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Sunday, 20 March 2011


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Rich Puchalsky

No rush. But if you do return to that one eventually, here are a few more thoughts about it.

Clowes' body of work is one that invites speculation about authorial surrogates, whether they are characters, or a sort of authorial attitude involved in the framing of the work. At it's worst, this tendency (when used by less talented creators) is Gary Stu-ization. Well, there are two kinds of Gary Stus/Mary Sues. There are the ones that succeed effortlessly and that the other characters love for no good reason. And there are the inverse ones that fail ridiculously and that people feel contempt for for no very good reason. Both of them represent a sort of authorial indulgence -- their fantasies have transmitted themselves to a page without a supporting superstructure that makes the action credible or interesting.

Let's say that this tendency is somewhere in Clowes' work. Is it a positive tendency, where Clowes is authorially looking down on losers and inviting the reader to identify with that? I don't think it is. Look at his work "Caricature", for instance. The caricaturist pretty clearly stands in for Clowes himself. At the end of the work he confronts himself through self-caricature. And it's a harsh caricature of a loser who takes out his loserdom by being cruel to others. There's a caricature of himself in Ghost World, too, if I remember rightly. Enid says that she's going to see this hip cartoonist she's heard of: Clowes. We get to see her mental vision of him as a cool, aggressive, chain-smoking hipster. She goes there and, if I remember rightly, just looks at him without introducing herself, and sees a sort of nervously smiling nebbish sitting alone at a signing table. If I remember rightly, one of his readers wrote it and asked why cartoonists always depicted themselves as much more foolish-looking than they actually are.

And that seems to me to be much more Clowes' besetting artistic problem than a contempt that looks down on other people. I haven't read "Pussey!". But I'd guess that there's a lot of Clowes' younger self in the character, or at least Clowes' younger scene. Self-contempt can be artistically grating, but it's not quite the same as what I see you describing Clowes as doing.

Rich Puchalsky

Should be "one of his readers wrote in" above.

James T

Clowes says a fair bit about his relation to Dan Pussey, geeks-vs-hipsters etc in the brief introduction to that book, Rich. I'm too headache-wracked to say anything more useful right now, but I recommend that book for entertainment value if nothing else, and I'm surprised it hasn't come up more in the divining of where Clowes stands on comics and their readers.


Sounds like a humble brag; putting in soooo much time on students. Remember that's your job!

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