Required Reading is DoomRocket’s love chest, where each week one of our contributors goes crazy over a book they just can’t seem to get enough of. Intrigued to find something new? Seeking validation for your secret passions? Required Reading gets you.
By Jarrod Jones. Being broke sucks, if for no other reason than being broke puts us in decidedly dark places. When we’re broke it makes us feel ugly things. Hateful things. It makes us resent our friends and loved ones who might find themselves in a slightly better place. It makes us hate the well-manicured strangers who blithely sip cocktails on patios, barely nibbling on their fifteen-dollar appetizers. You begin to imagine things when your pockets are empty. You fantasize what you would do if your coffers were well-lined, flush with cash. But as you concoct the finest champagne dreams underneath the havoc that is your homemade haircut, you continue to spin your wheels in the pit of economic despair.
I don’t know what mood set Daniel Clowes on the path towards Patience, but I know that financial disparity is cemented within its foundations. Clowes has always had more than a bit of “starving artist” to him, even when his successes have sometimes betrayed his “underappreciated intellect” posturing. And though it’s likely he’d never fully cop to that, there’s no denying it: flip through any random issue of Clowes’ Eightball, and odds are you’ll come across a two-page, six-paneled credo that takes wild potshots at the American Dream in some way — and if that’s not enough to convince you, consider the damning indictment of the human condition in Ghost World.
It’s the way he chooses to depict how most Americans embrace the mundanity of contemporary life. The people Clowes populates Daniel Boring or Wilson with are as lifeless as anything found in your typical George Romero zombie parable. Thing is, Clowes’ parade of characters are supposed to be lifeless, only in a far more prosaic way. And while he has spent the better part of two decades plucking away at all this low-hanging fruit ripe for four-colored consumption, it seems in the last few years the artist has turned inward, and Patience is a definite indicator of that. It’s heady, mind-bending stuff that takes precision aim at concepts like ambition, nurtured love, and the daffy concept of self-fulfilling prophecy.
Patience may be the most ambitious thing Clowes has concocted yet. It’s science fiction, sure, but it’s a love story too, told with stylistic flourishes that ought to make Charles Burns smile. It has the same dissatisfied air as his angrier works, but there’s a whimsy to its marketable psychedelia — a Brian Wilson-esque giddiness that belies all of Clowes’ ugly faces and his ceaseless deluge of profanity. The colors he employs here show me that the artist has transcended at least four dimensions in his life, artificially or otherwise, and the love story at the heart of all this sci-fi madness shows that he’s grown… well, not soft, but… tranquil. Yes, he adopts the same hostile approach to numbskulls as he did in “I Hate You Deeply”, only now that patented hostility is far more embedded within him. Clowes is in his fifties, and you get the feeling that his angst has finally gelled into something resembling acceptance.
Sometimes you have to let the world be the world in order to figure a few things out about yourself. Patience is a saga for Jack Barlow, absolutely, but it’s not long before we get the feeling it’s a journey meant for Clowes as well. If you were to look at Jack and put it next to a self-portrait of Daniel Clowes, it’d be difficult to look past the resemblance between these two men. There are moments when you’ll be reading Patience only to find Daniel Clowes depicting himself as The Death-Ray. As an Eightball devotee, it’s hard not to think we’ve come full circle.
The futurescapes of Patience bring to mind the angular pizazz of Clowes’ Lloyd Llewellyn: a zippier foray into the aesthetic pleasures of the early-Nineties hipster, the kind who embraced cool by going esoteric with Marine band LPs, skinny ties and thin blazers, and smart Libbey cocktail glasses. It’s a world as richly put together as any other found in Patience, and it serves as a marvelous precursor to Jack’s psyched-out hallucinations. We don’t spend too much time in the future, sadly (the year 2029, to be precise), mostly because Jack is on a mission to save his wife, and he has the means to do it. That means visiting the past, where Clowes strip-mines his memory for maximum poignancy.
It’s not a question of if you should read Patience, it’s a matter of when. Make sure the sun is behind the clouds some, and if you can manage it, keep you interactions with others at a minimum in-between readings. Patience is audacious in its undertaking (aside from Gaspar Noé’s Enter the Void, it’s also the only piece of popular fiction I can think of that depicts an ejaculation so affectingly). As such, you’ll need some time to process the complicated feelings contained here. Never forget, Daniel Clowes is a misanthrope, an ink-stained social assassin who would rather leave you feeling as uncomfortable as he does aesthetically fulfilled. But he may also be one of the most important artists living in the first half of the 21st Century. What I’m trying to say is, dive in.
Fantagraphics Books, Inc./$29.99
Written and illustrated by Daniel Clowes.
Edited by Eric Reynolds.
Production and technological assistance by Alvin Buenaventura.
Published by Gary Groth.