SPX Spotlight 2016: Dan Clowes' Patience

It's another entry in Panel Patter's SPX SPOTLIGHT series! If you want to track our personal recommendations of creators who'll be attending one of the best small-press shows in America, make sure you follow along. It's a great way to create your own personal guide for the show on September 17th and 18th, 2016, in Bethesda, Maryland. Don't miss it! You can find all our SPX SPOTLIGHT posts here.

Written and Drawn by Daniel Clowes
Published by Fantagraphics Books

Don’t get too comfortable reading Daniel Clowes’ Patience. Don’t allow yourself to get 5 or 10 page into the book thinking you know what this story is. The book is a story about a young couple, expecting their first child and trying to figure out how they’re going to make ends meet. To keep his wife Patience calm and assured that everything is going to be o.k., Jack lies to her about his job, saying he’s on the fast track to a promotion while he’s really standing on a street corner, handing out flyers for some business or another. These first few pages almost seem like something more out of a recent Adrian Tomine book than a Clowes book. Then again, Clowes is the guy who did Ghost World, a book that has served as a template for so many of Tomine’s works. 

Patience starts out as a slice of life comic but quickly becomes a whodunit. But as a Clowes comic, it can’t remain a true whodunit as Clowes bends, twists and transforms these characters stories and their pasts to create a comic that exists now, blending the past, present and future into one point continuous narrative that doesn’t follow a continuous, single direction timeline. When Patience is murdered, Jack spends the rest of his life trying to find out who killed her. Patience is a murder mystery at its core but Clowes’ construction of the book tells the story of two people's’ lives together which began well before they met for the first time.

Clowes’ artwork is interesting because it almost puts up a barrier between the reader and the story. On the surface of it, his unadorned style feels out of its time. The workman-like steadiness of his storytelling recalls the older storytelling of the EC and pre-Marvel Atlas comics. Even the flat colors recall a different, older time in comics even if Clowes’ uses brighter colors than those old, washed-out comics. It’s not like Clowes is trying to recreate a whole aesthetic experience of comics dug out of a long box like Tom Scioli and Ed Piskor currently are. It’s more that the way that Clowes presents his comic is visually as unstuck in time as his characters and story are.

But when Clowes steps outside of drawing a 21st century-perceived world, the results are mind-bending. Patience’s death haunts Jack even in the year 2029 and the world that Clowes draws is so different than the world of 2012. Clowes has great timing in this book, knowing when to use the art to tell the story and knowing when the story needs to blow your mind with the art. He’s a great artist who knows how to use his characters to tell his stories. He always has. And you can almost get lulled into thinking Clowes is a slice-of-life cartoonist. But when Patience gets emotionally dark or narratively twisted, his artwork can hit like a wrecking ball.

Patience is filled with all of these kind of moments. It’s a mystery. It’s a love story. It’s a twisted psychedelic experience. It can be a bit schizophrenic as Jack starts to lose touch with reality but it’s incredibly consistent as Clowes remains as driven as Jack is to unravel Patience’s death. The book intricately folds in and back on itself as discovering the clues in Patience’s past just adds to the inevitability of the murder and the ultimate salvation of both Patience and Jack. So when Clowes goes wild with the story, he steps outside of normal perceptions as he questions what separates the past, the present, and the future.

It’s almost disappointing that old fashioned alternative comics have moved beyond the point of serialization and straight into graphic novels. Patience is a great book but it’s intriguing to think how much fun it would have been to get this comic in small chunks over a couple of years in the pages of Eightball or another comic. Clowes would have introduced Patience and Jack in the first chapter and set you up so you think you knew what the story was going to be and then would have pulled upset all of your conceptions in the second chapter and then again do the same thing in the third chapter. But we could have lived with these chunks of the story for weeks or months and then been constantly surprised again and again by a story that never wants you to rush through it. But that’s a small, inconsequential criticism. All that matters is that Daniel Clowes’ Patience is one of the great comics of 2016, constantly surprising you by its dark twists and fantastic art.

And you know what?  Maybe it is easy to say what kind of story Patience is.  It's a story about love and obsession, with all of that other stuff thrown in just to keep you guessing about it all the way through.

You can find Daniel Clowes online at his website and on Twitter.

Clowes will be at SPX2016 at table W56-61.