Inside the Mind of Cartoonist Daniel Clowes

09.11.13 Inside the Mind of Cartoonist Daniel Clowes

As a comic book artist he has nearly 50 publications to his credit.  And Daniel Clowes continues to be one of the most highly reputed magazine illustrators of our day, indeed a regular cover artist for The New Yorker.  Of course, there are the titles of graphic novelist and Oscar-nominated screenwriter for the film adaptation of  his 1997 book Ghost World.  And now the work of Clowes is on public display with more than 125 original drawings and artifacts in a traveling exhibition, currently at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.

Clowes garnered great accolades with his influential comic-book series, Eightball, where much of his major works first appeared.  And the artist’s career has since been inundated with multiple awards and a large following.  However, the seminal cartoonist maintains a down-to-earth, witty persona that continues to translate into his work.  Cotton Candy wants to share this candid interview with the Chicago-born artist, and as you might expect, Clowes proved to be nothing less than creative, charming and downright funny. Read on and get to know Daniel Clowes in his own words – and of course through his artwork.

Cotton Candy: When did you first realize you were talented?
Daniel Clowes: I don’t know if I am talented. I have a clear vision of what I want to achieve aesthetically and tonally, and work hard to get as close to that ideal as possible, but it’s a painstaking process of trial and error.

Who was your biggest encourager when you were first developing your ability to create comics?
Nobody. Everybody told me I was wasting my time. It wasn’t until I was 20 or so that anybody seemed to warm up to what I was doing. Granted, my comics were quite horrible back then, but still…

Describe how you were discovered.
When I was 23, I did an eight-page comic for my own amusement while trying (and failing) to find work in NYC as a magazine illustrator. I decided to send it out to a few comics publishers and one of them, Fantagraphics, decided to give me my own comic series. I was just looking for a little feedback, so it was kind-of surprising to say the least, but the comics business was pretty crazy back then.

What do you use for inspiration?
I’m sort of naturally inspired to do comics. It’s always fun and challenging and somehow never quite fulfilling in a way that keeps me coming back to the drawing board day after day.

Did you ever think your work would be featured on the cover of The New Yorker?
Of course not.

Why do you think such a large number of people like your work?
You have an interesting definition of “large.”

Dolls, click the photos below.

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Have you met all of your career goals as a cartoonist and screenwriter?
My only career goal, at age 14, was to be an freelance inker for Marvel comics, so no.

Do you have a favorite work? If so, what is it and why?
Of my own stuff? I like them all to varying degrees. I’m proud of the successful ones, and I feel sorry for the failures.

Of other cartoonists? I go through phases. Right now, I’m kind of obsessed with a cartoonist named Bob Powell, who did really crazy horror comics in the 50s, usually involving demented scientists who are in love with their female lab assistants and display their affection in inappropriate ways (creating giant blobs of oozing, sentient flesh, e.g.)

Do you ever feel misunderstood as an artist?
It’s probably a good sign if you’re a little misunderstood. I’m always trying to see how specific I can get in transmitting the particulars of my own unspoken inner life to the outside world. It’s completely unpredictable as to what comes across and what doesn’t.

What drives you?
Insoluble personal issues, and the visceral thrill of putting black ink on paper.

If you could illustrate a customized comic book for anyone in the world, who would it be? Why?
That’s a really weird question! If I ever did do that, the lucky recipient would probably file a restraining order. I do like the idea of making only one copy of a book, which would then be sent around to readers on a one-at-a-time basis.

What’s your next professional goal? What’s your next personal goal?
I try not to think about goals.

For other artists who want to become professional storytellers, what advice would you give?
I don’t have any advice for storytellers, but when I meet a young cartoonist who asks my advice on how to make a living, I always tell them to draw their comics as actual physical originals and not on a computer. The one advantage we have over writers and filmmakers is that the byproduct of our creation can be an object of singular beauty all its own (at least theoretically).

Cotton Candy Magazine®