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Reglar Wiglar

An interview with comics artist

Dan Clowes

Interview by Randy McQueen

Published in RW #15, 2001

Dan Clowes


Hero to afficiandos of underground comics (and Chicagoan) Dan Clowes, is showing signs of breaking through to the masses with his work. Not only has he landed a Reglar Wiglar interview, but there's also a soon-to-be-released Hollywood picture show based on the "Ghost World" series from his comic book Eightball (Fantagraphics).

Eightball explores the freaky side of modern existence. It's often surreal and bizarre storylines weave through a noir world of sweaty foreheads, toothy grins, gunshots, and striped shirts, where Satanists and billboards are icons and punk rock nymphs and deformed creeps mingle freely. Dark and expressive, even his simple cells beg for an attentive eye.

Not long ago I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Clowes at a signing at Quimby's in Chicago. After waiting in line for two hours and inchworming my way through rows of mags, comics and assorted "arty" pornos, I gushed a lame compliment of the man only to embarrass (or perhaps irritate) him. Upon requesting an interview of him, I was surprised and delighted by his quick and enthusiastic "yes." Two hours well spent.

RW: Hey, how you doin'?

DC: Don't ask.

RW: Ok. Well, anyway, thanks again for subjecting yourself to the sheer torture that is the Reglar Wiglar Interview. Now, I know you've lived in Chicago and I think I know the answer, but in your estimation, are there a higher number of freaks per capita in Berkeley and California in general, than there are in our fair city?

DC: I now live in Oakland and only go to Berkeley once a week to get my mail. There is a very different sort of human distortion that exists in Berkeley versus that of Chicago. Midwesterners tend to be more bloated and pasty and less conscious of their own freakishness than Berkeleyans.

RW: Does this inspire you?

DC: Sure.

RW: Excellent. You know I really enjoy reading your letters section. This magazine gets so few and they're usually quite negative. How many letters do you receive a month per issue?

DC: Usually about one hundred or so after an issue comes out and then tapering down to the usual 10-15 a week. About twenty percent of them are highly negative, and many are of the ask-for-something-while-giving-nothing-in-return variety.

Eight Ball 18 Dan Clowes

RW: Your fans often have a severe eye for detail. One letter writer (8ball #8) asks, "What the fuck is going on page 22, panel 4? Those legs under the table must be six feet long! Where's your fucking sense of proportion, Clowes?" Does this type of microscopic dissection flatter or irritate you?

DC: That letter was written by a cartoonist named Don Simpson and he was one to talk when it came to drawing the human figure.

RW: Some comments you've made about the upcoming film version of Ghost World sound like it will be less subversive than your earlier work. "We made [the script] more Hollywood friendly," you said in your Imp interview. What kind of audience are you going for?

DC: That vaguely sarcastic comment wasn't referring to the content of the movie but to its structure, in that we tried to reconfigure what would have been eight self-contained vignettes into one continuous story.

RW: Ghost World was largely done in black and blue hues, with the exception of the yellow and black issue. Will the color of the film reflect the tone of the comic?

DC: Not really. It looks more like one of my covers.

RW: I've read that Enid from Ghost World resembles your wife. How much of your characterizations are based on personal relationships?

DC: She doesn't look that much like my wife . . . all of them.

RW: Is the casting complete? Who's in the lead? I've read both Thora Birch and Christina Ricci.

DC: The beautiful and talented Thora Birch.

RW: Who's gonna play the Satanists?

DC: Ed MacEvoy, our esteemed production designer, plays Mr. Satanist.

RW: I've been told I oughta be in pictures, any chance for a cameo?

DC: Not unless you have a time machine and a SAG card. We finished shooting in May.

RW: I'd have better luck getting a time machine than a SAG card, but anyway, there are billboards all over the pages and panels of Eightball. Will there be giant billboard advertisements for Ghost World?

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DC: Ask MGM. I doubt it.

RW: You've done lots of work for indie rockers; album covers for Urge Overkill and the Supersuckers to name a few (or all). James McNew of Yo La Tengo once wrote a letter to Eightball noting a Value Ape citing in German. There's the Ramones video and Sub Pop's "Punky" character as well. What kind of music do you like? Do you like the bands you do artwork for?

DC: I never listened to either the Urge Overkill or the Supersuckers LPs. I love the Ramones. They meant a lot to me when I was seventeen. Mostly, I listen to classical music and old movie soundtracks.

RW: You once called your indie rock readers "the most fickle audience that ever existed," and complained that "none of them are really interested in comics anymore." Do you feel abandoned by this audience?

DC: No, I was actually glad to be rid of them. Having an audience like that made me really uncomfortable.

RW: Who's buying your comics now?

DC: Now I'm not exactly sure who buys my comics.

RW: In Ghost World, Enid has a crush on a cartoonist, David Clowes, who she checks out at a signing, but finds him to be perverted and alone. Are you perverted?

DC: Uh...

RW: Are you self-conscious about creating characters that are beautiful teenage girls?

DC: I wasn't until now. Should I be?

RW: Perhaps. At a recent signing in Chicago, I noticed a lot of women in attendance, more so than I've seen at any comic related . . . well, anything. Forgive me for asking, I know you're a married man, but do you have groupies?

DC: Very funny.

RW: Any interesting road stories you'd care to share with our readers (or with me off the record).

DC: There was that one time when Chris Ware and I were sitting around our hotel room talking about old Superman comics and complaining about our publisher—oh, wait, that was every night.

RW: To be a fly on the wall on those night, eh? Do you think the new compassionate conservative administration will nurture the artistic community and allow it to grow and flourish?

DC: I wish I was a political cartoonist because the next four years are going to be highly "gag-friendly."

Ghost World Dan Clowes

RW: Agreed. Aside from the Ghost World film, can you tell us about any upcoming projects or new stories?

DC: I'm working on the new Eightball, which will be forty pages in full color, self-contained, with all new characters. Out in June.

RW: Peter Bagge is doing a video comic series on, do you have any interest in this medium?

DC: Not really, but I'm willing to listen to offers.

RW: Do you ever miss seeing beautiful puffy flakes of snow falling back here in God's country?

DC: No, I miss the gray urine-spotted snowdrifts and the rusty cars.

RW: I've made you uncomfortable. I apologize.

DC: Accepted.

RW: We're almost through here, I just have one more question and I ask this of everyone I interview, are you going to finish that salmon croquet?

DC: Isn't that "croquette?"

RW: Uh, yeah, I was just testing your culinary knowledge. I can have it then?

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Read more interviews with Comics Artists:

Peter Bagge
Sam Henderson
Johnny Ryan
Gary Panter
Terry Laban
Dan Clowes

Reglar Wiglar

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