Daniel Clowes got his start in the ’80s, drawing comics for Cracked magazine. And he went on to become probably the most respected graphic novelist in America.
His blend of humor, horror, realism and surrealism has won him over a dozen Eisner and Harvey Awards… and he earned an Oscar nomination for adapting his comic “Ghost World” for the big screen.
Daniel’s latest book is called “Patience.” And warning: we’re about reveal some spoilersÂ (as you’ll see, he’d probably appreciate this modern-world warning). The book is about a devoted husband who literally travels through time to save his pregnant wife from a terrible fate.
It’s the longest book he’s ever written and — since he himself is married with a kid — it feels like his most personal. When heÂ spoke with Daniel this week, Rico asked what sparked the idea.
Daniel Clowes: Well, certainly, one of the impetuses — if that is a word — for beginning…
Rico Gagliano:Â “Impetii?”
Daniel Clowes:Â â¦ Is it “impetii?”
Rico Gagliano: I don’t know.
Daniel Clowes:Â I don’t either, that’s an interesting question.
But one of those things for beginning the story… was that horrible feeling of lying in bed at night and thinking, like, âWhat if I wake up and everybody’s been murdered in their sleep except for me?â And you think, how could you go on?
Rico Gagliano:Â If your family was gone.
Daniel Clowes: Yeah. Or just if something as horrible as what happens to this guy in the story happened to me. I think I would not even react as well as he does. You know, thinking how something like that would crush you to such a degree that you would become such a shell of yourself.
And so, I was trying to think of, you know, how could you take a character who’s sort of a happy, well-adjusted 25-year-old, and turn him into a very different type of person over the course of 30 years.
Rico Gagliano: Did you take them?
Daniel Clowes: No, no. It was funny because I was, like, so in awe and just so in love with them. But then their ideas, it’s like, they wouldn’t have worked at all.
Joey just had all these ideas that made literally no sense. I remember he wanted to have a reference to âForrest Gumpâ in the video, and I just thought, âI can’t. I can’t do that.â
Rico Gagliano: âThat’s not me. That’s not the Clowes way.â
Daniel Clowes: âThat’s not me.â And it wasâ¦ I found it so great that he just loved that movie.
Rico Gagliano: We have two questions that we ask everyone on the show. One is: if we were to meet you at a dinner party, what question would you least like to be asked?
Daniel Clowes: Oh: “What do you think of the latest superhero movie?” Like, everybody assumes I have an opinion.
Rico Gagliano: You’ve only done one superhero comic book, really.
Daniel Clowes: Yeah. And it was not informed by modern superheroes. Like,I just got so poisoned against superheroes when I was first starting my career, and my comic would be thrown in the porn box in the back of the comic store while the rest of the store was overtaken by superheroes. I just have no entry into that world without dredging up bad, bad feelings.
Rico Gagliano: All right. Let’s ask you kind of the flip question, which is: tell us something we don’t know about yourself or about the world. A piece of trivia…
Daniel Clowes: Oh, my God! Well, I could you tell youâ¦ People always ask me what kind of tool I use to draw comics. You know, âHow do you get the lines to look like that?â And that was one of the great mysteries of my childhood, was trying to figure out, like, âWhat kind of pen do they use to make the perfect lines?â
And I finally, after experimenting with literally every pen ever made by man, I finally learned, âOh, they use a watercolor brush.â So I went and bought a watercolor brush, and it’s as difficult to use as you can imagine.
But the interesting thing about these brushes is that a few years ago, they were made illegal in the U.S. because they were made the fur of these endangered Russian weasels. They’re weirdly…
Rico Gagliano: What?!
Daniel Clowes:Â …It’s weirdly called a âkolinsky sable brush.â But that’s a euphemism for “pestilent Siberian weasel,” that apparently the Russians were just trying to get rid of because there were so many of these weasels. And through some trade agreement, we couldn’t import these brushes.
So, it was kind of a blow to find out, you know, this is the main thing I use in my livelihood, and that they were now illegal. So, I had to acquire them through the black market for a few years.
Rico Gagliano: What? You supported the killing of weasels with your work?
Daniel Clowes: As far as I know, they don’t even kill them. They just, you know, pluck a few of their hairs and have a 200-year-old Siberian woman hand-pot them in a little metal thing.
But they are now back on the OK list, so you can once again buy these brushes. But I felt like I was an endangered species for a while there.
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