Opinion

Angst and Comics: Daniel Clowes in Chicago

Ghost World on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. All photos by the author for Hyperallergic.
Ghost World on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. (All photos by the author for Hyperallergic unless otherwise noted).

CHICAGO — There’s a meme floating around of Scarlett Johansson falling down in New York, seconds before she hits the pavement; users began remixing the image, in a now well-trodden meme tradition, into out of context photos. Recently named Esquire‘s Sexiest Woman Alive for the second time, she epitomizes grace, sexuality and poise. That’s part of what made the meme so potent: even this otherworldly beauty can trip and fall flat on her face.

Image via Mashable
Image via Mashable

Had ScarJo taken a fall in 2001, and had there been any paparazzi then to photograph her, the meme might not have struck a chord. Over a decade ago, she had more of a cult following, starring alongside Christina Ricci as part of an awkward teen duo in Ghost World. Based off the graphic novel series of the same name by Daniel Clowes, the film captured post high school angst, American adolescence and the emptiness of suburban life in magnificent scope.

Daniel Clowes's cover for "Eightball 18" (1997), gouache on white board (Collection of Daniel Clowes Image courtesy of the artist and Oakland Museum of California)
Daniel Clowes’s cover for “Eightball 18” (1997), gouache on white board (Collection of Daniel Clowes Image courtesy of the artist and Oakland Museum of California)

Clowes’s work is the subject of Modern Cartoonist, a show originally designed for the Oakland Museum of California but recently traveled to Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art and will be showing at the Wexner Center for the Arts in Ohio next year. It’s the first museum exhibition devoted to someone the show explains “defined the indie aesthetic for his generation and garnered respect from both critics and audiences.” The Chicago location is quite apropos, given that the cartoonist hails from the Windy City, which has also nurtured canonical works like Harold Gray’s Little Orphan Annie and Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy.

The installation features comics for readers to flip through. At the far end, there's even a bed.
The installation features comics for readers to flip through. At the far end, there’s even a bed.

A peek at Wilson, Clowes’s first book project, takes us into the angsty world of a white middle aged man living in Oakland. These one-page vignettes cover moments like Wilson cussing out a passerby who doesn’t compliment his dog and another of an inmate watching an icicle drip slowly into water, concluding that there’s “Still nothing.” Other parts of the exhibition reveal Clowes’s sketches and drawings, with a glimpse into Ghost World coming to life and other classics like Chicago, Lloyd Llewellyn, and Dan Pussey.

clowesselfportraitThe exhibition pays homage to comic book culture, offering readers a chance to sit or lie down in makeshift beds which have some of Clowes’s works on them. And collections of artifacts appear behind glass cases and wrapped in comic book sleeves. A collection of original panel drawings flips open like poster displays, with the final panel featuring a self portrait of the artist, his face a mixture of angst, anger and confusion, but maybe there’s a smirk lying just beneath the surface.

Daniel Clowes, "The New Yorker (cover)" (2009), black ink on white board 25.5 x 19 x 0.5 in. (64.77 48.26 x 1.27 cm.) (Collection of Daniel Clowes Image courtesy of the artist and Oakland Museum of California)
Daniel Clowes, “The New Yorker (cover)” (2009), black ink on white board (Collection of Daniel Clowes Image courtesy of the artist and Oakland Museum of California)

Modern Cartoonist: The Art of Daniel Clowes was at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago from June 29–October 13, 2013, and it will be traveling to the Wexner Center for the Arts at Ohio State University, where it will be copresentation by the Wex and Ohio State’s Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum next year (May 17, 2014–August 3, 2014).

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