Daniel Gillespie Clowes
April 14, 1961
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Daniel Gillespie Clowes (/klaʊz/; born April 14, 1961) is an American cartoonist, graphic novelist, illustrator, and screenwriter. Most of Clowes's work first appeared in Eightball, a solo anthology comic book series. An Eightball issue typically contained several short pieces and a chapter of a longer narrative that was later collected and published as a graphic novel, such as Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron (1993), Ghost World (1997), David Boring (2000) and Patience (2016). Clowes's illustrations have appeared in The New Yorker, Newsweek, Vogue, The Village Voice, and elsewhere. With filmmaker Terry Zwigoff, Clowes adapted Ghost World into a 2001 film and another Eightball story into the 2006 film, Art School Confidential. Clowes's comics, graphic novels, and films have received numerous awards, including a Pen Award for Outstanding Work in Graphic Literature, over a dozen Harvey and Eisner Awards, and an Academy Award nomination.
Clowes was born in Chicago, Illinois, to an auto mechanic mother and a furniture craftsman father. His mother was Jewish, whereas his father was from a "reserved WASPish Pennsylvania" family; Clowes's upbringing was not religious. In 1979, he finished high school at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools and attended the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York, where he earned a BFA in 1984. It was at Pratt that he met and befriended fellow cartoonist Rick Altergott, with whom he started the small-press comics publisher Look Mom Comics.
According to Clowes scholar, Ken Parille, the cartoonist had an early response to a "graphic" comic when, at age four, he burst into tears and began hitting his head against a wall after seeing a cover of a Strange Adventures comic book that depicted a family dying of heat. Later, he received "piles of 1950s and 1960s classic titles like Archie and The Fantastic Four" from his older brother, who also introduced him to the work of legendary cartoonist R. Crumb.
Clowes's first professional work appeared in 1985 in Cracked, and he contributed to the magazine until 1989, working under a variety of pseudonyms, most prominently "Stosh Gillespie", and, toward the end of his tenure, under his own name. Clowes and writer Mort Todd co-created a recurring Cracked feature titled The Uggly Family. In 1985, Clowes drew the first comic to feature his character Lloyd Llewellyn. He sent the story to Fantagraphics' Gary Groth, and his work soon appeared in the Hernandez brothers' Love and Rockets #13. Fantagraphics published six magazine-sized, black and white issues of Lloyd Llewellyn in 1986 and 1987, another story was published as a Back-up story in the reprint book Doomsday Squad (1986) and The All-New Lloyd Llewellyn, the final Llewellyn comic book, appeared in 1988.
In 1989, Fantagraphics published the first issue of Clowes's comic book Eightball. On issue #1's masthead, Clowes described the anthology as "An Orgy of Spite, Vengeance, Hopelessness, Despair, and Sexual Perversiona". Eightball lasted twenty three issues, ending in 2004. One of the most widely acclaimed American alternative comics, it won over two dozen awards, and all of Clowes's Eightball serials have been collected and released as graphic novels.
From #1 to #18, an Eightball issue typically contained short pieces that ranged in genre from comical rant and Freudian analysis to fairy tale and cultural criticism. These issues also featured a chapter of a serial that Clowes later collected as a graphic novel: Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron (1993), Pussey! (1995), and Ghost World (1997). With #19, Clowes abandoned the anthology format. The oversized black and white issues #19–21 each contained a single act of Clowes's three-act David Boring, which was released as a graphic novel in 2000. Clowes again changed format with #22. The first full-color Eightball, #22 included a single graphic novel-length story Ice Haven. The final issue, #23 was a full-color, single-story comic The Death-Ray released in 2004.
During the early 1990s, Clowes was associated with Seattle label Sub Pop, creating artwork for recordings by Thee Headcoats, The Supersuckers, The John Peel Sessions, and The Sub Pop Video Program collection. He designed the label's mascot, Punky, who appeared on T-shirts, paddle-balls, watches, and other merchandise. In 1994, Clowes created art for the Ramones video "I Don't Want to Grow Up".
After Eightball ended in 2004, Clowes began to release full-color graphic novels, beginning in 2005 with Ice Haven, a revised version of the comic that appeared in Eightball #22. In 2010 Drawn and Quarterly published Wilson, Clowes's first graphic novel that had not been serialized in Eightball. The next year, Pantheon released Mister Wonderful, a revised and reformatted version of a narrative serialized weekly in 2007 and 2008 in The Sunday New York Times Magazine, a story Clowes described as a "romance." 2011 also saw the Drawn and Quarterly hardcover release of The Death-Ray, which first appeared in Eightball #23.
During this period, Clowes drew the first of several New Yorker covers and contributed comics to Zadie Smith's The Book of Other People (2008) and the influential art comics anthology Kramers Ergot (#7, 2008). In 2006, after a health crisis, Clowes underwent open-heart surgery. His longest graphic novel Patience was released in the US in March 2016. Clowes lives in Oakland, California, with his wife Erika and son Charlie.
Clowes's work emerged from the late-1980s and early-’90s American alternative comics scene and played an important role in comics achieving a new level of respect from reviewers, academics, and readers. Ghost World was among the earliest American "literary" comics to be marketed and sold through conventional book stores as a graphic novel. (Clowes has been critical of the terms "literary comics" and "graphic novel.") It was presented in serial form within Eightball #11‐#18 (1993‐1997).
Some of his most popular stories, such as Ghost World and "The Party", are associated with Generation X ("The Party" was reprinted in Douglas Rushkoff's 1994 GenX Reader). This movement's investment in post-adolescent aimlessness was one of Clowes's main themes during the 1990s. The cartoonist led the way for comic artists like Adrian Tomine and Craig Thompson, who also focused on the angst of post-adolescent characters.
Like filmmaker David Lynch, Clowes is known for mixing elements of kitsch and the grotesque. Reflecting the cartoonist's interest in 1950s and 1960s TV, film, mainstream and underground comics, and Mad magazine, these elements surface in Clowes's 1990s work, especially his graphic novel Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron. During the 1990s, the juxtaposition of kitsch and horror became something of a zeitgeist in visual art, independent film, and post-underground comics.
Clowes's post-2000 graphic novels marked a shift in subject matter and form. Ice Haven, The Death-Ray, Wilson, and Mister Wonderful featured older protagonists and explored issues of masculinity and aging. Like the work of his fellow cartoonists Chris Ware and Art Spiegelman, these comics displayed an interest in American comic-strip history, using layouts, coloring, and drawing styles reminiscent of newspaper cartoons, especially the large early- and mid-twentieth-century Sunday comic strips.
Clowes has received dozens of awards and nominations for his comics and film work. In 2002 he was nominated for several awards for the Ghost World film, including an Academy Award for Best Screenplay Based on Material Previously Published, an AFI Award for Screenwriter of the Year, a Chicago Film Critics Association Award for Best Screenplay, and others.
For his comics, Clowes has won many Harvey Awards, including Best Writer in 1997 and 2005; Best Series in 1990, 1991, 1992, and 1997; Best Letter in 1991 and 1997; Best Single Issue or Story in 1990, 1991, 1998 and 2005; and Best Cartoonist in 2002. He has won numerous Eisner Awards, including Best Writer/Artist: Drama in 2000 and 2002; Best Single Issue/Single Story in 2002 and 2005; Best Short Story in 2008; Best New Graphic Album in 2011. In 2011, he won a Pen Award for Outstanding Body of Work in Graphic Literature.
Clowes was awarded the Inkpot Award in 2006.
Clowes's original art has appeared in American group shows as well as exhibitions in Belgium, France, Germany, Japan, and elsewhere. His first solo show was held at Los Angeles's Richard Heller Gallery in 2003. In 2012, Susan Miller curated his first museum retrospective, Modern Cartoonist: The Art of Daniel Clowes at the Oakland Museum of California. It featured 100 works, including pencil and ink drawings, color pencil illustrations, and gouache art, with covers for The New Yorker, Eightball issues, and Clowes's graphic novels. The show traveled to the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago in 2013, and is at the Wexner Center in Columbus, Ohio, in mid-2014. It may continue on to Europe and Asia.
In the late 1990s, Clowes began a career as a screenwriter. His first film was 2001's Ghost World. Based on Clowes's comic of the same name and written with director Terry Zwigoff, the film is set in a nondescript American town and follows the misadventures of two best friends, Enid (Thora Birch) and Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson), who detest most of their high school classmates. After graduation they plan on moving in together and avoiding college, but they grow apart as adult pressures take their toll. The girls play a prank on a nerdy record collector named Seymour (Steve Buscemi), who quickly becomes Enid's unlikely friend and confidante, as her relationship with Rebecca deteriorates. Nominated for a host of awards, most notably a 2002 Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, the movie appeared on many 2001 "Best of" lists. In 2001, Fantagraphics published Ghost Word: A Screenplay.
Clowes's second film Art School Confidential was based on the cartoonist's experiences at Pratt Institute in the early 1980s. (Clowes's four-page comic "Art School Confidential" covered some of the same experiences.) Directed by Zwigoff with a script by Clowes, the film follows Jerome (Max Minghella), an art student who dreams of becoming the world's greatest artist. The film was not as well received as Ghost World. In 2006, Fantagraphics published Art School Confidential: A Screenplay. A third adaptation of a Clowes graphic novel, Wilson, directed by Craig Johnson, starring Woody Harrelson, and with Clowes writing the screenplay, was released in 2017.
At least four other film projects have been discussed or partially developed, with one being abandoned and two remaining in limbo for over seven years. Clowes and director Michel Gondry discussed making a film based on Rudy Rucker’s novel Master of Space and Time, with Clowes writing and Gondry directing, but the project never advanced beyond this stage; of the film Clowes said, "I actually announced that that wasn't going to be made at the 2006 San Diego [Comic] Con." In 2006, Clowes began writing a script based on his comic The Death-Ray for a movie to be produced by Jack Black's Black and White Productions. Clowes also wrote a screenplay based on the true story of three boys who, over the course of seven years, filmed a shot-for-shot remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark. As of 2018[update], neither The Death-Ray nor the Raiders project has been greenlit. In 2016, it was announced Clowes will adapt his graphic novel Patience for Focus Features. As of 2018[update] the project remains in development.
In December 2013, Shia LaBeouf's short film Howard Cantour.com became available online. Soon thereafter, those familiar with indie comics noticed its remarkable resemblance to "Justin M. Damiano," a comic Clowes contributed to the 2008 charity anthology The Book of Other People. The short film was then removed by LaBeouf, who claimed that he was not "copying" Clowes, but rather was "inspired" by him and "got lost in the creative process." LaBeouf later issued several apologies on Twitter, writing, "In my excitement and naiveté as an amateur filmmaker, I got lost in the creative process and neglected to follow proper accreditation", and "I deeply regret the manner in which these events have unfolded and want @danielclowes to know that I have a great respect for his work." Clowes responded by saying "The first I ever heard of the film was this morning when someone sent me a link. I've never spoken to or met Mr. LaBeouf ... I actually can't imagine what was going through his mind."
Legal representatives of Clowes also sent a cease-and-desist letter to LaBeouf concerning another tweet stating he intended to make a second film plagiarizing Clowes.
In 1993 and 1994, Clowes created artwork for Coca-Cola's Generation X-inspired beverage OK Soda, which was test-marketed in select American cities in 1994 and 1995 and then discontinued. His art appeared on cans, bottles, twelve-pack cases, posters, vending machines, and other merchandise, along with point-of sale display items. Clowes's art appears on two cans/bottles (the face of a young man looking forward; the face of a young woman looking forward), though he is often incorrectly credited for other OK can art.