Cartoonist Daniel Clowes returns to Chicago

Self-Portrait Daniel Clowes
Self-Portrait Daniel Clowes

Cartoonist Daniel Clowes returns to Chicago

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Self-Portrait (Daniel Clowes)

This week Daniel Clowes will be back in his old stomping grounds, just in time for the big NATO gathering!

Clowes, though, is not coming home to hobnob with world leaders. The artist behind graphic novel indie classics like Ghost World, David Boring, Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron and Wilson is touring behind a new book. The Art of Daniel Clowes: Modern Cartoonist surveys his entire career, from some late-60’s Spiderman drawings to graphic work as recent as 2011.

Thursday night Clowes will sign copies at Quimby’s Bookstore on North Avenue. Over the weekend he’ll be at Comics: Philosophy and Practice, a conference organized by the Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry at the University of Chicago.

The conference is kind of the culmination of an artistic and scholarly collaboration between cartoonist Alison Bechdel and U of C Professor Hillary Chute. So fittingly, it features a megawatt lineup of graphic artists: R. Crumb, Aline Kominsky-Crumb, Chris Ware, Lynda Barry and of course Clowes.

Clowes lives in Oakland, Calif., so we had a long-distance conversation earlier this week. But my thoughts were on Chicago and his time here as a child and as a developing cartoonist. I started by relaying an anecdote from WBEZ engineer and local musician Liz Bustamante, who like many ’90s-era Chicagoans of a certain type, had caught glimpses of Clowes and other cartoonists drawing in the original Earwax Café in Wicker Park. Turns out what might be a fond memory for witnesses was a bout of torture for Clowes.

But it was the Chicago of Clowes’ childhood and teen years (he was born in 1961) that had a big impact on his eventual drawing style and subject matter.

Clowes has an incredibly distinct style, one he’s developed and controlled over numerous works.  Here he talks about working with the editor of the new book, Alvin Buenaventura. We moved on to talk about various influences on his style - a standard question that can be hard for artists to answer but is equally hard to avoid asking. He ended up talking about how he developed into his own “influencer” but also where some of his techniques come from.

Ghost World is, for me, one of those books you buy over and over, so you can introduce favored friends to this marvelous world of teen angst, longing and loathing. I started to ask Clowes about his interest in pop culture – which is both revered and reviled in Ghost World and his other works. We ended up having an interesting exchange on his attraction to women in bondage and how he tapped into the mind of Enid Coleslaw and Rebecca Doppelmeyer.

In 2006, Clowes experienced some of the highs and lows of life in short order. He had a son, and he had heart surgery – a horrific experience he details in The Art of Daniel Clowes (he was unable to draw during a two-year recovery period).  In the book he talks quite a bit about being middle-aged, so I asked if he really felt that way.

Clowes ended by talking about where he now finds inspiration, and his thoughts on how academics interpret comics.

You can listen to my full interview with Daniel Clowes here:

You can chat with Daniel Clowes Thursday night, at Quimby’s Bookstore in Wicker Park, or through the weekend at Comics: Philosophy and Practice in Hyde Park.