Tag Archives: Daniel Clowes

MONICA by Daniel Clowes graphic novel review

Monica. By Daniel Clowes. Seattle: Fantagraphics, 2023. 106pp, $30.

Guest review by Paul Buhle

This has been quite a year for determinedly offbeat comic artist Dan Clowes. An interview in the New Yorker followed by a strong review beginning on the front page of the New York Times Book Review, not to mention an NPR interview, nailed down the point: Clowes has hit the big time.

Is this as far as “alt-comics,” somewhere beyond the comic strip and the comic book, can go in becoming “mainstream”? It’s a good question, first raised properly by the reception of the comic art of R. Crumb, then of Art Spiegelman (whose looming presence remains above the scenery somehow), of Alison Bechdel, Joe Sacco and others. The work of Ben Katchor, who is now designing comic-like images for Paris Metro lines stretching into the villages of the countryside, might remind us that in France, comics can be art. Back in the US and despite the rising prestige (and commercial success) of some artists, their work remains….comic art! If, admittedly, viewed very differently from the comic art of old: fewer readers but more prestige, as cynics would say.

Clowes, part of the alternative comics that followed the collapse of the 1960s-70s underground comix, saw Ghost World, his creation, become the basis for a film about teenage angst, with himself as one of the scriptwriters. It was a first for comic scriptwriters, even if comic characters themselves had appeared in dozens of older Hollywood films, with several series of low-production films dedicated to the sagas of Blondie, Joe Palooka and even Captain Marvel (a kids’ serial).

These three series actually happened to have been scripted by Lefties who would go on the blacklist (except for the Captain Marvel series, whose writer became an affable Friendly Witness testifying against his former comrades), and lose their careers. The films themselves, now totally obscure,  even have a curious, populistic social content, leaving one to wonder. What gives? Never mind. These ancient memories of comics adaptations are also buried beneath the tons of animated films from comics, seen especially at holiday times on television or via DVDs.

We are reminded, in an astute Comics Quarterly essay on Monica, that real-life artist Clowes was abandoned by his mother, and that “loneliness” is a continuing theme with a continuing expression in his aesthetics and a basis in personal life. Monica, the fictional subject of the comic is, to put it mildly, a troubled person. But Clowes is not telling anything so straightforward as autobiography. We experience the novel through her wavering consciousness, sometimes beyond her consciousness, which may be the most helpful of all hints.

“Foxhole,” the first of eight semi-discrete and separate chapters or episodes, goes back to the Vietnam War. A disillusioned GI from a poor background reflects on his disillusionment to his battlefield/jungle setting mate, who is from America’s wealthy classes, while they wait to kill or be killed. The trauma in these three pages is not going away. Indeed, the sense of apocalypse described is revisited, precisely, on the final panel of the book.

Other reviewers seem to run away from this particular as anything like central to the plot, and it makes sense. What we see through most of Monica is the results of the 1960s social breakdowns, the impossibility of a thriving counterculture measured in the broken homes and broken lives, crazed cults and children confused or, rather, disoriented for life. Cynical commentators have always viewed this human tragedy as a loss of traditional morals, socially enforced wage slavery, the dangers of drugs, etc. Clowes knows better, although he will not say so.

Our embittered GI returning, he thinks, to a quiet and happy life, is not. He’s the  fiancee  of our protagonist’s mother, but never her husband. His foxhole mate, a serious painter who has returned to the US first, turns out to be the actual biological father, or perhaps not. Monica’s mother Penny,  a counterculture burnout, stumbles along through life, although she actually launches a business that, much later, her daughter can revive and expand successfully, something that brings no pleasure. The book’s sometime narrator, a friend to Penny, relates and reflects on  a not-so-unusual confused single mom experience.  And Monica emerges,  episode after episode, not only damaged but keenly aware of being damaged. She a modern person, a modern woman, who does not accept fatalism, although to do so might have been a better strategy.

In the following vignette, the seemingly more fortunate one of the two GIs returns to his hometown, years later, and quickly realizes that crucial matters including his extended family and their small capitalist empire, have totally fallen apart. In this odd little world, Monica-the-comic becomes a perfectly recreated EC-comic horror story from the early 1950s, updated and upgraded artistically. And then the drugstore supernaturalism ends or perhaps drifts around, looking for a spot to land.

Monica the protagonist reemerges, alone in the world. Reviewers have found something special and intriguing, or at least narratively clear, in her listening to a radio left behind in a family cabin. The radio broadcasts, unbelievably but believably to her, feature the voice of her dead grandfather and allow her to have unsatisfied conversations with him. Although years dead, he is still an anti-Semite.

A few more vignettes and more than twenty years pass. Monica becomes a successful entrepreneur, but success only exposes the emptiness of her life. Her last-gasp effort finds her in a remote cult that manages to somehow be utterly boring, one more sixties offshoot full of conspiracy theories and compulsory collectivity. Successfully tracking down her mother is a total downer, as we might have expected.

That we find ourselves back in EC horror comics at the end is either the fulfillment of the prologue, one Vietnam vet to another predicting utter horror, or it is a general commentary about the average American life in the twenty first century. The consumer society drags on. Dreams of something different are apparently worse than confused. And we face the cosmos, on the cover of the book, searching for a meaning that is not there (on the back cover, more EC, but leaning toward the famed sci-fi series that borrowed heavily from Ray Bradbury.

The Vietnam War explanation to the book’s mysteries, to the mysteries in Daniel Clowes’s mind. Extraordinary crimes were done in our collective name, and someone must be punished. Then again, as The Comics Journal suggests, the aesthetics, such as the darker tinting of pages treating trauma,  may work just as well.

Paul Buhle is an editor of more than twenty non-fiction, historical comics.


Filed under Comics, Daniel Clowes, Graphic Novel Reviews

Review: PATIENCE by Daniel Clowes


Just like Alfred Hitchcock and Edward Hopper are familiar to neurotic connoisseurs and average slobs alike, so too Daniel Clowes is one of those select alternative cartoonists known to the general public. “Ghost World” is a bona fide cult classic that evokes better than most that special blend of Gen X rage. The Clowesian world is mired in self-loathing coupled with self-delusion forever seeking some sort of redemption through perpetual self-deprecation. Clowes perfected an ironic noir in the ’90s all his own. Since then, many readers have been catching up. His latest graphic novel, “Patience,” finds him in top form. It is published by Fantagraphics Books.

When I first moved to Seattle in 1993, Fantagraphics began publishing “Ghost World” in the one-man comics anthology, Eightball (1989-2004) by Daniel Clowes. I remember it, at the time, as being so perfectly rendered and mirroring the sarcastic bite of the hipster scene I was experiencing. It seemed too good to be true. And yet it did exist. There are other great alt cartoonists to enjoy, to be sure, but Clowes has the pulse on a certain strain of disconnected disquiet. His work will always be inextricably linked with the DIY/zine/grunge era. That’s the sweet spot his characters revolve around whether it’s 2006 or 2029. Clowes, as he ages, just keeps getting better. Like a cartoonist version of David Letterman, he cannot, nor should not, try to extricate himself from his roots. In Clowes, the Gen X muffled rage lives on. In this new book, we see just how timeless a Clowesian world can be.

This is as classic as you can get when it comes to Clowes. The title character is a young woman named, Patience. It is through the actions and thoughts of a young woman, it seems, that Clowes believes the secrets to life can be unlocked or, at least, we have our best chance at experiencing true grace on Earth. To act as our guide, and fully explain the rare quality of said lady, is a stand-in for Clowes. We begin with an attractive young couple. Patience and Jack have just learned that Patience is pregnant. While the timing is not great in respect to their finances, the two of them are happy. And then our story takes a turn that makes it, as billed, “a science fiction love story.”

Clowes has created an excellent vehicle for his vision. He has Patience, his ideal young woman, and he has Jack who, due to just the right touch of strange, becomes an ideal Clowes alter ego. This is quite a remarkable, beautiful, and ambitious work. Clowes gets to play with all the Clowesian toys in this one. It is a far better world, perhaps a tad too melancholy, but a far better world, to have the work of Daniel Clowes in it. Patience makes for a wonderful Clowes girl, full of grit with just the right amount of stubborn optimism. Jack makes for a great befuddled Everyman, just one step away from either utter self-destruction or blissful epiphany.


“Patience” is a 180-page full color hardcover and will be released on March 21st. For more details, and how to purchase, visit our friends at Fantagraphics Bookstore right here.

And don’t miss out on the Daniel Clowes “Patience” book tour. If you are in Seattle, you can see Mr. Clowes at the Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery this Saturday. Details are right here.


Filed under Comics, Daniel Clowes, Fantagraphics, Fantagraphics Books, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, science fiction, Time Travel

LA Journal: Meltdown Comics & Collectibles

One thing I love in this life is an awesome comic book shop. Such is the case with Meltdown Comics & Collectibles. On the Sunset Strip, this is the place you want to make time for during a visit to Los Angeles. And, if you’re a native, then you likely know what I’m talking about. Okay, let’s say you’re a tourist and you have your list of places to go to while in LA, well, I am here to tell you that Meltdown is a landmark you’ll want to hit.

MELTDOWN 7522 Sunset Blvd

MELTDOWN 7522 Sunset Blvd

In the spirit of full disclosure, I was at Meltdown to promote my own ongoing comics series, GEORGE’S RUN, about the life and times of screenwriter George Clayton Johnson. However, as my regular readers know, and those of us in the industry fully appreciate, this is a labor of love, very interconnected, so I’m there just as much to embrace the scene and my fellow creators. Stay tuned because I will be posting reviews of some awesome comics that I picked up during my visit. If you are a creator, be sure to contact me about reviewing your work. For this post, I am providing you with a little guided tour that will whet your appetite.



As you can see from the photos and video, Meltdown is a fully stocked, and fully loved, place for comics and related items. Keep in mind, for those of you still unsure, that comics are not only part of the zeitgeist. Comics are definitely an art form in their own right. That’s been said many times and bears repeating. Comics provide an outlet, a platform, that is a highly specific form of expression. It attracts many stripes of folk including some of the brightest and whipsmart. The word “comics” means many things and, no doubt, is inextricably linked to the world of comedy, even when it’s far from funny. It’s no surprise then that the likes of comedy genius Patton Oswalt cannot help but love comics and write for comics too.



The day I made my visit, a special Bernie Sanders event was being set up. There are all kinds of cool things going on here from music to comedy. And, of course, there are all sorts of special comics events. The next big one is a March 18th signing by Daniel Clowes in support of his latest masterpiece, “Patience,” published by Fantagraphics Books.



Here’s the deal, there is not, or should not be, a great divide between indie/alt comics and superhero comics. That’s a given for a lot of us. But it’s one of those things I feel compelled to repeat as often as necessary. I want readers out there who have not been around comics for a while to come back and see what’s been brewing. That just instantly comes to mind when I’m in such a fine place as Meltdown. The love and the knowledge is clearly here, each member of the staff is carrying the torch. You see it in the careful and thoughtful displays and staff picks. What Amoeba Music is to music, Meltdown is to comics. I rest my case. So, be sure to visit our dear friends at Meltdown right here.


Filed under Comics, Daniel Clowes, Fantagraphics Books, LA Journal, Los Angeles, Media, Meltdown Comics, Patton Oswalt, pop culture

Review: THE REALIST by Asaf Hanuka


For the last four years, Asaf Hanuka has been doing auto-biographical webcomics about his life in Tel Aviv, Israel, entitled, “The Realist.” In many ways, this is a pretty straightforward narrative but, as in any life, things can gain, at any moment, a razor-sharp specificity and intensity. This is, after all, one of the most watched war-torn areas in the world.

So, when a morning can simply consist of a father goading his little boy to eat his toast, that already carries potentially more weight than a similar moment somewhere else. That said, Hanuka seems to carry himself like a man on a mission wherever he might live. The Realist has now been collected for the first time in English as a graphic novel, published by Archaia, an imprint of BOOM! Studios.


Comparable to the work of R. Crumb and Daniel Clowes, Hanuka has a keen sense for depictions of everyday life. What really matters is that he’s FUNNY!

I actually laughed out loud from reading his comics. He wears his version of the average Joe quite well. There’s one strip where we follow Hanuka throughout his day, as if following the daily routine of a computer from start up to sleep mode. At each point of the day, he has options to choose: engage or ignore the bus driver, the neighbor, the co-worker, his son, his wife. End. Repeat the next day. It strikes close to home, and it’s hilarious.

They say that if if you try to call attention to your merits, people will gladly ignore you. However, if you revel in self-deprecation, suddenly you have a following. Well, Hanuka definitely has a following. But it’s more than having readers relate to your problems. Hanuka has an engaging style with his artwork. It’s a crisp rendering of his life that you can’t help but want to know more about.

“The Realist” is an original 192-page hardcover graphic novel, priced at $24.99, arriving in comic shops from Archaia on April 22nd with a cover by creator Asaf Hanuka. For more details, visit our friends at Boom! Studios right here.


Filed under Archaia Entertainment, Asaf Hanuka, Boom! Studios, Comics, Family, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Israel, Middle East, War, Webcomics


Jim Gaffigan as Howard Cantour

Jim Gaffigan as Howard Cantour

Portia Doubleday as Dakota Zearing

Portia Doubleday as Dakota Zearing

You know, I’m really surprised that Shia LeBeouf’s exercise in plagiarism has not been shut down and still exists as a legitimate film with its own official IMDb. So it goes, right? Well, for now. We’ll see how that turns out for Mr. LaBuff. Really, I enjoyed the Shia’s performance in 2012’s “The Company You Keep,” co-starring Robert Redford. It had a nice Hallmark Hall of Fame quality to it. Something Lindsay Lohan might have done before everything got fuzzy and weird.

Considering Shia’s new upcoming project as a sex addict, who knows, maybe things will start to get even fuzzier and weirder for him. But we don’t really want that for him. In fact, once this blows over, after wounds have healed, after some soul-searching, all could turn out quite well, no? And, if so, I’d be proud to shake Mr. LaBoof’s hand. For now, the craziness continues as you can read in this piece in The Independent from this Monday here.

So, basically, you’ve got a short film that lifts its story directly from a short work in comics by Daniel Clowes, entitled, “Justin M. Damiano.”

Hey, knock your socks off and view Shia’s little masterpiece at the YouTube right down here, just waiting for you. It might get deleted, so check it out, if you want:

Truth be told, sure, sure, sure, it’s an okay little piece but you gotta ask the original, yes “original” creator, permission, Shia, just gotta. Live and learn.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comics, Daniel Clowes, Movie Reviews, movies, Shia LaBeouf

Justin M. Damiano, You Are One Of Us; We’d Embrace You, If You’d Let Us


“Justin M. Damiano” is a short work in comics by Daniel Clowes that appeared in an anthology edited by Zadie Smith, “The Book of Other People,” in 2008. As a satire on our current state of being, it should be required reading for anyone who regularly comments on the internet. Shia LaBeof is accused of, and apparently admits to, lifting this story and turning it into a short film, “Howard Cantour.com.” Maybe LaBeof appreciated the story or maybe he just thought it was cool. His arguments, if they at least came from him and weren’t more of his prank plagiarism, might be interesting. What is most interesting is how this little story of Justin M. Damiano has come to light to a wider audience.

Clowes has proven to have an uncanny feel for contemporary alienation and the skill to say something…er, original. Here is where Shia LaBeof would take great issue with the “discredited” concept of originality. He would cry out someone else’s words about Duchamp’s recontextualizing and that would be that. Okay, so Clowes has not literally created something “original” but, then again, he has. LaBeof can skywrite his apologies but he’ll still be dealing with Clowes’s attorneys. That’s not to say that, in theory, LaBeof couldn’t end up a pretty decent provocateur. But, no, if you view his movie lifted from the Clowes story, word for word, you see a pathetic amateur move to steal someone else’s work. In other words, it’s an asshole move. That means Shia LaBeof is an asshole, not a bad boy artist.

But, whatever. Clowes (just like Chris Ware, Charles Burns, and Adrian Tomine) has tapped into something sad and has plucked some gems of excellent satire in his day. In his story about a movie review blogger, Clowes gives us another character for him to hang his social commentary on. Justin M. Damiano makes it clear that we see the problem but we’re so much a part of it that we’re okay with letting out of big sigh, just before we plunge right back into the void: the world of gazing, self-importance, and blather. That is the world that Damiano is immersed in and so are the rest of us. We can pull ourselves away from it but it’s still there. It’s bigger than all of us. And, worse still, it’s not going away. That would take a whole new shift, a fundamental change in behavior, and we’re just not ready for that. He can’t help his compulsion to write movie reviews on his blog because that is who he is. He claims to be a champion of cinema but that’s just an excuse to hide from life. With a better balanced life, he might write better balanced reviews, perhaps less often, perhaps not at all.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comics, Daniel Clowes, Essays