August 11, 2016

Book Review: "Patience" by Daniel Clowes

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Patience, by Daniel Clowes

By Daniel Clowes
Reviewed by Jason Pettus

Oh, what a letdown it's been as a member of Generation X, to watch all the daring young bucks against the Establishment in my twenties become the exact next generation of the Establishment itself now that we're creeping into our fifties; and nowhere is this generational shift more noticeable than in the world of "alternative" comics, a movement that started with grungy self-published titles traded through the back pages of obscure magazines like Factsheet 5, but with those same creators now bringing the kind of white-male academic reverence, New Yorker cover assignments, and subsequent mainstream embrace that also ruined jazz, whiskey and baseball. (Hint: If Ken Burns has done a documentary on it, it's a subject well on its way to being ruined by white-male academic reverence. Coming to PBS in 2017 -- Zines: A Film by Ken Burns.) All of this was in the front of my mind recently while reading through Dan "Eightball" Clowes' latest book, and the largest single story so far of his career, the 180-page sci-fi tale Patience; for to be clear, this is Clowes being as Clowesian as Clowesian literature even gets, and while as a long-time fan I was perfectly fine with this decades-long consistency of his, it made me wonder if his shtick has by now worn thin among the current generation of young people making and enjoying comics, especially now that the tide has come full circle and young creatives seem to be really embracing traditional superhero comics again.

Both the storytelling and the artwork is almost exactly what you would expect from Clowes by this point; lots of hipsters staring blankly directly full-on at the reader, a kind of cartoonish lumpiness to the characters, 60-year-old men who still talk exactly like bratty teenagers (can't wait for Ghost World Assisted Living Facility), and like nearly all full-length comic books, a plotline that's serviceable but that would barely fill a ten-page story if just words alone, a story that many would find uninspiring and predictable if not for all the pretty pictures and the usual fetishistically precise binding by the now revered Fantagraphics. And like I said, as a 47-year-old who's been reading Clowes' work in real time all the way back since Eightball #4, this is exactly what I expected from Patience, and the three weeks I spent reading it two or four pages at a time during every bathroom visit was a series of five-minute experiences I have no particular complaints about. But I'm starting to question more and more whether anyone 30 or younger is even capable of seeing Clowes' work this way anymore, or if they greet new titles like these with an angry sigh and a, "Oh, great, more early-'90s crap that took up a slot in Fantagraphics' publishing schedule that deserved to go to a younger and more exciting artist."

I don't know the answers to these questions, and admittedly it's perhaps unfair to disparage a book merely on the theoretical idea that there are a bunch of young people rolling their eyes at it as we speak. But certainly there's something to be legitimately pointed out in public when, after a youth when I was always so excited by a new Clowes book, now I seem to greet each new one with, "Yep, that sure was another book by the middle-aged comics creator Daniel Clowes, all right." Although not actively bad, Patience is a prime example of an artist resting on his laurels; and as a critic I'm never exactly thrilled to come across an artist resting on their laurels, and I find it hard to react to these kinds of books with anything other than the same apathetic shrug all the indie twentysomethings also give it.

Out of 10: 7.8

Read even more about Patience: Official site | Amazon | GoodReads | LibraryThing | Wikipedia

Filed by Jason Pettus at 7:00 AM, August 11, 2016. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |