Opening: Graphic Novelist Daniel Clowes Gets Real in Oakland


Oakland-based Daniel Clowes is one of the world’s most acclaimed and respected graphic novelists. Now, you can check out some of his most famous characters and works at the Oakland Museum of California’s newest exhibit.

Best known for writing the book that the 2001 Academy award-nominated film Ghost World starring Scarlett Johansson was based on, Clowes repertoire of work is bountiful.

He has published nearly 50 comic books and collections. Plus, he’s done covers for The New Yorker, a comic section in The New York Times and published an exclusive comic called “The Christian Astronauts” for McSweeney’s.

“The way I do these comics, I don’t have a master plan—they come out the way they come out,” Clowes said during a preview of the museum exhibit. “I’m interested in what comics can do that novels can’t do; I want to get it very specific so it seems real.”

A stroll through the museum’s show captures just this “realness;” the characters are fraught with human imperfection—often hairy and sweaty—and have a dry dark humor. Their names range from David Boring to Dan Pussey to Mister Wonderful.

This exhibit is the first-ever survey of Clowes’ full body of work and has 100 original pieces that date from 1989 to 2011. It is broken into three sections chronologically where viewers can see the progression of Clowes’ work with highly detailed pen-work, dark shading, splashes of color and a varied mix of comic styles.

“I have a very deep interest in the history of comics,” Clowes said. “I love the way that black ink looks on paper.”

Besides the artwork on the wall, the exhibit has custom made furniture and digital outputs that include video animation and copies of all of Clowes’ books where people can sit, linger and read.

If walking through the exhibit chronologically, viewers end up on a “Wilson” collage. Soon, Wilson will be the star of a new film being directed by Oscar award-winner Alexander Payne, who made “The Descendents.”

Modern Cartoonist: The Art of Daniel Clowes opened April 14 and runs through August 12. It will then travel to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington DC and the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio. The Oakland Museum of California is hosting a series of events with the exhibit, which on are the website. Additionally, a book edited by Alvin Buenaventura with a catalog of Clowes work and essays from prominent writers and other graphic novelists is available.

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