Daniel Clowes is one of the most celebrated graphic novelists around. He has written “Ghost World,” “Art School Confidential” and “Wilson,” all of which have been turned into feature films. His latest book is called “Patience: A Cosmic Timewarp Deathtrip To The Primordial Infinite Of Everlasting Love.”
There’s a lot going on in this book, including a young couple expecting their first child, a murder or two, and time travel. Clowes spent five years working on the 180-page graphic novel, including one entire year devoted to making sure all of the colors in the book were right.
The Frame's John Horn spoke with Daniel Clowes about what inspired him to make a time travel love story, where he gets his ideas for drawing his offbeat characters, and if his indie comics will ever get the same attention as Batman or Superman.
What was the inspiration behind "Patience"?
The initial engine that got me interested in the story was the idea of a person — a 25-year-old — who then becomes a very different person at 55. I had spent the last couple of years putting together reprints of some of my early work and I had a one man show at the Museum of Contemporary Art and I had to put together all of my work for that. In the process of that, I found myself in a strange dialogue competition with this alien young man who was me in 1989. I thought that had the basis for something that would keep me interested in what turned out to be five years.
As you're going back and looking at your earlier works and thinking about the moments in your personal and professional life that influenced that work, do you start thinking about those little events and how they shape the person you are today?
The idea that there are these days of your life that alter the flowchart of who you become — there was a day I was living in Chicago and I was out in Berkeley at a little book signing and wound up by pure chance meeting my wife on that day. There's a million things that could have happened that would have prevented that from happening and I would have never have known her. That's a perfect example of a single day where everything in my life changed dramatically.
You start to see that life has these movie script moments where you have plot points, or it shifts from act two to act three, or you have reversals of things that you expected to happen but didn't happen. It became much more apparent looking at it at the vantage of a 54-year-old.
You have a distinct artistic style, specifically in the way you draw the people in your books. If a character is miserable, you might draw his or her face in an exaggerated and almost ugly kind of way. What inspires you to draw people the way you do.
Well, that comes from growing up in Chicago.
Every time I get off the plane in the Midwest, and all of a sudden I feel like, "Oh my god. I'm back in one of my early comics." I feel like it was a transcript of this sort of Midwestern look that I grew up with and I, myself, had and that you tend to forget about when you live in a place like the Bay area.
There's what I would call an appalling looking kid in a grocery cart in a scene late in this story. He's kind of haunting looking even though he's just an infant. Can you talk a little bit about the design in that character?
I spent a long time working on that character. I actually redrew his face five or six times until I got it right. It was something I noticed when my son was very small. He'd be on the playground and there would be certain kids, and you could just look at them and imagine them as adults, and you could feel like certain kids and this DNA to be, not necessarily bullies, but aggressive in this way that was so early on and so a part of their DNA that it was kind of astonishing to me. So I was trying to capture that air to that young child that you shouldn't be imbuing with that kind of life sentence.
So if I wanted to bring you to a kid's birthday party, you're gonna make a lot of harsh judgements based on how these kids look.
Very judgmental of these kids. Well, it's funny, and you see them grow up and of course they all turn into themselves. All of my son's friends I just plug in to being versions of my friends when I was growing up. So if a kid looks vaguely like some kid I knew who was stealing money from his parents to buy drugs or something, I'm always telling my son, "Ah, watch out for that kid."
And the ultimate story will be that kid will go on to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
Of course, and the kid that I'm trying to get my son to play with will be a cyber-hacker or something.
Some of your comic books have been adapted into films, including "Ghost World," "Art School Confidential," and now "Wilson" which will be coming out this Fall. Yet the majority of attention in the comic book world goes to gigantic superhero books and films. Do you worry that your books and artists similar to you will consistently be overshadowed by these properties?
Well, certainly, they are and always will be crushed beyond overshadowed. We're just a tiny blip on the radar and I always find it funny because when I started in comics in the '80s, the kinds of comics I did were really relegated to a tiny box in the back of the comics store that was entirely all superheroes, that's all it was. We were lucky to have our little space in the back room in the "arts only" box.
Right, with Robert Crumb and other people like that.
Yeah, at best. Usually it was with Elf pornography...
So at that time, we all harbored this thought that our comics are the really mainstream comics. These are about adult situations and normal interactions, and they're not about these superheroes, which seemed like such an odd thing for comics to be exclusively about. Now that the culture has embraced superhero films, it shows that we were completely wrong and that we've always been this little niche in this vast juggernaut that is this huge industry that I see no sign of it slowing down anytime soon.
“Patience: A Cosmic Timewarp Deathtrip To The Primordial Infinite Of Everlasting Love" is available now.