TCJ ARCHIVE

The Daniel Clowes Interview

from The Comics Journal #154 (November 1992)

Conducted by Gary Groth and Peter Bagge

I conducted the following interview with Dan Clowes in two sessions. The first took place on the Saturday evening immediately following the close of the 1992 Chicago Comicon, the second a month or so later. (The first half is a remarkably coherent document insofar as we were both in a stupefied post-convention fog, a state of mind that became markedly evident only when we realized that I’d spent more than 12 seconds asking Dan questions about his inking technique.) My professional affiliation with Dan is acknowledged periodically throughout the interview, and given this transparent conflict of interests — more illusory than real insofar as there is no known moral turpitude surrounding Dan’s career about which I could’ve flogged him (unfortunately) — I may as well take advantage of it.

I was especially looking forward to finding out how Dan had effected the transition between Lloyd Llewellyn and Eightball. Lloyd was, after all, an ingenious but artistically modest parody of ’50s middle-class hipster culture; Eightball is infinitely more personal and demonstrates a range that is both broader and deeper than Dan had even hinted at in Lloyd. As an editor assessing cartoonists’ submissions, I have to be latitudinarian enough to look for virtues of a somewhat lesser nature than unadulterated genius — otherwise, one wouldn’t publish anyone who hadn’t already established his credentials. When I received Dan’s Lloyd submission, I thought it was good but not, in all honesty, great. This made Eightball all the more astonishing because it wasn’t so much an evolution from Lloyd as a sudden, mammoth shift, an artistic growth so enormous as to be completely unexpected, and therefore all the more exciting.

I was frankly worried that Dan and I had talked so much over the last few years that we’d stiffen up during the recorded interview — knowing someone too well can be as big a problem as not connecting at all when conducting an interview. Looking over the transcript, though, this is the Dan Clowes I know, his cynical, dry wit intact, and a quiet thoughtfulness that neither he nor his work wear on their collective sleeve.

 GARY GROTH: Let’s get some background out of the way. Did you grow up in Chicago?

DAN CLOWES: Yes. [laughter]

Eightball #7 (November 1991)

Eightball #7 (November 1991)

GROTH: This is going to be bad. [laughter]

CLOWES: I was born in Chicago, lived here until I was 18, went to school in New York, lived there for six years, moved back to Chicago, end of story.

GROTH: What kind of upbringing did you have? Was your family middle-class?

CLOWES: My family were kind of academic types. My grandfather was a professor of Medieval history at the University of Chicago, and my mother was a faculty brat. My dad was a genius engineer-guy. They had my brother by accident and were forced to get married … and I’m not sure how I was born, because I don’t think they liked each other very much at the time I was conceived, so it’s a miracle that I exist.

GROTH: Did they divorce?

CLOWES: Yes, about a year after I was born. So I don’t remember living in a conventional nuclear family.

GROTH: So who raised you?

CLOWES: I was sort of raised by committee, by my grandparents and my mom — who, after divorcing my dad, married a guy from the south side of Chicago who was an auto racer and owned an auto shop. He was killed in an auto race in 1964.

GROTH: Do you remember him?

CLOWES: Yeah, I was just a little kid when he died, which is a really surreal thing to happen to you when you’re a little kid. My mother still runs the auto shop, even though she never drove again after my stepfather died … even though he died in a race. This was before they had all this safety equipment in stock cars, and it just rolled over and he was crushed.

GROTH: So she was raised an academic, and she’s Jewish, and now she runs an auto shop in the worst ghetto in Chicago?

CLOWES: Yep.

GROTH: Very weird. Perhaps Dan Quayle would understand Eightball now. Well, was this traumatic for you, either at the time, or later in life?

CLOWES: Well, no, but I think I have this pathological fear of dying in an auto wreck. Once in a while when I’m driving I’ll realize that I’m hurtling at this incredible speed in this piece of machinery … all I have to do is turn the wheel a fraction of an inch and I could die easily. So I think about that a lot. I think that hits home with me, because as a three-year-old kid I learned, “Oh, cars kill people and crush them.”

GROTH: Could you just describe generally what your childhood and teen years were like?

CLOWES: I was an incredibly shy kid, and I was a real outcast, for my own reasons … I just could not deal with kids in a socially comfortable way. So I retreated into my world of fantasy. [laughter] This involved a lot of drawing, which is how I think a lot of these underground comic guys become what they are. They can’t find people to hang out with who will put up with them, so they sit there and draw pictures and create their own little fantasy world.

PETER BAGGE: So you were practically an only child?

CLOWES: Yeah, I had a brother who was ten years older than me who I never saw after I was about five or six. That was around 1968, and he was heavily into the hippie thing.

GROTH: Have you seen him since then?

CLOWES: Yeah. He was in prison for a while. Now he’s rehabbing houses. He’s a slumlord.

GROTH: Are you two close?

CLOWES: I don’t see him that much … but when we do get together, it’s funny — someone will say the setup for a joke, and we’ll both say the same punchline. Even though we’ve never really discussed that particular joke, it’s just that we have very similar senses of humor, and we tend to know the same pop culture references and things like that. He’s really a frighteningly smart guy. When he was in prison his IQ was tested, in California, and he had the highest IQ in the history of the California penal system. It was like 195 or something. But he never really put it to any good use. I mean, he was the kind of guy who could take apart an airplane and put it back together again after one time or something. But he never really applied himself to anything like that.

GROTH: So you were pretty alienated as a kid.

CLOWES: Yeah.

GROTH: Did you hate other kids?

BAGGE: Did you have a case of the shys?

CLOWES: Yeah. Yeah, I was shy. Yeah, I had a case of the shys, that’s pretty good.

GROTH: What about your teenage years?

CLOWES: Oh, it just got worse and worse. [laughter] Yeah, it was pretty bad. See, I went to this high school; it was like a school designed for the kids of the faculty of the University of Chicago. So it was children of really smart Jewish intellectual liberal types. So there was this intense sameness about the kind of kids who went there. After about the third grade I knew everybody in my school — there were only about 75 people in my class — and I got really sick of all these kids. I had done something to offend everybody in my school at that point. And then I had to go another ten years with these same kids. So by the time I was in high school I just hated everybody, and they hated me and everybody hated each other …

GROTH: Did you offend them because you were obnoxious, or they were hypersensitive, or both?

CLOWES: Umm, I just didn’t take the same stuff as seriously as they took seriously, the academic stuff.

BAGGE: Did Pete Friedrich go there?

CLOWES: Yeah, Pete Friedrich and Gene Fama, who are both involved in underground comics.

BAGGE: And you hated them?

CLOWES: No, they were my friends. But the average kid there was not somebody I got along with.

GROTH: Were you a good student?

CLOWES: I was a pretty good student. It was a school that was founded by John Dewey, and it used to be called the Laboratory School, and it was an experimental school to teach teaching techniques. So we were guinea pigs for teaching techniques, and we had to take tests every week just to get a random sampling of what kids our age knew. So after a while I got so good at taking multiple choice tests that you could give me a test on, you know, Swahili Algebra and I could get like a 60 on it. Just ’cause I knew the pattern of the tests. It’s scary.

BAGGE: Was this your John Phillip Sousa period?

CLOWES: [laughs] That would have been early high school. All the other kids were listening to what I found to be obnoxious rock music like Santana and Genesis and Yes. I decided that I would listen to something that was the most opposite of that that I could find, which resulted in John Phillip Sousa 78s that my grandfather had. It was a pretty pathetic time in my life.

GROTH: Let’s dwell on that …

CLOWES: Chicks did not dig me at this point …

BAGGE: Would you march around the room? Did you really like it, or was it only a statement?

CLOWES: Yeah, I liked it in a way, but of course the reason I liked it was ’cause I knew that kids in my high school wouldn’t understand it.

GROTH: So you didn’t date in high school?

CLOWES: No. [laughter]

GROTH: So you graduated from high school and went to New York?

CLOWES: Yeah, yeah, and then my life changed.

GROTH: Was there any time lapse between graduating and …

CLOWES: No, no, I split immediately after I got out of high school.

GROTH: Was that because you just felt so trapped there?

CLOWES: Oh yeah, yeah. ’Cause the thing of going to school with the same 80 kids for your entire life is that if you were to try to change your personality at all, these kids knew you so well they’d know it was some kind of phony thing, that you were just trying to create some new image. All my life I’ve been wanting to re-invent myself in the way I knew I could be, and it was just very uncomfortable to be pigeon-holed like that from my earliest years. ’Cause I think that I started to feel really socially inept and shy around these people when I was really young, and then I could never get out of it ’cause it was the same people.

GROTH: So you’d drag that baggage around with you everywhere?

CLOWES: Yeah. I was really desperate to get to a new scenario.

BAGGE: But looking back, didn’t you feel that some of those kids might have been in the same boat as you? Especially coming from …

CLOWES: There were a lot of kids way, way worse off than me.

GROTH: You mean in terms of social skill?

CLOWES: Yeah, yeah. Really, really … some really depressing people. But, I was so self-obsessed that I didn’t see anyone else’s problems.

GROTH: So you liberated yourself by fleeing to New York.

CLOWES: Yeah.

GROTH: What were your intentions?

CLOWES: As I fled to New York?

GROTH: Yeah. Did you have money? Did you have a plan?

CLOWES: Well, that was before Reagan was in office, and since my stepfather had died I got this incredible social security thing. I got something like four or five hundred bucks a month from the government. And I got my college tuition paid for free, because the University of Chicago also has this plan where, if your parents are employees of the University they will pay your tuition at any other school, up to the equivalent of their tuition, which is pretty amazing. I don’t know if they still do that now that tuitions are like $40,000 a year. So I got to go to college basically for free, and I had all this spending money besides that. That was the greatest time of my life.

GROTH: Why New York?

CLOWES: Where else? It’s all “happening” in New York. I was really into Chicago. I was really into the city of Chicago. But New York seemed liked the only place that was a cooler city than Chicago.

GROTH: Well, let me just get something straight. You graduated from high school …

CLOWES: Yeah.

GROTH: And then you went to New York?

CLOWES: Yeah.

GROTH: And they paid for Pratt?

CLOWES: Yeah, [pause] Not the high school, but the University of Chicago.

BAGGE: You lucky motherfucker.

CLOWES: I know, I know. It was the luckiest thing in the world.

BAGGE: I busted my ass just to …

CLOWES: I know, everybody I knew had, like, three part-time jobs and …

BAGGE: I had, like, no shoes … [laughter] I got fired from my job because my shoes were just coming off my feet, and it’s like I had no money to buy another pair of shoes.

GROTH: Let me just skip back: when did your interest in comics first …

CLOWES: Well, that began before I could even read, ’cause like I said, I had this brother who was 10 years older than me, who was like this media junkie, and he bought probably every DC comic and every Marvel comic, and Famous Monsters of Filmland, and Hot Rod magazines and Playboys and all that stuff, and just had it all lying around. And nobody ever tried to keep me from any of it; they just left it there in this communal room that we had.

It was pretty amazing. I mean, I can remember looking at a lot of old DC comics before I could read; I can remember trying to figure out the plot, and really studying every panel. And reading them like hieroglyphics, and there’d be, like, a panel where people are kissing, and I’d be [thinking], “He’s trying to bite her face off.” I wouldn’t really know what they were doing.

GROTH: What age were you when you started drawing?

CLOWES: Four or five. I remember at the time I’d do drawings and show them to people and they’d be really enthusiastic about them. And I now realize that they were just being nice — it was like my parents or my friends, and they were saying, “Oh, that’s great!” But they would have said that to anybody. They would have said that if I’d drawn the worst piece of shit. But at that time I really took it as encouragement. I think I just really got caught up with this encouragement thing, so I just kept trying.

GROTH: And did you read comics continually through your childhood?

CLOWES: Yeah, I got tired of regular comics after awhile, but I still read them and stuff like Mad for a long time.

GROTH: What about undergrounds? When did you come upon them?

CLOWES: See, my brother had undergrounds right when they first came out, right around 1969. And I didn’t really think of them as comics. I mean, he had a million of them lying around, and I kind of thought that it wasn’t cool that I was reading these; I kinda hid them. I’d see that he brought home undergrounds and I’d sneak ’em over to a corner somewhere, and read them when nobody was around ’cause I thought it was utter pornography. I thought my mom might even get mad at my brother for having them, much less me. They were pretty outlandish when I was like eight years old. Even now it’s pretty heavy. I remember reading those when I was about eight, and they used the term “blow job,” and I remember thinking, “What the fuck is a blow job?”

GROTH: But you knew at the time there was something illicit about the material?

CLOWES: Well, yeah, it was pretty obvious. I mean, this was not your run-of-the-mill stuff. I remember, actually, a little earlier than this, I was staying with my aunt, and after I left she sent me this package with a note that said, “You left these comics at our house.” And I knew I hadn’t left any comics at her house, and it was all these Zaps and Wonder Wart-hogs and stuff — I guess some other teenager had visited her house and left these, or something. But she thought they were mine, and she hadn’t even looked at them or anything. It was like, “I guess you left these hundred thousand dollar bills at our house.” It was the greatest day of my life, [laughter] I still have some of them.

GROTH: How did your interest in comics evolve from the time when you were a kid until the time when you were 18, 19, 20?

CLOWES: Well, I got more and more interested in comics — or more interested in cartooning. I wasn’t really interested in comics. I was kind of interested in becoming a Mad artist. I always had the impression — since you see guys like Jack Davis and Mort Drucker on Time magazine covers — that these were the big shot guys who live in the suburbs, and make big bucks and had trophy wives. So I thought I would pursue this field. And I would do things like caricatures of kids in school and that would get me a lot of attention. I would draw pictures of teachers picking their noses and stuff like that. It was the one thing I could do that people liked. And I’d always go farther than the other artists in school. I had no taboos.

GROTH: Were you a disciplinary problem at school?

CLOWES: No, not really, not really. Because I was too much of a wimp to do anything to draw attention to myself. At a certain point I could have gone another way and become drug addict or something … but luckily I had comics to fall back on. [laughter]

GROTH: So when you went to Pratt were you primarily interested in being a cartoonist, at that point?

CLOWES: Yeah, at that point I had kind of gotten back into it. I had gotten back into the undergrounds and stuff like Zippy and American Splendor. Those were kind of interesting to me, and I was learning about older stuff, like the ECs.

BAGGE: What did you make of things like American Splendor when you first saw them? Did you like them?

CLOWES: Well, I remember at the time thinking what a bold concept it would be to just do comics about real people and real life, and that was a real crazy idea at that time. I remember thinking EC was the closest thing to that. Like the Shock SuspenStories, ’cause it had stories just about people wearing suits, you know; they weren’t in costumes. So when American Splendor came out, I thought that was pretty cool, and I was into Crumb, and Crumb drew it, so I thought it was pretty cool. I thought it was a good thing.

GROTH: So when you went to Pratt, did you intend to become a cartoonist? Or weren’t you quite sure what you wanted to do?

CLOWES: I was just trying to find some way to waste four years. Since I could go for free, it was a boon. Yeah, I wanted to become a cartoonist. See, at that time there was American Splendor and Raw had just started, and Weirdo started while I was in school. But there was really nothing.

GROTH: Well, that was ’81, ’82 …

CLOWES: Yeah, so that was late …

GROTH: The tail end of your academic career.

CLOWES: Yeah, I guess that Arcade was still coming out at that point, but it looked pretty dead. At that age, you would see something like Arcade and think, “These guys make a million dollars — you know, it’s an actual magazine.” I remember thinking that there was still a market for the stuff, but it really looked like it was dying, and that’s when they were closing down all the head shops and stuff. Not too many comic stores had opened up yet. And I remember thinking that if I became a big shot illustrator guy then maybe I could do illustrated books or something, because of my clout as a big shot illustrator. So I thought, “First I have to become a big shot illustrator, and then I can illustrate my own books.” But that was such a vague idea; I really had no idea. [I thought], “I’ll just fuck around for four years, and then maybe the world will have ended.” There was a real apocalyptic feel in the air around that time, ’cause it was around 1979 and Reagan was about to be elected and Carter had just reinstated the selective service. So we were all thinking that if Carter had reinstated the selective service, then Reagan, no matter what he says, will send us to Afghanistan to use laser cannons and be blown to bits. So I was pretty sure we were all going to go and fight the bad guys. So I didn’t really care about my future too much at that point.

BAGGE: You were that sure?

CLOWES: Well, everybody was pretty sure at that point, as I remember. Looking back, you don’t really think that. But I remember everybody was sitting around going, “Fu-u-uck.”

GROTH: Well, especially with Iran.

CLOWES: Yeah. The whole Iran situation. And then when the Russians invaded Afghanistan, it was like, “Oh, shit.”

GROTH: Were you very politically-minded?

CLOWES: No, not at all. I was completely selfish. I just did not want to go at all.

GROTH: No desire to visit Afghanistan?

CLOWES: No, other than that I really didn’t give a shit. I’ve always been pretty much interested only in my own little world.

BAGGE: So did you reinvent yourself at Pratt?

CLOWES: Oh yeah, immediately. I mean, I had already reinvented myself, I just couldn’t, you know …

GROTH: Implement it?

CLOWES: Implement it on these sarcastic high school guys who would laugh at me.

BAGGE: So on your first day you went, “Here I am, girls.”

CLOWES: “Here I am, goils … ”

Eightball #7 (November 1991)

Eightball #7 (November 1991)

GROTH: Well, describe the years at Pratt, even though you’ve done a strip about it.

CLOWES: Yeah, well, just take that strip and embellish it with the fact that art school is actually a whole lot of fun. Considering I didn’t have to pay for it or anything.

BAGGE: It’s day care for 20-year-olds.

CLOWES: It’s day care, and it’s a great way to meet chicks, and it’s a great way to meet other disenfranchised assholes from other high schools.

BAGGE: Well, at least the jocks are gone.

CLOWES: Yeah, exactly, the jocks are gone …

BAGGE: For some inexplicable reason, the girls on average are much better looking than the high school girls.

CLOWES: And the guys are ugly.

BAGGE: So you only have to compete with geeks and homos galore.

CLOWES: [laughs] That’s right, and your homework is to do a painting of “how you feel.” That’s a lot easier to do than, you know, to write a report on The Critique of Pure Reason, which was the kind of stuff I had to do in high school.

GROTH: Was any of the art instruction valuable?

CLOWES: No, not really. The one guy I remember that actually had something to say was this guy who did cover paintings for Harlequin romances. And that’s all he did, and that’s all he knew how to do, and he taught us as if that’s all we were learning how to do. And he took us through the whole process; on the first week of class we went to his studio, and he took photographs of hired models kissing. Then the next week he took these photographs and he showed us how to lightbox it, or to project it onto a canvas, and then he penciled it, and then he watercolored it, and then he did acrylics over it, and then he had a finished painting. And from watching him do that … I really had no idea how they would do a Harlequin romance cover, how they would do these amazing things, and that’s how they do it. I mean, I really learned something from this guy. And he would say, “Here’s how you mix a flesh tone: you take this color out of the tube, and you take that color out of the tube, and you mix them, and then you have a flesh tone and that’s it.” And nobody else ever tried that. I mean, now that I look back on it, a lot of my teachers who professed to be professional illustrators hadn’t had stuff printed since 1971. I mean, I guess they were living off their rich wives, or something. I guess that’s why they taught at art school. It was the only paycheck they could get.

GROTH: So this gothic romance painter was the most valuable instructor you had in four years?

CLOWES: He was the only guy who was honest about actually teaching us a specific technique, and he’s the only guy who ever comes to mind when I think, “Who taught you something?”

GROTH: Did they teach fundamentals, like anatomy?

CLOWES: I took an anatomy class. It was taught by this guy who was not an artist; he was a doctor, really. And he taught us the exact musculature of the human body with all the Latin names. To this day it’s still a mystery to me. I mean, it’s really confusing.

GROTH: So even though you went to Pratt for four years, you’re actually self-taught.

CLOWES: Yeah, that’s kinda what gets my goat, that a lot of people have said, “Well, you went to art school and that’s why you know how to do this or that.” And I learned nothing of what I do now in art school. Absolutely nothing. Every bit of it I had to figure out for myself. I didn’t even have tips. I mean, nobody would ever have told me, “If you want to have that kind of line you have to use that kind of brush.” I had to finally figure that out through trial and error. I tried every kind of pen in the world …

BAGGE: You didn’t ask other cartoonists?

CLOWES: Yeah, but they all had a different story. Most cartoonists use really weird things. “I use a toothpick to ink with” or something.

BAGGE: Well, it’s just too darn bad that the Kubert school wasn’t …

CLOWES: No, it was there. Actually, I guess the John Buscema school was there at that point. But I thought, “No, I’m not that pathetic. I’m not going to do this.”

BAGGE: You would not only have to teach yourself, you would first have to unteach yourself.

CLOWES: It’s really funny — one of my roommates at Pratt was this guy named George Pratt, who is now a big artist for, I guess, DC.

GROTH: That’s right.

CLOWES: And he now teaches at the Kubert school.

GROTH: What was your life like during Pratt? Had you ever been to New York before?

CLOWES: No, not at all. So this was New York, in kinda the post-punk days. But everything was still kinda wacky and I would go and hang out every night with people with orange hair and shit like that.

BAGGE: Were you excited by all that stuff? All that punk stuff?

CLOWES: Oh yeah, for a while, yeah.

BAGGE: Punk was in.

CLOWES: Yeah, it was in. It was pretty interesting at that time.

GROTH: What did you like about punk? Did it affect you the way it did the Hernandezes?

CLOWES: Yeah, probably a lot in the same way, ’cause, like I said, I was listening to John Phillip Sousa records in high school to be different, and then here is this music that is sort of designed for people who wanted to listen to music to be different. And it took me awhile to realize that that, in itself, is not a good idea. But at first I thought, “Wow, this is made for me. This is really speaking to my generation.”

GROTH: What did you think the music was saying?

CLOWES: Basically, my attitude was that we were all going to be blown up soon, and it didn’t really matter. Life was hopeless, anyway.

BAGGE: I think the most influential people in punk — not only from listening to their music, but also from reading their life stories — are cut from the same exact cloth as someone like you.

CLOWES: Yeah.

BAGGE: Like Mark Mothersbaugh? Well, you’d said, “The guy’s worse off than me,” and that would be like Mark Mothersbaugh or DeeDee Ramone … Like the total outcasts who don’t care, so they say, “I’m going to play this geeky music,” and fellow geeks are like, “Yeah!”

CLOWES: Yeah. That’s right.

BAGGE: It’s something that’s less obvious now, because the two things have kinda mushed together, but at the time there was such a reaction against the hippie culture and the hippie philosophy, it was a threat …

CLOWES: Well, that was a good part of it too. I grew up in this intensely, almost socialist atmosphere, a very intensely PC, liberal atmosphere. And you know, it was the kind of neighborhood where all the parents would listen to folk songs and talk about Eugene Debbs and stuff like that. It was very hard for me to rebel against my parents, ’cause they were so cool and hip and accepting of anything I would do. You know, I could come home and say, “Here’s a drawing of a guy with his dick chopped off,” and they would say, “Oh, that’s very nice.” And so it’s really hard to rebel against parents like that. You know, I could have dyed my hair green and gotten a pierced septum and come home and they would say, “Oh, you look cute.” Basically, the only thing I could do was embrace the punk philosophy of utter stupidity, [because] that would be the only thing that would offend my parents, the really crass stupidity…

GROTH: Right.

CLOWES: So that’s what I kind of grooved on in the punk thing. Like the Ramones were into the idea that you could like bad fast food and watch cartoons when you’re 25 years old. Things like that. Read comic books.

BAGGE: All the stuff that you were supposed to feel guilty about liking.

CLOWES: At the time it was really liberating; it was a real sense of freedom, that I didn’t have the social responsibility to do whatever, which was instilled in me all my life.

GROTH: Hmm. Is that what punk symbolizes in general, a kind of consumerist, hedonist, nihilistic …

CLOWES: I think that at that time the hippie culture was so ingrained in the media — especially in things like The Village Voice and Rolling Stone and magazines like that where all these aging hippies were writing the stuff — that it was so cool to say “fuck you” to those guys.

GROTH: Well, why didn’t you just become a Republican? If you wanted to rebel …

CLOWES: Well, it wasn’t that far from it; I mean, in a lot of those ways.

GROTH: Yeah, I can see that.

CLOWES: In a lot of the attitudes. I wasn’t political enough to do that. I wasn’t that crazy.

GROTH: Not that nihilistic? [pause] So what were your other impressions of New York? What else did you do besides go to concerts? How much of the city did you actually take in?

CLOWES: I ran the gamut. I really fell in love with the city for a while, ’cause I really liked the fact that it was this decaying island of hedonists. It’s pretty amazing. It wears on you, but for awhile, you just got the idea that around any corner anything could happen at any time. It was really exciting.

BAGGE: It’s a good place for a 21-year-old.

GROTH: Was George Pratt only one of your roommates, or was he your only roommate the whole time?

CLOWES: No, he was just one of many.

GROTH: Did you pal around with people from Pratt? Or were there other social relationships?

CLOWES: Yeah, well, most of my best friends now are guys from the Pratt years. I don’t really see anyone I knew from before I went to New York. I don’t have any old friends from high school. [laughter] For obvious reasons. Yeah, I’d say that the greatest value of Pratt, or art school in general, is to meet these like-minded sociopaths with whom to carry out your grand schemes.

GROTH: Who were a few of the people that you met there that you’re still friends with who aren’t comic artists?

CLOWES: Well, one of my best friends is this guy, Charles Schneider, who recently edited this book called Cad. And he’s just this eccentric guy who’s involved with all these things. He’s just a wacky guy I knew at Pratt. He was always coming up with schemes for, you know, practical jokes. Like one time on April Fool’s Day he came by my room and he had this giant plastic bag with him. He said, “C’mon, I’ve got this great stunt.” And I said, “Well, I’ve got to go to class.” And he asked, “Well, can I leave this bag in your room?” And I said, “Oh, OK.” He said, “Well, I’ll meet you here later and we’ll do this stunt.” And so I came back later and this bag is sitting on my bed, and I’m kind of looking at it, and I heard crickets. So he comes back and says, “C’mon, let’s go pull this prank.” And I say, “OK, what’s in the bag?” And tells me, “Oh. I bought $50 worth of crickets. “ I mean, this giant heavy bag was completely filled with crickets. They hadn’t been making any noise because it wasn’t the right time of day, or something. But …

GROTH: Just black crickets?

CLOWES: Yeah. I guess you buy ’em to feed reptiles or something. Anyway, we take this giant bag of crickets, and he’s like, “We’ve got to do something with these crickets.” We didn’t really have any enemies, and we couldn’t think of anybody to dump these crickets on. But there was one fraternity at Pratt, and so he says, “Well, there’s the frat house, and people in fraternities are always assholes. So we can go there.” He had these two masks in his pockets, so we put these on. We go to the frat house and ring the doorbell. Some sorority girl answers and Charles throws this bag of the most crickets that anyone has ever seen into the frat house, and then we run away. [laughter] And the next day we were in the cafeteria, and we heard these frat guys saying, “Somebody threw crickets in our frat house.” So that was the kind of thing we would do.

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2 Responses to The Daniel Clowes Interview

  1. Heinmark Du says:

    The last two movies I saw were The Player and Barton Fink, which are similar movies, and which I had the same objections to, in that they had some really good moments which were generally the Hollywood moments, where they were doing this ruthless parody of what these individual guys had to go through as directors in Hollywood. But then they both had to couch their movies in these trappings of a mystery/crime plot. The Player had this mystery-murder plot, which seemed to me to be totally pointless.

    Hmm…sounds like a movie Clowes was involved with…

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