Daniel Clowes interview

November 11, 2011 | Interviews

the death ray

Daniel Clowes is finally ready to take a proper shot with The Death-Ray.

The Academy Award-nominated screenwriter and cartoonist first presented this highly acclaimed story — about a teenager named Andy, who derives superpowers from smoking and who gains control of a high-tech pistol that can erase its targets from existence — in the final issue of his cult-classic comic book series Eightball back in 2004.

But even then, Clowes knew this story deserved more.

“I really should have had the courage right then to end Eightball and just do The Death-Ray as a book initially, but I just couldn’t let it go. I was still having separation anxiety from not doing a comic book,” said the 50-year-old creator.

“But the minute it came out, I thought, ‘This made no sense at all to do this as a magazine that’s unavailable to really 99 per cent of the public.’ Those can only be sold in comic stores — no book store would sell a magazine with a different title from the actual work. So I planned, kind of from that minute on, to do it in book form, so that the rest of the world could actually read it.”

Clowes, best known for two other Eightball stories, Ghost World and Art School Confidential — both of which were made into Hollywood films (the former earned him an Oscar nod for Best Adapted Screenplay), got his wish last month as The Death-Ray was finally given the deluxe hardcover treatment by Montreal publisher Drawn & Quarterly.

This edgy yet colourful story has also attracted the eyes of filmmakers and Clowes says he’s hard at work on a draft of the screenplay.

“The movie is very different from the comic; it’s kind of an inversion of the comic in that it focuses more on the older Andy and the younger Andy is kind of enveloped into the middle,” he said. “We’ve just completed a new draft of the film, and we have a director we’re talking to and it’s in that development process.”

Despite the sometimes arduous task of adapting his comic book tale for film, Clowes says the work is paying off.

“I would say, of the scripts I’ve written, this is the one I’m happiest with. It’s the one I’ve worked hardest on and it’s really very unique to the comic. It’s got a lot of different things from the comic that I really wanted to get in the comic and couldn’t,” he said. “So, this is one I feel like it would be, if it was made the way I envision it, could be a really strong film. But, you know, once it’s out of your hands you never know what’s going to happen.”

Clowes said he’s also busy converting his first original graphic novel, 2010’s Wilson, for the big screen.

“I am working on a screenplay for a Wilson movie, for Alexander Payne (Academy Award-winning screenwriter/director of Sideways and the upcoming George Clooney film, The Descendants), and I’m working on a long graphic novel that I’m not ready to talk about, because I’m not sure it’s going to be what I think it’s going to be yet,” he said.

Also on the horizon is The Art of Daniel Clowes: Modern Cartoonist, a monograph due out in spring that will celebrate the cartoonist’s acclaimed work.

“It’s got a lot of things people have never seen,” Clowes said. “I let this guy, Alvin Buenaventura, who’s the editor of the book, I just let him go through my files and archives that I’ve never even looked through myself. I just saved everything and put it all in my closet, and so he started digging through stuff and found stuff that I had no memory whatsoever of doing. It’s got artwork from every phase of my career, and then it’s got all the main pieces that I’ve done over the years and essays and things.”

Having a career retrospective done on you at age 50 is a very unusual feeling, Clowes admits.

“I feel weird about it, because it’s not my book; it’s a book about me, so, I mean, I shouldn’t be promoting it because it feels arrogant to talk about a book about me rather than something I’ve actually done myself,” he said.

“I think it came out as good as I can imagine; I’m the worst judge, obviously. It’s one of those things I kind of wish it just wouldn’t even exist, because it’s embarrassing to see all that stuff. But as far as those things go, I think he did an amazing job.”
(This article was first published in the Toronto Star)

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