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Staggering Works of Heartbreaking Genius
Daniel Clowes and Chris Ware

Original illustrations by alternative cartoonists Daniel Clowes and Chris Ware will be displayed this month (May 2001) at Seattle's Roq la Rue Gallery, beginning with an opening night reception. Both artists will be in attendance, and all pieces will be for sale.

Clowes and Ware have each received loads of press for their recently released graphic novels, though both have already had long-running comic book titles published by Lake City's Fantagraphics.

Between 1986 and 1989, Fantagraphics released six issues of Clowes's first title, Lloyd Llewellyn, which satirized the '50s space-age kitsch of sci-fi films, pulp novels and go-go dancers through the misadventures of the eponymous hipster doofus.

Since then, Fantagraphics has published 21 issues of Clowes's current title, Eightball, which features hilariously caustic piss-takes on such targets as comic book fanboys (Dan Pussey), Jack Chick's kooky Christian comics ("Devil Doll") and kooky Christians themselves ("Why I Hate Christians").

Clowes demonstrates a more somber, surrealistic style in Eightball's serialized dramas, all three of which have been re-released as graphic novels: Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron, David Boring, and the 80-page, black-and-blue-tinted Ghost World.

A melancholic portrait of two teenage girls desperate for irony-laden kicks, Ghost World has been adapted by Clowes and director Terry Zwigoff for a major Hollywood feature. The pair co-wrote the screenplay, and Zwigoff, responsible for the fascinating 1994 documentary of underground comic legend R. Crumb (Crumb), will also direct. The film is slated for an August release.

The prolific Clowes also created the graphic art for OK Soda (Coca Cola's ill-fated spinoff), drew the animation for a Ramones video, illustrated the movie poster for Happiness, and produced album covers for Urge Overkill, Thee Headcoats, and others.

The 40-year-old Clowes was born and raised in Chicago before he moved to Berkeley in 1993, just two years after Chris Ware, 34, moved to the Windy City from Austin.

Ware's earliest strips appeared in the University of Texas student paper in the late '80s, and then in the acclaimed comic anthology RAW in the early '90s. Since 1994, Fantagraphics has published 14 issues of Ware's current title, The Acme Novelty Library, whose silly comics feature "Quimby the Mouse," sad robots, and a goofy, potato-shaped man, along with some nifty cut-out toys and bilious ad parodies ("Placebo Birth Control: Whatta gas... Use it to 'goof' on mom, sis.").

Ware's meticulously elaborate work is always a visual knockout, influenced by ancient Sears Catalogs and other turn-of-the-century ephemera, and is painstakingly rendered with dizzying detail.

This distinctive style pervades Acme's centerpiece, Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth, the tragicomic saga of a 36-year-old sad sack who travels to a dreary Michigan town for an awkward reunion with his estranged father. The multigenerational melodrama frequently flashes back to Jimmy's forefathers, revealing the family's long string of paternal abandonment. The serial is as painful to read as it is exquisitely beautiful, culminating in a heart-rending episode when Jimmy's great-grandfather abandons his own young son at the 1893 Colombian Exhibition in Chicago.

After the full-color, 380-page Jimmy Corrigan anthology was published last fall, Ware has been busy working on a new serial about another middle-aged reject, Rusty Brown, a lonely memorabilia collector. Both Jimmy and Rusty draw heavily on Ware's own personality, especially his admitted self-pity (if not self-loathing).

"I just don't like being physically in front of people I don't know very well," Ware recently told The Onion, "because I expect to be 'seen through,' or, even worse, instantly hated."

This could make things interesting at the opening, as both Ware and Clowes will likely face plenty of strangers.

Originally appeared in The Daily of the University of Washington, May 10, 2001.

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