Saturday, January 20, 2018
Home  >  Features  >  Daniel Clowes's MODERN CARTOONIST Art Exhibit & Panel with Chris Ware - Nerds Nite Out 2

Modern Cartoonist: The Art of Daniel Clowes at the Oakland Museum of California


For MightyVille’s second Nerds Nite Out, we headed to the Oakland Museum of California to hear comics creators Daniel Clowes (Ghost World, Art School Confidential) and Chris Ware (Acme Novelty Library, Jimmy Corrigan: Smartest Kid on Earth) speak to an intimate audience about their careers, their artistic processes, their influences, and more. We also took in the museum’s amazing exhibit Modern Cartoonist: The Art of Daniel Clowes, and were blown away by the vast collection of Clowes’ work and the creativity with which it was displayed. Read on for excerpts from Clowes' and Ware's discussion and photos of the panel and exhibit...




Image from Modern Cartoonist panel


How did you two meet? What is your past together?

Clowes: I knew Chris’ work vaguely from Raw magazine, and I had seen the work of this amazing young artist, and one day when I was living in Chicago I got a call from this stammering young kid. He said, “Hi, uh, Mr. Clowes? Uh, I just moved to Chicago and I, uh, was wondering if we could get together?” He had moved literally a block away from where I lived. Then I got to know him and see his work and saw that he was a once-in-a-lifetime artist. And I thought “Thank you God for putting him a block away from me. I’m not even the best artist on the block any more.” 


Curators Rene de Guzman & Susan Miller, and cartoonists Daniel Clowes & Chris Ware


Talk about some of your early publishing work…

Ware: I did comics for the student newspaper at the University of Texas… a horrible strip that was collected into a horrible comic. And from there, I tried to do less horrible work. Art Spiegelman one day saw a review of some of my horrible work on the back of a review of his amazing work and then called me out of the blue, and I had been reading Raw for years, and he was one of my big heroes along with Robert Crumb. So I actually picked up the phone and he said “This is Art Spiegelman”, and I dropped the phone. And then he included me into the last issues of Raw.

Clowes: He was doing all these amazing little self-published things. I think the second time I met Chris he dumped this pile of stuff in front of me and I looked at it and there were these like amazing little flip books that he had made of his characters and all of this stuff that I now have on display and will one day sell and put my son through college with. I remember once we had a signing at this place in Chicago called Quimby’s that was sort of an alternative comic store and Chris said “I don’t really have anything to sell”. And I remember seeing him over at the Copymat and he was Xeroxing these pages and he was putting together like 100 copies of this totally amazing book-sized thing of his strips, printed on newsprint on both sides and with masking tape spines, called Lonely Comics. And there was this jerk at the signing who just immediately bought all of them.

Ware: I sound like the unabomber or something.

Clowes: You were close.

Ware: (sighs) This is becoming like a therapy session.


Curators Rene de Guzman & Susan Miller, and cartoonists Daniel Clowes & Chris Ware


So, both of you have been pretty much working on comics your entire lives… there was a point where you started to get some visibility and some work. Do you mind talking about how that came about for you?

Clowes: When I first started, I did a comic book called Lloyd Llewellyn, that was for a very small, niche audience. At that time, all the comic books were about superheroes and were sold in comic book stores, of which there were only about 20 in America – there were very few. So, to do a comic book that wasn’t in that framework just meant to marginalize yourself – there was really no way anyone would ever see it. It was always in the back of the store in a box with all the other crazy stuff. And I knew that, and I was sort of banishing myself to that – it was very frustrating. Then at a certain point in the early 90’s people who had sort of grown up with comics and a different kind of culture were starting to like scene culture and alternative music and they kind of gravitated towards the comics that I was doing, similarly with the Hernandez Brothers. It started to feel like there was this little groundswell of people outside of the comic shops that started to be interested in this stuff, and all of a sudden it was sold in record stores, and adventurous book stores would sometimes get them. It was very exciting to me that there were an additional 30 people reading my books.




Modern Cartoonist Exhibit

Modern Cartoonist Exhibit


Part of what we’ve tried to do in the show… in the show, you can see some of the work process in there… that there is a lot of correcting that happens. The work on the wall is not made for it to be seen on the wall anyways, its made for print, so you can see a lot of the process in there. And hopefully that’s helpful.

Ware: It looks fantastic. It looks great on the wall. I think Dan works so incredibly hard, and so diligently and carefully and cleanly. I think he’s almost like single-handedly responsible for inspiring an entire generation, actually… you know, myself, and Adrian (Tomine) and even someone slightly older than you like Charles Burns. Your dedication and your ability to focus and take seriously what you do but also not overextend yourself. I mean, I know it inspired me profoundly. Going to graduate school and taking painting and print-making and sculpting with all the instructors telling me all these conflicting things and then coming home and seeing you work, I was like “You know, that is really more what its really all about.”

Clowes: I wasn’t really working… I was just sitting and watching Jerry Springer. No, that’s very nice, thank you Chris.

Ware: I mean just looking at your pages on the wall and what was on your drawing table and I thought, “Oh my god, I’ll never be able to do anything that’s even remotely that clear and clean and getting what is in my mind onto the page.”

Clowes: And you’ll still never come close… (laughing)


Joe. Ryan & Jenn at Modern Cartoonist Exhibit

Modern Cartoonist Exhibit


These two guys both work incredibly hard. There is so much precision in your work.

Ware: I remember Dan telling me once, when I was bothering you at your home, that really you only write when you’re inspired, and I thought, “That’s a great idea, because I only write when I really want to kill myself!” But then you changed your way of working over the years, and I’m not sure everybody’s necessarily as aware of that as we cartoonists are. I know that you have specifically altered some stories you have, not necessarily improvised, but you went back and worked in a way that is much more fluid. And most of us just make the same mistakes over and over again.

Clowes: Yeah, I mean, I try to always make it exciting, because it can get so deadly dull if you’re stuck in the same routine. And I try to always keep myself guessing what’s going to come next. I like to feel like I’m free to do whatever I want, and if I wanted to, I don’t know, draw with my teeth on the next page, I can do that. Of course, it always comes out the same way, but its so good to know that I could approach it in a completely different way.


Ryan Cayabyab takes in Daniel Clowes' artwork


You both went to art school and there’s many ways to express yourself. What about the comic book form appeals to you? Why do you stick with it?

Clowes: I never really responded to any other art form, you know. I liked certain artists, but I always reduced them to like, “what if they were drawing comics?” I’d look at work by Edward Hopper and think, “these would be great if they had word balloons!” That was just the only filter I had for seeing art because I had just grown up reading comics. You know, I would go to the Art Institute in Chicago all the time and look at the Monet paintings but I just never felt, you know, “I just can’t wait to get out that easel and do a painting!” That just didn’t appeal to me, and nothing else ever really even seemed like a possibility. Comics was all I wanted to do.

Ware: I guess I could say almost exactly the same thing. I would go to Joslyn Art Museum and I always felt that art was something that happened before and it doesn’t happen any more. And now it was just advertising and comics and stuff. It wasn’t that I wasn’t exposed to it. But I think that as I went to art school, I did become kind of self-consciously alight about comics because there’s just no barrier between comics and the reader and the viewer. A person can read a comic strip and get it immediately. And I felt like all the major art forms, if I looked at a painting and didn’t understand it immediately it was because I was an idiot and I didn’t understand anything about painting. But if someone reads a comic strip and doesn’t understand the comic strip, they say the cartoonist is an idiot. You have a direct relationship with the viewer and there’s no nonsense. And that’s the thing I like about it. Plus, it costs like nothing. It’s a democratic art form that communicates directly, hopefully, profound and painful things about life. 


We had an amazing time at this Nerds Nite Out. Daniel Clowes and Chris Ware are so intelligent, witty and sarcastic, they had the intimate audience at the panel in stitches, while modestly challenging them to think about comics and art in new ways. And that impression was continued on into our exploration of the Modern Cartoonist exhibit, which was so creatively organized that it challenged us to discover Clowes' art in a new way and see it in a new light. Bravo to the Oakland Museum of California for exploring comics as art through this visionary exhibit and once-in-a-lifetime panel experience.

You can experience more of Daniel Clowes and Chris Ware through their extensive list of graphic novels. Currently, Chris Ware has newly released a unique collection of work entitled Building Stories, while Clowes is working on adapting his graphic novel, Wilson, for the big screen. You can also learn more about Clowes' work by reading the book that coincides with his exhibit, The Art of Daniel Clowes: Modern Cartoonist.

 More Nerds Night Out on Mightyville:

MightyVille's First Nerds Nite Out!



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