By Isaac Cates
The following is a transcript of a panel discussion that took place on February 20, 2002 as part of the Will Eisner Symposium at the University of Florida. The panel included Dan Clowes, Terry Zwigoff, and Isaac Cates and was moderated by Don Ault.
Throughout, we have made an effort to maintain the sense of immediacy of the event while upholding the integrity of the text. Accordingly, “stage directions” are included in gray and ellipses are employed when a speaker trails off or is interrupted. Figures and image references were added after the fact and/or reconstructed based on Mr. Cates’ original slides.
Don Ault: Terry and Dan have, well — First of all this is going to be conducted primarily as a question and anwer session. I don’t know, Terry, if either of you have any kind of statement you’d like to make. I got the impression that you didn’t. [Zwigoff pounds his fist on the table] I’ve known Terry for more years than most of you have been alive [to Zwigoff] I shouldn’t say that about you … The thing is, it’s true, my students seem to be getting younger, I don’t know .. but anyway the point is–I’d like to say just as a personal thing that I’m really really thrilled that these guys would show up here.
And another thing that I haven’t said before but I had not met Dan Clowes until yesterday evening and somehow when I met him I felt I’d known him all my life. And I don’t know why, or what that means, but that’s my comment. I do have some questions but I’d prefer not to coopt the possibility of the audience because we do have a unique opportunity here, for you to ask questions. Most of you are familiar with Ghost World you’ve seen the film or screenplay so I would — I mean — I’ve got a bunch of questions, but I’d prefer to take a back seat if any of you are willing to open the floor with any questions. Questions for Isaac?
Q: Tell us about sitting up there doing a reading of the text with the author sitting there. [laughter] You use a lot of that disembodied voice of the interview right that he spoke and so you’re sort of ventriloquizing him and you’re sort of – I mean, he’s down on the other end there. What’s your take critically?
Isaac Cates: Well, ordinarily I work on contemporary poetry, so I’m used to the possibility of the people I work on correcting me–which has happened a few times, usually in a really pleasant way, though. They’ll say “Well, no, I think that’s a stretch, but maybe I was thinking that.” Usually I do my best to forget who’s on my left in this case when I’m talking. [to Zwigoff and Clowes] Maybe I should ask them how they feel about it. I mean, I feel funny ventriloquizing your words from out of the interview, but since they were published, you know, and authorized to an extent…
Dan Clowes: It seemed like you were talking about someone else. [laughter] I was looking up at my own comics and thinking, “Oh, I should read this again I forgot all about that.”
DA: Surely there are other questions.
IC: [to Clowes] Well I want to know about Mr. Beard, if you can remember.
DC: I don’t know how much I want to talk about that stuff because it all had. . . I mean, I’d be happy to talk to you about that personally, maybe; I don’t know. It was great to see you working through all that stuff and there was a lot of sort of intentional linkage going on there. My idea of who killed the Whitey character is very implicitly stated in the comic, and nobody’s ever once said to me what they thought that answer was. But I felt it was there to be had by somebody. [laughter]
Q: [to Clowes] Dan, about going through the whole film thing recently—you’re one of the more meticulous comic artists around currently, which we can deduce from your publishing schedule, and also we just know it from . . .
DC: I’m also very lazy. [laughter]
Q: Well, yeah. I wonder if you felt any perhaps—and suppressed it back down—any siren call into a land where you can just write and wouldn’t even have to sit down and draw it.
DC: No. It was just the opposite. I was just terrified of losing control of the thing to the point that I never left. You know, I finished the script, and I kept worming my way into every step of the pre-production. And I was there when the film was made, constantly harrassing poor Terry. Saying, “No, no. Enid would never wear a green dress what are you doing?” [laughter] That is an appealing idea to just write something. You know, how easy would that be? Having to just turn it in and cash your paycheck and walk away. But I would be suicidal if I did that, especially if I let this guy [Zwigoff] take over.
Q: I wonder if you could speak a little about the process of collaborating between you two, because I noticed that the frames in the movie looked a lot like the frames in the comic. I thought that was something that was visually successful about the movie, that you got the look of the strip in the panoramic. So is that you [Zwigoff] being able to adapt the look or is that you [Clowes] meddling? Who’s framing the shot, because they look very similar?
Terry Zwigoff: I hear that a lot and I’m very surprised because that’s one thing Dan really wasn’t involved with. He was stuck in a back room doing stuff like “Dan, we really need this Cook’s Chicken Inn sign and no one else can draw it like you so you’ve got to draw this today.” I’d be sitting with the First Assistant director and the director of photography planning the shots and trying to visualize the thing in pre-production in another room, and we never sat there and studied the comic. There were certain frames that I noticed for the first time just seeing this slide show like when they leave a note on Josh’s door, for instance. It’s got the same sort of composition that we used to shoot it, but, you know, the reality of that was that often times since that was a real location there were certain things we just had to avoid shooting. We were trying to hide the fact that, for instance, the film was shot in Los Angeles. We were trying to make it look like it was shot anywhere in the United States so we’d have to say, “Okay there’s palm trees over there. So do we want to put that angle on the story?” But it ended up looking just like that in the comic.
So some of these things are just coincidences, some of the things are . . . I think Affonso Beato, who was the cinematographer, really studied Dan’s comic, because I urged him to. So maybe those things were things that he brought to it in terms of suggesting compositions and shots and stuff like that. There are some things that were very strong in my head, very iconic. You know, there’s a scene that got cut out of the movie with Umi, Rebecca, and Enid sitting on the couch in her room that was done exactly like that, and that’s the only way I could think about it after seeing that comic. It was very strong in the comic. But yeah, it’s a weird combination.
Q: [to Clowes] At any point did you feel that you had to get involved and intervene—you were saying that you didn’t on the shooting part of it, but on the post-production part—where you felt like “That doesn’t work. The look of it undermines the content of it”?
DC: Well I was there for the putting together of the sets and costumes and things, so by the time we were actually shooting it, Terry and I had agreed on most things. I think part of the reason it looks so much like a comic book is that Terry’s very concerned with compositions and scene-to-scene transitions and not so much with camera movement and flashy tracking shots and things like that. So it tends to be a sequence of very still images. It’s a movie about people talking, basically, and I think that’s part of why it has that comic book feel. It’s very much about cutting from shot to shot. It’s more about editing than about moving around and doing steady-cam tricks and things like that.
TZ: Part of it is just a reaction against that kind of film. I just generally tend to like films from the 40’s or before that don’t have much camera movement. I find a lot of camera movement takes you out of the film, although some people manage to do it well, usually not. So I find it very distracting. If you were, for instance, filming us in a film sitting here talking, I guarantee you 99.9 percent of all the directors out there would be moving the camera. [laughter] It’d be slowly gliding in front of us just to make it a little more visually interesting. But I hate that crap. [laughter] I really try to avoid it.
I did an interview with MTV once where they sat me down in a chair, and they had a guy standing with a camera circling around me. [laughter] This guy was asking me questions, you know, about this and that and this other guy was just circling. And I just had to laugh. Is this making the interview any more exciting? [laughter] I’m just sitting in a chair talking. This doesn’t make it more exciting. If I have nothing interesting to say it won’t be any good anyway. You can roll that camera around all you want it doesn’t matter. [laughter]
Q: I just want to ask if, Terry, do you think that sort of approach, then, is a holdover from your documentary experience—not interfering with the subject in any way? Kind of keeping still?
TZ: I was fortunate enough to work on documentaries where the subject of the film was so strong that I tried not to get in the way. I tried to just be a fly on the wall whenever possible. Although in the Crumb film there were many times when things were staged and sort of rehearsed, it was just the way you had to do things, you know, in order to get it to happen. But there were other times. The strongest stuff in that Crumb film to me is the stuff with Charles Crumb and for that stuff I just hid in a corner and tried to be as unobtrusive as I could. Maybe once in a while I tried to redirect what was going on to bring out things that were of genuine interest to me.
Q: It seems there’s a difference in the film that you bring from your documentary accomplishments and theater. How did you bring that into the film, into Ghost World? It’s very interesting.
TZ: Interesting, because it was a very organic, unintellectual sort of … well, maybe not. In a way it sort of started out … The music choice for Ghost World was determined early on. Dan and I would go to Hollywood to pitch this film, and I thought it was a pretty easy film to pitch; it’s all drawn. There’s a comic they’ll glance through it and say “Okay, we get it.” You know, they don’t even read the thing when you show up. They’ll just say “Pitch it to us. Tell us about Ghost World.” That would be your typical pitch meeting. And you’re like, “Well…”
The first thing that they responded to in the fact that you have a film about two teenage girls is that they have these soundtrack possibilities which are very lucrative. So they want to put Green Day in your film or whoever’s big that week. And I don’t like that kind of music, and I didn’t want it in this film. I wanted it to be more timeless. I wanted it to be more like, you know, the type of music Stanley Kubrick would pick. That’s the kind of films I like. I didn’t want to do something like the Farrelly brothers would. They’d just put in, like, The Smashing Pumpkins or whatever. You know, “Cue the upbeat rock music at the end as the bus goes over the bridge.” [laughter]
So in a way, that sort of led us to … I was looking for some way to protect myself and for an excuse to use this old music that I love and collect. So as we were writing the script I said, “Let’s have this guy Seymour who collects old music, and that way we’ll have an excuse to use this old music in the film.” That was one of the reasons he entered into the picture. Even to begin with, it was just a way out of that trap. Woody Allen can get away with that sort of stuff where he puts old jazz in films, but anybody else who does that now just seems like they’re imitating him. So we really needed an excuse, and that was one of the reasons. And then that character sort of took the whole script in this other direction than the comic, and that was my main contribution, that character. So that was sort of born out of necessity I guess.
Q: Just to followup: Exactly what was the necessity, though? Because one of the major differences between Ghost World the comic and the movie is that Ghost World the comic at least seems to be primarily about the relationship between these two young women, and the movie Ghost World was much more of a linear romance. Where does that come from?
Z: It starts a whole different dynamic; when you add that character things start to shift. If you analyze that comic Ghost World—and Dan may not agree with me—but, you know, it’s about him. Those girls are two different sides of himself, and you put in me—this Seymour character—and then it becomes about this different dynamic of Enid and Seymour.
So to me, it’s easier to direct that because I know what would happen there, and I don’t quite have a handle on Enid and Rebecca as strong as that. So the script starts to go in that direction. Especially when Steve Buscemi is proving he’s such a great actor on the set in bringing this whole other dimension to the lines that are written, and that’s really strong.
But the protection—what I was saying to her [previous question]—was to protect myself from the studio putting in this modern music that I didn’t think was appropriate for the film, for the tone of the film. That was what I was trying to protect myself from.
Q: [to Clowes] I have a question. When you were drawing—when you were making Ghost World, a lot of people would go back and forth about the fact that you were making this story about these two girls, and yet you’re from the male perspective. Did you think about that at all or was it mostly you were just trying—you were just curious about that perspective—the perspective of changes in life at that time?
DC: They were just characters that came to me very vividly out of the blue, and I don’t know where they came from or why they were so strong, but I felt like I knew them. I mean, they were similar to a lot of girls that I knew when I was18 or 19 years old. And I knew girls that had that kind of dynamic, and I thought it was … you just never saw characters like that in any kind of media before. And I thought that I knew a lot of girls who swore like sailors and wore army boots and were as angry as any twenty-year old guy. I thought that was such a strong thing.
And I only intended to do a couple of stories with those characters, but they were so alive for me that I couldn’t stop. I mean, it was very hard to finish that last story when she goes away on the bus. It was very hard to not go back and do more stuff with them. I kind of miss them.
Q: The dialogue is very notable in Ghost World. It seems very fresh and coarse and alive. I was wondering did you go listen to 18-year old girls, or did they talk that way when … did you do it all from memory?
DC: [assuming a storytelling voice] “Way back in the 20’s when I was in High School, the slang was very different.” [laughter]
Q: I was just wondering more if you got it all from memory?
TZ: That was one of the first things I asked him, by the way. “Did you sit behind girls on a school bus or what?” [laughter]
DC: I mean, if you look at it really, there’s not a lot of current slang. I didn’t put in a lot of hip-hop slang or anything that’s very dated. They really talk like girls in a Gidget movie that swear a lot. [laughter]
That’s how those girls really are. They’re sort of trying to go back to some early sixties kind of, “fun teenagers,” but then they have these modern, coarse affectations as well. And it’s just a rhythm, and it’s the rhythm that I speak in too. I find myself talking like a teenage girl on the phone all the time. You know, saying “he goes” this and “he went” that. It’s very embarrassing. [laughter]
Q: So you listened to yourself talk, then?
DC: Exactly I just tape recorded myself. [laughter]
Q: I have a few quick questions for Terry. When you were working on the movie, is there a specific time period or genre you feel worked to set the mood of the film?
TZ: I didn’t do it in any visual style, but I’ve always thought in retrospect that this film had certain elements of film noir in it. It’s very claustrophobic and it’s very cynical and it’s very… I can try and get at that question of influence eventually. I think it was appropriate to try to do that, but who knows how that works its way in? It’s just that those are the films I usually like, and so these elements start to creep in. [to Clowes] It’s interesting you mentioned Pale Fire because that whole Nabakov thing was very strong to me within Lolita the Kubrick film or the book for that matter. You know, this older guy and this younger girl.
We talked a lot when we were writing this story about one my favorite films, Scarlet Street, which is also about this older guy and this young femme fatale. You know; 1945 Fritz Lang film. Things like that you don’t try to copy, really, but they sort of color your work in some weird way. I wasn’t too conscious about it. You just find what’s strong and pulls you, and it creeps in and influences you in some weird way.
Q: Back to music and scenes that were in the film but not in the book. I was curious how you assembled that band Blues Hammer?
TZ: How the band Blues Hammer was assembled? Is that your question?
Q: Yeah, if you want to talk about that?
TZ: Well, we had this guy at the time, who was our music supervisor, who was a total schmuck; no help whatsoever. And he kept fighting me on this thing. Dan and I had talked about maybe just getting a band, you know, go to an agency or manager and say, “We want to book a blues band for a bar mitzvah or a wedding and we don’t have much money. You know, give us that type of band. Give us five headshots and some tapes and we’ll pick one. And maybe I’ll meet the likeliest contenders.” Seemed simple enough but “Oh no. You can’t do that. We’ve got to get actors and rent some instruments” and I said “Why? That’s hard to do. I’ve got teach these guys how to hold a bass and how to play drums. That’s hard. Get a real band.” Fought me down to the last day on that stuff. Until he got fired. [laughter]
I just went in the producer’s office one day and literally turned the table over and said, “That guy’s fired. I’ve had it. He’s an idiot.” And we did that same thing with that band playing at the prom. Where we just said, “get a schlocky bar mitzvah-type band, you know, with some silly hairdos.” There’s a lot of guys like that still around. [laughter] Finally they hire this band. And what you have to do when you film is shoot the scene to play batch so you can edit it. So you actually have the guys lip-syncing to it. Otherwise, if you’re playing live and you cut then you’re in big trouble. So they say “okay we’re going to record this tune.” We pick the tune off their cassette tape. I said, “Okay here’s the tune… record a couple of these tunes. Do an instrumental version; do the one with the vocal.” And then we had second thoughts. We said, “we better go out there.” So we had to drive out there. [to Clowes] Where the hell was that? It’s like an hour drive out of L.A. We wasted a whole evening of our lives to go hear this. You know, what could go wrong? It’s pretty straight-forward. But “oh no.” This music supervisor guy’s telling them, coaching this band to literally sing off key thinking that’s what we want. “No, they’re funny the way they are, that’s what we wanted.” [laughter]
So you’ve just got to supervise every little detail, and if Dan wasn’t there on the set all the time, this film would have been a tenth as good because there’s endless details like that. If I had no time, he would have to do it. I pretty much turned over whole, huge areas of that film to him. I said, “You know Enid and Rebecca for longer than me. You’ve drawn this for over ten years. You know what you want. You tell the wardrobe designer and if I get something I really don’t like, I’ll nix it. But you get it going; you decorate their rooms.” That kind of stuff. There’s just endless details. Few people get on a film and know how to do their job, and those people just help so much because you don’t have to look over their shoulder every second, which was pretty rare on this film.
Q: I’ve heard some rumours about a second collaboration between you guys, and it’s supposedly starring Drew Barrymore? And I wanted to know …
TZ: Man you are way out of date. You got some catchin’ up to do, jack. [laughter]
Q: So what’s the status of that?
TZ: Ah, I don’t want to talk about it. [laughter] Ask that again someday.
Q: Talking about the film/comics tension, Eightball 22 seems deliberately like a comic. You know, you advertise 29 stories in full color. I don’t know the technology with that, but is that a reaction to doing film at all?
DC: I started working on it literally the day I got back from doing Ghost World. We had just got done editing, and I wanted to do anything that was as far away from making films as possible although the comic really has a lot of filmic qualities in it. By isolating each story like that in one or two pages and sometimes even less, it’s very easy to edit and re-sequence things, and I wound up really changing everything a lot when it was all done. I spent about three months after I finished with the last page redrawing panels and entire pages in some cases and reordering stories, and it took on a much larger presence for me. And a lot of that was watching Terry edit Ghost World and seeing the amazing fluidity of film where you have all this footage and you can tell almost any story with that footage. You can tell the story of Napolean with the footage from Ghost World very easily. [laughter] It’s remarkable, and that was something I wanted to bring to comics because you really can’t edit comics very well. It’s very hard to move a panel from one page because you throw off the balance of the whole story. So that’s something I’ve always struggled with.
Q: I have a question for Dan Clowes. Could you say something about your pamphlet “Modern Cartoonist” which you drew a while back?
DC: You know I literally don’t remember a word of what was in that.
Q: I’m sort of curious why or how you would write something like that? What audience is it intended for, and what kind of message are they supposed to take from that?
DC: My only reason for doing anything—and especially something like that—is to create the final object that I’ve envisioned in my head. I just one day got this crazy idea how it would be funny to do this pamphlet that looked like some crazy communist pamphlet. Like a proponent of, you know, circumcision for adults. [laughter] Something you’d find on the bus and you’d read, and it wouldn’t even be funny or interesting; it’d just be weird. And I love that idea. I love the idea of having this thing out there. So I wrote the whole thing in like a day just so it would exist, and I had no idea of any audience for it except for some future poor schmuck on a subway somewhere who just finds it. And of course that won’t happen.
Q: [to Zwigoff] In Crumb it seemed like the music was more complete… you had great songs. And in Ghost World, it seemed edited down. I wondered if that was a studio decision or just something you did.
TZ: It wasn’t a studio decision. I actually got final cut of both films, but it wasn’t without a fight, believe me, for both. Now I, you know… I haven’t really thought about that but… The music cues were… We didn’t have much walking and talking in Ghost World. Usually if you see a comedy like, back to the Farelly brothers again. I think the Farrelly brothers films are very funny usually. I don’t want to knock their films particularly, but every film does this and I just saw one of their films so they’re very fresh in my mind. It was this film Me, Myself and Irene where there’s a funny scene and then, well, he’s on his motorcycle riding around mountains with a helicopter shot for about a minute and a half while they play this rock tune and it’s like [snores]. [laughter] Get back to the jokes there you guys. [laughter]
If it’s too dense, they do it for the reason that most audiences in this country are just not up to that, taking in that kind of information without a break. “Yeah, I can follow that for a minute but my brain’s going dead. I’ve got to go drink some beer and go get a snack. Oh okay, there’s a musical interlude.” But I find that stuff really, dreadfully stupid, so I didn’t shoot much footage that allowed that. And at first I didn’t quite understand. At the end there’s more footage shot like that, but that stuff’s really time consuming to shoot with no money, and the light has to be just right and you’re trying for a certain mood. If you don’t have the budget to do that it doesn’t work. So a lot of stuff we used I couldn’t quite put in the final film either.
Q: Or even the scene where the guy was playing before Blues Hammer . . .
TZ: Yeah it was just because we had a three-and-a-half-hour film when we were done. That was just to move things along. You’ve really just got to be really ruthless. I originally had it in there for about two minutes. You know, it’s this great old tune. And everybody loves old jug band music. [laughter]
Q: Do you really think it’s intentional—like you were talking about earlier—on the studio’s part with the music editing that it’s “attention span” or that it’s “product placement,” like you said earlier, product placement of the music?
TZ: Well, they’re mainly making sales with the soundtrack, so unless they have enough of it in there [shrugs]. They don’t care how long it is. I think that’s more the director’s choice. With the Farrelly brothers, I think he really likes that music and he really wants that musical interlude, and I think he thinks that pacing-wise that helps the film. I don’t know, I think it’d be interesting to see. I almost felt like taking. . .
Q: It almost had a sing-a-along feel in the car. Do you know when I’m talking about?
TZ: Yeah. . . yeah.
Q: It’s bad. And it’s new.
TZ: I almost feel like it would be interesting to take a film like Me, Myself, and Irene and cut out the musical interludes and see what it would be like to watch it. I can’t tell until I see it. It might not work, I don’t know. Maybe they’re right, I don’t know.
Q: I have a question for Dan about nostalgia. You mentioned for example that the old comic books themselves, the pamphlets, have some appeal to them. Some of that seems to be a rather thematic thing in Ghost World that preservation is looked down on—collection is looked down on. It’s big in comics. Does there seem to be a love/hate relationships with stuff like that in your comics?
DC: In my stuff?
Q: Yeah, in your comics. Like I’m thinking of the cycle mythology of nostalgia, the cover for Eightball. Does that make you uneasy sometimes?
DC: Well, it’s a double-edged sword. I mean, I can’t deny that I’m very drawn to all that stuff, to a certain look of a certain era, and there’s certain stuff that has this sort of immediate aesthetic appeal to me. But then I also see that it’s quite a trap to put it into Mylar and to… I actually know people who have their room set up like a room from 1929, and they “live in the 20’s.” And if they could, they’d have a … [to Zwigoff] Oh sorry, Terry, [laughter] I forgot that was you. [laughter]
But they’ve got pictures outside of their windows of, you know, old factories. [laughter] So that’s a very dangerous thing, but I think it’s an interesting tension. It’s something I’m trying to figure out in my work, and I never quite do figure anything out.
Q: Do you think there’s something intrinsic in comics that tends toward that?
DC: I think all my favorite cartoonists tend to be very nostalgic, and there’s clearly some relation. I mean, I remember the first time I was aware of Robert Crumb’s work. I never saw him as a great cartoonist originally. I thought he was a sort of pornographer, but the more I read his work the more I related to it because of that sense of nostalgia. I related to that, and it was a long time actually until I realized that he was such a great cartoonist.
Q: I had a conversation with the cartoonist Seth about the time that Ghost World came out, and he ruefully admitted that he too collects old 78’s.
DC: Of course, yeah. He’s a perfect example of exactly what I was referring to earlier. [laughter]
Q: Following up on that, nostalgia sometimes suggests a yearning for the past or some experience, but a lot of this isn’t anything that you, or Crumb, or any of these other people have experienced. It’s about a generation before. So is it finally a kind of commentary on the present, on the inadequacy of the present? It’s not that… You’re not yearning for your view, and Crumb isn’t yearning for his.
DC: It’s a “nostalgia for a time before we were born.” I don’t know what it is. I’ve always tried to justify it by saying that clearly these objects were better produced than they are now. You look at a chair built in 1860, and it’s always much more interesting than a chair built in 1960. But that’s not intrinsically true, you know. That’s just something that I feel, so I can’t really argue that. But to me there’s an appeal to certain eras of design. If you look at just a fruit box label from 1920, it’s much more artistically satisfying than pretty much any painting done since 1955. [laughter] And I have to say that’s absolutely true and I can’t deny that although I’m not really proud of that necessarily. But I don’t really know how to deal with that.
Q: Yeah, Dan I wanted to ask you about comics as… you talked about your love of pamphlets, and yet your publisher re-packages your stories as graphic novels and here you are at a conference with the theme of “the graphic novel.” So my question to you is, how do you see your work in relation to Eisner, Campbell, Sacco, and how do you see your work in terms of the graphic novel? Is it a marketing ploy? Or is it the possibility for a longer narrative? Or … how do you see your work in relationship to the wider field of comics? You mentioned “Some of my favorite comic artists…” and such. I don’t want a list, I want to know what you see as differences between, say, Gorazde and Lloyd Llewellyn.
DC: Geez, you’ve gotta ask somebody else that question. I mean, I can only talk about my own work and my own desire to do “Graphic Novels.” I mean I like the pamphlets, you know, the pamphlets are… that’s what drew me into the business. And I actually think I could make more money doing just direct-to-novel comics, but that just doesn’t have the appeal to me. And yet I do like the books. I like them re-contextualized into the books, and it’s a whole different thing for me. It’s a different feeling, you know. This current edition of Eightball which I did as a comic was only intended as a comic. I recently got the idea of how I could re-form that and turn it into a book, but it would be a whole different experience and I’d have to really re-think the whole thing and add to it and change things in order to make it work as a book. But in terms of an overall context, I don’t really know. I feel like we’re starting to get enough graphic novels or “comic book books” or whatever you want to call them that are filling up the space in the book store where they can have an actual section that says, “Graphic Novels,” and it’s not all Star Trek books or whatever.
And if that’s something that you want to be a part of, that’s a great thing, but I don’t really know what that means. I don’t know if that’s going to get exponentially bigger or if it’s just going to remain at this kind of small level and we’ll just hope for the best or what. It’s a very early time with all of that.
Q: Dan I can remember in Eightball you did a strip about somebody making a movie about, a Velvet Glove and what a nightmare that would turn into. How did they get you to do this movie, and how was it that you were able to give up editorial control to the fellow sitting next to you? I mean, what kind of concessions have you made? Because from that it seemed that you were concerned about somebody making their own interpretation of your work.
DC: Well, I resisted for many many years the many offers I got from people in Hollywood to make a movie. When Terry approached me I just, you know, within five minutes I—as with Don—I felt like I had known him my whole life. We had this instant connection, you know. We’re both sort of lonely kids from the south side of Chicago who spent hours throwing a tennis ball at a brick wall. [laughter]
And then, we just had this short hand. We had this very similar sense of humor, and through our connection with Robert Crumb—him as a friend and me as an admirer—we sort of knew this whole language. And I felt like I was never going to have a better opportunity to make a film. Then I met the producer Terry was working with who was sort of the third party in making Ghost World, and she was also a much more decent-seeming person than anybody else I was meeting. And I thought, “If I don’t make this film I should never make another film because this is my best opportunity.” Luckily it turned out okay.
IC: [to Clowes] Going back, looking at things preparing this essay I noticed a lot of developmental change in your style, your skill. And I’m wondering, do you feel like you’ve got it now? Or do you feel like maybe in three years you’re going to look back at Eightball 22 and David Boring and want to change everything?
DC: Oh I already do with both of them. It’s a constant process. I mean, I think there are certain cartoonists that just have a natural knack. I think somebody like Harvey Kurtzman, everything he did seems perfect—and I think Carl Barks, too. I think they just had this facility, and everything sort of looked the same but it was always right. And I am not one of those guys. I’m one of those people where everything looks weirdly wrong and if you hold it up in the mirror everything looks all horrible and distorted. And in a way I sort of like that. It has a sort of personal quality that’s beyond my control. I’m not trying to infuse it with that. It just comes naturally. After a few years it’s always quite hideous to me, and I always just want to burn every copy in the whole world.
Q: I was curious from one of the questions before if you had any anecdotes about particularly ill-advised ideas people had for your work.
DC: It was all—It’s always these guys who say, you know, “I’m going to make the Velvet Glove movie and it’s going to, you know, we’re going to do it in Canada with Claymation.” [laughter]
You realize how people just don’t really have their own ideas much. It’s like, “I want your idea and your thinking and all the creative work you’ve done and I will somehow take credit for it and you will get no money from me.” Sounds like a good offer now that I think about it. [laughter]
Q: I want to ask Dan a question. We were looking at some of the background details in David Boring earlier, and I know I go back and re-read this stuff and sometimes people point things out to me and I feel like a pretty big idiot for missing things. Obviously you put a lot of those kinds of background details in your work. And I’m just wondering on what level you expect or hope a reader to pick up on it? Do you think it’s something that’s there for re-reading, or do you hope that there’s going to be some sort of aggregate sub-conscious experience? Or are you hoping that there’s going to be this ideal reader out there who will receive all of your transmissions? What do you hope the effect of all that is going to be on the reader.
DC: I think I would just hope primarily for that second choice where there’s sort of some unconscious thing that’s transmitted to the reader where he doesn’t necessarily notice all the little connections or the little aspects of the world that are not in the foreground but he senses somehow that there’s something more to it. I think that’s a very helpful thing to gaining the confidence of a reader, to having this sense that the author’s in control. But beyond that, I’ve always liked artists in every medium who are especially generous, who give a lot of things to a reader or a re-reader or a re-re-re-reader. And I would hope that in some of my work, at least, you could read it five or six times and not feel like you’ve got the whole thing.
DA: I think that’s about all the time we have. Thanks for coming. [applause]