MOTHER JONES: 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. MORE
BOING BOING: Wilson is cartoonist Daniel Clowes’ first graphic novel (that is, it’s not an anthology of a serial comic book strip). It’s about a lonely, unemployed, self-loathing, passive-aggressive sad-sack who goes through life making himself and the people around him miserable. In the beginning, the pages seem to be unconnected, but about a third-of-the way in I had been swept up in the plot, which involves the highly-opinionated Wilson coming to terms with various relatives that he has deeply flawed relationships with. MORE