himself, and his craft, suddenly obsolete.

Not Love but Delicious Foods Make Me So Happy! by Fumi Yoshinaga. I devoured the Oishinbo books, which turn Japanese cuisine into hugely entertaining narratives full of high-stakes culinary showdowns. This slim, delightfully manic book by the creator of the gender-flipped samurai series Ooku filled the hole those book left. Johanna Draper Carlson, over at Manga Worth Reading, praised the author's expressive style and recommended that food lovers pick it up.

Werewolves of Montpelier, by Jason. The deadest of deadpan cartoonists returns with a meditation on relationships, burglary and lycanthropy. In France. Rob Clough of The Comics Journal called it "a pitch-perfect, expertly-crafted story by an artist who is clearly working in his comfort zone."

Acme Novelty Library No. 20, by Chris Ware. I agree with critic Douglas Wolk: this latest edition finds Ware stretching himself further than he as in some time. It's exciting to see a master like Ware, known for his exacting, precise technique, loosening himself up, even if he does so with his characteristic deliberateness.

Special Exits, by Joyce Farmer. Yeah, this one got to me.

Wilson, by Daniel Clowes. A portrait of the artist as a middle-aged jerkface. Mordant, darkly funny, with a deliberately fractured approach that keeps Clowes' tone gratifyingly varied and surprising.

Heartening Debuts

Temperance, by Cathy Malkasian. I've said my piece on this ambitious, wonderfully unpredictable fantasy epic grounded in very real, and not altogether pleasant, emotions.

Make Me a Woman, by Vanessa Davis. Davis is my favorite discovery of the year, though I'm a bit ashamed to say that, as I should have known about her before. You'll see the influence of Lynda Barry and Roz Chast, but Davis' voice has a satisfyingly spiky, take-no-prisoners wryness that's all her own.

Set to Sea, by Drew Weing. Weing's largely wordless pages of maritime adventure are gorgeous things, and the tale they tell unfolds with the lulling, implacable rhythm of the sea.

Artichoke Tales, by Megan Kelso. Kelso sets up an intriguing tension between the cartooniness of her art and the serious, adult themes of war and racism that fuel her thoughtful story.

Drinking at the Movies, by Julia Wertz. A funny, smart, self-lacerating book about the kind of growing up that happens after you've told yourself your a grown-up. In the LA Times, David Ulin summed it up nicely: "...a quiet triumph, a portrait of the artist in the act of becoming, a story with heart and soul."

The Troll King, by Kolbeinn Karlsson. You haven't seen anything like this. Trust me.

Axe Cop, by Malachi Nicolle and Ethan Nicolle. "Axe ... Cop?" Yes. Axe Cop. For reminding us of comics' enormous, all-too-often untapped potential for Big Craziness.

Neko Ramen, by Kenji Sonishi. There's this cat, see. He's surly, scheming. Also, he's a cook. That runs a noodle shop. Critic Deb Aoki, who should know, dubs it "a kooky but likeable comic snack for cat-lovers (and maybe cat haters too)." Sonishi doesn't really deviate from a simple, light set-up/punchline formula, but it worked on me.

Write These Names Down: Creators You Should Know

Body World, by Dash Shaw. Shaw produces hugely inventive, very funny and thought-provoking work, whether it's this webcomic-turned-book about a small town caught in the grip of a mysterious drug, or the slightly less accessible weirdness of the Unclothed Man in the 35th Century and, especially, Bottomless Belly Button.

Blammo, by Noah Van Sciver. Inside Van Sciver's anything-for-a-laugh approach lies a smart and sometimes suprisingly poignant writer. I'll let The Daily Cross Hatch's Brian Heater tell you more.

Tales Designed to Thrizzle, by Michael Kupperman. I attempted to verbalize my deep, abiding love for Kupperman's series on one of the first episodes of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour. Not sure I did it justice, so let me take another whack at it: PICK UP THIS BOOK. VOLUME ONE IS ONCE AGAIN IN PRINT. IT IS FUNNY. BUY IT BUY IT BUY IT.

Wild Kingdom, by Kevin Huizenga. This is some high-wire, risky storytelling, the kind that leaves you convinced another reading will deepen your experience. NOT UNRELATED: In terms of sheer number of times I've returned to a given book this year, Wild Kingdom is the winner, hands down.

You’ll Never Know, Volume II, by C. Tyler. Volume I of Tyler's comics memoir was one of the books I singled out for praise last year at this time, and the next volume only deepens and enriches the work she did in that book. What's more, volume II sees her opening up her scrapbook-style approach, pushing at its boundaries in small, satisfying ways.

Meanwhile, by Jason Shiga. Man, I loved this book, a dizzying, recursive cross between Choose Your Own Adventure and a Richard Feynman lecture.

Ax Volume I: A Collection of Alternative Manga, by various artists. What's "alternative manga," you ask? Damned if I can say. I can, however, point you to this huge, sprawling, dynamic anthology, full of distinctive voices, art that bleeds off the page, and new ideas. The Manga Curmudgeon and several other mangaphiles held a lively and thoughtful discussion of the book on Twitter earlier this year — you can check a transcript on his site.

Revolver, by Matt Kindt. Kindt's story of a man shifting between parallel realities is an exquisitely constructed, ruminative piece of work with something to say about how tragedy changes us — or doesn't.
 
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Acme Novelty Library Volume 20




  Comic Book Resources lists WILSON, THE WRONG PLACE and ACME NOVELTY LIBRARY 20 as top comics of 2010

Updated December 21, 2010


10 BEST COMICS OF 2010

First, a disclaimer: reprints and collected editions don't count, so "Casanova" doesn't make the list. It may be a fundamentally different comic, what with the colors changing the tone and the tone changing the meaning, but it still falls into the arbitrary pitfall of "something that came out during another year, and even though it is an amazing comic, it doesn't fit our needs for this kind of end-of-the-year-listing."

Still, "Casanova." It's very good, and if this were a reprints-and-new-stuff list, it would crack the Top 10, along with "Absolute All-Star Superman." I eagerly await the recolored "Casanova: Gula" and the newness of Volume 3.

If I were to name honorable mentions, and identify those comics that don't quite make the Top 10 of 2010 but deserve some attention, and if I were to list those comics because they are pretty great and I liked them a whole lot, the rankings of the not-quite-top would look something like this:

17. "Wilson," by Dan Clowes. Clowes is one of the Top 10 great graphic novelists of all time, with "Ice Haven." "Wilson" isn't up to that level, but it has misanthropic charm and Clowesian dark humor, and it isn't as simple as it first seems.

...

9. "The Wrong Place," by Brecht Evens. While so many of the best comics this year felt insular and hermetic, Evens watercolor graphic novel seems celebrative of the sprawling relationships that make up our world. It's an illusion, of course, even within its pages, as the characters double back on themselves and the apparent sprawl is at the service of a story about a small group of people in the end. But it feels loose and lively, and Evens doesn't spend time pondering the deep connective tissue between humans when he can show the relationships in action, through gossip on the train, at dinner parties, in the bedroom. The book might conclude with a promise for more, but it's a promise that leads outside of its pages, into the world around us.

"The Wrong Place" isn't a comic about characters inside a comic book. It's a comic that engages with something greater: the messy life we lead, both joyous and sad (but mostly joyous, if we can accept it).

...

7. "Acme Novelty Library" Volume 20, by Chris Ware. I don't know how much more of the tiny lettering my eyes can take, but the strain involved with literally reading this book is surely part of the experience. The story of Jordan Wellington Lint, from his moment of birth to his moment of death, is a story of suffering, but not in the manner of the Good Book's Job. Lint is no blighted figure of legend. No metaphor for the depths of faith or the capacity to withstand loss. Lint is merely a man trying to make his way through the world, following paths he shouldn't take, maybe because that's how he was raised, or maybe just because he followed a faulty instinct. Ware's diagrammatical storytelling seems to indicate answers, but it's never as simple as "his dad was this way, so he turned out that way," even if Lint himself may fall into that trap of misunderstanding. Ultimately, this is Chris Ware showing the life of one man – not everyman – and saying, "look." And we must.
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Indyweek.com reviews WILSON

Updated December 16, 2010


What our writers are reading this season

Wilson
By Daniel Clowes
Drawn & Quarterly; 80 pp.

by Zack Smith

It's not hard to see why director Alexander Payne recently optioned Daniel Clowes' graphic novel Wilson. It's full of the sort of misanthropy, self-induced misery and bitter laughs that have characterized such Payne films as About Schmidt and Sideways. It's even easy to see the title character being portrayed by, say, Paul Giamatti or Philip Seymour Hoffman.

But what makes Wilson work is, in large part, the format. Clowes, who summed up several generations' worth of teenage boredom and cynicism with Ghost World, tells Wilson in a series of one-page vignettes modeled after Sunday newspaper comics, complete with distortions of the human form. Clowes' rendering of Wilson changes from strip to strip (in one, he's presented with relatively normal proportions; in others, his head is twice the size of his tiny body), but his endless ranting remains intact. The format also creates an impression similar to a comic strip you only read once a week, with events going on in between the pages. How Wilson comes to meet his long-lost daughter, and what happens after that, makes for a hilarious gag that will take a few moments to click in your head.

Clowes remains a master of disaffected quips; Wilson's irritation at the world makes Ghost World's Enid seem positively chipper. But Wilson is still weirdly likeable in how he sticks to his guns, and readers might find themselves nodding along, and then becoming horrified with themselves for agreeing.
 
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  WILSON is one of Time Magazine's Top 10 Fiction Books of 2010!

Updated December 9, 2010


The Top 10 Everything of 2010

In 50 wide-ranging lists, TIME surveys the highs and lows, the good and the bad, of the past 12 months

Top 10 Fiction Books

6. Wilson by Daniel Clowes

by Lev Grossman

There are moments when it seems as if Daniel Clowes is playing chicken in this graphic novel: How nasty, how bitter and angry and petty and rude can he make this character and still leave you connected to him by a tiny umbilical cord of empathy? Wilson is a useless middle-aged man with no significant emotional connections, and he is willing to say things that no sane person would say but that every sane person thinks in order to stay sane. The knife edge feels all the keener because the story is told in one-page strips reminiscent of the Sunday comics — at times the art is Schulzian in it simplicity, which casts the adult themes in high relief.
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AARP lists WILSON as one of the best books of 2010

Updated December 9, 2010


Reviewers pick best books of 2010

by Jane Henderson

Media clamor over a new book often is inversely proportional to the author's skill. Yes, we're talking about you, politicians, actors and hybrids of both.

But this year, at least two literary newsmakers were also among its finest. And both, curiously, had deep Missouri roots. Yes, we're talking about you, Mark Twain and Jonathan Franzen.

Not only did Twain's massive autobiography and Franzen's big novel make headlines on several continents, they are popping up on most annual "best books" lists. Missourians can be forgiven the unfamiliar urge to boast this year.

Of course, neither title is beloved by everyone, even serious, dedicated readers. That's something to keep in mind in our roundup of reviewers' favorites for 2010.

Post-Dispatch reviewers offer 25 nonfiction and 25 fiction titles, including a few fun thrillers, that they enjoyed. (The list is alphabetical by author's last name.)

Looking back, the year's fiction seemed weak overall, dominated by good, not great, works. No doubt some fine novels were overlooked. Space allows only a couple of hundred books to be reviewed out of the thousands published, and sometimes well-publicized novels are given a pass in favor of something more unusual or with regional interest. (Yes, this means you, Peter Carey.)
by

On the other hand, maybe there's another reason why the fiction list seems thin: Mark Twain can only do so much from the grave.

....

"Wilson" by Daniel Clowes

Drawn and Quarterly, 80 pages, $21.95

This graphic novel, a darkly comic portrait of an emotionally needy curmudgeon, is itself a case study in diversity, periodically shifting from flat full color to moody duotones to stark black-and-white and employing a full spectrum of cartooning styles.
 
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  WILSON and PICTURE THIS on Salon.com's best new graphic novels list

Updated November 30, 2010


The best new graphic novels
From "The Little Prince" to Daniel Clowes' latest -- 9 great releases from the illustrated genre

...

"Picture This"
by Lynda Barry (Drawn & Quarterly)
A companion to Barry's wondrous 2008 book, "What It Is," which presented itself as a guide for people who want to write, this ravishing volume is an exhortation to draw, color, paste and paint from one of the world's greatest cartoonists. There are Marlys comics as well, and a host of enigmatic and evocative characters, including the Nearsighted Monkey (apparently an avatar for Barry herself) and assorted cephalopod/elephant/ghost things of mysterious provenance. It's rare that a book designed to encourage the creative impulse in others is itself a work of art, and the literally minded will probably find "Picture This" confusing. But anyone with an imagination will wander through these enchanted pages in delight, and (if not too intimidated by Barry's own prodigious gifts) might just be inspired to pick up a pen or brush.

...

Wilson
by Daniel Clowes (Drawn & Quarterly)
If you've ever stopped to imagine the private lives of some of Salon's most socially dysfunctional commenters, then what you pictured probably looks a lot like the story of Wilson. Firm in his conviction that he "loves people," Wilson is instead borderline delusional, solipsistic, isolated and teeming with free-floating rage. In a series of two-page vignettes, Clowes follows Wilson's misguided attempts to rejuvenate a failed marriage and connect with the daughter he never knew he had, efforts that somehow end in a prison term. Although self-excoriating dissections of geek psychology have long been a staple of indie comics, Clowes enlivens the material by adopting a Sunday-funnies format (with a different style of artwork in each vignette) and applying the comic timing of, say, "Peanuts" to such subjects as grief, prostitution, incarceration and the inexplicable proliferation of nail salons.
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DANIEL CLOWES's WILSON makes the Globe and Mail's 2010 "Globe 100" list

Updated November 30, 2010


The 2010 Globe 100: Poetry and Graphica

Compiled by Martin Levin and Jack Kirchhoff
Thursday, Nov. 25

...

GRAPHICA

WILSON
By Daniel Clowes (D&Q)

Daniel Clowes’s glorious and grim graphic novel unspools the story of Wilson, an unemployed 43-year-old divorced loner searching for a shred of meaning in his sad, misanthropic life. Clever and restrained, Wilson is a collection of 71 standalone strips that shift styles (from careful realism to “big-nose” cartoony mode) yet focus squarely on the egotistical main man. -Brad Mackay
 
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  Details recommends WILSON as essential summer reading

Updated November 23, 2010


YOUR ESSENTIAL SUMMER READING LIST

by Timothy Holder
Details

Wilson, by Daniel Clowes [Drawn and Quarterly, $22]

In this darkly hilarious story of death, prostitution, and kidnapping, the Ghost World cartoonist dissects the pathetic life of an all-American asshole using a series of expertly crafted one-page comic strips. (May 5)
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Publishers Weekly calls WILSON "a beautifully drawn slice of piercing social commentary."

Updated November 23, 2010


Starred Review.

Clowes (Ghost World) takes his particular brand of misanthropic misery to new levels of brilliance in this book, a series of one-page gags that show the divorced and lonely main character repeatedly attempting to engage with life, and then falling back into his hell of pessimism. Clowes uses a variety of drawing styles to depict Wilson and his world; sometimes he's highly realistic, other times he's an Andy Capp–style cartoon, but he's always the same downbeat guy. In one sketch titled FL 1282, Wilson asks the kid seated next to him on a plane about his line of work. When the kid answers that he does I.T. stuff, Wilson comes back at him with a mockingly satirical description of his own supposed work, using only initials. The last panel shows Wilson looking at a Spirit magazine and asking, Christ, do you realize how ridiculous you sound? Clearly, the comment is directed as much at himself as to the I.T. kid. This attitude of solipsistic despair is expressed incisively and cleverly, taking Wilson through a search for his ex-wife, Pippi, who has become a prostitute since leaving him, and their daughter, put up for adoption years earlier. Clowes offers another beautifully drawn slice of piercing social commentary. (Apr.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

 

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  The Chicago Tribune on DANIEL CLOWES and the Chicago comics scene

Updated November 23, 2010


A cartoonist's Chicago — warts and all

June 08, 2010|By Christopher Borrelli, Tribune reporter
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The Boston Globe reviews WILSON

Updated November 23, 2010


‘Wilson’ shares one man’s anger and angst, in comic form

by Max Winter
The Boston Globe
July 15, 2010

We’ve probably all known someone like Wilson. The center of Daniel Clowes’s latest graphic novel, a misanthropic, stoop-shouldered, paunchy fellow in his mid-40s; he has no wife, no job, few friends, just a dog who he likes more than most people for company.

He’s not an Everyman but an Everyschlump with occasional Everyman aspirations. He greets others openly, but the openness turns nasty. When he tries to redeem himself, the results are bad. Nevertheless he expands, in his way, and even if the expansion is flawed, he is, in the end, redeemable for being human.

Wilson’s story unfolds through a series of single-page comic strips. In the book’s first frame, Wilson exclaims, “I love people!’’ as he’s out walking his dog. By the page’s last frame, he’s asking a talky neighbor, “For the love of Christ, don’t you ever shut up?’’ This conversation level is his norm, and though he’s rarely unjust in his criticism of others’ hypocrisy or egotism, he can be truly offensive. After rhapsodizing over how overweight women offer “a primal sense of security, an inexhaustible wealth of maternal protection,’’ he undercuts himself: “Of course, some of them really are disgusting.’’ This isn’t the first genuinely angry character in Clowes’s oeuvre. The girls of “Ghost World’’ got off some similarly grouchy lines. However, Wilson’s anger has a more mature edge.

Wilson’s life story explains his behavior but doesn’t necessarily justify it; the more we learn about him, the more we want his script to change. His wife left him 16 years ago, yet he still calls out “hey, baby’’ into his empty house when he comes home. He lives in Oakland, accepting it as a “good, honest American city,’’ but he can’t help angrily pointing out a derelict defecating on the sidewalk. His defensive shield does go down every now and then, however. He travels to Chicago early on in the book, to see his father, who has stage four lymphoma. When he passes the baseball field where he and his father used to play catch, he collapses on the pitcher’s mound, crying “Oh daddy daddy daddy.’’ The sadness driving his rage is a surprise, its expression a welcome relief.

So the question becomes: Can Wilson change? Not without a struggle, and not entirely authentically. In Chicago, he tracks down his ex-wife, once a prostitute, now an out-of-shape and grumpy waitress. After Wilson discovers his ex-wife had a daughter and put her up for adoption, they find her all too quickly. The search is collapsed into a page or two, the sort of jump that was fine in “Ghost World’’ or the surreal, futuristic “David Boring’’ but is hard to digest here. After the reunited trio sneaks away for a weekend, mother and daughter press charges against Wilson for kidnapping, and he’s jailed for six years. Clowes peppers the jail sequence with scattered funny banter, leaving his hero largely unchanged. After further losses, Wilson does change, and reaches qualified contentment, finally settling down romantically. Also, when he discovers that his estranged daughter has a child, making him a grandfather, he describes himself as a “miracle’’ — an epiphany that happens, again, a bit too fast.

Clowes varies his visual style from page to page, to great effect. In some frames, Wilson is drawn fairly realistically, in a world of somber browns and mauves; elsewhere, more standard comic colors dominate, and Wilson becomes squat, with an enormous round nose. Oakland and Chicago both have an eerie, lonely, empty mood to them in Clowes’s hands, as well: The streets are long and empty, their sole figures beaten by life. Though the story in this book is a bit bumpy, Clowes’s visual finesse makes a terrific backdrop for Wilson’s uncomfortably familiar face.
 
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  The New York Times names MARKET DAY and WILSON as highlights of the year 2010

Updated November 16, 2010


Graphic Books

by George Gene Gustines
November 12, 2010

It’s been another exciting year for graphic books. It began in January, when Yen Press announced it would print 350,000 copies of its adaptation of the novel “Twilight” by Stephenie Meyer. Readers later witnessed the struggles of a Jewish rug maker in “Market Day,” by James Sturm. They were treated to Dash Shaw’s stylized “Bodyworld.” And they met the misanthrope known as “Wilson” in the latest from Daniel Clowes. The year closes with a mix of social issues, superheroes, slackers and Shakespeare.
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The 33 pages of story in THE NIGHT BOOKMOBILE (Abrams ComicArts, $19.95) leave one longing for more. The story, written and illustrated by Audrey Niffenegger, the novelist behind “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” is about a woman who stumbles upon an old Winnebago filled with everything she has ever read. The volumes conjure long-forgotten memories — “Here was ‘A Distant Mirror,’ by Barbara Tuchman, which I remembered reading in a coffee shop while waiting for a blind date that never showed up” — that are sure to be echoed by readers when they ruminate on their own experiences with books. The author plans to explore the world of the bookmobile, and its enigmatic librarian, further in “The Library.”

KILL SHAKESPEARE (IDW, $19.99) Volume 1 brings together the playwright’s heroes, including Hamlet and Juliet, and pits them against a pack of adversaries led by Richard III and Lady Macbeth, all of whom want to find a wizard named William Shakespeare. The story, written by Conor McCreery and Anthony Del Col, with art by Andy Belanger, is gripping, violent and dark fun, even if you’re not fully versed in Shakespearean lore. If you are — as one of my colleagues, Steven McElroy, is — rejoice: “There is the allure of familiarity and the joy of being on the lookout for who might show up next — even Parolles (still a coward) makes an appearance,” he said.

Societal woes are deftly handled in THE ADVENTURES OF UNEMPLOYED MAN (Little, Brown, $14.99) and HEART TRANSPLANT (Dark Horse, $24.99). “Unemployed Man,” written by Erich Origen and Gan Golan, and illustrated by a legion of artists, is a satirical look at politics, the economy and superheroes — though not necessarily in that order. One of the highlights is a parody of the origin of the Incredible Hulk: David Tanner is bombarded with Fox News rays and transforms into White Rage. “Heart Transplant,” written by the crime novelist Andrew Vachss with artwork by Frank Caruso, tells the story of Sean, a boy from a broken home who is bullied at school. His father figure teaches him to fight back. Their relationship is tender and richly conveyed in the words and images.

My experience with manga has largely failed to yield great fruit. However, that was not the case with Moto Hagio’s DRUNKEN DREAM AND OTHER STORIES (Fantagraphics Books, $24.99). This 10-story anthology shifts from young romance to supernatural mystery to kitchen-sink drama, so there will probably be a touchstone tale for everyone. “Iguana Girl” — about two sisters, one human and one reptilian — is oddly appealing and surprisingly bittersweet. And its message about acceptance is subtle, not saccharine. The stories are black and white, save for the science-fiction tale “A Drunken Dream,” which is rendered in muted watercolors.

Superman’s beginnings have been revisited many times, in comics, film and television, so aside from his downtown threads, SUPERMAN: EARTH ONE (DC Comics, $19.99), by J. Michael Straczynski and Shane Davis, is not breaking a lot of new ground in showing a younger Clark Kent, unsure of his place in the world. But this adventure does put an aggressive spin on his origin (Krypton’s explosion was intentional, not accidental) that gives Superman new interstellar enemies and a fresh mission: to avenge his home world. What’s best is DC’s commitment to producing an original graphic novel rather than releasing this story in single issues. The Earth One line is introducing a number of DC’s heroes to a new generation, and next year Batman will receive its treatment from Geoff Johns and Gary Frank.

RETURN OF THE DAPPER MEN (Archaia, $24.95), by Jim McCann and Janet Lee, takes place in a world named Anorev, which is inhabited by robots and children and where the concept of time has been forgotten. Ayden, a boy, and Zoe, a robot, realize their destiny when 314 mysterious Dapper Men descend upon them. Some of the writing is lyrical and reads like a forgotten fairy tale: “Until, one day, there was no tock. With no tock, there could be no tick. And all that was left was no.” The artwork is often stunning, with a texture and depth that, according to a how-to section at the end of the book, reflects Ms. Lee’s use of decoupage, a combination of paper-doll-like cutouts and wood boards.

It is a testament to the writing ability of Scott Snyder that his story in AMERICAN VAMPIRE (Vertigo, $24.99), illustrated by Rafael Albuquerque, is more compelling than one in the same volume written by the master of the macabre Stephen King. Thank goodness it’s not a competition. Mr. Snyder is chronicling the life of Pearl Jones in 1920s Los Angeles; she longs to be an actress but finds herself turned into a bloodsucker. The old rules are invalid, because of new vampires who are not put off by sunlight. Mr. King takes on the story of Skinner Sweet, the first of the new breed that causes the evolutionary shift, set in the days of the Wild West. Pearl is an engaging character, and the series, particularly with its ability to peek at different generations, seems like the next franchise possibility for the DC imprint Vertigo.

If you enjoyed the criminally underappreciated film SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD, you’ll love the source series. SCOTT PILGRIM’S FINEST HOUR (Oni Press, $11.99), the last of six installments by Bryan Lee O’Malley, finds the title hero mourning his lost love, Ramona, and acting as immature as ever. He tells his other love interest, Knives, who has recently turned 18: “Do you want to have sex? I think we should have sex. Casual sex.” Despite his many flaws, Scott remains a character you want to see succeed. The final volume is filled with the video-game imagery and breaking-the-fourth-wall asides that were evident in the previous tales. During his confrontation with Gideon, his ultimate barrier in reuniting with Ramona, Scott says: “I don’t even want to fight you! The secondary characters made me do it!” The complete series is available in SCOTT PILGRIM’S PRECIOUS LITTLE BOXSET for $72.

Darwyn Cooke revisits Parker, the antihero created by the novelist Richard Stark, in THE OUTFIT (IDW, $24.99). This book has everything the first had: tough guys, capers and a 1960s vibe that feels like an underworld version of “Mad Men.” Among the high points of this installment — Mr. Cooke plans to adapt four Parker novels in all — are the heists arranged against the criminal syndicate Parker despises. The six-page sequence about a heroin operation wonderfully, and incongruously, juxtaposes tense Mamet-like verbal sparring grit with an almost whimsical visual style. The coda promises “Parker will return in 2012.” Let the countdown begin.
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Featured artists

James Sturm
Daniel Clowes

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Wilson
Market Day




DANIEL CLOWES talks comics history at APE

Updated October 19, 2010


APE: SPOTLIGHT ON DANIEL CLOWES

by Karl Keily

Bay area local Daniel Clowes, best known for his comics anthology "Eightball" that spawned a subsequent graphic novel and Terry Zwigoff helmed film "Ghost World," gave a stirring talk on the history of comics at this past weekend's Alternative Press Expo in San Francisco. Beyond comics, Clowes' art frequently appears in the pages of magazines like "The New Yorker," "New York Times Magazine" and "GQ." Clowes' partner for the informal chat about comics was PictureBox publisher Dan Nadel.

Nadel began the panel by throwing out several classic comic book match-ups for Clowes to discuss. "The purpose of this panel was to have a nerdfest of sorts, to really talk about comics," Nadel explained. "We came up with a bunch of questions for Dan that would burrow deep into the essence of comicdom."

"Al Capp or Ham Fisher?" began Nadel.

"I've always been an Al Capp man," Clowes responded. "I've always found Al Capp to be funny and never quite understood the hatred for him. I like anti-hippie, angry old men. I like the idea of this bitter old, one-legged guy whose one of the most successful cartoonists in the world and then he's angry at the world."

"Wayne Boring or Curt Swan?" asked Nadel.

"That's a tough one - I like them both," said Clowes. Clowes then briefly stopped and asked if they should explain to the crowd who these artists were. "Should we assume our audience is a literate comics audience at the Alternative Press Expo?"

"To me, Curt Swan as inked by George Klein is the most uninflected comic art there is. It's the closest to looking like it has no style of any art there is, which is a big plus in my book. We are always trying to get away from style and make things look like pure iconography. Wayne Boring is pretty awesome - he's just the wrong guy to draw Superman, he looked like a big Italian thug!"

Gil Kane or Burne Hogarth was Nadel's next match-up.

Clowes told a story how the first panel he was ever on was comprised him, Robert Crumb, Gilbert Hernandez, Peter Bagge and Burne Hogarth. Hogarth spent the entire panel yelling at the independent cartoonists on the panel, saying how they were horrible artists.

"He spent almost an entire hour saying how we were the worst artists who ever lived," recalled Clowes. "It was an audience full of young, hipster kids who wanted to see Robert Crumb and Crumb was not saying a word because Hogarth was rambling on. People started yelling out, 'Shut up, old man!' and finally Crumb just slowly leaned back in his chair and did a pratfall. Hogarth didn't miss a beat, though, he just kept on going. I literally did not say a word on that panel."

"But Hogarth, for sure!" Clowes said bringing the discussion back to the initial match-up. "Hogarth was the real thing."

"'Mad' or 'Cracked?'" asked Nadel, hinting towards Clowes work for "Cracked Magazine" in the 80s.

"Oh, that's not fair!" Clowes said. "I'm not going to go on record as saying, 'Well, 'Cracked' is better than 'Mad,' but for a brief moment there in 1985 under the editorship of Mort Todman, 'Cracked' was slightly better than 'Mad.'"

"Don Martin or Al Jaffee?" asked Nadel.

Clowes took this opening to tell a story about the 18 year old version of himself travelling to New York City for the first time, seeking out the "Mad Magazine" offices. He spotted a man near their headquarters and the man "had to to be Al Jaffee, he looked exactly the way he drew himself and so I went up and asked, 'Are you Al Jaffee?'" Clowes instinct proved correct and Jaffee signed an autograph for Clowes.

"I have a soft spot for Jaffee, but Don Martin is an unsung genius," Clowes declared firmly. "I liked that he would utterly contrive a joke. The jokes weren't based on a pun of anything that exists in the world. He would make up a situation and then make a joke out of that. He was starting from nothing and then contriving a joke from that. The situations were so absurd that they had no basis in reality."

"Eric Stanton or Steve Ditko?" proposed Nadel next.

Clowes spoke about how Stanton drew bondage comics in the 50s while sharing a studio with Ditko. "[Ditko's] still alive and still living above a strip club in Times Square as far a I know."

"I actually met Steve Ditko one time, which is impossible to do. He's notoriously reclusive, you can't meet him." Clowes then told a story from his move to New York in 1979. He looked Ditko up in the White Pages, thinking he wouldn't be listed. Incredulously, he was listed as 'Steve Ditko, artist' and Clowes trekked out to his apartment above a sleazy peep show porn theater downtown. After sneaking into the building, he knocked on Ditko's door. "I was a totally nervous zit covered 18 year old," joked Clowes.

The door opened just to chains length and Ditko peered out in to the hallway. "I looked behind him and I see all these cool drawings on the wall. He actually said, 'What do you'se want?' I had read that in a Jack Kirby comic - they'd say 'you'se' and I had no idea what that was until then. I said, 'Oh gosh, are you Mr. Ditko the comic artist'? and slam! - that was it. That was my big meeting."

Going back to the match-up, Clowes said "those two [Stanton and Ditko] are so interlocked, I can't separate them."

"Wally Wood or Jack Kirby?" continued Nadel.

"Ouch. That's harsh," exclaimed Clowes. "If you had to choose...?" responded Nadel.

"I can't. I won't! But just as a character, as a person, Wally Wood to me is the romantic ideal of a cartoonist. He's such a bitter failure. His career is so filled with these fanboy highs and these dismal lows that can come out of that. Just the way he lived and died is so film noir-ishly romantic."

Clowes admitted Kirby's writing isn't much to his taste at all, but his illustrations keep him inspired to this day. "I actually like the ones Stan Lee wrote the best," he said.

Finished with the artistic showdowns, Nadel asked Clowes why his artwork has become more simple over the years, with cleaner lines and less detail.

"I really wanted to draw simply, but I thought I needed to learn to do the full thing before I could simplify," Clowes responded.

Nadel then asked about the accuracy of the story that Clowes keeps a drawing by Robert Crumb above his drawing board of Crumb pointing down at him, reminding Clowes that Crumb is king.

"It's in my kitchen, actually!" answered Clowes. "I had an art show in Amsterdam and I walked in to the gallery one day and I saw Crumb. He was in town with the Cheap Suit Serenades and I saw him hunched over a book in the back of the art show. Later I looked in the book and he had done this masterpiece drawing of him saying, 'You think you're so great, Clowes? Well, I'm still the king and don't you forget it! Fucking little punk.'"

Clowes said he doesn't feel that way about younger cartoonists himself, however, because it's such a struggle to make it at all in the industry.

"Crumb was always a little weird to me," Clowes continued. "The first time Crumb talked to me he advised me, 'Whatever you do, don't draw comics for very long. Draw them for four or five years and then take like five or ten years off and do pottery or something. I wish I had done that.' I thought, 'That's great advice.' I mentioned it to [Ghost World director Terry] Zwigoff and he said, 'He was just trying to get you not to draw comics!' He was very competitive."

Clowes said that the Hernandez brothers, however, were a great help to him when he was coming up as a cartoonist.

Clowes then riffed on the San Diego Comic-Con as it was during the 80s. He would find himself surrounded by independent artists and Marvel artists at the same table, or hanging out with Adam West. Now SDCC is so large you never see anyone, Clowes mused. "But I can't say I really miss it, I'm just glad I lived thought it."

Nadel brought up the album covers that Clowes did in the 90s, but Clowes admitted that he never actually listened to any of the albums he drew covers for. "To this day, I couldn't tell you what The Supersuckers sound like. I'm sure I'm missing a lot."

Clowes then reminisced about the community he helped bring about during the publication of his "Eightball" comic anthology. He rememberedintroducing several couples to each other through the letters written to the comic, including popular "Vice Magazine" cartoonist, Johnny Ryan and his wife. A woman asked what Ryan was like in a letter to Clowes and Clowes wrote Ryan's future wife back, "Oh he's a dreamboat, you're gonna love him!"

"In the pre-internet days, that was all we had, that kind of a thing. I would buy 'Hate' or 'Yummy Fur' or any of those comics, and the first thing I did was read the letters page. It was our way of finding a community at that time. I felt like we knew every fan by name back then. We would talk about the fans. We were obsessed with them as they were with us. It was fun."

Clowes revealed that "The Death Ray" would be coming back in to print, but couldn't reveal any specific plans just yet. In fact, Clowes said he would love to come out with a complete collected edition of all the "Eightball" comics, complete with letter columns.

Discussing the EC horror comics, Clowes told the audience he was shocked by how far comics could go back in the 50s. "The stuff in there is literally on the level of a "Saw," the goriest stuff you can imagine, and yet this is an era you couldn't say 'God' in a movie or couldn't say 'shoot.'"

"You could never come up with anything nowadays that could ever be as far away from the mainstream as that," said Clowes.

Clowes then disproved a theory that his latest graphic novel, "Wilson" was based around a baseball game, saying it was not his intention at all. However, Clowes did admit to having an obsession with baseball in his youth, so perhaps the baseball connection was being weaved subconsciously in his writing.

"Is comics history a constant presence for you as you're working?" asked Nadel.

"I realized at a certain point that the thing that keeps me drawing comics and the thing that has always moved me along is that comics history is really disappointing," Clowes responded. "It's not the same as the history of novels, history of art, history of movies, the body of work is pretty spotty. The things we imagined don't really exist. We imagine that Alex Toth did really amazing comics in the 50s that really worked, that were like Howard Hawk's movies, but he didn't do that. He never made a comic you could read. It's terrible, and I say that thinking that he was one of the greatest genius' of the 20th Century."

Opening up the floor to a quick Q+A session, a fan asked Clowes if he finds himself influenced by the history of comic books being a refuge for artists spurned from the big magazines. Clowes said that when he started, no one thought comics were a wise career move, but he liked that he could do his own thing and no one would bother him.

A fan asked Clowes about the writing process employed during the creation of "David Boring." "That story, I really had a lot of stuff figured out that wasn't on the page. I had this theory that the more you know about a world, that it will come through in some way, whether you know it or not. It seeps in subconsciously." Clowes pointed to getting dates of events accurate, even looking up the phases of the moons for each day in the book.

Someone asked if his film project "Master of Space and Time" with Michel Gondry had moved forward at all. "I actually announced that that wasn't going to be made at the 2006 San Diego Con."

"It was going to be a $150 million art film. There was no way to make it commercial. We tried any idea we could come up with," said Clowes. "It just got less and less commercial. Until there's some technology where we can make a $150 million movie for $12 million, it will not be made."

Clowes was asked where his recent style of character comes from, as he's used in books like "The Death Ray" and "Wilson." He said he started out having characters give an internal point of view in the early 90s, because no one was doing that. Now, with the internet, everyone gives their own unique opinion on everything, so his characters are more public and move away from an internal dialogue.

The last question of the panel was whether Clowes feels the movie or comic book versions of "Ghost World" and "Art School Confidential" were truer to Clowes' original vision.

"Certainly the comics are my vision. That's me. Nobody reads my comics until I'm done. Literally, the printer is the first person to read what I've done. There's absolutely no outside influence at all. There's no way to make a truly personal vision in film. The screenplay might be, but not the actual movie."
 
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Daniel Clowes

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  DANIEL CLOWES talks to Gulfnews about "the beauty of difficult characters"

Updated September 28, 2010


Daniel Clowes: 'You've got to be obsessed'

Comic-book writer extraordinaire Daniel Clowes talks about the beauty of difficult characters

by Rachel Cooke
Guardian News and Media Limited
July 16, 2010

Daniel Clowes, comic-book writer extraordinaire, laughs at his own jokes. He titters boyishly when we talk about his new book, Wilson, the story of a lonely, middle-aged, egotistical loner who simply cannot get on with other people, no matter how hard he tries.

In some ways, Wilson is a wholly unsympathetic character, saying aloud the things others might only think. But he's also an everyman figure: there's a bit of him in all of us, and this makes him funny. In one scene, in an airport lounge, he strikes up a conversation with a business traveller. He asks the man what he does.

When the man starts to explain he's in senior management at an equity firm, Wilson waves a finger across his own frozen facial features, and says: "Glaze!"

The man continues. "Jesus," says Wilson, increasingly exasperated by his mumbo jumbo. "Listen to me, brother," he finally explodes. "You're going to be lying on your death bed in 30 years thinking: ‘Where did it all go? What did I do with those precious days?' Some work for the oligarchs, is that it?"

Clowes is mildly surprised by the reaction to Wilson so far: though the book is selling faster than any other he has written, the responses to it have been "all over the map". Personally, he thinks those who have Wilson down as a misanthrope are entirely wrong.

"I know lots of misanthropic types," he says. "I tend to like them. I find it sort of healthy, comforting. It's a better default setting than over-optimism. But I don't think of Wilson as misanthropic. He thinks he's going to make a connection with people, that they'll be on his wavelength, and then gets frustrated when they aren't. He has a naive faith in humanity. People seem to need a likable protagonist more than ever. It's because they're so used to being fed that in the movies. I find it insulting, the way movies try to ingratiate themselves with the audience that way. I'm more interested in characters who are a little difficult."
He can say that again. Difficult characters are his stock in trade. In 2001 Clowes became unexpectedly famous (at least by the standards of most cartoonists) when his book Ghost World, about two social outcast teenagers, was turned into a hit movie starring Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson. He wrote the screenplay, and was duly nominated for an Oscar. There followed two more unsettling graphic novels (he dislikes this term, but accepts that he has been unable to come up with anything better), David Boring and Ice Haven. All these books have strange, often adolescent protagonists to whom weird and grotesque things happen almost by accident, casually disturbing their otherwise suburban lives and also a certain sense of timelessness and placelessness.

Clowes's work has since been compared with that of Philip Roth and J.D. Salinger, and, in 2005, Time magazine named David Boring one of the 10 best graphic novels ever written.

In Wilson, Clowes uses the single-page gag format each page has a punchline, as well as working as part of the longer narrative and it has a more elegiac, redemptive tone, perhaps because he began work on it as he sat beside his dying father's hospital bed.

"It's this horrible limbo," he says. "You're there, waiting for the inevitable, but you don't want to leave. I was hoping to have some connection [with my father], but he didn't want to talk; he was thinking his own things. So, I got out my little sketch book. I thought: I've got to do something primal, something automatic, the first thing I can think of. That was when Wilson came to me: I saw him in the airport. He was one of those rare characters who just appears like a lightning bolt. I knew this guy. He's the kind of character who creates his own content. Give him, say, the subject of sparkling water versus non-sparkling, and he'd have something to say - though what, exactly, might surprise me."

Clowes was born in 1961 in Chicago and, according to his mother, never wanted to be anything other than a cartoonist. "My parents divorced," Clowes says, "and my brother, who's 10 years older than me, moved out when he was fairly young and left me all his stuff. He was an inveterate collector of comics. I had no television when I was little, just a stack of old, beat-up comics from the 1950s and 1960s. And then he'd come home, bringing with him underground comics. I was inundated! I learned the language of comics at 3 or 4. It was innate to me."

At art school, it was frustrating: his teachers insisted that cartooning was an "undignified" field. "And they were right! Nobody was doing adult comics, then." So how did he keep himself when he graduated? "A friend of mine was made editor of Cracked magazine, the poor man's Mad. I worked on that, and I did my first comic book series, Lloyd Llewellyn. But the truth is that for ages it was just me, a rented room and a drawing board. I had to work obsessively hard to get out enough issues of Lloyd, and then of Eightball [in which Ghost World and David Boring were first serialised], to make even a bare living. I was 30 before I made a living that was not embarrassing."

These days he is married, with a small child, and his drawings regularly adorn the cover of the New Yorker. What's more, graphic novelists have joined the literary establishment. Only recently, Clowes was walking around the offices of Jonathan Cape thinking how amazing it is that, in Britain, he now shares his publisher with Philip Roth and Ian McEwan. "I just kept going: wow!" This is a happy state of affairs, but it worries him that younger writers now think of cartooning as an instant career. The comics he reads by up-and-coming artists are super-professional, but they are also, he says, instantly forgettable; he has yet to discover anyone with the indelible talents of, say, Robert Crumb or AdrianTomine.
"It's not like a job at Microsoft," he says. "You've got to be obsessed. Now there are all these people who are not really comic people doing graphic novels. Well, it's not that easy, actually! I wouldn't pretend to think I could suddenly write a novel.

Screenwriting is the closest thing to it, because a comic book is all about dialogue. Even so, I felt like an amateur when I started that."

Is he still writing films? Yes, though it's a tough time. He believes the edgy Ghost World would almost certainly not get made today: as belts have tightened, it has become increasingly hard to raise money for anything other than the most obviously commercial films. He has five or six projects on the go, but none has a director on board so far.
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Daniel Clowes

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Wilson




STL Today reviews WILSON and MARKET DAY

Updated September 28, 2010


Wealth of comic novels compete for shelf space

by Cliff Froehlich

A loud drumbeat of mainstream critical praise has made even casual observers aware of comics' maturation in recent decades, but some readers remain skeptical: Comics may not be kids' stuff anymore, but don't they still appeal to a narrow range of tastes? Well, no. Contemporary comics offer something for everyone, as a survey of titles released within the past few months clearly attests.

Daniel Clowes' "Wilson" (Drawn & Quarterly, 80 pages, $21.95), a black-comic portrait of an emotionally needy curmudgeon, is itself a case study in diversity, periodically shifting from flat full color to moody duotones to stark black-and-white and employing a full spectrum of cartooning styles that encompasses everything from big-foot exaggeration to subtle naturalism.

On the surface, the book appears to be a simple collection of one-page gag strips, often tracing the same dramatic arc: Wilson presses himself on a hapless bystander, discourses passionately on a subject, becomes enraged by a perceived failing in the person he's haranguing and then ends the "conversation" with an obscene insult.

Read individually and at random, many of these strips prove howlingly funny, but they also make up a larger narrative that's far more bleak than amusing, as Wilson copes with the death of his father and reconnects — in typically fraught and disastrous fashion — with his ex-wife and recently discovered daughter.

Most remarkably, Clowes manages the near-impossible by winning a real measure of sympathy for his outrageously provocative character. Far from the one-note caricature he initially seems, Wilson keeps revealing new, humanizing facets without ever abandoning his exasperating misbehavior and prickly nature.

Clowes ranks with Chris Ware and the Hernandez Brothers at the top of the alt-comics hierarchy, but there are now dozens of extraordinary cartoonists working regularly, and two other stalwarts of the literary graphic novel have also produced fine new books.

James Sturm's "Market Day" (Drawn & Quarterly, 96 pages, $21.95) offers a richly detailed look at life in an Eastern European shtetl at the turn of the 20th century. Schlepping his artful hand-woven rugs to market, Mendleman finds his metaphoric cart suddenly upturned when he discovers that the discerning merchant who has long purchased his goods has turned over his shop to a bottom-line trader with no use for connoisseurship. Fearful he won't be able to support his pregnant wife, Mendleman spends a drunken night on the road home, beset by existential doubts.

Although a sober work, "Market Day's" overall gloom is relieved by earthy humor, and the gorgeous artwork, with its muted colors and evocative landscapes and street scenes, conjures a world as beautiful as it is believable.
 
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Daniel Clowes

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Market Day




  SEE Magazine reviews WILSON

Updated September 28, 2010


Comic Hero Down On Life:
Grumpy protagonist hates humanity, but readers will still like him

by Kenton Smith

Do fictional characters have to be likeable?
Read enough film, theatre, and literary reviews and you’ll find many critics seem to think so. It’s a recurring rebuke levelled at artists that their characters are just so, so unlikeable, godammit, and it’s therefore impossible to care about them.
The titular figure of Daniel Clowes’s first all-new graphic novel Wilson seems the kind of character such critics are thinking of. Indeed, for seminal “alternative” artist Clowes — whose Ghost World and Eightball also challenge the reader with off-putting protagonists — the misanthropic Wilson may represent a pinnacle.

“I love people! I’m a people person!” Wilson says on page one, panel one. By the final frame of the full-page sequence, he’s asking a fellow dog-walker, “For the love of Christ, don’t you ever shut up?”
Wilson’s shtick is to disdain just about anybody and everybody, whether on account of their jobs, vehicular preferences, or admiration for 'The Dark Knight'. Little wonder that, at middle age, his only companion is a dog.

The advantage (and, one could say, great value) of fiction, however, is that it provides means to endure abrasive personalities — and develop empathy for the flawed human beings that generate them.
Wilson isn’t likeable. Fuck no. But he nonetheless emerges as sympathetic because, God help us all, he’s just like the rest of us in the really important ways.

When he sits down, uninvited, with total strangers in coffee shops, or collapses on a childhood baseball diamond whimpering “Oh Daddy Daddy Daddy” — well, he’s merely looking for love, acceptance, and some kind of human connection.
He’s a tragic figure, really. Deep inside, he’s got some inkling of who and what he is. Yet he’s so self-focused, he’ll most likely never really achieve any meaningful communion with others.

Oh yes, the story. When Wilson’s father is struck by cancer, Wilson is spurred to reconnect first with him, then his ex-wife, who reveals a long-held secret: Wilson is a father. As we can see for ourselves, this is a man singularly unfit for parenthood — which he demonstrates vividly after he tracks the child down.
While Clowes has constructed a clear overall narrative, Wilson is structured like a series of one-page gag strips, with each page-long sequence ending in a punchline of sorts.

Simultaneously, however, the structure enables a greater continuity, with each final panel compelling the reader to turn the page. This deliberate construction is part of the classic craft of comics storytelling.
No, characters don’t really have to be likeable. You don’t even have to completely understand them; we’re never given any explanation, after all, as to why Wilson is who he is.

All characters really have to be is human. Look at Wilson, and one can see a prize jerk, loser, and anti-social misfit. But if you can’t also see something of you and yours there, you’re not looking hard enough — or you’re denying what you see.
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Booklist reviews WILSON

Updated September 28, 2010


Wilson

by Gordon Flagg
1 June 2010
Booklist
Volume 106; Issue 19/20

The latest in a long line of brainy but alienated protagonists Clowes has created over the past two decades-Enid in Ghost World (1997) is the best known-Wilson may be the most deftly delineated of the lot. He is a middle-aged loner who voices his misanthropic views in self-absorbed soliloquies and harangues strangers in coffee shops and waiting rooms. When his father dies, he gives in to the sudden need to reconnect with the closest thing he has to remaining family, his long-absent ex-wife and the nowgrown daughter she put up for adoption after separation from him. Wilson's social ineptitude leads him inexorably to disaster, but by his story's end, years later, he manages to find a measure of hard-won grace. Clowes tells Wilson's story in 70 single-page vignettes, each one drawn in a different style, from the humorous simplicity of magazine gag cartoons to detailed realism; this virtuosity allows him to convey both the darkly humorous and the emotionally wrought aspects of Wilson's existence. A cautionary tale about the consequences of intellect without empathy.
 

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Daniel Clowes

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Wilson




  The Miami Herald calls WILSON a triumph!

Updated September 28, 2010


Hits and misses with heroes, sidekicks, zombies; GRAPHIC NOVELS

by Richard Pachter
The Miami Herald
23 May 2010

Wilson. Daniels Clowes. Drawn & Quarterly. 80 pages. $21.95.

The veteran writer and artist's first original graphic novel unfolds through a series of single-page vignettes of varying styles, but the Ghost World creator's tale is anything but sparse. Its protagonist, a sentimental but cynical misanthrope, bemoans the state of the world while aching to be a part of it. Funny, touching, absurd and dramatic, Clowes' tale of the life of Wilson is a triumph.
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Wilson




The North Coast Journal reviews WILSON

Updated September 23, 2010


Weathercraft / Wilson

by Jay Aubrey-Herzog
Booknotes, North Coast Journal

Dan Clowes and Jim Woodring are both idiosyncratic graphic artists and storytellers, although I bet they wouldn’t mind too much if you called them cartoonists. They both have roots in much earlier forms of comics, and don’t have much use for what passes for the current mainstream in the medium, but they have little else in common. Their latest graphic novels provide a chance to see two very different versions of the state of the art.

In Weathercraft, Woodring draws from high and low: the hellish dreamscapes of Hieronymus Bosch, the fertile cosmic imaginings of Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, and the seething, scruffy, sometimes threatening vaudeville of early Fleischer Brothers cartoons. He has a densely meticulous pen-and-ink style, and his wordless storytelling makes the tale that much more dreamlike (and difficult to summarize).

His characters are larger than life: the innocent Frank, the vulgar tortured Manhog, and the trickster god Whim are all iconic in a way unique to the medium of comics. The overused term surrealism fully applies to Woodring’s work as it does to few others today. If it seems that he’s transcribing episodes directly from his subconscious, it’s his attention to craft that keeps the story from self-indulgence. In Weathercraft, Woodring has imagined a weird tale of mythic slapstick that recalls the best comics of the past, but also creates something singular and new.

If Weathercraft is comics as pure visual poetry, Dan Clowes’ Wilson is verbal and prosaic, reigning in the extravagance and goofball humor of some of his earlier work in favor of astringent character analysis with a jaded tone similar to his book Ghost World.

His protagonist, Wilson, is reminiscent of one of Jules Feiffer’s neurotics, though drained of any political context. Wilson is adrift and self absorbed — the atomized man. Whether blathering to someone at a coffee shop or stuck in a jail cell, he’s oblivious to those around him. He marries, and gets divorced, reconnects with his long-lost daughter, but the other characters hardly register — they’re strictly foils for Wilson’s rants and insensitivity. The few times Wilson does reach out to someone, it’s so foreign to his nature that the effort inevitably ends in awkward disaster.

There’s always been a nihilistic undercurrent to Clowes’ work, and Wilson’s blind, sometimes cruel selfishness and sarcasm does not wear well for the length of the book. Though Wilson does seem to attain a bit of self-awareness at the end, it doesn’t fully succeed either as black comedy, or as tragedy. Wilson as a character is ultimately a hollow man, and though that might have been Clowes’ intention, the book still seems a step backward.
 
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  The Comix Claptrap talks with DAN CLOWES

Updated September 9, 2010


Dan Clowes- Season 3, Episode 1

by Rina Ayuyang and Thien Pham

Oh wow, have we been away for a long time! Rina went on a "tour" for her book, and Thien... well, Thien changed his voice. For this season premiere, we dared to dream big, and our dream actually came true: Mr. Dan Clowes sits down to chat with us on topics ranging from Pogs to coffee shop blind dates. The experience was so mind-numbing, it induced Thien to asthmatic coughing fits. We also kick off Season 3 with yet another Ignatz awards rant and desperate plea to SPX voters by Thien, and reunite with now-veteran New Comics newsie, Ignatz-nominated Josh Frankel. This is one episode to remember so we hope you enjoy it!
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Willamette Weekly interviews DANIEL CLOWES

Updated August 31, 2010


Daniel Clowes:
The man behind Ghost World talks movies, aging and why his dad wasn’t so bad.

by Casey Jarman

It’s hard to introduce Daniel Clowes without upsetting the delicate natural order of the comic-book world. To give him his full due, you have to use sweeping, clichéd phrases: Clowes is “the voice of his generation” or, at the very least, “among the greatest living graphic novelists.” All of this is true, but in an artistic field that studiously avoids the caste system, it’s best just to call Clowes a really great cartoonist.

Whether he’s capturing surrealist freak shows (Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron), youthful isolation (David Boring) or middle-aged romance (Mister Wonderful), Clowes’ work consistently transcends its medium and lingers in the minds of its readers. The stylized detail in the 49-year-old San Franciscan’s effortless-looking lines is topped only by his mastery of dialogue both internal and external—skills he has translated into screenplays for two movies based on his books (Ghost World, Art School Confidential) as well as a new animated collaboration with French director Michel Gondry and Gondry’s son, Paul.

Clowes’ latest book, Wilson, follows its titular grumpy, middle-aged protagonist who, in the wake of his father’s death, makes a last-ditch effort to connect with the world and start a family. It is among Clowes’ most lyrical and reflective works, and it’s also funny as hell. WW spoke to the author via telephone before his Sunday visit to Powell’s.

WW: What’s the worst thing about your job?

Daniel Clowes: I have to live by my wits at all times. I have no health insurance, retirement fund, any of that stuff. I have no idea what’s going to pay the bills next year. I really do wake up in the middle of the night thinking, “What the fuck am I going to do?” And you have to do it by yourself, you can’t be hanging out with people while you do it. You gotta recognize that and find ways to get out of the house and deal with other people. That was like the main reason I wanted to work in movies; it would give me an excuse to actually talk to other human beings.

Is that something that gets tougher as you get older, too?

When you’re 25 years old you have friends you can call at 11 at night and say, “Hey, let’s get a beer.” I’ve got a 6-year-old in day care. I can’t really take off from the wife and leave at a moment’s notice.

Speaking of that, there’s a lot of bad fathers and distant fathers in your work.

Which is kind of unfair, because my dad was actually a really good dad.

Where does that come from then?

Everybody wants to be closer to their dad. My dad was the least emotional human being I’ve ever met, but now that I have a child I sort of realize that that was just his make-up as a human being. He did the best he could.

There’s a scene in Wilson where he tries, unsuccessfully, to get some nugget of wisdom from his dad on his deathbed.

That was certainly based on when my dad was in the hospital, on his last legs. I sort of thought my whole life that when it got down to the final clock ticking down that he would say all the stuff I kinda hoped for him to say at some point…. That’s not what was on his mind at all. He’s thinking about much, much more cosmic things, sort of really contemplating the void there. It was like in the comic, pretty much.

But I assume you’re not like Wilson in too many other ways?

No. In some ways I think he’s like my avatar, he’s like the uncensored version, the unfiltered version of my worst moments.

Do you talk to yourself the way Wilson does?

I do talk to my dog occasionally. “Isn’t it a great day today?”

Is that what you ask her? Questions that a dog might understand?

Yeah. “What am I gonna do, Ella? What am I gonna do?” “Help me Ella.” I want my dog to tell me, “Here’s what you have to do…”

Do you ever get bored with making comics, or is it more fun now than when you were younger?

I have to say, it gets much, much more fun. When I was younger, it was such a struggle to get what I was trying to achieve, I would work and work and work to just get one page right, but then you’ve got to do the next page. I had to do that with Velvet Glove, I had to keep that style going for 150 pages, and that got really tiresome. And I was constantly just going, “That looks horrible!” and feeling terrible about it. In the last 10 years, I like the way the drawing looks, and it feels sort of effortless.

 
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  The Star interviews DANIEL CLOWES

Updated August 31, 2010


Don’t confuse Daniel Clowes with an opinionated, middle-aged loner

Ghost World author is back with Wilson, his first full-length comic in five years. But he’s not the protagonist

by Chantal Braganza

When comics hero Daniel Clowes visits the Toronto Comic Arts Festival Friday to talk about Wilson, his first full-length comic in five years, he’ll likely be asked about what’s often assumed of his stories: that his main character comes from himself.

The hero in Wilson is described as an “opinionated middle-aged loner who loves his dog and quite possibly no one else.” Wilson cusses, chides and desperately tries to reach out to anyone who’ll listen to him. Prostitutes, pranks and even some jail time can be expected in Clowes’ deeply affecting tale of a lovable jerk who tries to patch up the family he pushed away.

While the Ghost World author concedes Wilson is “certainly written from within, he’s not at all like me in most ways.” Here, he sets straight rumours about his projects and why he may never return to the serial comic form again.

Wilson’s your first comic that’s not been serialized elsewhere. What was it like putting out a story with characters your readers have never met before?

I had really done that in the past with comics, but they were just done in comic form . . . so I was kind of ready for that feeling of not being able to go back and change the course of the story.

But the idea of actually committing to doing an entire book, and the thought of how long I knew that would take me, that was a hurtle to get over. But once I got going it went much more quickly and pleasantly than I’d feared. I see no reason at this point anymore to do things in the serial format. It just doesn’t make sense anymore, the way the world works these days.

So you see yourself leaning more to books in the future?

I think I’m gonna attach myself to the sinking ship that is book publishing.

Some people have a special relationship with books . . . in a way that makes the story that much more dear to them.

I think with this book I certainly wanted to push it to the nth degree of a book. I really wanted it to have the presence of a book. I wanted it to have the thickest paper, and I asked the publisher for the thickest boards available . . . I wanted a book that can take a bullet. Try letting a Kindle protect your heart from sniper fire!

About Wilson, as a character, it would be kind of hard for readers not to make a connection between you and Wilson himself.

(He takes deep breath) Apparently not. . . (he laughs).

He’s certainly written from within, but he’s not at all like me in most ways. I’m not the kind of person who can come up to a person and sit at a table and start talking. Wilson is completely uncensored. He has no self-regulating mechanism. He is like a walking id who does not filter himself to make himself more palatable.

I’m very much the opposite. I’m overly polite and quiet and shy, and sort of more the victim of the Wilsons of the world, often.

On the other hand, I kind of admire that. I wish I had a little bit of the Wilson in me. I like that he doesn’t change anything to make himself more lovable. He wants to be loved, but he’s not going to do it on anything but its own merits.

The funny thing is I’ve found that the people who seem to respond really negatively to Wilson are the ones who are the closest to him.

That almost sounds like the same case with reader reactions to Enid [in Ghost World].

Everybody thinks they’re Enid; that’s the funny part. I would meet girls, teams of girls who would say, ‘Oh, Ghost World is our life,’ and one of the girls would be sort of brash and talkative and wearing glasses and the other would be tall and blonde and you’d say, well, ‘Which one is Enid?’ sort of jokingly. And they both would say ‘I am!’

Nobody wanted to be Rebecca, which I found interesting. Because she seems more like the one most people would want to be . . . sort of the pretty girl . . . you just don’t think the way we’re told girls are in this culture that they would want to be sort of the loud one.

What can you tell me about the rumoured screenplay projects you’re working on with Michel Gondry?

There were two, one called The Master of Space and Time that Michel and I tried to get made three years ago, maybe, and it was basically a $150 million crazy art film that would make maybe $5 million. So it was a little tough to sell.

The next project we started working on and were discussing at the same time was a film called Megalomania, an animated kind of dystopian comedy that Michel and his son, Paul, conceived the basic idea for. They sort of just gave it to me and had me write a script for it. I just finished that at the beginning of the year and Michel is looking to make that film next. Paul will be doing the designs for the animation; I won’t be doing any drawing for it. But his son is really about the coolest artist in the world, so it’s really going to be very cool.

Do you see screenplays as taking a larger role in your work in the future?

At a certain point I found that working on comics constantly was just too much. You have to work in isolation and I’ve gotten to the point where I have to work in absolute silence, and so you feel like you’re living this monastic existence somewhere in a castle in the Alps or something. It’s very helpful to do something else every once in a while.

If you could adapt any movie into a comic book, what would it be?

I would probably pick a Hitchcock thing. I’m sort of obsessive about Vertigo. Just living in the Bay area (of California), Vertigo is sort of a religious thing for me. Whenever I get in a bad mood, I go to San Francisco, to the little apartment where Jimmy Stewart lived. I really loved that character, and that movie is just so deeply important to me.

But I don’t know that it’s a great idea to adapt movies. I think you need something that’s a little less figured out narratively.

On TCAF: is this the first time you’ve been?

It’s the first time. I don’t think I’ve been to Toronto in about 10 years!
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The San Francisco Bay Guardian interviews DANIEL CLOWES

Updated August 31, 2010


Before I die, if printing still exists: An interview with Daniel Clowes

by Sam Stander

Daniel Clowes has made the leap over the past decade from underground comics hero to a more mainstream identity, with an Oscar nomination for screenwriting, several New Yorker covers, and a comic serialized in the New York Times Magazine under his belt. Despite his raised profile, his newest work, Wilson (Drawn and Quarterly, 80 pages, $15.37), comes closer to home than ever before. The cynical comic strip-based book is largely set in Oakland, of which he is a proud denizen. Clowes recently appeared at Diesel in Oakland, in conversation with McSweeney’s editor Eli Horowitz and the audience. On the setting of the comic, he proclaimed, “I’m pro-Oakland, I’m not sure Wilson is.” He also discussed his forays into film, his debt to Charles M. Schulz and R. Crumb, and the slight controversy over his recent New Yorker cover, among other things.

A lengthy signing followed, where fans presented everything from freshly purchased copies of Wilson to old favorites like David Boring to collector’s items like Lout Rampage for signing. Once the line had dwindled, Clowes sat down for a one-on-one interview.

San Francisco Bay Guardian: One of the things I wanted to ask you, if the Oakland observations haven’t been beaten into the ground, was that you also used to live in Berkeley, right? When you were writing Ghost World?
Daniel Clowes: Yeah, I was living up by College and Ashby.

SFBG: Why are you explicitly writing about Oakland now, and why did you choose to live in Oakland? What do you see as the differences between the different areas?
DC: It’s funny, I sort of wound up in Oakland by default. We were living in Berkeley, because my wife was going to Berkeley, and our landlord doubled our rent one month, which I actually didn’t think was legal. And so we said, well, maybe we should try to buy a house. This was years ago. We looked all around Berkeley and it was really expensive, and we found this neighborhood in Oakland that we didn’t even know about, over where we live now, and wound up buying a house there.
You know, I never really thought about Oakland. Even living there for two or three years, I thought, well, we’re near San Francisco and Berkeley. Then I started to walk around and embrace the idea of Oakland. I kind of learned to like Oakland above all its other surrounding cities. I’ve gotten to the point where I almost never go to San Francisco. It’s like, I go to LA more than I go to San Francisco. I just don’t relate to San Francisco at all, and somehow Oakland feels — I grew up in Chicago, and Oakland has this kind of second-tier quality that I find appealing.

SFBG: Second-tier?
DC: It’s not San Francisco. It’s [its] ugly sister across the Bay, and I prefer that somehow. I was in New York recently, and I was on a block in the Upper East 70s, I think, and I was looking around and I realized every building on the block was a beautiful art deco building built in the ’20s. And I thought, well, Oakland has one building like that. It has the Bellevue-Staten down by Lake Merritt. That’s it. But I’d prefer that, because, to see 20 of them, it has no impact anymore. It’s just, wow, a lot of buildings, and your brain can’t grasp that. But somehow I’m obsessed with this one building in Oakland and I know all about it. I can fixate on that one thing, so I like a city that has one of everything rather than hundreds of the same thing.

SFBG: One of the strips in Wilson is him talking about all the bookstores closing down. I was wondering if that was you speaking through him at all, and if so, what bookstore are you saddest to see close down?
DC: Well, that was really all about Cody’s. My wife worked at Cody’s, and when I moved here, I sort of agreed to move to Berkeley with my wife because of Cody’s. I thought that [was] something I needed, this world-class bookstore. It was sort of the focal point of my life for many years. I would go there two, three times a week and see what was new, and it just felt like the focus of my world in a way. And when it closed down, it was really hard for me to accept. It was like, you know, you always hear stories of guys who talk about their baseball team leaving town. The guys from Brooklyn are like, “The Dodgers left town in 1958,” or whenever it was. It felt like that to me...Still, when I go to downtown Berkeley and see that empty building, it seems so awful. It seems just like an awful thing that the world couldn’t support that.

SFBG: At least it didn’t become a CVS.
DC: Exactly.

SFBG: [There] was a brief interlude where it was going to be a CVS.
DC: Yeah, that’s true. There is that. At least the tomb of Cody’s is still there. And you think, “Well, somebody could just reopen it. Why not? Nobody’s paying rent.”

SFBG: Looming over Moe’s.
DC: Yeah, I should count my blessings. At least Moe’s is still around, and this place. Better than most cities.

SFBG: You were talking about Wilson sort of materializing as a character, [that] you didn’t know who he was at first, but that it was you interacting with him. I was wondering if you’ve ever had experiences with a character who you didn’t have such a productive relationship with, or if you’ve ever had characters who worked against you?
DC: Oh, that’s a good question. It’s more that they just run out of — it’s usually a character that I’ve kind of predetermined. Like, I need a character who’s a certain type of person to fit into a story, like, “I need a comic relief character.” Something where you have a role for them, and then they’re never that interesting. I find the best way to do it is to just let the characters come naturally. If they’re forced at all, they tend to [be] artificial. They have to seem like real people. There are characters that I’ve written the hell out of for page after page and they never quite are real people to me. Those are the things that never work, and that I usually have the good sense to throw away before they see print. [Laughs]

SFBG: You've always had a really strong interest in perversity and human weirdness, and that’s not so central in Wilson. Was that a conscious move away or a permanent move away, or just a change in interests?
DC: I think that’s true, you know. I always had a real interest in outsider culture. When I first began doing comics, that kind of thing was so inaccessible. I had a little group of friends who would send me all these weird things. You’d find out about little groups of people who were all linked together by some really odd interest, but they were so segregated. They’d maybe have some little newsletter that they all communicated through, but it felt like the world was filled with these little secret societies. And ever since the Internet has taken hold, it doesn’t feel like that anymore. It feels like the minute anybody hears about any weird little perversion or interest or anything like that, that everybody finds out about it and they know all about it, so it’s sort of lost its interest.
Also, having a child, you sort of reassess what you’re interested in, and you think, would this make me proud for my son to find my collection of books of pictures of freaks, or whatever? You just think, “Ehhh, I’m not sure I want to stand behind that.” Certain [times], you [decide] “I really do think this is cool and I will defend this,” but you weed out a lot of things that were just there because they would get a good reaction out of people.

SFBG: Possibly spinning off from that question, but on another angle: You said [during the Q&A] that, specifically, no filmmaker has a strong specific influence on you, but certain films or certain scenes do. Are there any films or scenes you have in mind for Wilson or any of your other works?
DC: I feel like Wilson is very non-filmic as far as most of my books go. It’s not about the images at all. A lot of my comics come from ideas that are images, that then turn into stories. Like David Boring and the Velvet Glove thing, and even a little bit of Ghost World. But Wilson was really all about this guy. If it were a movie, it would be more like a Mike Leigh movie or something than a Stanley Kubrick movie. [Laughs]

SFBG: And you were saying that to make it into a film would be a strange format for a film.
DC: It would be a strange format. I mean, you could certainly rethink it as a story about a guy, and sort of have the same elements, but to replicate the feel of the book would be a very odd thing. That’s the beauty of comics, is you can do all those different styles and they actually resonate off of each other, and even a really amateurish reader, a non-reader of comics, can tell the difference between the styles, whereas in a movie it’d be very hard to do different styles. Only film experts would get that you’re doing, you know, Michael Bay and then Alfred Hitchcock, or whatever.

SFBG: Have you seen Natural Born Killers?
DC: Yeah, that’s a perfect example.

SFBG: Where it’s kind of off-putting at the end of the movie.
DC: Right, it’s just a little irritating. Although I think that was the idea, I suppose. I haven’t seen that movie in a long time, I bet it’s really irritating now.

SFBG: I’ve never seen all of it, actually. I’ve had friends show me parts.
DC: I barely could tolerate it in theaters.

SFBG: Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis are --
DC: Yeah, she’s great. I like him, too.

SFBG: In the right role.
DC: Yeah, yeah.

SFBG: Somebody was asking you about drawing eyes and mouths and conceiving of how people look in each panel, and you were saying that you do [stick-figure] sketches beforehand. How much do you script or plan out or storyboard versus just drawing a comic?
DC: It depends on, not even the story, but just on my mood before I start. I usually try to do each story somewhat consistently, but I’m always trying to come up with a new way to do things. Not to be different or to give myself a challenge, but [because] I’m looking for a better way to work. And I always have this carrot dangling in front of me that there’s some other way, that if I could only find that way, it’ll make everything easy. And then it never does, and it always comes out exactly the same, no matter if I script the thing carefully or if I make it up off the top of my head. I could show those comics to a hundred people, and they would have no idea what was the planned-out one and what was the one I just made up. It all turns out the same. And I think that’s true of most artists. You can’t really tell what they’re going through, it’s just their work is always them, you know.

SFBG: Do you always get a stack of other people’s works [at signings]?
DC: [Holding a thick stack of various printed matter presented by fans] This was a good stack, I’d have to say. Often it’s much more, like, Xeroxed stuff. This actually looks like some pretty decent stuff that people have actually printed up. But yeah, usually you get a big pile of stuff, although not as much anymore, because a lot of people don’t print anything. So now I get business cards, like, “Check out my webcomic.” I have to go type it in at home.

SFBG: You have the thing in the little author’s bio in Wilson about [how] you have danielclowes.com reserved.
DC: That’s right.

SFBG: Do you have any ideas for using that, or anything you want to use it for?
DC: Well, my publisher actually said, “Now you have to put something on there, since you said that in the book.” So they just put an ad for Wilson that links right back to their website. I don’t want to get into doing, like, a blog or responding to people, ’cause my life is already so taken up by just responding to e-mails from my friends that I can’t imagine introducing a whole ’nother element of that. But it would be good to make announcements, and just to clarify things. I feel like the average reader doesn’t understand that I used to do a comic called Eightball and the stories were serialized — I figure if there’s some way [to] really concisely explain my career, then I won’t have to explain it to everybody over and over.
 
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  DANIEL CLOWES interviewed in Mother Jones

Updated August 31, 2010


Clowes Encounter: An Interview With Daniel Clowes

The cartoonist talks about his new book, heart surgery on a shoestring budget, and how he broke The New Yorker's ban on phallic humor.

by Dave Gilson

It's not easy to stick a label on Daniel Clowes. In his 30-year-plus career, he's gone from submitting cartoons to Cracked to drawing New Yorker covers. He's illustrated a Ramones video and been nominated for an Academy Award for screenwriting. His comics have switched agilely between styles and genres, from the retro kitsch of Lloyd Llewellyn to the grotesque noir of Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron, from Pussey!'s knowing send-up of comic nerddom to Ghost World's affecting portrait of teenage melancholy. Newsweek has hailed him as America's "premier underground cartoonist," yet that tag barely begins to capture the breadth or depth of his work.

Defying categorization suits Clowes (rhymes with "browse") just fine. "My generation of cartoonists, we're not exactly underground. I don't know what we are. We never had a name exactly," he explains as he tucks into a midday breakfast at a Berkeley eatery. "That was the best thing that ever happened to us." In person, the well-adjusted 49-year-old is a comforting contrast to his self-deprecating self-portraits (Ghost World's 18-year-old female protagonist flees Clowes when he turns out to be a goofy-looking "perv")—not to mention the assorted oddballs who populate his strips. Clowes describes his newest misfit, Wilson—a middle-aged man whose desire for connection is expressed by his need to sabotage every social interaction—as his "über-nemesis."

Surprisingly, Wilson is Clowes' first original graphic novel (another label he dislikes). That wasn't so much a creative decision as a reflection of the changing state of the comics business, he explains. Most of his previous books were collections of strips he's published in his comic book Eightball, which he launched in 1989. The last issue of Eightball came out in 2004. "Nobody wants to sell a comic book that's five dollars. At a certain point I had to face the reality of the marketplace that nobody wants that product," he says.

Below, Clowes talks more about his new book, his recent heart surgery, and how he broke one of The New Yorker's biggest taboos.

Mother Jones: You've said that you don't really care for the term "graphic novel."

Daniel Clowes: I thought it would never catch on. It's a terrible term. They're not novels; most of them are memoirs, in fact. "Graphic" implies an illustrated novel; that's not what it is. I just thought people would say, "It's a comic book, why are you trying to trick us?" But it worked: "Graphic novel" now means something very specific. People hear those two words and take them to mean a type of book that is generally correct. I give up—it works. The branding guys won.

MJ: That reminds me of the character in Ice Haven who describes "graphic novel" as a "vulgar marketing sobriquet."

DC: I had fun with that. I also called it a "narraglyphic picto-assemblage." When I went on my little book tour for that book, two or three people introducing me would say, "Among his many narraglyphic picto-assemblages are Ghost World…"—they just absolutely took it seriously. It's hopeless.

MJ: It seems like that's an extension of the "comics aren't just for kids" theme that's always mentioned in reviews—you can also take comics way too seriously.

DC: It gets absurd. It's interesting that this topic is always of great interest—what are these called? My generation of cartoonists, we're not exactly underground. I don't know what we are. We never had a name, exactly. People would say "alternative," but that wasn't quite right. Or they'd say "post-underground." There were all these terms that never stuck. I always thought that was the best thing that ever happened to us. We didn't get pigeonholed as the '90s cartoonists. We didn't have a name, so we got to drift a long through the decades without being pinned into this clique.

MJ: I just read Wilson. I'm glad that you took on people who talk at you without your permission.

DC: You live in Berkeley, so you know it well. When my wife read the first half of the book she said, "This guy is like your über-nemesis—he's all the things that assault you on a daily basis." I think that's sort of true, but I also sort of admire a guy who can sit down at a table and just talk to somebody, even though he fails miserably at making a connection.

MJ: Here's this guy who thinks he's being honest and open yet he's totally self-absorbed and always ends up in a communication breakdown. It made me think about Curb Your Enthusiasm, which always makes me wonder what it would be like to say whatever's on your mind. After reading Wilson, I realized this is what it would really be like—you'd be an outcast!

DC: Well, Larry David has this superpower that he's a billionaire. So he can do whatever he wants. Wilson has no visible means of support.

MJ: Wilson is set in Oakland, which is the first time I've recognized a specific city in one of your comics.

DC: The strip I did for the New York Times Magazine, "Mister Wonderful," that's set on and around Piedmont Avenue. This one's set more on Grand Avenue. My house is sort of in between those two, so they're the polarities of my little world.

MJ: A lot of your older stuff is set in a generic, anonymous urban setting.

DC: It's a combination of Berkeley, Chicago, and Brooklyn—the three places where I've spent the most time. Which somehow flattens out to seem like suburbia, which is weird. But if you draw a place like Brooklyn accurately, it really does look like suburbia.

MJ: So you were buddies with Chris Ware in Chicago?

DC: Just by some miracle, without knowing where I lived, he moved a tennis ball's throw away from me. He was living four buildings away. I could almost see his window; it was so odd. So we became really good friends.

MJ: And when you came out to Berkeley you met Adrian Tomine?

DC: It turned out he was in one of my wife's classes. I had gotten his comics and thought, "This guy isn't a college student, he's way too good. He's gotta be like 33 or something like that." Of course, he was 19 at the time. And it turned out he lived five doors away from me in Brooklyn. Those two guys were like the best two cartoonists to come along in the last 20 years, and to have them both miraculously wind up on the same block was very strange.

MJ: Now the three of you and a bunch of other cartoonists are drawing covers for The New Yorker. How did that come about?

DC: The cover editor is Françoise Mouly, who is Art Spiegelman's wife, who is truly a devoted patron of our little clique of cartoonists. So far, no one's complained—I keep waiting for someone to say, "Get rid of those guys! Enough with the comics!" There's a certain formula where a New Yorker cover is not exactly a joke. I kept submitting ideas that were like ha-ha funny jokes, and that's not what it is. It's its own type of image that creates a certain response that is not a laugh but is amusement of some kind. Once you get it, everything becomes a New Yorker cover. But it was many years before I got what that actually was.

MJ: Recently, you, Ware, Tomine, and Ivan Brunetti created four covers that formed a hidden image when you put them together.

DC: That was such a pain in the ass! Now that it's all done, I'm glad we did it. The only editorial comment I've ever gotten was on that cover where I used the word "priapic." David Remnick said, "There's no penis jokes on our covers. That will never happen." I folded immediately, but Francoise was like, "No, that's the perfect word; it's essential." We fought for it and Remnick was like, "Okay, I give up." So I got the first penis joke on The New Yorker. It opens the floodgates…
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The Portland Mercury encourages readers to pick up a copy of WILSON

Updated August 31, 2010


Cavalcade of Cynicism
Daniel Clowes Introduces the Misanthropic Wilson

by Noah Dunham

DANIEL CLOWES KNOWS A THING OR TWO about cynicism. His work—David Boring, Ice Haven, Ghost World (all of which first appeared in Clowes' influential series Eightball)—has dealt, in one way or another, with themes of misanthropy, isolation, and discontentment in both hilarious and ponderous ways. Clowes is a master at filling panels with the comedy of tragedy (and vice versa), doing so with provocative writing and controlled artwork.

Wilson, Clowes' latest and his first all-new graphic novel (books such as Ghost World were compiled after their appearance in Eightball), not only adds to his stylistic canon but takes it to new heights. The title character, Wilson, is a premier narcissist: middle-aged, bitter, opinionated, and oblivious. He thinks of himself as a well-educated "everyman"—and probably the most frightening thing about Clowes' portrait of this bellowing egoist is that at some points, at his most unlikeable, we see ourselves in Wilson.

The book is built as 70 one-page comic strips that present themselves as one-off scenes with punchline endings. What soon unravels, though, is the tale of a man truly lost in his own proclamations. The artwork, which shifts from realistic to cartoonish, emphasizes the dual nature of joke and tragedy that exists in Wilson's world. By the time one turns the last page, it's with the feeling of having read something carefully constructed and playfully executed. Do yourself a favor and pick this one up.
 
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  Michael Dirda takes a detailed look at WILSON in The Washington Post

Updated August 31, 2010


Daniel Clowes's new graphic novel "Wilson"

by Michael Dirda

It's not as though I haven't noticed the rise of the graphic novel. Over the years, I've dropped into any number of bookstores and inevitably found -- and envied -- the three or four young people always sprawled on the floor next to the shelves labeled "Comics, Manga and Graphic Novels." No other readers look quite so utterly absorbed in their books.

Back in the 1980s, I even oversaw a special Book World "Close-Up" devoted to comics: We ran pieces about Alan Moore's "Watchmen," Harvey Pekar's "American Splendor," the Hernandez Brothers' "Love and Rockets," Art Spiegelman's "Maus" and the work of Frank Miller. I remember being especially fond of Miller's samurai adventure "Ronin." There might have been something about Howard Chaykin's "American Flagg!" too. Comics, it was clear even then, had darkened since the glory days of Carl Barks's "Uncle Scrooge," and superheroes were no longer as uncomplicated as they were in the heyday of Superman.

In fact, many of the best comics were already addressing themes far more grim and gruesome than anything in EC's old "Tales From the Crypt." Dysfunctional families, genocide, sexual violence, plain old existential despair -- there wasn't much that was comical in their generally noir outlook on life. They made "The Postman Always Rings Twice" look like a happy love story, a fairy-tale romance.

Since then, graphic novels and comics have grown even more aesthetically complex and disturbing. Think of Marjane Satrapi's "Persepolis" and Alan Moore's and Melinda Gebbie's "Lost Girls" -- or consider "Wilson," the latest from Daniel Clowes, author of "Ghost World" and "David Boring," recipient of all the major awards in the field, and a frequent contributor to the New Yorker.

In this album the hero is a fat, bearded and profane Everyman of some indeterminate middle age. Even more than most of us, Wilson has made a mess of his life. When the book opens, he's unemployed and cares only for his dog. Things go downhill from there: His father dies, he hooks up with his ex-wife (whom he suspects has been a druggie and prostitute), discovers that he has a now-grown (and very alienated) daughter, goes to prison and, after his release, learns that he has become a grandfather. The book ends with Wilson in a bare apartment, staring out the window, as raindrops skate down the panes of glass. "Of course," he murmurs to himself, "that's it! Of course!"

Ever since Scott McCloud's foundational "Understanding Comics," people have come to realize that there's a lot more going on than meets the eye in what Will Eisner calls "sequential art." In "Wilson," the first thing you notice is that the "novel" is divided up into page-long "chapters." Each bears a title, such as "Oakland" or "Taxi Cab" or "Shopping Mall," and most take only six or seven panels to relate an incident from the protagonist's life. Most of them end with an unexpected kicker or reverse, often a kind of joke or comment on the human condition.

In "Pure Bliss," Wilson sits peacefully with his ex-wife, Pippi, and newly discovered daughter on a pier, overlooking a lake. He speaks of "the connection between us. We don't even have to say a word -- it's purely chemical." He keeps on in this vein: "Don't you feel it, Pippi? Don't you feel like we're doing the right thing for once in our stupid lives?" Finally, his ex-wife answers, "I don't know." And an incredulous Wilson responds, in shock, "You don't know?? My God, Pippi!" There's a final panel break, and then we're looking at the little group from the back, as Pippi adds, "I guess maybe this whole kidnapping thing makes me a little uncomfortable, Wilson!"

Because each chapter can stand alone, it takes a while before the reader recognizes that they are moving forward in chronological order, gradually telling a unified story. In "Post Office," for instance, Wilson plans to send a box of dog feces to someone. Only much, much later do we discover -- during a family dinner party -- the identity of the recipient.

Throughout, Wilson periodically accosts various strangers, and these encounters often resemble concise, absurdist dramas. While waiting for a plane, he asks a well-dressed businessman about his job. The man, ill at ease, answers: "I'm in senior management at a small equity firm, and I do some consulting for various -- ." Wilson interrupts, saying he doesn't want "all the mumbo-jumbo. I want to know what you actually do. Like the actual physical tasks of your daily life." The man splutters that a lot of it focuses "on how to best implement managerial strategies in -- ." Wilson suddenly erupts:

"Listen to me, brother -- you're going to be lying on your deathbed in 30 years and thinking 'Where did it all go? What did I do with all those precious days?' Some [expletive]-work for the oligarchs? Is that it?"

The man answers: "Look, I'm proud of what I do, and I work very hard to -- ." At which point, Wilson buries his head in his hands: "Oh God, it's so terrible the way people live!"

While Clowes's art is essentially realistic, he seems to have deliberately emphasized the round-faced dumpiness of Wilson, Pippi and their daughter, Claire. No one in the book is at all physically attractive. At the same time, he varies his drawing styles: In some, Wilson is distinctly gnomish or cartoony; in others, he's thinner and more normal-looking -- even as some chapters are in color, some in black and white, and several in a washed-out monochromatic blue or pink.

Who is the audience for "Wilson"? Certainly not those young people I see sprawled on the floor with Japanese manga. This is a book about life's passages and disappointments, and will be most appreciated by those who know something of quiet desperation. It's not a pretty book, and even its language is so vulgar that it's difficult to quote from. But this descent into a man's soul is certainly a long way from what my mother used to call "your funny books."
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SF Weekly reviews WILSON

Updated August 31, 2010


"Wilson": Daniel Clowes' new comic misanthropy

by Jonathan Kiefer

What is happening to Wilson? He keeps changing. He's like the astronaut at the end of 2001: now steady, now quivering, his age and carriage apparently in flux; we can sense some heavy mystical transformation going on, but we can tell by his astonished eyes that underneath it all, he's still him. Well, change might do Wilson some good. In his steady state, he's kind of a dick. "I love people!" may be the first words out of his mouth, but six panels later, and possibly forever thereafter, it's as though he's had it with all of us. That's the joke.

We see the rebarbative fortysomething solipsist alone on a walk, puzzling over how he came to live in Oakland. As a kid, he hated Oakland. Now he's coming around. "It's kind of a beautiful place, I have to admit," he says. "Decent folks ... a good, honest American city, y'know?" Then something catches his eye. "Jesus Christ, that bum is taking a shit right on the goddamn sidewalk!"

Clearly Oakland author and illustrator Daniel Clowes is putting his protagonist, and his readers, through some kind of paces. Wilson the book, like Wilson the man, runs a gamut of cartoon styles in a relentless, cumulative series of single-page setup-punchline gags. That, too, is the joke. It's so Clowes can show us just how far we've come, for better and worse, from the fading old comforts of the Sunday funnies.

"When you imagine the future," Wilson laments, "you always think there's going to be more stuff, but really there's just different stuff, and it's never the stuff you were hoping for."

He registers his disappointment by flinging insults at nearly everyone he meets: the dog-walking neighbor, the cafe guy, the equity manager in the airport, the I.T. dweeb on the plane, the worrying woman in the SuperShuttle, or his own dying father. And others still. No one is safe from Wilson's derision. Maybe his dog is safe, but she'll be out of his life soon enough.

The beauty of it, and the horror, is how easily we can see where Wilson is coming from. He resents his isolation just enough to perpetuate it. In another scene, seated at a small table against a voidlike white background, tapping away at his laptop, he asks, "If I'm connected to so many people, why do I feel so profoundly alone every time I turn this thing on?"

After his dad dies, Wilson goes looking for his long-lost ex-wife, wondering whether she ever had that baby. The ensuing family reunion does not warm the heart. But Clowes does achieve a sort of golden ratio of internal proportions. Each panel is to each episode as each episode is to the whole: autonomous but also foundational, emotive but economical.

Some readers will wonder whether the world really needs another maladjusted, illustrated misanthrope. (See also the work of Adrian Tomine, Ivan Brunetti, Robert Crumb — and Daniel Clowes. Obviously the Oscar-nominated creator of Ghost World, among several other rightly beloved comics, has a way with misanthropy.) But it's telling that Wilson's failed social assimilation is of a sort that has been going on in this medium since the beginning. If superhero comics traded in alter egos, and Crumb comics in altered states of id, Clowes has necessarily and productively split those legacies' differences.

Wilson's anxious, introspective solitude also could be said to be in the mode of Charles M. Schulz, but with the difference of explicit vulgarity and discernible aging — the latter, of course, being its own explicit vulgarity. "Christ," Wilson says near the end, "it's unbelievable how you go from feeling young to old in a few short years." We know how it goes, the more things change.
 
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  The Globe and Mail reviews WILSON

Updated August 31, 2010


Portrait of a misanthrope

by Brad Mackay

Daniel Clowes’s Wilson is a loser, a bully and a world-class blabbermouth. He's also unforgettable.

All you need to know about the personality of Dan Clowes's latest protagonist can be found on the first page of the cartoonist's new graphic novel, Wilson. The title character, the latest in a string of disaffected male leads to originate from Clowes's pen, introduces himself thus: “I'm a people person!”; five panels later, he rebuke a woman he's struck up a conversation with on the street with this gem: “For the love of Christ, don't you ever shut up?”

And so it goes, for 70 more glorious and grim pages, as Clowes unspools the story of Wilson, an unemployed 43-year-old divorced loner searching for a shred of meaning (for “a profound personal breakthrough” as Wilson puts it) in his sad, misanthropic life.

Wilson is a loser and a bully, a self-styled intellectual who lacks any real empathy for the human race he claims (relentlessly) to love. Also a world-class blabbermouth, he is oblivious to the ways his careless and clumsy words hurt those around him.

In lesser hands, a book devoted to such an unrepentant, charmless crank would require a prescription for Zoloft in order to endure. But, as he has proved many times, Clowes shines in depicting self-loathing, cynical characters who eventually succumb to their human frailties, such as Enid Coleslaw, the lead in his breakthrough work, Ghost World.

That book (which he helped to adapt into an Academy Award-nominated film) made its debut in 1997 and secured his name as a first-rate cartoonist on the alternative comics scene. Since then, Clowes has released several acclaimed graphic novels, including David Boring, Caricature and Ice Haven, all originally serialized in his long-running comic, Eightball.

With Wilson, his first book in five years, Clowes tries a different tack by delivering his first all-original graphic novel. Fans of Canadian comics should note that it marks the first graphic novel by Clowes published by Drawn & Quarterly. (When it was revealed last summer that Clowes had chosen the small Montreal publisher over Pantheon, his long-time New York house, the chatter in the alt-comics publishing community was deafening.) It's no surprise that Drawn and Quarterly jumped at the opportunity; Wilson is a stellar addition to an impressive oeuvre that finds Clowes fully at ease as he navigates the twists and turns in his compelling, clever tale.

Though a crackerjack writer, Clowes has never been a flashy cartoonist, preferring to focus on storytelling over the innovative tinkering of cartoonists such as Chris Ware and David Mazzucchelli. But here Clowes gets as “experimental” as we've ever seen him, using gag comics – the one-pagers traditionally used as filler in kids' comics – as a structural motif.

Wilson is designed as a collection of 71 standalone strips that shift styles (from carefully rendered realism to “big-nose” cartoony mode and Harvey Comics house-style) yet retain their focus squarely on the egotistical main man. (The concept is carried over into the cover design and end pages, which look a lot like a 1950s collection of gag cartoons.) The choice is clever and restrained, and succeeds on numerous levels.

One-page gag comics are, with rare exceptions, predictable, unfunny and forgettable. Clowes repurposes the lowly format, playing on the set-up/punch-line formula to deliver his brand of dark humour and heartbreaking humanism.

For example, in the early pages, Wilson gets all the good “punch lines,” profanely scolding anyone who dares to challenge him (or, say, fail to compliment his dog). As the story progresses, the punch lines become less predictable and more affecting, such as the moment he comes across the baseball diamond where he used to play with his estranged (and late) father and suddenly collapses, sobbing, “Oh Daddy, Daddy, Daddy.”

Like legendary Mad magazine cartoonist Will Elder (one of Clowes's heroes), Clowes devotes himself completely to his concept, seeing it through to the end of Wilson's sad story. The cumulative result is a profound, searing study of unconnected single male yearning for a human connection, but completely devoid of the skills needed to make it happen. Despite what he may think, Wilson is Wilson's own worst enemy.

In the end, you may not love him, but you will most certainly recognize Wilson (and, God help you, perhaps even identify with him).
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Sign On San Diego on cynicism in WILSON

Updated August 31, 2010


Cynicism reigns on these life parades

by Robert L. Pincus

Maybe we’ve become a nation of cynics, after a long history of being pegged as optimists. A new Pew Research Center poll saying that 80 percent of Americans distrust the government suggests as much.

If so, Wilson, the central character in Daniel Clowes’ new graphic novel, “Wilson” (Drawn and Quarterly, 80 pages, $21.95), is a man for our times.

His nondescript name makes him an everyman, at least a white Protestant everyman. (Protestant in name only, though, since he’s too bitter to believe in any sort of religious transcendence.)

Remember the famous line uttered by Linus in “Peanuts,” “I love mankind. It’s people I can’t stand”? Wilson subscribes to that logic.

In the first frames of Clowes’ book, Wilson exclaims, “I love people. I’m a people person.” And he believes it, until he runs into an actual neighbor on his street and asks her how life is treating her, only to get a litany of complaints about her computer and all its problems. He interrupts by exclaiming, “For the love of Christ, don’t you ever shut up?”

He’s just as rude to everyone else he meets. And it’s not surprising to find out that his wife left him 16 years ago.

Wilson doesn’t know himself well, and Clowes, who has proved himself to be one of the most gifted graphic novelists with books such as “Ghost World” and “Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron,” finds concise ways of conveying his character’s lack of self-awareness, in image as well as words. Wilson is rendered with a realistic eye in one sequence and as a goofy caricature in another. It’s jarring at first, but there’s storytelling logic to this shift.

When Wilson decides to insult a driver asking for directions, because he disapproves of his gas-guzzling truck, Clowes draws him as a kind of midget, a visual emblem of a mean little man. But in his better moments, Wilson is true to scale and his face has a genuinely sorrowful expression.

The sad face fits his story, which becomes a quest to find his former wife, who was pregnant when she left him. Finding her and locating his daughter doesn’t yield great happiness for anyone. Wilson is never easy to like. He’ll say something kind at one moment and undercut it the next with a boorish remark.

Now and again, though, a bit of wisdom takes hold of him, as with this reflection about his advancing age: “When you imagine the future, you always think there’s going to be more stuff, but really there’s different stuff, and it’s never the stuff you were hoping for.”

Wilson does find a few small reasons to keep going. And Clowes gives us ample reasons to delve into his newest graphic novel: incisive dialogue, subtle commentary on social ills and a true flair for comic book style storytelling.
 
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  The San Francisco Chronicle reviews DANIEL CLOWES's new "heavyweight" work WILSON

Updated August 31, 2010


Daniel Clowes' 'Wilson' draws from darker side

by Peter Hartlaub

Daniel Clowes' latest book, "Wilson," is heavy reading. As in, it weighs about as much as the Yellow Pages.

"I told the publisher 'I want the thickest cover boards you can buy,' " the Oakland writer remembers. "When he sent me the sample, it was, like, twice as thick as I ever imagined. I said, 'What would this even be for?' I was trying to come up with some sort of promotional quote: 'This book and a Kindle can (both) protect you from a bullet. But with a Kindle, you're out $400.' "

Wilson would probably concur. The jobless malcontent/accidental felon/Oakland resident at the center of Clowes' new book definitely isn't the alter ego of the author. Clowes, 49, has the casual graciousness and mild demeanor of a kindergarten teacher. Wilson is the type of guy whose brutal honesty makes people want to punch him in the face within two minutes of meeting him.

But Wilson definitely provides catharsis, for both the author and the reader. Take, for example, Wilson's annoyance at businessmen who can explain their jobs only by using words like "implementing managerial strategies." Or his open frustration that every new storefront in Oakland seems to be a nail salon.

"Certainly a lot of what he says is me if I had an unfiltered id, if I was able to speak without any self-censorship. Because I tend to be the type who is overly polite and sort of ingratiating to other people," Clowes explains. "As my wife says, I'm Wilson's victim. I look like a good listener, I think, so people are always sitting down at my table, sort of unbidden, and telling me about their years of alcoholism."

Clowes has written about dysfunctional characters for years, in his recently ended comic series "Eightball," which fueled many of his books. He also writes screenplays, and helped turn his books "Art School Confidential" and "Ghost World" into movies - he received a best adapted screenplay Oscar nomination in 2001 for the latter.

"Wilson" is one of his most memorable efforts, starting with the striking visual approach. Each page is a separate episodic "strip," written in contrasting art styles. One might be done in near-photorealism, while the next panel features figures with bubble-like heads reminiscent of Charles Schulz's early Peanuts work. Wilson's nose seems to change the most - a small nub in one panel; the size of an eggplant in the next.

Most personal work

"Wilson" is also arguably Clowes' most personal work. The protagonist's more dysfunctional adventures - an ex-wife-turned-prostitute and a prison term are involved - have nothing to do with the author, who lives with his wife and 5-year-old son. But the launching point for Wilson's journey, the death of his father, was also Clowes' real-life inspiration for the book.

"I had just finished reading the big biography of Charles Schulz that came out a few years ago. And my dad was in the hospital - very much like Wilson's dad," Clowes says. "Schulz was like my dad. Almost the same age, and both these quiet Midwestern squares. Very similar looking - as a kid I always remembered relating my dad to Charles Schulz. It was a kind of religious experience to read this book and connect with Peanuts on another level."

Clowes remembers a line in a recent Charles Schulz biography, attributed to Schulz: that a professional cartoonist can take a piece of paper and in 10 minutes come up with a pretty good joke to run in the next day's newspaper. Clowes had a sketchbook in the hospital, and tried the exercise himself.

After about 100 attempts at strips, the character Wilson emerged. Only four or five strips inspired by those sketches are in the book, including the first one Clowes created - about the businessman in the airport, whose inability to explain his job in anything but jargon sends Wilson into despair. (After a few well-placed insults.)

Clowes knows Wilson well, but doesn't seem to share his negative view of the world. The artist's cozy Oakland home, halfway between Grand Avenue and Piedmont Avenue within walking distance of Lake Merritt, shows the signs that both a kid and a kid-at-heart live there. A ukulele and other creative toys are scattered on the coffee table.

Clowes, like Wilson, has a love-hate relationship with Oakland, and he unleashes minor rants about the number of nail salons and the city's decision to jack up parking rates to ridiculous levels. But he talks for three times as long about the positives of Oakland, which he says has a rugged beauty that reminds him of the lakefront near his Chicago home.

"There's something manageable about Oakland," he says. "You can know about every cool building in Oakland. You go to New York and there are 50 cool buildings on every block. You're just overwhelmed. There are too many people, too many things."

More confident drawing

In books such as "Ghost World," the visuals seemed like a means to tell his story. In "Wilson," Clowes' off-speed-pitching approach to the artwork makes each strip seem a little more vibrant. The artist credits his son, Charles, with helping him to feel comfortable drawing for the first time in more than 20 years. There was a time when Clowes would decide not to attempt something like the interior of an airplane because he didn't think he could pull it off.

"He was always saying things like, 'Draw a train coming at me jumping over a dinosaur!' I would have a few seconds to draw these things I would never in a million years try to draw before that," Clowes says. "I started to get much more comfortable just drawing anything. Of course 'Wilson' is not trains jumping over dinosaurs, but there's something about knowing that whatever comes along, I'm not going to run away from it like I might have."

Clowes says he may not be finished with Wilson, and would use the character again - probably for something short outside the main narrative in "Wilson."

"I think he's perfect if I ever needed to do a five-page story, he'd be the guy who could do it," Clowes says. "All my other characters I feel like they're done, and there's not much more to say. (With Wilson), there's no subject, at least for me, that I can't get an interesting strip out of."
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DANIEL CLOWES interviewed in the May 2010 issue of The Believer

Updated August 31, 2010


DANIEL CLOWES
[CARTOONIST]

by Nicole Rudick

“IT GOT SO THAT I WASN’T EVEN DRAWING, JUST WRITING WORD BALLOONS, AND I FOUND I COULD ENDLESSLY WRITE STRIPS ABOUT THIS GUY, THIS OBNOXIOUS GUY.”

Good situations for serialized comics:
Alienation
Getting hit with a brick
Frustration
Involvement in a weird love triangle

A recent Daniel Clowes cartoon in the New Yorker closed with this punch line: “I mean, think about it—we’re just these weird organisms on a rock in space!” The joke is part paranoia, part truth—the worldview that drives his oddball characters. Clowes is a trenchant observer, and he consistently turns that which is most familiar—the human life-form—into something otherworldly and frequently repellent.

But as his more recent endeavors have shown, the cartoonist has, by his own account, softened a bit toward his characters. In 2007 and 2008, Clowes created Mister Wonderful, a weekly strip that ran in the New York Times Magazine. In deciding the fate of Marshall, its hapless hero, he confesses, “I couldn’t do anything bad to this poor guy.” In the special edition of Ghost World, published by Fantagraphics in 2008 to mark the tenth anniversary of the original hardcover edition, Clowes admits that in re-reading the book, he expected to feel an authorial distance from the heroines’ travails; instead, he experienced an affectionate sympathy. He also observes that Enid and Rebecca’s story has taken on a life of its own, and in so doing has caused the author to “question [his] own existence.”

We first met up for a late breakfast in SoHo in August 2008, to reminisce about Ghost World. Part of the book’s popularity stems from the 2001 film, for which Clowes wrote the screenplay, and our conversation turned to his more recent film and television projects. When we spoke again, by phone, last February, talk of film and TV brought us back around to his exceptional new book, Wilson (published by Drawn & Quarterly), which stages the title character’s daily efforts and irritations as a series of Peanuts-like gag strips. Wilson, who fits seamlessly into the Clowes pantheon of socially challenged characters, seems to have taken his creator’s existential wanderings to heart, and Clowes, for his part, acknowledges feeling equal parts disdain and admiration for this middle-aged loner.

THE BELIEVER: You’ve mentioned in the past that you refuse to relinquish control of the artwork in your books and that you take great pride in having created each line. How difficult was it to take Ghost World, in which you drew every line and wrote every word, and offer it up for a collaborative film project?

DANIEL CLOWES: You have to realize that even the greatest auteur in film can’t have absolute control. It’s a medium that doesn’t allow for that. Immediately, when we started to work on Ghost World, I saw how you lose control right away, even in the very special case that Terry [Zwigoff] and I had, where we had a very sympathetic producer and we were allowed to do pretty much exactly what we wanted. We didn’t have a studio involved at all. But just to tell the set designer what you want, it’s almost impossible to communicate. I’m used to drawing a picture and getting it exactly right. And to try to explain Enid’s room was like banging my head against the wall. Finally I had to do the set dressing myself because they were getting it so wrong. These people are trying so hard, and they’re working sixteen hours a day, and they’re chain-smoking and drinking coffee all day, and they’re like, “We want to make you happy.” And then they get it wrong over and over again and you just want to go, “Oh, that’s fine. That’s fine.” I found myself doing that. You just can’t make a film that’s 100 percent your vision. I have to think of it as something that’s very different than what I get out of creating a comic.
 
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  GQ interviews DANIEL CLOWES on WILSON

Updated August 31, 2010


Daniel Clowes Has a Nemesis?

by Jason Chen

Author of game-changing titles like Eightball, Art School Confidential, and Ghostworld, Daniel Clowes not only brought humanity and sophistication to graphic novels—he gave it literary cred. Clowes' latest, Wilson, follows a middle-aged misanthrope as he navigates life's messy relationships, the work deftly portraying death and parenthood without sentiment or schmaltz. We talked to Clowes about his new novel.

I love that Wilson is kind of a jerk. Is it more fun to write about a misanthrope?

He's certainly not sympathetic, but I hope that there's some humanity that makes it through so the reader can't just dismiss him as a sociopath or a miserable crank. I have to say, I find it insulting when lead characters are made to be likeable. Like if they're saving a cat or something. I tend to like characters who are clearly not intended for you to relate to them. Curb Your Enthusiasm is a good example. At least want to see how it works out even if you're not necessarily on their side.

Wilson sits with strangers at the coffee shops and basically dumps his entire history on them. Is that something you do?

He's sort of like my uber-nemesis. I'm the guy who is always sitting at the coffee shop and some guy sits down at my table even though there are twenty other free tables. I apparently have the look of a good listener. People are always unloading on me their tragic stories, and in a way that's great for being a writer.

Each page in the book consists of a six-panel comic. The pages work as a standalone entity, but also advance the story. How difficult was that to juggle?

It was a challenge certainly, but it enables you to eliminate all the boring parts that normally go in a story. I don't have any pages of Wilson explaining what happened to his ex-wife or anything. It's all done through little jokes and missing pieces where you have to fill in the details. Eventually I got into a rhythm, and it was much more fun than any other book I'd worked on.

More than Ghost World?

Well, yeah, because there was pleasure in starting anew with each strip—I didn't have that in any other work I've done. It was freeing.

Last question. The final page features Wilson staring out at the rain and—out of nowhere—shouting, "Of course that's it! Of course!" Uh, I don't get it! What does it mean?

[laughs] A lot of people are asking me that. That's one of those things that I don't think is a good idea for me to interpret because then it becomes a dead end. I will say I had a very specific idea in mind, but I feel like that's something I should leave for the readers to figure out on their own.

But it is figure-outable.

Yeahhhh. Maybe. I don't want to make it seem like it's a Rebus! But there's a certain meaning.
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Winnipeg Free Press reviews WILSON

Updated August 31, 2010


Unlikable, flawed character emerges as sympathetic

by Kenton Smith

It's a recurring rebuke levelled at writers, playwrights and filmmakers that their characters are just so unlikable that it's impossible to care what happens to them.

The title figure of Daniel Clowes' first all-new graphic novel seems the kind of character such critics are thinking of. Indeed, for the seminal American "alternative" comics artist, whose Ghost World and Eightball also challenge the reader with off-putting protagonists, the misanthropic Wilson may represent a pinnacle.

"I love people! I'm a people person!" Wilson says on Page 1, Panel 1. By the final frame of the full-page sequence, he's asking a fellow dog-walker, "For the love of Christ, don't you ever shut up?"

Wilson's shtick is to disdain just about anybody and everybody, whether on account of their jobs, vehicular preferences, or admiration of the Dark Knight. Little wonder that, even at middle age, his only companion is his dog Pepper.

The advantage (and, one could say, great value) of fiction, however, is that it provides a means to endure abrasive personalities -- and develop empathy for the flawed human beings that generate them.

Wilson isn't likable. God no. But he nonetheless emerges as sympathetic because, God help us all, he's just like the rest of us in the really important ways.

When he sits down, uninvited, with total strangers in coffee shops, or collapses on a childhood baseball diamond whimpering "Oh Daddy Daddy Daddy" -- well, he's merely looking for love, acceptance and some form of human connection.
He's a tragic figure. Deep inside, he's got some inkling of who and what he is. Yet he's so self-focused, he'll never achieve any meaningful communion with others.

How Wilson manages to live comfortably with no visible means of support Clowes never clarifies; he suggests Wilson's father, a tenured professor, provides a subsidy.

When the old man is struck by cancer, Wilson is spurred to reconnect first with him, then his ex-wife, who reveals a long-held secret: Wilson is a father.

This is a man singularly unfit for parenthood. One of the book's biggest laughs inspires a simultaneous cringe, when Wilson informs a successful professional "some of us have to act like grown-ups occasionally."

While Clowes has constructed a clear overall narrative, he structures Wilson like a series of one-page gag strips, with each page-long panel sequence ending in a punchline of sorts.

Simultaneously, however, the structure enables the greater continuity, with each final panel compelling the reader to turn the page.

No, characters don't really have to be likable. You don't even have to completely understand them; we're never given any explanation, after all, as to why Wilson is who he is.

All characters really have to be is human. Look at Wilson, and one can see a prize jerk, loser and anti-social misfit. But if you can't also see something of you and yours there, you're not looking hard enough -- or you're denying what you see.
 
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  The Los Angeles Times profiles DANIEL CLOWES

Updated August 31, 2010


Authors & Ideas: A talk with Daniel Clowes about the likable curmudgeon 'Wilson'

by Scott Timberg

Clowes' latest character is a breath of fresh bitterness in a completely original graphic novel that takes a page from 'Peanuts.'

He's the kind of guy who waxes rhapsodic about his love for the human race but curses people who don't smile at his dog. He's full of odes to the sweep of life and won't stop sharing them with the strangers he accosts in coffee shops. He has no job and no family, and he's both totally oblivious and smart enough to know how insufferable he is.

He's Wilson — the main character in Daniel Clowes' new graphic novel "Wilson" (Drawn and Quarterly: 78 pp., $21.95) and, it's worth remembering, not Clowes himself. But so far he's been good for this cartoonist who broke into the mainstream with "Ghost World" and has defined a whole subgenre of post-Crumb, post-Spiegelman "alternative comics" since. As unlikable as Wilson is, the book helped pack Skylight Books a few weeks ago and has already become Clowes' bestselling work. Which is impressive, because this bearded, self-righteous, middle-aged slob may also be the author's least likable protagonist in a decade or more.

"I didn't intend to go in and try to push the envelope on how unpleasant I could make him," a slim, bald and darkly handsome Clowes, 49, says over coffee at a Los Feliz cafe. "It came from within: I thought I'd make something both personally meaningful and something an audience would find interesting."

In person, Clowes — who has created an oeuvre marked by hard-edged social criticism, over-the-top satire and obnoxious, confrontational characters — is almost disappointingly well-adjusted: He's intellectual without being weirdly intense, skeptical without being bitter, observant without being harshly judgmental.

But in some ways, Wilson shares Clowes' DNA.

"I think we have a similar worldview," the author allows. "And his sense of humor — finding humor in the razor's edge between tragedy and comedy — there's a lot of resonance between me and him."

By the time he was 4 or 5, Clowes was drawing little comics on the cardboard that the dry cleaner wrapped around his father's shirts. He grew up middle-class outside Chicago and attended Pratt Institute, the Brooklyn art school that he later skewered in the strip "Art School Confidential." While writing and drawing pieces for Cracked magazine in the mid-1980s, he began to work on his first continuing character, the lounge-culture-loving detective Lloyd Llewellyn, and by 1989, Fantagraphics was publishing Clowes' occasional comic "Eightball."

Clowes was inspired by Charles Schulz's "Peanuts," as well as the advances made by Crumb and Spiegelman. "I wanted to take the sensibility of the underground," he says, "and apply it to longer narratives."

Clowes' early comics, collected in "20th Century Eightball," show just how grim and socially uncomfortable Clowes could be. "Where do I get off being such a smug, egotistical, critical bastard!?," a Clowes-like artist character muses in "The Party in Color." "They're the ones who are happy and well-adjusted, not me." Two strips later, this character hangs himself.

Clowes' breakthrough came with "Ghost World," the comic about two hyper-critical teenage girls searching for authenticity in a fake-retro cityscape, published in book form in 1997. The 2001 Terry Zwigoff film, starring Thora Birch and an up-and-coming actress named Scarlett Johansson, earned both Clowes and Zwigoff an Academy Award nomination and vastly expanded Clowes' audience. Although the 2006 film of "Art School Confidential" did much less well, it was a time of growth for non-superhero graphic novels in general.

Throughout his work, Clowes shows an interest in seeing through psychology and pop culture, which he attributes both to literary influences such as Nathanael West and J.D. Salinger, as well as to the culture he grew up in. "I sorta feel like when I was a teenager in the '70s, a lot of unmasking was going on." It was true of the punk rock of the time, as well as of the absurdist, idol-smashing comedy of Steve Martin, Andy Kauffman and Monty Python.

"I felt like the cover's been taken off these things and nobody's going to ever fall for it again," Clowes recalls.

Materialism, artifice and personal ostentation were especially well-skewered. But by the 1980s, people were driving showy cars again; rock songs had synthesizers. Comedy became guys in suspenders telling jokes for yuppies. Phoniness was back with a vengeance, and it fueled to Clowes' work.

"When I started doing 'Eightball,' I didn't feel there was anyone saying these things that seemed so obvious," he says. "But once you realize Bob Barker is ridiculous, it gets less funny to point it out for the 3,000th time."

"That's kind of Wilson's problem," Clowes adds. "He's living that way, but no one else is."

"Wilson" is the first book Clowes has assembled from all-new material and not from serialized comics. It's also his book most influenced by "Peanuts," including the way each page comprises its own strip. As with "Peanuts," these discrete chapters have no connective tissue or transitions between them.

Clowes had been reading the reissues of the Schulz cartoons, edited and designed by the cartoonist Seth, while dreaming up "Wilson." "You feel like there's this overall narrative to them," he says. "It's Christmas, then it's New Year's, then it's spring and leaves are on the trees. It feels something like real life. You can fill the in-between in your own mind, that's where you get the action and movement."

Each page also uses a different artistic style — some more realistic, some less — or palette from the one before and after it. Clowes tried to find a single style with which to tell the story, but each one felt like a compromise. "I realized each strip had its own tonal nuance or feel or presence," he says. "I was trying to modulate the tonal shifts…. Joke, joke, joke, and then have the reader blindsided by tragedy."

In fact, "Wilson" starts out like typical early Clowes, with a frustrated and marginal protagonist, but a few pages in, after an excess of empty public philosophizing, Wilson goes looking for meaning in general and his ex-wife in specific, and the book takes a turn beyond where any of the author's work has gone.

It's not the broad outlines but the density — a quality Clowes admired in Mad magazine as a kid — that makes "Wilson" and Clowes' other work so rich and indescribable: the visual details, the asides, the running jokes, the sudden nods to seriousness. Adrian Tomine, the author of the "Optic Nerve" series and a cartoonist indebted to Clowes' style, says he's sometimes puzzled by passages in his friend's work.

"It's the realization that he's working at a level above my head, and that now I'm gonna sit down and think about it," Tomine says. "He's got a level of self-confidence: I need the instant gratification of people getting it. He's content to send these messages out in a bottle."

At this point, Clowes has five ideas for comics and three films from which he'll choose for his next project. One that he's doing for sure is expanding "Mr. Wonderful" — which ran as a serial in the New York Times Magazine — in book form next spring. He's also working on some scripts, but that's as close as he wants to get to the cinematic process. "I have almost no interest in working on a movie," says Clowes, who was involved in both films. "It became less and less fun. At one point, I thought I might want to direct a movie or something. That's really not me."

There's been talk about projects with Jack Black and Michel Gondry, but neither of these has yet borne fruit. Clowes worked hard on a script for a film about some boys making a shot-by-shot remake of "Raiders of the Lost Ark." The story, he says, "had so much resonance with the things I was interested in," and the collapse of the project over permissions, he says, is "a tragedy."

Clowes is equally excited about another idea. The maturing of graphic novels and some fans' sense of history has led several cartoonists to reissue handsome, serious editions of the work of their forebears. Clowes is especially interested in Crockett Johnson, the cartoonist best known for "The Carrot Seed" and "Harold and the Purple Crayon" but whose "Barnaby" strip, which ran from the early 1940s to the early 1960s, remains obscure.

He's hoping to bring out editions similar to what Seth has done for "Peanuts," though the rights have been tied up for years with the estate and its lawyers. Johnson — who possessed a deceptively simple visual style — shows that the comics-aren't-just-for-kids movement did not begin with Spiegelman's "Maus," Clowes says.

" 'Barnaby' was a very smart comic written for the adult intelligentsia of the '40s. If you look at the back of his first collection, you see [comments from] Dorothy Parker, Louis Untermeyer — these big-deal critics of the day. And it's as funny now as it was in the '40s."
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DANIEL CLOWES talks with Jesse Thorn on The Sound of Young America podcast

Updated August 31, 2010


Dan Clowes, Comic Artist, "Wilson": Interview on The Sound of Young America

by Jesse Thorn

Dan Clowes is the author of numerous acclaimed comics. His works include Ghost World, Art School Confidential and the latest, Wilson.

Wilson is the story of a middle-aged man who has lived his life in an effort to avoid social relationships, only to realize that time is running out to build a family.
 
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  DANIEL CLOWES interviewed in Metro

Updated August 31, 2010


The misanthrope made in his mind

You’ve probably seen the artwork of Daniel Clowes — perhaps in The New York Times Magazine, or in one of his graphic novels (“Ghost World” being his most famous). A few years ago, a strange thing happened to Clowes — a man entered his mind and wouldn’t leave. So, being a cartoonist, he drew him. Clowes describes how a figment of his imagination became his book, “Wilson.”

It’s fair to say that when you started, there wasn’t much of a graphic novel scene.

Yes, that’s quite the understatement. There were no graphic novels. When I first began, comic book stores only catered to superhero or genre comics. I wanted to do something different than that, yet there was no context to the stuff I wanted to do. But, we [early graphic novelists] kind of began at the same time, and invented this world around us and then actual publishers and actual book stores realized we existed. It happened magically and it’s a miracle.

How did “Wilson” come about?

This was a specific case. I created him because I was challenging myself to write humor comics and this character just popped into my head. So I wrote many strips trying to get to know this character and he became more and more of a real person. And then I started this plot where he was utterly alone in the world and desperate to create a family in the later stages of his life. But then the plot went where Wilson wanted it to go. I didn’t need to impose anything.

What’s your most and least favorite thing about Wilson?

I admire that he speaks the truth, without any attempt to sugarcoat it. I like that he really wants to accept the world. But he’s extremely self-obsessed and speaks not understanding how other people might react. It’s like he has no deference to other people’s feelings.
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Author Sam Lipsyte reviews WILSON in the New York Times Book Review

Updated August 31, 2010


Dyspeptic Living

by Sam Lipsyte

Say hello to Wilson, the eponymous hero of Daniel Clowes’s latest novel- in-comics. Perhaps he is a hero of our time. But if that phrase makes all you comp-lit majors think of Lermontov’s Pechorin, think again: this haggard, middle- aged fellow is no dashingly depressive duelist or seducer. Wilson hectors people in coffee shops and hits on his ex-wife with sweet nothings like, “As you know, I certainly never minded a larger woman.”

He is a rich mix of states and traits: lonely, alienated, obsessed with his dog and the mistakes of his past, unjustifiably smug, genuinely funny, nettlesome, under handed, empathetic and always all too human. Does he stand for a generation, like Pechorin? No, he stands for Wilson — a glorious swirl of confusion, hypocrisy and simple yearning. Wilson may seem like an everyman, but he is soaked in idiosyncrasy, and not necessarily the kind that leads to some imagined universal. Instead we get a flawed and conflicted individual, whose laments, even when tainted by ego, or maybe especially when tainted by ego, are deeply affecting.

The Daniel Clowes aesthetic, delivered through his numerous comics, album covers, book illustrations and film work, has made a distinctive impression on the culture. Ever since his “Eightball” comics in the early 1990s and up through “Ghost World” and “David Boring,” he has fashioned a singular style both from the drabness of America’s midsize cities and towns and from the vital tradition of telling stories in panels, with pictures and words. His novels, especially, come charged with a fearless satirical wit, an emotional depth and an often enthralling creepiness — not to mention a faint mad cackle whose source is not easily traceable but whose presence provides extra texture and keeps sentimentality at bay. Though we may all have favorite Clowes creations, from the dim superhero auteur Dan Pussey to the disaffected adolescents Enid and Rebecca of “Ghost World,” the Wilson of “Wilson” vies with his past triumphs and takes a bold leap beyond them.

Assembled in one-page vignettes with titles like “Haircut,” “Fireside Chat” and “ Mother,” “Wilson” builds from clever character sketch to deadpan comedy to surprisingly forceful melodrama. We first meet Wilson walking his current home streets of Oakland, Calif., a city he admires despite his venomous spew about some famous old A’s ballplayers like Sal Bando and Rollie Fingers (“his stupid mustache”). The emotional wellspring of his rants about long-retired athletes, the infantilizing nature of Hollywood films or the obfuscating jargon of modern techies, to name a few of his pet peeves, is never quite clear to him (though it’s increasingly obvious to us), and this is an essential part of the fiction’s logic. Still, like many reasonably smart if not completely self-aware people responding to the world with bile, Wilson is often right. Except maybe about Rollie Fingers.

Reading “Wilson,” Clowes’s first book to be published without prior serialization, you begin to notice something, even as you laugh and wince at each brilliantly wrought expression or exchange. There is no stable Wilson. Visually, he is sometimes rendered with a familiar comic book realism, while at others he’s squashed down like some oblivious figure from the Sunday funnies. Sometimes his nose grows large, possibly when he’s lying to himself. Once, his pants switch colors with the floor in the middle of a conversation.

Verbally, he is also in flux. Part of the book’s humor derives from Wilson’s futile attempts to find a comfortable American voice for his encounters. While he narrates his life to himself in lucid contemporary modes, whenever he reaches out to strangers in coffee shops, alleyways or trains, his idiom seems wonderfully awkward, if not outdated: “Hey brother, mind if I sit here?” “How about you, friend — kids?” “Join the club, sister. My old man’s Stage 4.” The slipperiness, the mutability of Wilson — how he talks, how he looks — creates a dimensionality we can recognize. We all fumble for a common tongue. And some days we do look squashed down.

Meanwhile the narrative sneaks up on you, and when it does, a grim but hilarious momentum carries the day. Wilson is living a life rooted in less-than-Wilsonian ideals when his father dies. That their relationship was cold and distant doesn’t, of course, keep Wilson from grieving hard and questioning his path. He decides to set out in search of Pippi, the ex-wife who deserted him while pregnant. Rumors of her descent into drugs and prostitution spur Wilson’s attempt at a rescue and, perhaps, some kind of reconciliation. Also, he might have a child out there. Suffice it to say he does find Pippi, as well as their daughter, and the consequences are both heartwarming and heart-smashing, not to mention extremely deleterious to Wilson’s dog’s health and Wilson’s physical freedom. The more ludicrous turns in the plot are beautifully underplayed, and when Clowes flashes forward at the end, the chronological telescoping seems to bring with it a fleeting glimpse of real wisdom. Or something.

If Wilson is not, like Pechorin, meant to be a generational symbol, that’s because the more resonant markers of our times reside not in the epiphany of a single character but in the varying lunges at under standing achieved by the multiple Wilsons, the ways they stumble in and out of tragedy and farce. Which is to say there is something about this story that is very much a put-on, and something about it that is absolutely not. Yes, these qualities can coexist. Indeed, they require each other. It’s the put-on, the aforementioned cackle, that clears the space for fragile feeling to thrive. But before anybody raises a cudgel and intones ancient curses against “postmodern trickery” and “irony” one more boring time, it’s good to recall that artistic approaches like this have been around a while. Just ask another literary Wilson, name of Pudd’nhead.
 
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  The Guardian reviews WILSON

Updated August 31, 2010


Wilson by Daniel Clowes:
Michel Faber is moved by a graphic novel that plays with the genre

by Michel Faber

Bereaved and bereft, a middle-aged divorcee sits at the edge of a children's playpark and indulges in regrets over the family he might have had. But within moments he interrupts his reverie to call out: "Hey! Can you get that brat to shut up for two fucking seconds!?" Welcome to the world of Wilson, self-declared "people person", misanthrope, gasbag, egomaniac and dog lover. Daniel Clowes has created a monster, but a monster who refreshes our empathy for humans in all their unloveliness.

Basically, Wilson is an uncensored id. Walking his dog Pepper, he passes three people, each of whom remarks on how cute she is. A fourth passes without comment, provoking Wilson to turn and exclaim: "Fucking asshole!" His speciality is striking up conversations with strangers and then stinging them with rebukes such as "Christ – do you realise how ridiculous you sound?" Yet, some of his snipes expose discomfiting truths. In an airport shuttle bus on the way to his father's deathbed, Wilson finds that one of the other passengers is likewise visiting a relative with end-stage cancer. "Well, at least he's lived a long life," muses the woman when she hears that Wilson's dad is 82. "My sister's 44 years old with three little children. It's like a nightmare." "Yeah," says Wilson. "Who gives a shit if some old man drops dead."

Clowes's earlier work tended to feature Generation X characters – teenagers and young adults adrift in the lonely landscape of American suburbia: the "ghost world" that gave his most famous story its title. Enid Coleslaw, Ghost World's anagrammatic heroine, voiced the self-protecting cynicism and neurotic flippancy typical of many American comics of the last three decades. But Clowes is pushing 50 now, and the nature of his disaffection has changed. The characters in Ghost World and Art School Confidential had their lives in front of them. Their scorn and ennui – as well as their hopes and passions – might yet prove to be an adolescent phase. Wilson is peopled by characters whose limitations are set in stone and who've long ago been sucked into the daily grind. Youth is a dim memory, pointless to recall.

Wilson's story – a strong one whose twists I'm loath to give away – is drawn in a variety of styles, from cartoon simplicity to sketchy portraiture. The different styles function as a Brechtian alienation effect, discouraging too much emphasis on the art, encouraging a bond with the tale. Although Clowes is a gifted caricaturist, he doesn't aim for the self-conscious mastery of pen or brush that makes individual panels by Robert Crumb, David B or Charles Burns suitable for art gallery display. Instead, the artfulness is in the choice of "camera angles" and – most crucially – the narrative rhythm. Each page is a self-contained vignette with a punchline (reminiscent of old-fashioned "gag" strips, but really more like a short story), and these yield so much pleasure that it's a while before you realise how hard the silences between the episodes are working. You feel the jolt when Wilson peers through a window at a flashing light in the street and, next page, you find him reclining on a prison bunk, but there are many subtler shifts. Wilson's relationship with Shelley, the woman who looks after his dog while he's in jail, evolves in a few short pages, largely in the blank spaces between the vignettes, but the poignancy Clowes generates is comparable to the effect of, say, Ian McEwan's On Chesil Beach, with 170 pages spared.

The difference between graphic novels and the other kind is more than usually relevant here. Clowes has given up producing periodical comics, disillusioned with their evanescent availability and cliquey fanbase. Instead, he's declared his intention to "attach myself to the sinking ship that is book publishing" in the hope of accessing the "special relationship" people supposedly have with books. In an ironic turnabout, the artist who was once dismissive of the term "graphic novel", favouring the unpretentious word "comic", has gone to great lengths to make sure Wilson has "the presence of a book. I wanted it to have the thickest paper, and I asked the publisher for the thickest boards available". Jonathan Cape has obliged, but I'm not convinced Wilson warrants such deluxe production values, since Clowes's artwork – clear black lines and flat, pastel colours – would reproduce perfectly well on the shoddiest newsprint.

No, I suspect the real motivation for this hardbacked luxury was not artistic but emotional. Near the end of the narrative, Wilson sits forlornly in decrepit suburbia, musing on impermanence. "Not only will I leave no trace of my existence behind, there won't even be anything from my entire generation left in another fifty years, just some fucking stupid shit in a museum, maybe." Clowes is smart enough to recognise this as bog-standard fiftysomething grousing, but also sees the truth in it. Publishing Wilson puts a durable object into the world. Moreover, Clowes wants to immortalise the brief candles of humankind. While Wilson's statements may be mono-dimensional, Clowes counterpoints them and gives them nuance through the visual details: the absurd yet dignified ducks who walk past his park bench; the way the word balloon wholly obliterates the vista Wilson is ostensibly gazing at, as if to suggest that his constant chatter prevents him from seeing what's in front of him; even the glimpse of his bald spot. Later on, as Wilson strives to connect with his totally uninterested grandson in Alaska via a laptop, a hand – Shelley's, although the composition cuts most of her out – rests on his shoulder. But only briefly; only for one panel. Beyond that, Wilson is alone with his own sadness. It's a gently excruciating moment in a book full of them.
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Style Weekly calls WILSON a "literal masterpiece"

Updated June 2, 2010


“Wilson,” by Daniel Clowes

by Wayne Melton

Daniel Clowes’ graphic novel begins with one of the funniest declarations of love ever drawn on a page, funny precisely because it’s so patently false.

“I love people!” exclaims the title character in Clowes’ hilarious story about a terminally anti-social middle-aged man who stalks the streets and coffee shops of Oakland, Calif., dishing out unwanted advice and impolite observations while his own life crumbles around him. Wilson could be called a few L words, but “loving” and “lovable” aren’t among them.

Clowes has mined these veins of misanthropy in other graphic novels, such as “Ghost World” and “David Boring.” “Wilson” is his first original work (the others were drawn from serials), though it’s arranged to look as if pieced together from a collection. Each of 70 pages serves as a chapter in the life of the character, drawn in a variety of styles recalling everything from R. Crumb to Andy Capp.

Each of Wilson’s misadventures follows a predictable pattern: It starts with a well-meaning observation or endeavor that ends badly in the last panel. After declaring his love for humanity, Wilson asks a neighbor how she’s doing, only to ask her if she ever shuts up. A few pages in, Wilson boorishly sits next to the only other person in an otherwise empty coffee shop, because he likes the window seat, only to bother the busy man with inane conversation. Politely ignored, Wilson blurts, “Hey, I’m talking to you!” Actually, he doesn’t say it that nicely.

“All Alone” takes place at a low point in Wilson’s life, a brisk day at a park where he contemplates his solitary state and the mistakes he’s made. A man pushes his little boy on a swing while Wilson thinks: “I didn’t know what I had until it was long gone.” You think it will be a turning point. Then, after a few more deep sighs of rumination: “Hey! Can you get that brat to shut up for two f---ing seconds!?”

Endlessly funny and agonizingly short, Clowes’ book is a literal masterpiece. In fact, it can be enjoyably frustrating to try to pick the definitive page in the book because Clowes refuses to repeat himself, drawing each of Wilson’s episodes differently. They can jump days or years, but in each we see not only a different shade of the character but also a different Wilson altogether. In one episode he may be a normal cartoon human out of a teenager’s comic book. In another he’s more comic-strip, like an escapee from “Blondie.” In yet another he’s been shrunk to dwarf proportions, given a huge nose and beady eyes.

No example of Wilson is exactly the same, and yet Clowes’ technique ultimately helps define the man. We always learn something new about the man, and though it might be painful to admit, about ourselves. Wilson may finally be loveable, not because he grows or changes, but because he embodies our darker tendencies.

77 pages, $21.95, Drawn and Quarterly
 
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  DCist interviews DANIEL CLOWES

Updated May 12, 2010


DCist Interview: Daniel Clowes

by Allen Brooks

The story of a hapless loner who, following the death of his father, forces a family on himself, Wilson at times feels like a Sunday comic strip from a completely screwed-up alternate universe. Author Daniel Clowes (Ghost World, Ice Haven) crafts the journey of this oft-times jerk in a unique, one page = one gag format not typically seen outside of collected newspaper strips.

Wilson is the kind of guy you wish never to meet. He'll sit next to you, start a conversation, and then berate your boring life. Yet by the end of the book, you'll find that you wish you had a few more moments with the jerk.

In advance of his appearance at Politics and Prose on Monday, Clowes chatted with DCist about his newest book, why there's more going on with Charlie Brown than you ever thought, and whether or not The Dark Knight was better than Watchmen. (Hint - only one ended up mentioned in Wilson).

The most visually striking thing about Wilson are the differing artistic styles you've chosen throughout the book. Where did that decision come from? Because typically with collected graphic novels, there is a narrative thread told through the art using one consistent style.

Well, when I first came up with the character and started doodling these strips with this character that became Wilson, I was drawing little stick figures and I didn't have a clear sense of what the actual look of the book was going to be. And I was really just concentrating on the rhythm of it and the way the jokes, or non-jokes as they are, worked and worked together in sequence

When I actually sat down to write it, I tried to devise a master style that would work for the entire book and I kept veering between doing really cartoon-y styles and then going to a much more realistic style, and trying out all these different methods. And as I was doing that I realized that that was the only way to do the entire book. There was no one style that made sense for this book. It would have to be this kind of mosaic approach where you're seeing kind of different facets of this guy on different days, and kind of separating each strip into its own different universe that's not necessarily related to the others in sequence.

You touched on Wilson's origins. There is a lot there told between the panels. Was it originally conceptualized as a full graphic novel, or a one-page gag series of strips?

I didn't have any idea. I just kind of, I had a period where I was trapped with my dad, he was actually in the hospital. And I was just sort of there all day, and I had nothing to work on, and I just started drawing these, these little comedy strips with no intent of ever publishing them or doing anything with them. But this character that emerged from these strips was so strong it kind of took over my brain and I felt I had to do something with him. So the story kind of evolved naturally over time.

At the same time I had just gotten done reading through a bunch of the Fantagraphics Peanuts Collections -- you know, they have the complete Peanuts. And, reading that in sequence, you know there is sort of a semblance of a kind of uber-narrative to the whole thing. Where, every year, there's kind of the baseball strips in the summer, the ice skating in the winter, the Christmas and the New Year's and all the holidays, and it has this real feel of time passing in a way that few narratives have. And yet there's no actual story imposed on the whole thing. It's like watching somebody's life unfold. Which is something I'm very interested in.

So I thought, what if you took that conceit of these kind of daily moments, daily jokes or just kind of emotional moments and put them together in a sequence that actually had a narrative implied. As you say, in-between the strips, that's where the story's told. As I was doing it, it was a great way to leave out the boring parts, as Elmore Leonard says. All that exposition, all that stuff; anything that wasn't a funny joke, or a poignant, or emotionally loaded moment, I just cut out. I assumed you could kind of navigate your way between the strips.

The moments of emotional clarity that you do choose to include, the baseball diamond comes to mind, are all the more poignant with the omission of so much.

I find that people are responding to this book much more emotionally than I thought they would. I thought it would be seen as kind of a funny-joke book to most people. But people seem to be really kind of plugging themselves into it in a way I didn't expect. And I think that's a big part of it. They're kind of putting their own experiences in those missing pages, and filling it in with their own history.

I feel that Wilson is at once 100 percent terrified with every next moment of his life, and yet totally content with them.

Yeah, I think of him as sort of fearless, he's uncensored. That's the way I wrote him. He's completely unfiltered, it's like he says all the things that we might say on our worst impulse, but we never would. We would think, "Oh, that would be crazy to say that, that would be really alienating and scare people away," but he seems like he's not concerned with sugarcoating anything to make himself more likable. He wants people take him on his own terms and he's perfectly comfortable with that. Even though that doesn't work out for him time and time again, I sort of find that somewhat admirable. It's very very different from how I am in my relations with the world.

You mentioned that you wrote a lot of this while your father was in the hospital, and Wilson's father is hospitalized for a section of the book. Where else do you find yourself linking up with Wilson throughout the book?

One of the many thoughts that ran through my mind in the hospital was, what if this was my last living relative, my last connection to some kind of family or community? And how fortunately in my case it was not, but I thought how awful that would be. And just how deeply alone you would be a that moment. You know, you'd have nobody who had any shared memories of your childhood, or any of that stuff. It was very powerful for me to kind of contemplate that, and he came kind of out of that thought.

So, Iron Man 2 - gonna be good or what?

(Laughs) That was very lucky that I put Iron Man in that strip, because I wrote that a couple of years ago, and I thought, "You know, I may have to change that. There's going to be some other movie that will make more sense." I almost changed that reference from Dark Knight to Watchmen, 'cause I thought, that's going to be like the new big movie. And I'm really glad that I didn't, because [Watchmen] did not perform well...

I'm going to ask you just four more absolutely absurd questions, what are Wilson's favorites - Movie, Book, TV Show, Song?

1. The Sterile Cuckoo (1969)
2. Oakland, The Story of a City by Beth Bagwell, 1982
3. Maury
4. Doesn't care for music.
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NPR hopes that DANIEL CLOWES "never cheers up"

Updated May 12, 2010


The Life And Trials Of A Full-Tilt Cartoon Misanthrope

by Glen Weldon

For the sake of good comics, we must hope that Daniel Clowes never cheers up.

His odes to contemporary loneliness and disaffection — Ghost World, David Boring and Ice Haven, which were serialized in Clowes' comic series Eightball before they were collected — offer a perverse kind of comfort to the reader. Take Ghost World's resident teen cynic, Enid Coleslaw, and the reflexive scorn she feels for the world around her. If she comes off as selfish, irritable and generally unpleasant (which is to say, as a teenager) Clowes is careful to show us that there's something sincere, even noble, behind her withering appraisals. The very fact that Enid is dissatisfied with her lot in life just means she's paying attention, Ghost World asserts. In this way, Clowes' work vindicates our unlovely thoughts, our blackest moods; in his characters we see ourselves as we don't wish to be seen. By anyone. Ever.

That's certainly true of Wilson, Clowes' latest book-length comic (he famously hates the term "graphic novel") in which he plays with narrative as only a cartoonist could. Clowes structures the book as a series of 70 one-page gag strips with titles like "Bad News," "Long Distance" and "Cheap Motel," each one opening a discrete window into the life of his eponymous main character. Days and sometimes years pass between each strip, and just about all of the "action" of the book takes place in those off-panel gaps; what we actually see on the pages of Wilson is, well, Wilson, in conversation.


Read An Excerpt From Daniel Clowes' 'Wilson'
Although the book uses the rhythms of the one-page gag, Clowes' humor has little to do with punch lines, so he reserves the last panel of each page for a "kicker" of another kind. This generally consists of Wilson saying something hostile, pathetic (or, frequently, both at once) to another person. The net effect is like reading a series of Bazooka Joe comics written by Jean-Paul Sartre.

That's because the character of Wilson is so precisely drawn, and such a piece of work: a middle-aged misanthrope, a condescending jerk, a bloviating bag of supercilious wind. He loves the sound of his own voice so much, in fact, that he frequently strikes up conversations with strangers only to share with them his strong and entirely unsolicited opinions — and then ridicule their reaction, or lack thereof. Clowes goes back to this joke often, but each time we learn a little more about Wilson — and a lot more about why he's alone.

Do the events of the book, which include visiting his father's deathbed, reuniting with his ex-wife and meeting a daughter he didn't know he had, cause Wilson to grow as a person, to admit love and fellow-feeling into his black and tiny heart? That, of course, would be telling.

It would also not be a book you could imagine coming from Daniel Clowes.


Daniel Clowes
Daniel Clowes was nominated for an Academy Award for his adaptation of Ghost World. He has won several Eisner and Harvey awards for his comics.
Throughout, Clowes' cartooning adopts a deliberately fractured approach to its subject. He draws some pages in the tight, meticulous style familiar to readers of Ghost World and David Boring; on others he goes full-tilt cartoony, complete with giant heads, tiny bodies and dots for eyes. Most fall somewhere in between. If Clowes intends for us to find some post-modern meaning in the connection between a given page's content and the style in which it is drawn, I confess to missing it. But the wide array of different "looks" somehow works to delineate the character of Wilson more sharply, lending him a hard-to-define roundedness and solidity in the reader's mind.

Wilson is not autobiographical, but even without Ghost World's anagrammatic clues (Enid Coleslaw = Daniel Clowes) one is again struck by the anger in Clowes' work, which seems to possess a self-lacerating quality. No doubt Clowes sees some dark parts of himself in Wilson. If so, he's not alone: To read Wilson is to grapple with some bleak truths about ourselves. We are self-involved, ungenerous, even cruel. And in creating this mordant portrait of a jerk in full flower, Clowes reminds us that we are something else, as well: laughable.

Lord keep Daniel Clowes safe, and making comics, and far from Zoloft.
 
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  Express Night Out interviews DANIEL CLOWES

Updated May 12, 2010


Stick Figure: Daniel Clowes, 'Wilson'

by Stephen M. Deusner

SHORT, SCHLUBBY WILSON sports a beard that's more slovenly than stylish and walks through the panels of Daniel Clowes' new book, "Wilson," with casual self-regard.

He loves his dog and nobody else, and he torments strangers with rambling philosophical ponderings. He mails a box of dog feces to his sister, and can't understand why she doesn't laugh. He is smart, yet cynical and mostly disagreeable, with an academic understanding of how the world works but with no practical insight into other human beings.

To Wilson, happiness is a delusion suffered by the dumb, and to Wilson, most people are dumb. He can be mean, selfish, oblivious, confounding and obnoxious.

He can also be funny as hell.

That contradiction between frustrating and funny makes Wilson perhaps the quintessential Daniel Clowes character.

The Oakland-based cartoonist, who began his career in the 1980s contributing to "Cracked," specializes in introverts and misanthropes rendered in thick lines and bold colors. The first and most well-known is Enid Coleslaw, the caustically witty anti-heroine he introduced in "Ghost World." Nearly 20 years after she first rolled her eyes and introduced angsty underground comics to the mainstream, Enid remains a patron saint to anyone — teenage or otherwise — you just doesn't get the world.

Serialized in Clowes' "Eightball" magazine and released as a book in 1997, "Ghost World" sealed Clowes' reputation as one of the most popular and influential cartoonists of the era. Since then, he has introduced a parade of creeps and clowns, all bound together by their shared misanthropy: the bumbling artist in "Pussey," the blank protagonist of "David Boring," the boorish private detective of "Ice Haven."

Wilson is Clowes' purest creation, a distillation of every antisocial urge we all feel but so rarely indulge, perhaps because he is so intrinsically a comic strip character. Rather than the long-form narratives that comprise most of his previous books, "Wilson" features small vignettes, each only six panels occupying one page. They resemble the darkest, strangest Sunday comic strip every imagined.

The drawing style for each vignette changes constantly as well. In one strip, Wilson appears to belong to "Ghost World," but turn the page and he becomes ovoid and squat. Some strips depict his world in bright colors, others in squalid sepia. Some are strikingly realistic, others playfully cartoonish.

Together, these episodes comprise a larger story that follows Wilson from lonely adulthood through lonely middle age, aging him with gray hair and new lines on his face. His is both an epic journey and an epic fail, but the vivid, inventive artwork heightens the character's direly existential angst, giving the sense of a living, breathing character rather than an assemblage of ink lines and color stains.

» EXPRESS: How did the idea for Wilson originate?
» CLOWES: My dad was in the hospital on his last legs, not dissimilar to how Wilson's dad is in the strip. I just had nothing to do. I bought a book but finished it, and I had another week of sitting there all day. I had my sketchpad and I thought, I'd better do something to cheer myself up a little bit. So I started drawing these goofy comic strips in pencil, and somehow this character just emerged out of nowhere. The first strip I drew as the one where he's waiting for the airplane and he's drilling the guy on what he does for a living. From that moment on, I knew who this guy was and wound up filling an entire sketchbook with hundreds of strips. Literally every idea that came into my head, I could turn into a strip with Wilson. Changing a light bulb or reading the newspaper or anything could lead this guy to do something unpredictable. But I actually hadn't drawn him. I just had little stick figures. So when I came home, I sat down and he just came out exactly as is the very first time I drew him.

» EXPRESS: He appears in various forms throughout the novel. Why did you opt to depict him in so many different styles?
» CLOWES: Originally I wanted to come up with an overall style for the book, and I toyed around with the idea that Wilson would be a lost comic strip and that these were the remaining strips. But that just seemed unrelated to who the guy was, so I abandoned that. In the process, though, I had drawn him in all these different styles, and I kept going back and forth over what I could maintain over the course of 80 pages that wouldn't be stultifyingly boring after drawing it over and over. It finally hit me that I had found a way to do it, which was to keep this variety of styles. That said more about the character than keeping it all in one style. I was trying to replicate this day-after-day-after-day progression. To change the style everyday to me made more sense in the way real life works — how we have a different view of ourselves each day, and how each day is approached with a different mindset. I thought that helped in separating the strips from each other. I didn't want them to read as connected as much as points along a route.

» EXPRESS: So that short strip format was built into the concept?
» CLOWES: I didn't realize it as I was beginning to work on it, but I found it to be a great thing. It allows you to eliminate all the boring parts, as Elmore Leonard says. You're able to jump over all the exposition and it didn't seem unnatural for there to be huge leaps. In the story there are a few leaps that are about four or five years from one strip to the next, whereas several of them are maybe ten minutes apart. In a regular narrative it would have been very difficult to do that without it being jarring, but somehow in this form, you accept the leaps. I was very influenced by reading collections of Charles Schulz's "Peanuts," the ones that Fantagraphics has put out that has every strip in a row. There is an overall narrative, not an intended or an imposed narrative, but all the characters go through the seasons each year, and the strips relate to what's going on during that time of year. It has the feel of a narrative even thought here's no real continuity and there's these huge jumps between strips. I thought there was something there that was worth looking at.



» EXPRESS: When you started, did you know where the story was going?
» CLOWES: I did. I worked the narrative out very carefully in advance. I had some ideas of the basic plot line, and as I said, I had all these strips — about 99 percent of which I ended up throwing away. They gave me an overall basis of where the story was going. I tried to keep surprising myself as I was putting it together.

» EXPRESS: "Wilson" strikes me as a story that's intrinsic to its form. How important is that to you?
» CLOWES: It's certainly more interesting to do that, because I always feel that if you can explain what you're doing or if you could just as easily write it as a screenplay or a short story, you're probably better off doing that — it's much easier than drawing a comic and much less time consuming. There's got to be a reason you're hunched over a drawing board eight hours a day. But I felt Wilson could only work as a comic character. It'd be very hard to imagine an actor playing him. It's possible that it could work as a weekly sitcom, but something where you're with him for a long time, like a movie, I think it would be unbearable to some degree. In a comic you can go at your own pace, and you can stop if you're feeling [laughs] oppressed.

» EXPRESS: Do you take inspiration from other visual forms, like sitcoms or art?
» CLOWES: In terms of Wilson, I was intrigued by theater. I felt like this was the kind of thing that could work on the stage as a series of little blackout sketches. You cut to black after each little episode, and when the lights come on, he's in a different part of the stage. I had that in mind a little bit, which is very different from writing a movie — you'd never be able to make a movie like that. I was thinking of it almost like a series of vaudeville sketches that would last two minutes each and would comprise this hour-and-a-half production. I wonder if anyone would ever do that. I'd like to see them try to get the funding for that, although it would be very low budget. Maybe some college kids will do it.

» EXPRESS: Is there a temptation to revisit this character?
» CLOWES: There's a great temptation. I immediately missed him the day I finished the book. I actually wound up doing a two-page strip with him for the "New Yorker." He's just one of those characters that can give you stuff all day long. Any subject I can think of, he can make something out of it. That's what you really look for as a cartoonist. I would guess he'll be back in some form, although I feel like I've told his story. Maybe I'll do the early years of Wilson. That would be very ... unpleasant.
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WILSON reviewed by the Boston Herald

Updated May 12, 2010


Clowes brings art, soul to graphic novel ‘Wilson’

by Garrett Martin

Has it really been a decade since Daniel Clowes’ last full-length graphic novel? “David Boring” came out in 2000. Clowes has released two issues of “Eightball” since then, and his work has appeared in a few anthologies, but his comics have been scarce these last 10 years. You’ve had to get your Clowes fix from random New Yorker illustrations or movies like “Ghost World” and “Art School Confidential.” His new graphic novel, “Wilson,” came out last week, and Clowes will be discussing it tonight at the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge before a showing of “Ghost World.”

The Wilson of the title is a horrible person, an arrogant, self-obsessed know-it-all who thinks he’s superior to everybody despite thoroughly hating himself. Wilson only stops talking about Wilson long enough to insult whoever he’s talking to. He’s a middle-aged loser who despises work. He’s estranged from his father, his ex-wife, his daughter and, despite constantly talking to strangers in public places, humanity itself. Like Larry David from “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” you can see Wilson’s rudeness coming, and all you can do is cringe in anticipation.
 
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  DART: Design Arts Daily reviews WILSON

Updated May 12, 2010


Dan Clowes: Existentialist At Large

by Peggy Roalf

Wilson, the wildly anticipated new graphic novel by Daniel Clowes, has arrived - and so has the artist. Out on a national book tour, he will be at the Strand Book Store in New York tonight and at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival this weekend, then heads to the West Coast next week.

The acclaimed author of Ghost World and High School Confidential, among others, Clowes also took his turn inThe Funny Pages of the New York Times with Mister Wonderful. In Wilson (Drawn & Quarterly 2010), we meet an opinionated middle-aged loner who loves his dog and quite possibly no one else. In an ongoing quest to find human connection, he badgers friends and strangers alike into a series of one-sided conversations, punctuating his own lofty discursions with a brutally honest, self-negating sense of humor.

Panels from Wilson by Daniel Clowes, left to right: Inspired by The New Yorker style of George Booth; a 50s gag cartooning style inspired by Charles Schultz; with reference to Will Elder, a Mad magazine cartoonist starting in the 1950s. See Clowes's "panel discussion" in New York magazine. Copyright the artist, courtesy Drawn & Quarterly.

After his father dies, Wilson, now completely alone, sets out to find his ex-wife with the hope of rekindling their long-dead relationship, and discovers he has a teenage daughter, born after the marriage ended and given up for adoption. Wilson eventually forces all three to reconnect as a family - a doomed mission that will inevitably backfire.

While this sounds nothing like a beach read, humor comes in big wallops on just about every other page. In Wilson, the artist shakes up the graphic novel format [if there is such a thing] by using different drawing styles throughout the book. From one page to the next, the story alternately turns grim and serious to hilariously funny; dark and shadowy to sunshine-bright and colorful. This scheme sounds a little crazy, but: have you seen anything by Clowes that doesn't work? If anything, this approach showcases the artist's formidable talent, both as a draughtsman and a storyteller.

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DANIEL CLOWES interviewed by Gothamist

Updated May 12, 2010


Daniel Clowes, Cartoonist

by John Del Signore

Even if you're unfamiliar with graphic novels or comics, you probably know Daniel Clowes's work, if only because his series Ghost World was expertly adapted into a 2000 film of the same name, starring Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansson, and Steve Buscemi. Over the past few decades, Clowes has been instrumental in the journey of comic books into a more widely appreciated mainstream art form.

His latest book, Wilson, draws on a wide spectrum of cartoon styles to tell the story of an isolated, semi-bitter intellectual renegade on the outer limits of mainstream America. Tonight Clowes will be appearing at The Strand, signing books and talking with David Hajdu, author of Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How it Changed America .

Where did the idea for this book come from? Can you pinpoint where it started? Yeah, my dad was in the hospital, very much like Wilson's dad. And so I had a week of sitting there, during that time when you're just sort of sitting doing nothing, and I was starting to have anxiety attacks, so I thought, "I should get out my sketchbook and try to draw something." So I got out my sketchbook and tried to work on stuff I was already working on, and I just couldn't concentrate, so I thought, "I'm just gonna draw a funny little comic strip and see how that goes," just to amuse myself and distract myself.

The first strip I drew was basically the one where he's waiting in the airplane gate, talking to the businessman, and that sort of popped out of my head. I guess I had just been on a plane, so I was thinking about that. And so all of a sudden, the next thing I knew, five days later I had drawn hundreds of these strips with this character who sort of emerged full-blown onto the page right there. Once I got home, I realized when you have a character like that, you've got to make use of it; it's what all cartoonists dream of, a character who can make something out of every situation and sort of surprise you with what he does.

There are some autobiographical similarities between you and Wilson. Where does that begin and end? That's probably for my therapist to say. [Laughs] I feel like Wilson is the kind of person I know, the kind of person who tends to be in my little social class. I know a lot of people who are smart and educated, but also poor and not successful, and that's sort of an interesting class of people that doesn't get discussed, and that tends to be the crowd I find myself in, so he certainly reflects the opinions and resentments of that group.

Do you see this in any way as a cautionary tale for people in this little tribe? Yeah, it's one of those things, I'm not sure what you do. If you make the choice at 22 to become a journalist, or an artist, or a novelist or something, as opposed to going to law school or studying dentistry, you're sort of setting yourself up for that. But I would also say that all of my friends, all of the people I like, all if the people who sort of make life worth living are within this group to some degree. So I wouldn't want to discourage anybody from it, but I find it an interesting thing. It's a group that not identified, I guess.
And the cities that Wilson's set in are both very familiar to you? Yeah, he lives in my neighborhood, for sure. People who live in Oakland will recognize the exact area that he haunts. It's kind of a beaten-down, less-glamorous part of the bay area. He grew up in the same neighborhood I grew up in in Chicago, on the south side. That's really specific too. I'm not sure what that means other than that it obviously resonates with me, and has an emotional impact for me when I kind of deal with revisiting those areas, the lost world of my childhood.

Why did you decide to draw in different illustrative styles for the different pages? Well, when I actually sat down to draw this thing, I thought I better come up with a style for this. And I'd drawn different books in different styles, and I thought I'd come upon the perfect style that encompassed all of what needed to be said about this guy, and I just couldn't decide on one. I kept veering really drastically from the most cartoon-simple style, to the most detailed, over-rendered, drawing-every-eyelash kind of style. Ultimately I decided the only way it would work is if I had all of these, and if each strip had its own reality and its own personality that was related to the others, but kind of different in the way it sort of modulates the humor, and deals with the emotions of the story. In some cases I wanted it to just read as a joke, and others I wanted it to seem like a joke but actually it's the furthest thing possible from a joke.

Yeah, I liked how parts of it are very funny, and parts of it are very sad and intense. It's a difficult line to walk. It's interesting, It involved a lot of changing things around and a lot of editing to it to flow correctly. I wanted it to set up a pattern at first, wherein the you think it's just going to be goofy, unrelated jokes—and sort of halfway through you'd realize there was a reason behind the sequence all along.

Where did the name Wilson come from? I wanted a very bland name, the type of comic strip name you'd see in a '50s or '60s comic strip that has no distinguishing characteristic at all. Of course, there's Mr. Wilson, who lives next door to Dennis the Menace. There are lots of people with the last name Wilson, it's probably like the eighth most common name in America, something like that. It's not as obvious as Smith, but I wanted it to seem generic, I wanted him to seem in some way like he's a comic character. You don't even know if it's his first or last name because I changed my mind about that so much that I decided it's just a single name, like Cher.

Or Greenberg. Right. Certainly I didn't know about Greenberg when Wilson came along, I'm glad I didn't give him a Jewish name, because I thought about that for awhile.

I can see some tonal similarities with the two characters. Yeah, I liked Greenberg.

You went to Pratt, do you miss New York at all? It's so different. I feel like I lived in New York during what I call the "Sidney Lumet Years," when everything looked like Dog Day Afternoon, and everybody was ugly and greasy and wore horrible looking clothes. There was rampant crime, but there was something really fun and exciting about that. When I go back, I cannot believe there's a Whole Foods on Houston Street, I can't accept all the changes. It seems like this unapproachable island of the rich at this point, it doesn't seem at all like what I left. Brooklyn, the thought of Brooklyn ever being a cool place to live back when I was there was just inconceivable.

When were you there? '79 through '85.

Have you been back to Pratt or that neighborhood since? Yeah, every time I go for more than a couple days in New York I always wind up going up to Pratt just to check it out. I just wind up walking through the halls, there's no security or anything. Walk in and check out the classrooms. It really hasn't changed all that much. At least they got some money, it's a little nicer than it used to be, but that's about it.

Someone was telling me you have a favorite diner in Fort Greene? Yeah, there was a place, still there, right across from the campus, it was called "Mike's Luncheon," I'm not sure if it's the same name. It's just diagonal from the campus. We used to go there everyday. And I had a tab there, which was inconceivable that somebody would give me a tab. I'd just go, "Put it on my tab!"

Can you please tell us about tonight's event at The Strand? Yeah, just sorta put together a bunch of slides of stuff I've done over the years, kind of like an overview of my little career leading up to Wilson, and it obviously will focus on that. The idea is that David Hajdu, a very smart journalist who has written about comics in the '50s and Bob Dylan, will do a Q & A. So it's gonna be a free-form thing; he's going to ask questions, show the slides, talk about the books and other stuff, and I'll sign books.

Is it intentional that you do stuff like this at an independent book store when you have the opportunity, or is that just how it worked out? Certainly I like to support the independent bookstores, but I'm not opposed to Barnes and Noble or whatever. But that's my world, the independent guys. Can't do better than Strand in New York. Can't think of where else would be better than that.

I really love your New Yorker covers, I'm thinking particularly of the most recent one for the anniversary issue, with the butterfly... Thank you. It was really weird. Originally it was going to be much more of a stand-alone thing, where it was the day of that butterfly running into Eustace Tilly, and then some of the other artists got involved, and it became this crazy narrative that makes no sense. Once you see the other covers, it's a little odd. I have another one coming up June 1st for the graduation issue.

OK, great. I think yours stands alone... I'm glad. I thought it was a little odd. But it was fun to do. I never really noticed how weird that butterfly was. It doesn't resemble any living butterfly. I did all this research trying to find out what butterfly [Rea Irvin] was looking at, and it was nothing, he just made up this crazy thing.

Ghost World was such a good film. Do you have anything else coming up that you would like to see made into a movie, or are planning to do? I have a bunch of stuff in various stages of completion. But I learned with Ghost World that it's really a mistake to start talking about all your movie projects, because I sort of started talking about Ghost World right when we first got the offer to write the script. I assumed that you get that offer, the movie's gonna be made in a year, and there's no problems involved. And that was 1996 when I first got the offer and started telling everybody, "Yeah, yeah we're gonna do this movie!" And then it didn't get made until late 2000, so it was like four years of, "Are you still making the movie?" Of course there were a million failed deals that all fell through before it finally happened. I truly regretted it. A friend of mine said, "Don't tell anybody about your movie project until it's going to be in theaters that weekend, then you can be fairly sure that it's going to come out."
 
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  Eye Weekly interviews DANIEL CLOWES

Updated May 12, 2010


Comic Timing

by Chandler Levack

After six years, Daniel Clowes is returning to the Toronto Comic Arts Festival with Wilson, his first original graphic novel with Drawn & Quarterly. The only problem? He’s more afraid of success than ever

It’s a very rare thing to have someone say that your work has changed their life. Graphic novelist Daniel Clowes is tired of hearing it.

Consumed by Hollywood projects and parenthood, Clowes has made a concerted effort to disconnect himself from his fans — his website functions in domain name only. (Asked if he ever Googles himself, Clowes responds: “If I ever get close to looking at stuff like that, I stop myself. It’s always soul crushing to see what the average internet responder has to say.”) The Toronto Comic Arts Festival, or TCAF, marks his first public appearance in six years, serving as the Canadian leg of a nine-stop promotional tour for his new book, Wilson — an engagement he looks forward to with trepidation.

“In my daily life, I’m a father to a five-year-old and I don’t have a persona where I leave the house and people recognize me,” he says in a congenial but wry Midwestern accent. “I guess I went on a small book tour in 2005 when my book Ice Haven came out, but it’s not something I really enjoy doing. I’m a private person and a fairly shy person, so to all of a sudden put myself in the middle of all that, it’s going to be a very disassociative practice.”

Where has Daniel Clowes been all these years? A member of the veritable comic brat pack in the early ’90s that legitimized the medium alongside friends and colleagues like Chester Brown, Seth and Lynda Barry, Clowes worked his way up from the underground, publishing books and compilations (among them, Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron, Caricature, David Boring) based on serialized comics from his Fantagraphics series Eightball, which ran from 1989 to 2004.

The aughts saw him consumed by two Hollywood projects, the first being a 2001 cinematic adaptation of his 1997 comic book Ghost World, which earned Clowes an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay and made women of the world reconsider the sex appeal of Steve Buscemi. His 2006 follow-up, Art School Confidential, was a critical and box-office flop. Clowes says that both projects, directed by Crumb documentarian Terry Zwigoff, felt like “being in the eye of a hurricane,” a marked difference from the self-enclosed world of comics in which he says he writes like an actor, channelling different roles through illustration.

This is not to say he won’t sign your limited edition Big Enid Doll. It’s just that the price of graphic-novel superstardom can be a burden, now that university professors have put Ghost World on their syllabus. “When you’re doing this, you can’t imagine that anyone would care about it all, much less that it would get them through high school or something,” Clowes comments. He doesn’t get much fan mail these days, now that he’s consciously made his email and contact information private. At age 49 and at the height of his success (movie projects, New Yorker covers, fangirl journalists on the line), Daniel Clowes could very well be a character in one of his comics — the alienated illustrator making his first public appearance in six years.

The inspiration for Wilson, the titular protagonist of Daniel Clowes’ first original graphic novel (and the first on awesome Montreal comic press Drawn & Quarterly), came from two events that are the most dramatic in anyone’s life: the birth of a child and the death of a parent. Sitting by his father’s deathbed in Chicago, Clowes coped by drawing comics and reading the biography of Peanuts creator Charles Schulz, inspired by the narrative stopgaps in the lives of Snoopy and the gang.

“When I first started drawing the strips, my dad was in the hospital and was very sick, on his last legs, really, and I was just sitting there in the hospital day after day after day… trying to work on this larger graphic novel that was this serious, big-deal thing,” recounts Clowes. “All of a sudden, that just seemed like the stupidest waste of time — and I started drawing these little funny comics with this guy who just literally popped out of my pencil without any thought at all. The next thing I knew, I had drawn 200 of these strips, with all the jokes that I could think of. I thought, ‘Well I’ll never look at these again,’ but I couldn’t get them out of my head. And then I realized that there was a story hidden in all these strips that I had drawn, and it just took on a life of its own.”

The result is the big-hearted blowhard Wilson, an unemployed bachelor who accosts anyone who will listen to him (and frequently those working on their laptops) in Clowes’ current hometown of Oakland, California. Written in a six-to-eight-panel/one-punch-line format, the book is the closest Clowes has ever come to emulating the funny pages. Think of it as a more misanthropic Adam@Home, if most gags involved calling strangers “shitheads” and mailing out packages of dog excrement to one’s former in-laws.

It’s possible that Wilson is the Dr. Jekyll to Clowes’ Mr. Hyde, a boorish middle-aged man desperate to make a connection in a lonely world. And while Clowes insists that the book is not autobiographical, Wilson also experiences the loss of a parent, the birth of a child and a return to humanity enforced by a sudden change of heart. (To be literal, Clowes underwent open-heart surgery in 2006.) His wife insists that Wilson is mirrored on the infantile demands of their five-year-old son, Charlie, based on the kind of childish importance kids have to make the world fit their point of view. But he might also be the writer’s nemesis, and consequently, his id.

“I’m like a target for the Wilsons of the world,” says Clowes. “My wife said that he’s my nemesis, because every day I’ll try to get out of the house and I’m always complaining about the guy who sat next to me and started blathering on about god knows what. But in a really profound way, I also really admire that kind of guy. I often feel the same need to [do what Wilson does], and yet I’m this reserved Midwesterner who’s not going to sit down at somebody’s table in an internet café. I can’t even imagine doing that. But I kind of wish I could.”

Drawn in several of his signature styles (such as the bobble heads of the early Eightball comics, the cinematic monochromatic silhouettes of Ghost World and the sharply rendered human close-ups of his New York Times’ series Mister Wonderful, which will be expanded into a full-length book next year), Clowes insists Wilson’s changing visual perspective is a roadmap for how you view the character.

“At some points, I wanted to draw back and take you out of the horror you’re witnessing, and at some points I want to put you right back in it. I’m hoping that maybe on a second or a third reading, people can start to find the book funny. Because I was laughing my head off when I was writing it.”

It’s then that Clowes stops to release something he does frequently in conversation — an infectious wholehearted guffaw. Learning how to laugh like that must be a talent he’s honed by spending late hours isolated in a studio, laughing uproariously at his own jokes.

Discouraged by art-school professors to pursue comics (“It was just thought of the lowest class — they just thought I was trying to be wilfully obnoxious or something”), Clowes was largely blazing a new path in the late ’80s and early ’90s when he first started contributing comics to Jaime Hernandez’s Love and Rockets and for Cracked magazine. Today he finds the legitimization of the graphic novel “absolutely mind-boggling” having grown up on Archie comics and Heavy Metal magazine, influences you can see in the early counter-cultural issues of Eightball.

“Emerging comic artists today are lucky; they have a few role models,” says Clowes. “The guys in my generation… all we had was really Art Spiegelman and Robert Crumb, and you weren’t going to replicate Robert Crumb. And Spiegelman seemed like such an isolated case; it wasn’t like anybody else was going to have the good fortune to have a father in the Holocaust…” he says, pausing for comic effect. “So it’s very hard to navigate; what’s the next step? I was very lucky just to be able to do a little black-and-white comic for Fantagraphics that sold 1,000 copies. And I didn’t think that was going to lead to anything more than that. I thought, ‘Oh I’ll do this until I have a kid and then I’ll have to get a real job.’”

Today he’s a marquee draw for TCAF, with a body of work that has inspired everyone from Adrian Tomine to Jeffrey Brown. And while Ghost World only grossed $8 million worldwide (the film cost $7 million to make), the film’s cult status has solidified it as the best alienated-teen movie since Heathers — plus it launched Scarlett Johansson’s career.

Clowes brushes it all aside. He’s last penned the script for Megalomania, a futuristic teen animated feature to be directed by Michel Gondry, though he prefers the self-sufficient world of comics to the collaborative nature of a film. “The movies, to me, are just sort of a hobby I have,” says Clowes. “I work hard on them and I do my best, but it’s the comics that I’m most invested in.”

Trying to live in the world as an outsider is painful. Think of Enid and Rebecca building fantasy out of lame suburbia in Ghost World, the delusional heroine who stalks her high school classmate in Caricature’s “Green Eyeliner” and the basketball nets and batting equipment standing in for gooey privates in 20th Century Eightball’s “On Sports.” Encountering middle age, both Wilson and Clowes have come to a point of wondering why it’s impossible to connect with other people, even though technology has supposedly brought us closer than ever before.

“I actually can’t tell if we’re in a specific period of time where that is really pronounced, or everybody who is basically my age, or Wilson’s age, starts to feel that way,” he says. “The world today isn’t what I thought it was going to be, and it’s getting farther and farther away from what I hoped.”

In Ghost World’s most telling passage, Enid assures Steve Buscemi’s sad-sack blues aficionado that she “can’t relate to humanity either, but I don’t think it’s completely hopeless.” While he may be uncomfortable reaching out to the fans who he helped to get through high school (including yours truly), Wilson is Clowes’ message in a bottle, an explosive protagonist who demands that the world be better, more connected and more real. And while Wilson is certainly not Daniel, he might be closer to his creator than he thinks.

“Wilson is a real guy to me, I don’t have any control over him,” says Clowes. “I’m not telling him what to do; he exists and I just have to think of a situation and act it out…. I think that’s my way of communicating with the outside world, through the comic. It’s like I didn’t do it, Wilson did.”
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Straight.com reviews WILSON

Updated May 12, 2010


Book review: Wilson by Daniel Clowes

by John Lucas

Wilson is an asshole. Not a lovable rascal, either, but a full-on misanthrope. So why should we care about the titular protagonist of the latest Daniel Clowes graphic novel, which is the cartoonist’s first book of all-new material, as opposed to a collection of previously published stories? Well, because he’s funny, in a caustic way. He accosts strangers on the sidewalk and in coffee shops, mostly to hear himself talk, but also to mock their supposedly deficient values.

Despite his acidic demeanour and general lack of redeeming qualities, though, you’ve got to feel sorry for a guy who has never had anything go his way. An unemployed loner who spends his days walking his dog, visiting his father on his deathbed, and complaining, Wilson has no prospects of any change on the horizon. Until he reconnects with his long-absent ex-wife and learns about the daughter he never knew he had, that is. Then things change, all right, but not necessarily for the better.

Wilson, which Clowes has ingeniously arranged as a series of single-page gag strips drawn in a number of different styles, is by turns profoundly hilarious and deeply depressing. In other words, it’s classic Clowes.
 
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  WILSON in LA Weekly

Updated May 12, 2010


There's a New Outcast in Town

by David Cotner

Meet Wilson (that's usually how these semicomedic stories begin), the latest creation of occasional The New Yorker cover illustrator/heart patient/Oscar-nominated illustrator Daniel Clowes. Wilson is another in a long line of disaffected outsiders and sweaty-browed squares trying desperately to break with convention. Wilson's approach is a little like the National Lampoon parody of Mad magazine in which the kid asks Dave Berg if he's really "the guy who does that Lighter Side thing" and then proceeds to tell the puffed-up cartoonist, "Boy, are you an asshole!" Wilson is to conversation what serial killers are to serial victims: No quiet milquetoast who keeps to himself; he's a pushy loudmouth who sticks his nose into everyone's business. This of course leads to hilarious shenanigans that include his father's death, his search to reconcile with his ex-wife and his discovery that he has a daughter. Great! More people to hector and annoy. Comedian Dana Gould -- once called the "Charles Addams" of stand-up -- moderates the evening's presentation.
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SF Gate reviews WILSON

Updated May 12, 2010


'Wilson,' by Daniel Clowes

by John McMurtrie

Misanthropy is nothing new for Daniel Clowes - witness the casts of enormously appealing negativists in "Ghost World" and "Art School Confidential" - but the Oakland cartoonist delivers what may be his most fully fleshed portrait of human solitude, mixed with biting humor, in his new graphic novel "Wilson". The story, set in a drab and nail-salon-rich Oakland, follows an embittered hermit whose life is altered by unexpected family drama (we won't spoil it for you). The panels are drawn in a variety of linear styles, all in Clowes' distinctive muted colors. Deceptively simple yet always poignant, the images never fail to captivate, pulling us into a world in which we glimpse the starkness and beauty of everyday life.


 
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  Review of WILSON in Newsday

Updated May 12, 2010


Fanfare

Bookends: Comics

by Sam Thielman

After Terry Zwigoff's film of his book "Ghost World" became an indie sensation, cartoonist Dan Clowes struck out for the larger audience and commensurate paycheck in Hollywood. The six-year hiatus from comics has done him good: "Wilson" (Drawn and Quarterly, $21.95) is as funny and trenchant as anything else he's worked on, and just as brutal.

The eponymous hero, a jobless loser wandering the streets of Oakland, Calif., tells us in the very first panel that he loves people, but by the end of the first page he's at his wit's end with the first person he meets. Clowes gives every page in the book a slightly different style - here a page that looks like a "Peanuts" strip from the 1950s, there a page done in soap strip style (think "Mary Worth").

Wilson himself is as much a comment on Clowes' own misanthropy as he is a vessel for the author's observations about modern life, yet sometimes his commentary rings uncomfortably true. An undercurrent throughout Clowes' work - that happy people are mostly just too stupid to despair - becomes the target of the most pitiless zingers in "Wilson," and, at the very end, we're even allowed to hope that our obnoxious hero has been clued in.

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Sign On San Diego reviews WILSON

Updated May 12, 2010


Cynicism reigns on these life parades

by Robert L. Pincus

Maybe we’ve become a nation of cynics, after a long history of being pegged as optimists. A new Pew Research Center poll saying that 80 percent of Americans distrust the government suggests as much.

If so, Wilson, the central character in Daniel Clowes’ new graphic novel, “Wilson” (Drawn and Quarterly, 80 pages, $21.95), is a man for our times.

His nondescript name makes him an everyman, at least a white Protestant everyman. (Protestant in name only, though, since he’s too bitter to believe in any sort of religious transcendence.)

Remember the famous line uttered by Linus in “Peanuts,” “I love mankind. It’s people I can’t stand”? Wilson subscribes to that logic.

In the first frames of Clowes’ book, Wilson exclaims, “I love people. I’m a people person.” And he believes it, until he runs into an actual neighbor on his street and asks her how life is treating her, only to get a litany of complaints about her computer and all its problems. He interrupts by exclaiming, “For the love of Christ, don’t you ever shut up?”

He’s just as rude to everyone else he meets. And it’s not surprising to find out that his wife left him 16 years ago.

Wilson doesn’t know himself well, and Clowes, who has proved himself to be one of the most gifted graphic novelists with books such as “Ghost World” and “Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron,” finds concise ways of conveying his character’s lack of self-awareness, in image as well as words. Wilson is rendered with a realistic eye in one sequence and as a goofy caricature in another. It’s jarring at first, but there’s storytelling logic to this shift.

When Wilson decides to insult a driver asking for directions, because he disapproves of his gas-guzzling truck, Clowes draws him as a kind of midget, a visual emblem of a mean little man. But in his better moments, Wilson is true to scale and his face has a genuinely sorrowful expression.

The sad face fits his story, which becomes a quest to find his former wife, who was pregnant when she left him. Finding her and locating his daughter doesn’t yield great happiness for anyone. Wilson is never easy to like. He’ll say something kind at one moment and undercut it the next with a boorish remark.

Now and again, though, a bit of wisdom takes hold of him, as with this reflection about his advancing age: “When you imagine the future, you always think there’s going to be more stuff, but really there’s different stuff, and it’s never the stuff you were hoping for.”

Wilson does find a few small reasons to keep going. And Clowes gives us ample reasons to delve into his newest graphic novel: incisive dialogue, subtle commentary on social ills and a true flair for comic book style storytelling.


 
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  DANIEL CLOWES discusses his WILSON influences in the New York Magazine

Updated May 4, 2010


Panel Discussion
Daniel Clowes covers cartoon history in one graphic novel.

by Dan Kois

In Daniel Clowes’s funny-sad new graphic novel, Wilson, the creator of Ghost World tells the story of his eponymous anti-hero through a series of one-page comic strips, each drawn in a wildly different style. Going from a very grim and serious panel to one as colorful as a Bazooka Joe cartoon can be disconcerting at first, but over the course of the book, such variation, oddly enough, amplifies the hapless misanthrope’s crises and deepens the emotional wallop. It probably goes without saying that such an approach also illuminates the artist’s formidable talent. We asked Clowes to discuss his influences and choices, using these panels from four strips.
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Washington City Paper reviews WILSON

Updated May 4, 2010


International Ink: Clowes, Kids, Crackers and Hellboy

by Mike Rhode

Maybe Dan Clowes is experimenting on his readers. In Wilson (Drawn & Quarterly, $21.95), his new book from the Canadian publisher, he uses a tightly designed approach to tell the story of an extremely unlikable protagonist. Perhaps he was curious how far he could push two of the defining features of his work? The book follows Wilson through late adulthood in single-page comics, done in a variety of art styles, from Bigfoot cartoony to wholly realistic, approaches that Clowes says are meant to recall Sunday comic strips. Clowes’ technical virtuosity is sharply countered by Wilson’s excessively obnoxious characterization. Through the entire book, which covers at least a decade of his life, Wilson’s only redeeming feature seems to be love for his pet. Clowes shows Wilson going from life alone as a divorced bachelor, to losing his father, to finding his ex-wife and their daughter whom she gave up for adoption, and then the problems that arise from that. The artwork and the production values of the book are beautiful, and reward close attention. The title character? Not so much, in spite of this insistence from Clowes: “I actually kind of like Wilson. He’d be fun to hang out with in short and finite increments.”
 
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  Creative Loafing suggests buying WILSON on Free Comic Book Day

Updated May 4, 2010


Stuff to buy on Free Comic Book Day

by Curt Holman

Wilson by Daniel Clowes (Drawn & Quarterly) Terry Zwigoff’s terrific film adaptation of Clowes’ Ghost World stories may have made the creator of the comic book Eight-Ball more famous than Bagge, but they’re both witty contemporaries who joined forces in the early 1990s with “The Hate-Ball Tour.” Over the years Clowes has downplayed his gift for absurdist imagery and deadpan comedy, although he cracks plenty of rueful jokes in Wilson. The title character turns out to be a boorish, unemployable crank who practically exults in his poor social skills: he proclaims his love for his fellow man in one moment, then snaps “For the love of Christ, don’t you ever shut up?” at a poor bystander in practically the next breath. Each page of Wilson is its own scene, often with an abrasive punchline, but the antihero’s failed attempts to form human connections suffuse the book with melancholy. When Wilson suffers a family tragedy, he returns to the old neighborhood and weeps on the little league pitcher’s mound, hinting that Clowes applies the pace and structure of Charles Schulz’s “Peanuts” to a midlife crisis of meaning. Wilson may be a little one-note, but its an affecting work that suggests a thaw in Clowes’ sense of humor.
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Blog Flume discusses how to interpret the style of WILSON

Updated May 4, 2010


A Few Ways to Think About Style in Wilson

by Ken Parille

When you open Daniel Clowes's Wilson, the end-papers suggest what becomes clear as you read further: there are as many Wilsons as there are cartooning styles in the comic.

Here’s are some of the ways you could “read” Clowes’s approach in his new graphic novel [spoiler-free commentary].

1. Each style represents/suggests how Wilson thinks/feels about himself in that scene.


2. Each style represents or evokes how the narrator feels towards Wilson on that page -- different styles can encode differing degrees of sympathy; an important part of the story is how the narrator feels about his protagonist.


3. Each style represents how other characters within the fictional world of a given scene (the notion of setting is necessarily unstable in a multi-style comic) would or might “see,” and perhaps, judge Wilson.

4. Each page represents specific traits of Wilson’s “physical-emotional portrait” that the author/narrator wants us to focus on in that scene.

5. Wilson is a moody guy -- so the styles evoke/play off of his differing moods in an intuitive way. As Mr. Ames from Clowes's Ice Haven might argue, “There is no translatable content contained within each style: it is simply an aesthetic mood, and therefore is beyond the ability of words to characterize it.” Perhaps the styles are not about anything -- rather they create a visual rhythm, a kind of plot that overlaps and diverges from the narrative plot.

6. It is as if Clowes has farmed out the pages of Wilson to a host of carefully selected “ghost” cartoonists, whose approaches are suited to the scene in the story they draw. Each style evokes the specific interests of a different narrator, who -- naturally -- would not describe Wilson and his world with the lines and cartooning language used by others -- just as, given the same plot, a group of writers would all produce something dissimilar.

7. Taken together, the shifting styles represent the inaccessibility of the real Wilson. As with the endpapers, which signature -- which face, which style -- is really his, or Clowes's?

8. Despite all of the styles, there's only one Wilson -- it’s the familiar paradox of identity: we are constantly shifting in our affect (our style of the moment), yet somehow stable in our “essence.”

9. The drawing styles are less significant than the shifting approaches to coloring: Wilson is a kind of “dramatic monologue” played out in a series of changing visual looks/moods defined largely by Clowes’s color palette on that page. You are supposed to ‘feel’ color and or style rather than ‘see’ and then translate them.


10. Many novels pretend that a person can be fully known and understood by another person -- such novels narrate the words, actions, thoughts, and feelings of a character with a great sense of certainty: “She thought this.” -- “She felt that.” -- "She was that." But thoughts and feelings are muddy and murky: who can ever fully know their own mind, let alone that of another? The styles of Wilson represent a refusal to participate in the lie of certainty and consistency -- in place of such assurance Wilson substitutes a series of beautifully executed styles that give us an honest, and therefore incomplete, portrait of a compelling character . . .


11. Mix and match any of the above: use whatever one seems appropiate for a given page and/or reject them all.



 
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  Time Out New York interviews DANIEL CLOWES

Updated May 4, 2010


Off-page with...
Dan Clowes

With Wilson, the graphic novelist has more fun being bleak.

by Hillary Chute

The title character of Daniel Clowes’s new Wilson (Drawn & Quarterly) is a middle-aged man, who, like Clowes, was born in Chicago and lives in Oakland, where Clowes currently resides with his son Charlie, 5, and wife Erika. Clowes is the creator of the long-running, influential comic series Eightball, which he started in 1989, as well as the author of Pussey! (Fantagraphics, 1995), Ghost World (Fantagraphics, 1997), Caricature (Fantagraphics, 1998), David Boring (Pantheon, 2000), and Ice Haven (Pantheon, 2005), among many others. His screenplays include Ghost World and Art School Confidential—both movies based on his comics—and his serialized strip Mister Wonderful ran in the New York Times magazine starting in 2007. Clowes is a frequent contributor of covers to The New Yorker.

So you grew up in Chicago?

I grew up in Hyde Park, which is the weirdest neighborhood in the world. It’s a bubble. I mean, I grew up thinking that racial inequality was a thing of the past. Like I truly had no idea what the rest of the world was like. It’s like this sort of leftist wet dream of how things could work out. When I go back to Chicago, I can’t believe what a great city it is. It’s so different than what I grew up with that it’s deeply alienating and upsetting to me personally, but on an empirical level I have to say it would be the perfect city to live in. Mayor Daly has done a pretty amazing job just in terms of the design of the city.

So you feel emotionally attached to the ugly version of the city?

I’m totally into the ugly version. When I was a kid, I would go downtown on a Sunday afternoon, and literally there would be nobody within sight except for zombie-like homeless people. And I just thought that was great, that you could walk through the streets of this huge American city without seeing a soul. It felt like an apocalypse movie or something.

In Wilson, the protagonist’s father is a comp lit professor. Were your parents professors?

My grandfather [James Cate] was a big deal professor in the ‘40s through the ‘70s, and my mom was not a professor [laughs]. She was an auto mechanic. She tried to be the opposite of my grandfather.

Was he friends with all of the literature luminaries at Chicago?

He knew Saul Bellow, who was there at the time, and he was good friends with John Hope Franklin, who was in the History department, and he knew Ed Levy, and I’m guessing he probably knew Justice John Paul Stevens, the Supreme Court Justice who’s retiring. My grandfather’s best friend was Norman Maclean, who wrote that book A River Runs Through It. He was our dinner guest every Friday night. I basically lived with my grandparents most of the time because my mom was busy trying to run a garage.

You went to Pratt, right?

I did.

And did you hate it?

Actually, at the time I enjoyed it. But I had a friend who sort of dropped out half way through, and I remember I saw him at a bar and he said, “It just occurred to me one day all I really have to do is put up my paintings in my room, and have my friends come over and talk about the paintings and that would be the exact same thing [as art school].” And I thought, wait a minute, that can’t be right, and yet, he was absolutely right! [Laughs]

So what was your first published comics work?

It was a feature in Cracked magazine called “Aren’t You Nervous When…?”

How did you hook up with Cracked?

I had a roommate at Pratt who was kind of an amazing guy who could talk his way into anything. And one day he noticed there was an opening for, like, an assistant gopher at Cracked. And he said, Hey, I’m going to get this job! And within three weeks, he was like the editor in chief. [Laughs] It was pretty great.

One of your early books is Pussey!, which makes fun of the comics world.

You know, when it first came out, it was a big deal. That was the thing everybody talked about, and that’s what got me all the attention. Because nobody had ever done anything like that.

You mean about comics?

Now it’s such a part of the culture to do things about nerds. You know, that’s something that’s done in every medium now. But at that time, nobody wanted to make fun of that crowd. And I was so resentful of being kind of stuck in that world. I just felt like the comics I was doing had nothing at all to do with the marketplace I was being thrown into, and I’d find myself having to go to these comic book conventions, and sitting next to some guy who was drawing, like, 20th-rate superhero comics, and he’d have a line out the door, and I’d have nobody. I thought I was doing stuff that would draw as big an audience as some really specific weird superhero, and yet, no. I was wrong. [Laughs]

So then what happened?

Somehow there were enough of us—there was me, and the Hernandez brothers, and Peter Bagge, and Charles Burns, and a few others—that we created our own little audience. And the people who now go to MoCCA and shop at Desert Island and all that, that’s sort where that crowd came out of. And they were kind of indie-rock college student types, who somehow stumbled onto these comics. I mean, it was not easy to do back then.

What do you think about the fact that you’re always being accused of having misanthropic characters, especially, say, in Ghost World?

I would hope that if you really read the work carefully, that wouldn’t be all you took away from it. Because certainly that’s not my intention. And I often don’t see the parts that people find especially grim and depressing. I usually find whatever I’m doing to be funny. And often I’m surprised when people say, “I was so depressed for two weeks after reading that comic.” Not me. When I work, my wife hears me upstairs laughing at my own stupid jokes. [Laughs]

You’re famous—to me at least—for drawing really believable girl characters.

Well, that’s nice.

And then your last two works, Mister Wonderful [which ran in the New York Times magazine in 20 installments] and Wilson both feature middle-aged man characters.

They’re two very different versions of the same guy in a way. With Mister Wonderful, the woman at The New York Times called me up and asked me if I wanted to do a comic strip, and we were just sort of talking about different ideas there could be. At some point in this conversation I said, “I should do a romance story.” And of course I was imagining a ’50s-style, teen romance kind of a thing. And then I thought, well, what would that mean for my imagined reader of the New York Times magazine? I tried to create the guy I thought was the optimal reader for the New York Times magazine, and it was this guy Marshall. And then I thought, what would his love story be? And that’s how that began.

How did you decide to have different styles throughout Wilson?

Originally I was going to do it all in the same style, and I couldn’t decide what style to pick [Laughs], so I kept trying out different styles, and then it became part of the DNA of book. It was unimaginable then that I would pick a certain style that felt like it accurately reflected this person.

Part of what is so interesting about Wilson is the form: 77 discrete chapters, or sections.

I thought any subject that popped into my head, I could do a Wilson strip about. That was the appeal. I liked the idea of having a Charlie Brown—you know, a character you could just use for anything. It felt like he had this internal self-sustaining humor mechanism where he never quite learns from anything. Then I hooked into the idea of actually trying to tell a story, kind of in between the comic strips, with this guy.

Is there any part of Wilson that is you-like? There seem to be obvious connections like Chicago and Oakland…

He’s certainly got my history to some degree. I’d sort of like to keep that as vague as possible because some of what he’s about is exactly me and some of it is the opposite of me. I mean, everything is made up for the most part. There’s a grain of truth to it all, and everything is made up. That’s why I never wanted to do autobiography, because it’s so much easier to make things up. And things work out so much better in the story than if you did autobiography.

How did you decide that you wanted to make it a “graphic novel” object?

I felt like the whole comic book thing is over. Like we can’t go back to that anymore. Now that you have to charge six dollars or whatever for a comic book it’s not the same thing as it was. It just seems like an affectation at this point in time.

Wilson is more than twice the size of Ice Haven. How did you decide to make it so big?

I liked the idea of Ice Haven as this little travel book or something. I wanted it to look like a postcard. Wilson—I just wanted everything about it to be sort of easy to read. I wanted it to just have the feel of a kid’s book, almost—sort of heavy, weighty. I wanted it to feel like it could take a bullet—like you could hold it in front of your chest, and it’s like, the bullet didn’t make it all the way through! It’s really the thickest board I’ve ever seen on a book. I told Chris Oliveros at Drawn & Quarterly, “I want the thickest board you can get me.” I thought, there’s something so great and strong about it. I felt like in a world where everybody is downloading books, it was saying, “I’m a book, damn it—deal with me.”
Are you going to do any more issues of Eightball?
I’m sort of into the books now. For years I was really into the comics, and the books were more kind of an afterthought, and now I’ve moved into being interested in doing the books, and it’s fun for me to do books, and to think about books, rather than comics.

Your story The Death Ray (2004) was technically an issue of Eightball, right?

That was an issue of Eightball, but it was kind of a really weird thing to do. I should have just done it as a book, and you know, people would have actually read it.

I loved that it was kind of in between a book and a comic book.

Yes, that was sort of the last time in history that that felt like something you could do. You know, just to have a comic like that and people would read it as a comic. But it’s very hard to explain that thing to anybody who’s not in the world of comics. I have such trouble explaining my career to people who are just sort of aware of Ghost World or David Boring and Ice Haven. You say, “Well, it was originally in Eightball,” and they don’t know what that is and they just don’t get any of that stuff. That whole world we were in, it seems so, so lost. The whole world of zine culture and doing your own little comic pamphlets and that stuff. It’s very hard to explain to someone who was born in 1990 what that’s all about. [Laughs]



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Dig interviews DANIEL CLOWES

Updated May 4, 2010


DANIEL CLOWES
A dialogue about dialogue

by Kelly J. Cooper

Out now in comic shops everywhere, Daniel Clowes' new work is a graphic novel called Wilson. Most famous for adapting Ghost World and Art School Confidential to screenplays that got turned into actual fuckin' movies, Clowes is a gifted cartoonist with a habit for creating strange and sometimes edgy characters on the fringes of society, seeking a human connection.

Much of your early work was "slice of life," and then your more recent material has been more narrative. Was that an organic shift, or was it inspired by anything in particular?

I think over time I just got a little more ambitious and a little more interested in creating bigger narratives. When I first started out, I was kind of opposed to narrative in a certain way. I was trying to do stories as naturally as possible without imposing the structure that's required of a story on them. [Then] I got much more interested in the opposite of that, which was telling a story and taking the same kind of events I might have been using in my earlier stories, but really trying to give them the maximum narrative impact.

You made an interesting choice, illustrating each page of Wilson in a different style.

When I initially started thinking about the book, I was trying to devise a style that would work for every strip [so that] each one would have the impact I wanted. And as I was doing that, I kept trying different styles. Some worked for some strips, and some worked for other strips, and it just sort of became part of the DNA of the book. It somehow seemed all of a sudden like I needed to incorporate all these styles in the book. And that said something to me about who this guy was, and also about how we all kind of think about ourselves. I tried not to repeat any of the styles. I tried to do 80 different styles throughout the whole thing.

You've said that the first round of dialogue for the Ghost World screenplay sounded off to you. Does that influence your subsequent comic writing?

When I wrote the Ghost World screenplay, I wrote the dialogue a certain way, and then when I finally heard the actors actually say the dialogue, I ... I learned more that day than I think I've ever learned any other day of my life! [laughs] I instantly saw how much of the dialogue was not necessary. My original draft of the script had every little, um, y'know, ellipsis, and every time they'd stutter and kind of trip over a word and you can't get somebody to act that stuff. A lot of comic dialogue is ... very hard to say. That's one of the reasons I never do readings from my own comics, because it always sounds ridiculous ... and always makes me want to rewrite the whole thing.
 
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  Torontoist reviews WILSON

Updated April 20, 2010


Dan Clowes’ new Graphic Novel, Wilson

by Dave Howard

Dan Clowes’ Wilson is one of the most anticipated graphic novels to arrive in stores for some time, written as it is by one of the most respected pioneers of “alternative” comics. One of Clowes’ earliest graphic novels, Ghost World, a story of two alienated teenage girls’ dissolving friendship set against the limiting possibilities of middle-class America, received wide acceptance and was made into a critically acclaimed film. Clowes was co-nominated for an Oscar for the screenplay.

When Clowes turns his critical eye to a topic, very little escapes his scorn. His collection of stories around the fictional character Dan Pussey is a scathing commentary of the male-dominated, emotionally stunted comic-book culture. His short story “Art School Confidential” has long been cited by art-school survivors as a bang-on critique up of all that is wrong and limiting in the pretentious–and often untalented–art world that shuns illustration and comics.

When his short story “Caricature”– a dark epiphany of meaninglessness in an aging caricature artist’s life–first appeared in Clowes’ comic book Eightball, it set the bar for North American alternative cartoonists, demonstrating the depth and maturity of what can be done in the medium.

His subsequent graphic novels, David Boring (Pantheon Books, 2000) and Ice Haven (Pantheon 2005), both received considerable critical acclaim for their commentary on society and their inventive storytelling techniques. Clowes has described David Boring as his attempt at creating a comic that could not be made into a film. In Ice Haven, the story unfolds as a fragmented series of cartoon strips drawn in different styles the view a single event. Both books challenge the reader to see more than is presented on the page.

Wilson is the first graphic novel to be released without first being serialized in Eightball, or any other venue, which makes its release that much more anticipated (it is to be released at TCAF in May–and Clowes himself will be giving a presentation on the book). Wilson does not disappoint. It is a masterwork that distils the existential themes touched upon in almost all of Clowes’ previous work.

Wilson is an asshole, a self-absorbed childish jerk who manages to remain a somewhat sympathetic character. Wilson is a single, middle-aged man in a great deal of pain, trying to reach out and find a connection to something bigger than himself–even if it’s just one other individual–but his constant negativity, his complete lack of empathy, and his adolescent self-absorption and bossy nature drives everyone away. It is as if he has a mild form of autism or his character is the result of years of undiagnosed Asperger syndrome.

Like Clowes earlier novel, Ice Haven, Wilson is told in comic strips; unlike Ice Haven, the format is not crucial or as obvious in the telling of the story. Each strip is an unwavering six panel, page-long segment. Each page has a simple title and a punch-line, and varies only among a few drawing styles–all of which reference Clowes’ own drawing styles in Eightball. Each strip lays down the story brick by brick in a repetitive fashion, and it is this narrative strategy that most effectively moves the reader. Each of Wilson’s interactions, each page with a punchline, is both tragic and absolutely hilarious. Interspersing tragic and comic pages, the reader participates in an understanding of Wilson’s interactions with other people. We laugh at what he says and at his immature jokes, but we are also aware of the repulsion of his victims and understand that these vignettes, taken together, are not very funny at all. Pieces of information outside of Wilson’s view are only imagined by the reader. There is no narration, no narrative voice other than order of the drawings. There are no word balloons to tell us what other characters are saying on the other end of the phone. We are in the room with Wilson himself, but not in his head.

Because Wilson is pared down to the life of a single character, we can focus on the existential dilemma Clowes puts before us without distraction. Wilson cannot connect, try as he might. His father passes away, an event that stirs thoughts of his own mortality, and so he attempts, in his own perverse way, to re-create a nuclear family, thinking that doing so will grant him the feeling for others he needs in order to connect. He thinks he can do this by staring at the ocean, as his parents used to do when he was a child.

Wilson is very readable, and it’s Clowes’ best work to date. It can be read as a cautionary tale about what can go wrong when a person fails to empathize, or as a judgement upon the impossibility of empathy. I believe this work seals Clowes reputation as a modern day American Albert Camus. And the comedic timing is totally fucking hilarious.
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Dan Clowes On Tour for WILSON

Updated April 20, 2010




Mere days after the book's release, Dan hits the road in support of it.













05/03/10Wash DCPOLITICS & PROSE
05/04/10CambridgeBRATTLE THEATER & HARVARD BOOKSTORE
05/05/10NYCTHE STRAND
05/07/10-05/09/10 TorontoTCAF
05/13/10San FranciscoTHE BOOKSMITH
05/14/10Los AngelesSKYLIGHT BOOKS
05/16/10PortlandPOWELLS
06/03/10OaklandDIESEL
06/12/10- 06/13/10ChicagoPRINTERS ROW & QUIMBY'S

 

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  The Comics Reporter reviews WILSON

Updated March 9, 2010


Wilson

by Tom Spurgeon

Wilson is a sharp strike right to the sweet spot of the brain where great comics are enjoyed; it's a late, great start to a 2010 that felt slightly quiet after the rush to publication by book like Footnotes In Gaza in the waning days of 2009. Like all the great steps forward in Clowes' long career, it mixes a fairly straight-forward reading experience with a skein of smartly-applied formal techniques that tease at what we're seeing, growing in clarity and force until they ultimately transform the book into a powerful meditation on a subject at which the reader of the first few pages could only guess. It's Clowes being Clowes, and Wilson all by itself makes 2010 a pretty good year for comics no matter what happens from here on out.

Wilson tells the story of a sad-looking man of indeterminate years and limited economic means. He seems completely alone despite constantly engaging people. The more these encounters turn into Wilson cutting into some perceived vulnerable area, sometimes one of his own creation and always to a hilarious end, the more it becomes understandable why no one's remained close to the guy. Each page Clowes presents is its own discrete unit. This makes the realization that we're learning more about the character and then following him through some sort of narrative progression surprising on a gut, structural level. It also gives Clowes a chance to get in and get out about which film and stage can only dream, allowing us prolonged exposure to a character that another medium would try to soften or find intolerable. The second sustained formal choice Clowes makes that comes into play is that each of the comics is done with a slightly different attention to style. I think discerning the intention behind that choice will be the hook for comics book club meetings, Internet chats and convention dinners for months if not years to come. My gut is that the author intends it as commentary on just how difficult it is to "know" a character or more generally get at truth through art, but I'm open to having my mind changed and imagine I will. I think most people will end up processing the intentional shifts just like they might unintentional ones; I know I did.

There's an even more showy formal choice that breaks the narrative about two-thirds of the way through Wilson. As effective as that one turns out to be coming on the heels of so many others, my memory of the book's latter portions have more to do with the humanist aspects that come increasingly to bear. Magnificently clueless and obviously self-defeating, willing to accept answers to life's questions that might have the rest of us scrambling for a brand new set of inquiries, Wilson's desire to engage and find some place for himself became affecting in a way I never would have guessed reading ten of those early punchlines in a row. Clowes is careful not to let his character find unearned change, and our hero is letting loose with fanciful nonsense almost up to the final one-pager. But when Wilson says things like "Christ, it's unbelievable how you go from feeling young to old in a few short years" it's hard not to agree with him, and maybe even connect to something that's also true of ourselves.

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The anticipation mounts for WILSON and INDOOR VOICE says The National Post

Updated January 19, 2010


The Most Anticipated Books of 2010

by Mark Medley

Challenges abound when compiling a list of the most anticipated books of the coming year. The first problem is that it’s impossible to say for certain whether a book will be any good. We can recommend you check out Don DeLillo’s new novel when it hits stores next month, but, until we crack open the spine, we won’t know if it’s another Underworld or another Cosmopolis. Unlike movies, (most) books don’t have the luxury of a glossy two-minute trailer to excite readers, though perhaps you could get Ian McEwan to read passages from his new book over a rousing John Williams score, or hire one of those distinctive trailer voice-over men to hype Beatrice and Virgil as “by the author of Life of Pi and The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios.” Or maybe not.

When it comes to books, keen readers must pore over publisher’s catalogues, reading too-earnest synopses that herald (seemingly) every book as “devastating” or “profound” or “a masterpiece of the highest order.” And even blurbs from other writers, who have (apparently) read the book and (apparently) like it enough to loan their name to the cover, have limited cachet.

Still, there are lots of books coming out these next few months that - based on the author, past work, an interesting synopses, or a chapter we’ve already read - are solid bets and should be great.

The first half of 2010 brings us new novels, poetry and short story collections from award winners (Peter Carey, Joan Thomas) and new voices (Miguel Syjuco, Eleanor Catton). The next Giller Prize or Griffin Prize winner may be hidden among the titles listed below.

Forget Iron Man 2, here’s what we’re really looking forward to in the first half of 2010:

CANADA

• Andrew Kaufman - The Waterproof Bible (Random House/February) - Kaufman’s debut novel, 2003’s All My Friends Are Superheroes, was a cult hit. He returns with a novel about a young woman who (literally) cannot control her emotions, and a man coming to terms with the death of his wife.

• Rabindranath Maharaj - The Amazing Absorbing Boy (Knopf/February) - The under-appreciated author of A Perfect Pledge delivers a comic-tinged coming of age set in downtown Toronto. Think The Fortress of Solitude set in Regent Park.

• Joan Thomas - Curiosity (McClelland and Stewart/March) - It was only last year that Thomas won the Commonwealth Prize for Best First Book (Canada/Caribbean) for her novel Reading by Lightning. Her second novel is a fictionalized account of paleontologist Mary Anning, who discovered the first ichthyosaur skeleton - think of a giant dolphin - when she was only 12 years old.

• Dionne Brand - Ossuaries (McClelland & Stewart/March) - The first volume of poetry from Toronto’s Poet Laureate in five years.

• Adam Lewis Schroeder - In The Fabled East (Douglas & McIntyre/March) - One of Canada’s best young writers, Schroeder delivers his second novel, about a bureaucrat sent on a mission up the Mekong River to find an Army captain’s long lost mother. Shades of Joseph Conrad.

• Michael Lista - Bloom (House of Anansi/April) - This upstart young Montreal poet publishes his first collection, which chronicles a day in the life of Winnipeg scientist Louis Slotin, who helped develop the atomic bomb.

• Yann Martel - Beatrice and Virgil (Knopf Canada/April) - The biggest release of the spring. Martel attempts to follow-up his mega-selling Life of Pi (which won the Man Booker Prize and was recently named the National Post’s best Canadian book of the decade) with this story about a famous writer, a taxidermist, a monkey and a donkey.

• Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall - Ghosted (Random House of Canada/April) - This master of immersion journalism - his first book was Down To This: Squalor and Splendour in a Big-City Shantytown - turns his attention to fiction with this novel about a young man who makes a living writing suicide notes. Yes please.

• Miguel Syjuco - Ilustrado (Hamish Hamilton Canada/April) - The only book coming out this spring to have already won a major award: the former Montreal Gazette copy editor won the Man Asian Award in 2008 for this novel about a famous Philippine author who’s found dead in the Hudson River.

• Jillian Tamaki - Indoor Voice (Drawn and Quarterly/April) - A new collection of sketches and comics from the acclaimed illustrator of Skim.

• Steven Heighton - Patient Frame (Anansi/April) and Every Lost Country (Knopf/April) - Kingston’s Steven Heighton is the busiest man of the spring. He’s releasing his first collection of poetry since 2004 and his first novel since 2005, about a group of mountain climbers who witness the murder of Tibetan refugees at the hands of Chinese border guards.

• Russell Smith - Girl Crazy (HarperCollins/April) - Canada’s foremost chronicler of urban affairs returns with a new novel about a community college instructor obsessed with a younger woman.

• Shawn Micallef - Stroll: Psychogeographic Walking Tours of Toronto (Coach House/May) - Micallef has been writing the “Stroll” column for Toronto’s Eye Weekly for years; this book collects and expands some of his favourite pieces. Better than visiting Toronto.

• Carole Enahoro - Doing Dangerously Well (Random House of Canada/May) - A darkly satirical novel about a water company exec looking to privatize an African river; Enahoro is one of Random House’s new faces of fiction for 2010.

• Eleanor Catton - The Rehearsal (McClelland and Stewart/May) - Debut from this hotshot young novelist - she’s like 24 years old - finally comes to Canada after much buzz abroad.

• Emily St. John Mandel - The Singer’s Gun (Unbridled Books/May) - If it seems like her debut, Last Night in Montreal, just hit bookstores, that’s because it only came out in June. She returns with a new novel about a young man trying to escape a life of crime.

• Peter Darbyshire - The Warhol Gang (HarperCollins Canada/May) - Darbyshire delivers his long-anticipated follow-up to Please, which won the ReLit Award. See Q&A.

INTERNATIONAL

• Sam Shepard - Day out of Days (Knopf/January) - A new volume of short fiction from the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, actor and author.

• Joshua Ferris - The Unnamed (Reagan Arthur Books/January) - Ferris doesn’t follow-up his acclaimed and bestselling 2007 debut, Then We Came To The End, with another comic tale of office life, but rather a strange novel about a man who suffers from an unexplained illness which causes him, from time-to-time, to keep walking until he collapses of exhaustion.

• Don DeLillo - Point Omega (Scribner’s/February) - It’s been 12 years since Underworld, DeLillo’s last great work. Let’s hope his new short novel - about a filmmaker, a former scholar, and his daughter, living in the desert - is a return to form.

• Lionel Shriver - So Much For That (HarperCollins/February) - The author of the Orange Prize-winning We Need to Talk About Kevin returns with a novel about a man whose dream of retiring to Africa is put on hold when his wife develops cancer.

• Sam Lipsyte - The Ask (Farrar, Straus and Giroux/March) - Lipsyte’s last book, Home Land, about a young man chronicling his life via letters to his high school alumni newsletter, was a breakout hit. His new book is about a man given one last chance to keep his job at a university.

• Ian McEwan - Solar (Nan A. Talese/March) -- McEwan’s latest is about a Nobel Prize-winning physicist on a trip to Mexico City which may save his marriage, his career, and the world.

• Peter Carey - Parrot and Olivier in America (Random House of Canada/April) - There are two writers who have won the Man Booker Prize twice. Carey is one of them.

• Daniel Clowes - Wilson (Drawn and Quarterly/May) - A brand-new graphic novel from the man behind Ghost World about a middle-aged loner who discovers he has a teenage daughter.

• Philip Pullman - The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ (Canongate/May) - We probably don’t need another retelling of the gospels. But the fact that this novel is written by Pullman, the author of the brilliant His Dark Materials trilogy, makes it one of the most anticipated publishing events of the season. Sure to ignite controversy.




 
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