Who is Daniel Clowes?

Following the Daniel Clowes comic talk that kicked off the 2010 Toronto Comic Arts Festival last Friday evening, a friend and I debated whether or not we liked the man over pints.

We’d just listened through an hour of the Oscar nominee and National Post writer Mark Medley talked at length about his start in comics, his inspirations, his early work for Cracked magazine, the experiences Ghost World have brought him, and the making of Wilson (Drawn + Quarterly), his newest graphic novel – the first in five years.

He was entertaining and funny for the most part, but some of  his answers – especially those responding to audience questions – came off as a bit too cool and dismissive. It was this “Yeah, whatever” attitude that had us wondering whether Clowes deliberately cultivated this affected loner persona, detached from regular folk and the trends that consumer them.

Or was this a symptom of it being Clowes’s first public appearance in six years as he kicks off a nine-city promo tour for Wilson?

Or could it simply be the honest reaction of a painfully shy individual, someone reportedly so uncomfortable with all the attention focused on him that he goes private with him email and contact information?

His answer to the iPad and comics question was, loosely, “We [artists] will get screwed somehow, we always do.” I also felt a little bad for the audience member – and young, nervous fan – who asked for Clowes’s reaction to being studied in university classrooms alongside Will Eisner and Art Spiegleman. Loosely ‘It sure sells a lot of copies!’ may have sounded funny in his head, but rolling off his lips it came across as dismissive. The audience would have appreciated a little more thoughtful response. Again, though, one might chalk that up to nerves. Who wouldn’t be sitting in front of a room filled with hundreds of strangers?

But it brought up the question of why people and fans feel compelled to want to like the artists whose music, films and writing they admire. (Admittedly, we’re a few pints in at this point, but we’re having fun.) I mean, as much as Joss Whedon groupies love the work, they adore the man who can do no wrong.

Here’s a short clip for an upcoming documentary on Warren Ellis. I don’t find him a very likeable fellow. He’s an intense and a deep thinker, and an apparent chain smoker and heavy drinker (at least the clip suggests that). But he sums up exactly why I like reading his books, mostly the original creations like Fell and Supergod and Global Frequency, but the occasional story of heroes in spandex as well.

Art should challenge the audience – sometimes intellectually, sometimes emotionally. A good artist needs to be slightly disassociated from society to reflect and comment on it successfully.

Back to Clowes, I’ve only read Ice Haven once, though I’ve seen Ghost World, and deserves a second read by now. I recall it made me uncomfortable in a slightly more grimy and less funny way than Curb Your Enthusiasm achieves. I fully expect Wilson to be equally unsettling.

If you’re on the hunt for some Clowes content, last week’s Eye Weekly cover story shines spotlight on the artist. The piece seems a tad gushing after hearing the man speak.

Globe and Mail review of Wilson offers a decent synopsis of the graphic novel. The print edition features an interesting panel-by-panel annotation by Clowes of the page from Wilson that’s featured at the link if you can track it down.

Finally some pictures from the event.

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Filed under Comics - General, Events, Toronto comic info

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