The Star interviews DANIEL CLOWES

Don’t confuse Daniel Clowes with an opinionated, middle-aged loner

The Star    |    Chantal Braganza    |    May 6, 2010

When comics hero Daniel Clowes visits the Toronto Comic Arts Festival Friday to talk about Wilson, his first full-length comic in five years, he’ll likely be asked about what’s often assumed of his stories: that his main character comes from himself.

The hero in Wilson is described as an “opinionated middle-aged loner who loves his dog and quite possibly no one else.” Wilson cusses, chides and desperately tries to reach out to anyone who’ll listen to him. Prostitutes, pranks and even some jail time can be expected in Clowes’ deeply affecting tale of a lovable jerk who tries to patch up the family he pushed away.

While the Ghost World author concedes Wilson is “certainly written from within, he’s not at all like me in most ways.” Here, he sets straight rumours about his projects and why he may never return to the serial comic form again.

Wilson’s your first comic that’s not been serialized elsewhere. What was it like putting out a story with characters your readers have never met before?

I had really done that in the past with comics, but they were just done in comic form . . . so I was kind of ready for that feeling of not being able to go back and change the course of the story.

But the idea of actually committing to doing an entire book, and the thought of how long I knew that would take me, that was a hurtle to get over. But once I got going it went much more quickly and pleasantly than I’d feared. I see no reason at this point anymore to do things in the serial format. It just doesn’t make sense anymore, the way the world works these days.

So you see yourself leaning more to books in the future?

I think I’m gonna attach myself to the sinking ship that is book publishing.

Some people have a special relationship with books . . . in a way that makes the story that much more dear to them.

I think with this book I certainly wanted to push it to the nth degree of a book. I really wanted it to have the presence of a book. I wanted it to have the thickest paper, and I asked the publisher for the thickest boards available . . . I wanted a book that can take a bullet. Try letting a Kindle protect your heart from sniper fire!

About Wilson, as a character, it would be kind of hard for readers not to make a connection between you and Wilson himself.

(He takes deep breath) Apparently not. . . (he laughs).

He’s certainly written from within, but he’s not at all like me in most ways. I’m not the kind of person who can come up to a person and sit at a table and start talking. Wilson is completely uncensored. He has no self-regulating mechanism. He is like a walking id who does not filter himself to make himself more palatable.

I’m very much the opposite. I’m overly polite and quiet and shy, and sort of more the victim of the Wilsons of the world, often.

On the other hand, I kind of admire that. I wish I had a little bit of the Wilson in me. I like that he doesn’t change anything to make himself more lovable. He wants to be loved, but he’s not going to do it on anything but its own merits.

The funny thing is I’ve found that the people who seem to respond really negatively to Wilson are the ones who are the closest to him.

That almost sounds like the same case with reader reactions to Enid [in Ghost World].

Everybody thinks they’re Enid; that’s the funny part. I would meet girls, teams of girls who would say, ‘Oh, Ghost World is our life,’ and one of the girls would be sort of brash and talkative and wearing glasses and the other would be tall and blonde and you’d say, well, ‘Which one is Enid?’ sort of jokingly. And they both would say ‘I am!’

Nobody wanted to be Rebecca, which I found interesting. Because she seems more like the one most people would want to be . . . sort of the pretty girl . . . you just don’t think the way we’re told girls are in this culture that they would want to be sort of the loud one.

What can you tell me about the rumoured screenplay projects you’re working on with Michel Gondry?

There were two, one called The Master of Space and Time that Michel and I tried to get made three years ago, maybe, and it was basically a $150 million crazy art film that would make maybe $5 million. So it was a little tough to sell.

The next project we started working on and were discussing at the same time was a film called Megalomania, an animated kind of dystopian comedy that Michel and his son, Paul, conceived the basic idea for. They sort of just gave it to me and had me write a script for it. I just finished that at the beginning of the year and Michel is looking to make that film next. Paul will be doing the designs for the animation; I won’t be doing any drawing for it. But his son is really about the coolest artist in the world, so it’s really going to be very cool.

Do you see screenplays as taking a larger role in your work in the future?

At a certain point I found that working on comics constantly was just too much. You have to work in isolation and I’ve gotten to the point where I have to work in absolute silence, and so you feel like you’re living this monastic existence somewhere in a castle in the Alps or something. It’s very helpful to do something else every once in a while.

If you could adapt any movie into a comic book, what would it be?

I would probably pick a Hitchcock thing. I’m sort of obsessive about Vertigo. Just living in the Bay area (of California), Vertigo is sort of a religious thing for me. Whenever I get in a bad mood, I go to San Francisco, to the little apartment where Jimmy Stewart lived. I really loved that character, and that movie is just so deeply important to me.

But I don’t know that it’s a great idea to adapt movies. I think you need something that’s a little less figured out narratively.

On TCAF: is this the first time you’ve been?

It’s the first time. I don’t think I’ve been to Toronto in about 10 years!

Ghost World author is back with Wilson, his first full-length comic in five years. But he’s not the protagonist

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