Monday, November 4, 2013

Daniel Clowes

Daniel Clowes is a Chicago-born cartoonist known best for his serialized comics and graphic novels. After graduating from Pratt Institute, his first published comic series was Lloyd Llewelleyn, a six-issue series published by Fantagraphics starting in 1986 (Parille and Cates, 53). From there, he began work on Eightball, a series that was first published in 1989.

While there are individual stories in issues, some issues of Eightball consist of episodic segments of a longer story. For example, one of Clowes’s most iconic works, Ghost World, began as an eight-part series within issues of Eightball, later compiled as a separate graphic novel. Ghost World has since been adapted as a screenplay and critically-acclaimed film. It seems strange for a complete graphic novel to arise from a sort of develop-as-you-go project like a serial comicsaid Clowes in a 1996 interview before Ghost World ended, “I wanted to see if I could make up a couple of characters that pretty much have nothing to do with me, the way I am, or the way I have grown upand see if I can make them extensions of myself and come across realistically. And then I got more ambitious after that and tried to add a certain tone to it that was not present in the first couple of them” (57). 

This stands in contrast to David Boring, another series-turned-novel originally published in three acts toward the end of the 15 year run of Eightball, about which Clowes said, “I put a lot of effort into the preparation and planning of it. I figured out every little thing ahead of time… I felt really trapped by the super-clean, complicated style that I was working in… in David Boring it was literally impossible to stick a new panel in somewhere because it was so carefully figured out that the only way you could insert a panel was to replace another. I did it a couple times, I think, but it was very constricting” (182).

Clowes has illustrated covers for The New Yorker and designed several covers for albums, such as Las Vegas Grind - Volume Four.

With bold line work and stylized caricature, Clowes brings to life his characters who often lie on the periphery of social acceptance or ease. He carefully uses minimal detail in order to express as much as possible. “In trying to capture a mood and show how the character fits into the world around them, I try not to let it get overloaded with details… When expressing emotion with a face, every line tells something,” said Clowes in 2002 (142). Furthermore, Clowes controls perspective to manipulate the reader’s understanding of his created environments: “My horizons tend to be in the lower middle of the panel: I want the viewers to be involved in the story, and I think the best way is for them to be at eye level with the characters most of the time” (143).

Much of Clowes’s original artwork was curated into an exhibition by Susan Miller and RenĂ© de Guzman, originally for the Oakland Museum of California. This summer, I was able to visit it at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. It was really interesting to see his original sketches and inkings, including changes in placement and lettering during the draft process.

I’m still working my way through all of his work. Luckily, Lilly has a good portion of it in the stacks!

“The Album Cover Art Gallery.” Tralfaz Archives. Web. 

Daniel Clowes: Conversations. Ed. Ken Parille and Isaac Cates. Jackson: University of Mississippi, 2010. vii-xvi. Print.

“Modern Cartoonist: The Art of Daniel Clowes Jun 29–Oct 13, 2013.” Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. Web. <>.

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