In Daniel Clowes’s funny-sad new graphic novel, Wilson, the creator of Ghost World tells the story of his eponymous anti-hero through a series of one-page comic strips, each drawn in a wildly different style. Going from a very grim and serious panel to one as colorful as a Bazooka Joe cartoon can be disconcerting at first, but over the course of the book, such variation, oddly enough, amplifies the hapless misanthrope’s crises and deepens the emotional wallop. It probably goes without saying that such an approach also illuminates the artist’s formidable talent. We asked Clowes to discuss his influences and choices, using these panels from four strips.
The guy who’s patting the dog on the head is very much the kind of style you’d see on a bar’s cocktail napkin in 1958”that sort of fifties gag cartooning style. It’s also pure Charles Schulz. Schulz always talked about how dog owners have a voice they imagine for their dog, and that’s where Snoopy’s voice came from. And this is very autobiographical. My wife and I constantly talk through our dog.Illustrations by Daniel Clowes.
My artistic reference for this was Will Elder, the old Mad-magazine cartoonist. He would work in this vein a lot, where there’s no solid blacks on the page; it’s all made up of varying tones, from white to the almost black on Wilson’s pants”the range of tones you’d see in an old photograph or movie. I wanted it to look kind of boring, with life in the post office drained of all joy and color.
“The Old Neighborhood”
A classic Sunday-newspaper style of my youth”Dik Browne (“Hägar the Horrible”) or Mort Walker (“Beetle Bailey”)”and the most nuance-free. This was a painful, emotional strip, and I wanted to highlight that with a mundane style, so it wouldn’t come across as mawkish and maudlin. I didn’t want to play it exactly for a joke, but I wanted it to seem sort of flat. Plus, I think of Wilson’s prototype, in some ways, as Hägar the Horrible, that sociopathic Viking.
Keith Powell (left) Avenue L and East 92nd Street, Canarsie. On August 20, 2006, Powell was on his way to visit a brother when he was struck by a drag-racing car. Witnesses said the driver ditched the stolen car and fled. Jian-Lan Zhang Allen and Hester Streets. Zhang, a 55-year-old Chinatown resident, was struck and killed by a delivery truck on April 16, 2008.