Posts Tagged ‘Daniel Clowes’

In “Patience,” Daniel Clowes Looks for Answers to the Big Questions

March 24, 2016

“I wouldn’t be interested in the work of an artist if they didn’t suffer from debilitating anxiety,” Daniel Clowes says. “It’s part of the process.”

I interviewed Daniel Clowes about anxiety, religion, violence, the death of his best friend, and his new book Patience for the New York Observer.

How I spent my Saturday morning

September 18, 2012

Just me and the four greatest living cartoonists, nbd

(thanks, Meredith Rizzo)

“I want me to fuck you, David.”

September 13, 2012

Colin Panetta and I made this comic as our submission for the Ahoy, Booty! zine, a tribute to butts curated by Lainey Diamond and Emily Partridge. It is of course a genderbending of this legendary page from David Boring by Daniel Clowes. We hope you like it, and we hope Lainey and Emily like it and put it in their zine.

The 20 Best Comics of 2011

January 1, 2012

20. Uncanny X-Force (Rick Remender and Jerome Opeña, Marvel): In a year when the ugliness of the superhero comics business became harder than ever to ignore, it’s fitting that the best superhero comic is about the ugliness of being a superhero. Remender uses the inherent excess of the X-men’s most extreme team to tell a tale of how solving problems through violence in fact solves nothing at all. (It has this in common with most of the best superhero comics of the past decade: Morrison/Quitely/etc. New X-Men, Bendis/Maleev Daredevil, Brubaker/Epting/etc. Captain America, Mignola/Arcudi/Fegredo/Davis Hellboy/BPRD, Kirkman/Walker/Ottley Invincible, Lewis/Leon The Winter Men…) Opeña’s Euro-cosmic art and Dean White’s twilit color palette (the great unifier for fill-in artists on the title) could handle Remender’s apocalyptic continuity mining easily, but it was in silent reflection on the weight of all this death that they were truly uncanny.

19. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Vol. 3: Century #2: 1969 (Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill, Top Shelf/Knockabout): I’ll admit I’m somewhat surprised to be listing this here; I’ve always enjoyed this last surviving outpost of Moore’s comics career but never thought I loved it. But in this installment, Moore and O’Neill’s intrepid heroes — who’ve previously overcome Professor Moriarty, Fu Manchu, and the Martian war machine — finally succumb to their own excesses and jealousies in Swinging London, allowing a sneering occult villain to tear them apart with almost casual ease. It’s nasty, ugly, and sad, and it’s sticking with me like Moore’s best work.

18. The comics of Lisa Hanawalt (various publishers): As I put it when I saw her drawing of some kind of tree-dwelling primate wearing a multicolored hat made of three human skulls stacked on top of one another, Lisa Hanawalt has a strange imagination. And it’s a totally unpredictable one, which is what makes her comics – whether they’re reasonably straightforward movie lampoons or the extravagantly bizarre sex comic she contributed to Michael DeForge and Ryan Sands’s Thickness anthology, as dark and damp as the soil in which its earthworm ingénue must live – a highlight of any given day a new one pops up.

17. Daybreak (Brian Ralph, Drawn and Quarterly): Fort Thunder’s single most accessible offspring also proves to be its bleakest, thanks to an extended collected edition that converts a rollicking first-person zombie/post-apocalypse thriller into a troubling meditation on the power of the gaze. Future artcomics takes on this subgenre have a high bar to clear.

16. Habibi (Craig Thompson, Pantheon): It’s undermined by its central characters, who exist mainly as a hanger on which this violent, erotic, conflicted, curious, complex, endlessly inventive coat of many colors is hung. But as a pure riot of creative energy from an artist unafraid to wrestle with his demons even if the demons end up winning in the end, Habibi lives up to its ambitions as a personal epic. You could dive into its shifting sands and come up with something different every time.

15. Ganges #4 (Kevin Huizenga, Coconino/Fantagraphics): Huizenga wrings a second great book out of his everyman character’s insomnia. It’s quite simple how, really: He makes comics about things you’d never thought comics could be about, by doing things you never thought comics could do to show you them. Best of all, there’s still the sense that his best work is ahead of him, waiting like dawn in the distance.

14. The Congress of the Animals (Jim Woodring, Fantagraphics): The potential for change explored by the hapless Manhog in last year’s Weathercraft is actualized by the meandering mischief-maker Frank this time around. While I didn’t quite connect with Frank’s travails as deeply as I did with Manhog’s, the payoff still feels like a weight has been lifted from Woodring’s strange world, while the route he takes to get there is illustrated so beautifully it’s almost superhuman. It’s the happy ending he’s spent most of his career earning.

13. Mister Wonderful (Daniel Clowes, Pantheon): Speaking of happy endings an altcomix luminary has spent most of his career earning! Clowes’s contribution to the late, largely unlamented Funny Pages section of The New York Times Magazine is briefly expanded and thoroughly improved in this collected edition. Clowes reformats the broadsheet pages into landscape strips, eases off the punchlines and cliffhangers, blows individual images up to heretofore unseen scales, and walks us through a self-sabotaging doofus’s shitty night into a brighter tomorrow.

12. The comics of Gabrielle Bell (various publishers): Bell is mastering the autobiography genre; her deadpan character designs and body language make everything she says so easy to buy – not that that would be a challenge with comics as insightful as her journey into nerd culture’s beating heart, San Diego Diary, just by way of a for instance. But she’s also reinventing the autobiography genre, by sliding seamlessly into fictionalized distortions of it; her black-strewn images give a somber, thoughtful weight to any flight of fancy she throws at us. What a performance, all year long.

11. The Armed Garden and Other Stories (David B., Fantagraphics): Religious fundamentalism is a dreary, oppressive constant in its ability to bend sexuality to mania and hammer lives into weapons devoted to killing. But it has worn a thousand faces in a millennia-long carnevale procession of war and weirdness, and David B. paints portraits of three of its masks with bloody brilliance. Focusing on long-forgotten heresies and treating the most outlandish legends about them as fact, B.’s high-contrast linework sets them all alight with their own incandescent madness.

10. Too Dark to See (Julia Gfrörer, Thuban Press): It was a dark year for comics, at least for the comics that moved me the most. And no one harnessed that darkness to relatable, emotional effect better than Julia Gfrörer. Her very contemporary take on the legend of the succubus was frank and explicit in its treatment of sexuality, rigorously well-observed in its cataloguing of the spirit-sapping modern-day indignities that can feed depression and destroy relationships, and delicately, almost tenderly drawn. It’s like she held her finger to the air, sensed all the things that can make life rotten, and cast them onto the pages. She made something quite beautiful out of all that ugly.

9. The comics and pixel art of Uno Moralez (self-published on the web at What if an 8-bit NES cut-scene could kill? The digital artwork of Uno Moralez — some of it standard illustrations, some of it animated gifs, some of it full-fledged comics — shares its aesthetic with The Ring‘s videotape or Al Columbia’s Pim & Francie: a horror so cosmically black, images so unbearably wrong, that they appear to have leaked into and corrupted their very medium of transmission. Moralez fuses crosses the streams of supernatural trash from a variety of cultures — the legends and Soviet art of his native Russia, the horror and porn manga of Japan, the B-movies and horror stories of the States, the formless sensation aesthetic of the Internet itself — into a series of images that is impossible to predict in its weirdness but totally unflagging in its sense that you’d be better off if you’d never laid eyes on it. I can’t wait to see more.

8. The comics of Michael DeForge (various publishers): The last time you saw a cartoonist this good and this unique this young, you were probably reading the UT Austin student newspaper comics section and stumbling across a guy named Chris Ware. All four of DeForge’s best-ever comics — his divorced dad story in Lose #3, his shape-shifting/gender-bending erotica in Thickness #2, his self-published art-world fantasia Open Country, and his gorgeously colored body-horror webcomic Ant Comic — came out this year, none of them looking anything at all like anything you could picture before seeing your first Michael DeForge comic. It’s almost frightening to think where he’ll be five years from now, ten years from now…or even just this time next year.

7. The comics and art of Jonny Negron (various publishers): What if someone took Christina Hendricks’s walk across the parking lot and trip to the bathroom in Drive and made an entire comics career out of them? That is an enormously facile and reductive way to describe the disturbing, stylish, sexy, singular work of Jonny Negron, the breakout cartoonist of the year, but it at least points you in the right direction. No one’s ever thought to combine his muscular yet curiously dispassionate bullet-time approach to action and violence, his Yokoyama-esque spatial geometry, his attention to retrofuturistic fashion and style, his obvious love of the female body in all its shapes and sizes, and his ambient Lynchian terror; even if they had, it’d be tough to conceive of anyone building up his remarkable body of work in such a short period of time. Open up your Tumblr dashboard or crack an anthology (Thickness, Mould Map, Study Group, Smoke Signal, Negron and Jesse Balmer’s own Chameleon), and chances are good that Negron was the weirdest, best, most coldly beautiful thing in it. It’s like a raw, pure transmission from a fascinating brain.

6. The Wolf (Tom Neely, I Will Destroy You): Neely’s wordless, painted, at-times pornographic graphic novel feels like the successful final draft to various other prestigious projects’ false starts. It’s a far less didactic, more genuinely erotic attempt at high-art smut than Dave McKean’s Celluloid; a less self-conscious, more direct attempt at frankly depicting both the destructive and creative effects of sex on a relationship via symbolism than Craig Thompson’s Habibi; a blend of sex and horror and narrative and visual poetry and ugly shit and a happy ending that succeeds in each of these things where many comics choose to focus on only one or two.

5. The Cardboard Valise (Ben Katchor, Pantheon): Prep your time capsules, folks: You’d be hard pressed to find an artifact that better conveys our national predicament than Ben Katchor’s latest comic-strip collection, a series of intertwined vignettes created largely before the Great Recession and our political class’s utter failure to adequately address it, but which nonetheless appears to anticipate it. Its message — that blind nationalism is the prestige of the magic trick used by hucksters to financially and culturally ruin societies for their own profit — is delightfully easy to miss amid Katchor’s remarkable depictions of lost fads, trends, jobs, tourist attractions, and other detritus of the dying American Century. He’s the very most funnest Cassandra around.

4. Love from the Shadows (Gilbert Hernandez, Fantagraphics): I picture Gilbert Hernandez approaching his drawing board these days like Lawrence of Arabia approaching a Turkish convoy: “NO PRISONERS! NO PRISONERS!” In a year suffused with comics funneling pitch-black darkness through a combination of sex and horror, none were blacker, sexier, or more horrific than this gender-bending exploitation flick from Beto’s “Fritz-verse.” None also functioned as a rejection of the work that made its creator famous like this one did, either. Not a crowd-pleaser like his brother, but every bit as brilliant, every bit as fearless.

3. Garden (Yuichi Yokoyama, PictureBox): Like a theme park ride in comics form — with the strange events it chronicles themselves resembling a theme park ride — Yokoyama’s book is a breathtaking, breathless experience. Alongside his anonymous but extravagantly costumed non-characters, we simply go along for the ride, exploring Yokoyama’s prodigious, mysterious imagination as he concocts a seemingly endless stream of increasingly strange interfaces between man and machine, nature and artifice. As a metaphor for our increasingly out-of-control modern life it’s tough to top. As pure thrilling kinetic cartooning it’s equally tough to top.

2. Big Questions (Anders Nilsen, Drawn & Quarterly): Last year, I wrote that if the collected edition of Nilsen’s long-running parable of philosophically minded birds and the plane crash that turns their lives upside-down didn’t top my list whenever it came out, it must have been some kind of miracle year. Turns out that it was. But you’d pretty much have to create a flawless capstone to a thirty-year storyline of neer-peerless intelligence and artistry to top this colossal achievement. Nilsen’s painstaking, pointillist cartooning and ruthless examination of just how little regard the workings of the world have for any given life, human or otherwise, marks him as the best comics artist of his generation, and solidifies Big Questions‘ claim as the finest “funny animal” comic since Maus.

1. Love and Rockets: New Stories #4 (Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez, Fantagraphics): Gilbert got his due elsewhere on my list, so let’s ignore his contribution to this issue, which advance the saga of his bosomy, frequently abused protagonist Fritz Martinez both on and off the sleazy silver screen. Instead, let’s add to the chorus praising Jaime’s “The Love Bunglers” as one of the greatest comics of all time, the point toward which one of the greatest comics series of all time has been hurtling for thirty years. In a single two-page spread Jaime nearly crushes both his lovable, walking-disaster main characters Maggie and Ray with the accumulated weight of all their decades of life, before emerging from beneath it like Spider-Man pushing up from out of that Ditko machinery. You can count the number of cartoonists able to wed style to substance, form to function, this seamlessly on one hand with fingers to spare. A masterpiece.

Comics Time: Mister Wonderful

May 27, 2011

Mister Wonderful
Daniel Clowes, writer/artist
Pantheon, April 2011
80 pages, hardcover
Buy it from

Oddly enough for a book that numbers among his most accessible — brief, funny, light, with an ending that doesn’t make you want to throw yourself out a window — Mister Wonderful really works best if you’ve read enough Daniel Clowes to realize just how different it is. When you’ve met Andy the Death-Ray and Wilson, our main character Marshall seems like a pussycat even at his most judgmental or self-lacerating. When you’ve experienced the bleak, paranoid claustrophobia of Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron or David Boring, or for that matter the misanthropic rant-based humor of “Sports” or “Art School Confidential,” a rom-com/comedy of discomfort mash-up feels all the more sunny and breezy even at its blackest. When you’ve read comics assembled from individual strips drawn in a multiplicity of styles like Ice Haven or The Death-Ray or Wilson, both Mister Wonderful‘s original “Tune in next week, same Clowes-time, same Clowes-channel!” incarnation as a serialized strip in The New York Times Magazine and its re-cut, re-edited, expanded, much less punchline and cliffhanger dependent reincarnation here come across like a study in stylistic and storytelling economy. When you’ve seen how much mileage Clowes gets out of the cramped feel of his pages and the studied ugliness of their contents — even at their prettiest his comics have the uncomfortable, slightly awkward feeling of wearing a suit that’s a size or two too small — watching him blow out images to sprawl across both pages of a loooooong horizontal spread is a glorious thing indeed, infusing the images so selected with emotional power, whatever emotion it happens to be at the time. And when you’ve seen Ghost World‘s seemingly optimistic yet decidedly ambiguous ending, Mister Wonderful‘s denouement becomes all the more notable, both for its similarities (a bench figures prominently in both) and its differences (Ghost World‘s bench is empty, Mister Wonderful occupied and shared). It’s the differences that make all the difference.

Click here for an interview I conducted with Clowes about the book.

Comic of the Year of the Day: Wilson

December 13, 2010

Every day throughout the month of December, Attentiondeficitdisorderly will spotlight one of the best comics of 2010. Today’s comic is Wilson by Daniel Clowes, published by Drawn & Quarterly — a comedy-of-cruelty masterpiece.

I don’t think the kaleidoscopic array of styles in which Daniel Clowes drew Wilson says much of anything. I think that’s the gag….Draw it how you will: Wilson’s always there, in medium close-up more often than not, a wide-eyed and open-mouthed expression of guileless wonder on his face more often than not, saying something fucking horrible almost constantly. No matter how you shake and dance, the last two drops go in your pants; no matter whether he’s detailed or abstracted or realistic or cartoony or full-color or two-tone or black-and-white or whatever the hell, Wilson is a massive, massive tool.

Click here for a full review and purchasing information; click here for a roundtable discussion of the book with the Savage Critics.

Dan, just admit it… (or: a spoiler-filled analysis of Eightball #23)

June 29, 2004

Foreword: Petty patronizing hyperbole aside, my pal Milo’s recent posts on the preponderance of superhero-centric writing in the comics blogosphere has had at least one positive effect: convincing me to get off my duff and blog more often about alternative/art comics. But the altcomic that I’d like to talk about today also happens to be a superhero comic. Dramatic irony, or poetic justice–you make the call! Also, SPOILER ALERT.

Eightball #23
Daniel Clowes
44 pages, full color, $7.00

Okay. When I said Daniel Clowes’s new comic, Eightball #23: The Death-Ray was a superhero comic, I was exaggerating a bit. Oh, sure, it’s an explicit response to the genre–a critique, even–but it properly belongs to another maligned type of genre fiction: the serial killer narrative. The superhero trappings throughout this pitch-black work provide an easy in for discussion, not to mention one of Clowes’s trademark meta-references to the history and ephemera of the medium in which he is so alarmingly proficient, but in the end The Death-Ray is about superheroes in the same way that The Silence of the Lambs is about psychiatrists. The professional inspiration of the killer is interesting, but it’s the fact, the existence, of unflinching, unreflective evil that’s the point.

The Death-Ray‘s protagonist is Andy, to whom we are introduced when he’s a twice-divorced middle-aged dog owner, but whom we mostly follow during his years in high school. (In fact, we’re not even sure we’re following the same guy, at least initially; I had to go back and reread the opening high-school sequence (“The Origin of Andy”) before I realized that the brown-haired, skinny kid in it was, in fact, not a girl.) Andy is a quiet, nondescript kid of no discernible social strata in his school, whose only friend is bespectacled, somewhat arrogant crypto-Nietzschean student named Louie. Raised by his aging and ailing grandfather following the deaths of his father, mother, and grandmother, Andy discovers upon smoking a cigarette (one he initially thought must have been laced with PCP) that he gains superhuman strength with the introduction of nicotine into his bloodstream. A letter addressed to him from his late scientist father explains that this incredible power is a result of an experimental hormone he treated Andy with during his childhood. It also reveals the existence of another experimental weapon: A yellow gun resembling a science-fiction blowdryer, that fires something referred to by Andy’s dad as a death-ray. We soon learn that when Andy (and only Andy) pulls the death-ray’s trigger, whatever he aims it at is erased from the face of the Earth. With the advice and encouragement of Louie (who, following a trip to New York City, has become enraptured with the exhibitionistically angry punk movement), Andy sets about finding a way to use his newfound powers for good, in pursuit of the “something big” for which he feels his tragedy-laden life has destined him.

And oh, geez, where to go from there. Eightball #23, like its predecessor #22 (Ice Haven), is a staggeringly rich and dense work. Like #22, #23 is divided into numerous subsections of varying artistic styles, each with its own old-fashioned sub-title. Unlike #22, though, #23’s subsections would be difficult to understand if read on their own; the individual titles are less a mechanism of the paradigmatic writing method involved in the previous issue (in which individual vignettes about various characters cohered to tell an overall story, a la Altman) and more a convenient method of simultaneously transitioning from one scene to another, setting up and/or commenting on the scene at hand, and tying the entire work back to the superhero and melodrama genres with which Clowes is constructing his new work.

Primarily drawn in a slightly looser, sketchier style than is customary for Clowes, the art of The Death-Ray conveys a sense of terrible urgency, as though this was a story Clowes felt he had to tell as soon as possible. (This despite the two-year gap between issues—it sure doesn’t feel like it’s been that long.) Switches between one style and another are not done with the rigorous regularity of #22; there’s less of a sense of “I’m aiming for something different with this section” and more of “this is just the most efficient way for me to keep the story going at this clip.”

The primacy of the need to get this story out is reinforced within the narrative itself by the way Clowes has Andy, the book’s narrator and in almost every scene its focal character, tell us the story. Rather than using traditional thought balloons or thought caption boxes, Andy’s thoughts and narration are contained in actual word balloons. There is a slight difference between the balloons that contain narration/interior monologue and the balloons that contain actual—the former are slightly rectangular, the latter have the usual rounded shape—but the overall effect is that wherever Andy goes, whatever Andy does, his personal view of the world is not just inescapable but dominant. It’s a brilliantly evocative technique, familiar to any reader who’s ever gone through the motions of interaction with others yet spent the whole time in his or her own head. (As Andy puts it, not of his way of thinking but of his use of his superpowers, “somebody has to impose some kind of structure on the world, I guess. Otherwise everything would just fall apart, wouldn’t it?”)

Andy, then, is very much the star of his own movie. That is also one of the themes of the book: The degree to which pop culture molds individuals’ expectations of themselves. Andy’s adoption (largely at Louie’s behest) of a superhero’s costume and vigilante techniques make next to no sense given Andy’s actual life experience, even given the incredible introduction of superpowers into it; after all, Andy surmises that his father simply intended for his son to become as strong as the athletic kids in his grade and “turn myself into the most popular kid in school.” It’s the boys’ exposure to funnybooks and, one assumes, the Batman TV show, that convinces them to use Andy’s super-strength and death-ray to fight crime, such as it is. The multiple sub-titles that Clowes assigns various sections of the book—”ON PATROL,” “THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF THE DEATH-RAY,” “THE LAST STRAW”—further drive home the artificially constructed nature of Andy’s self-perception. Moreover, the occasional sequence depicts Andy and Louie swinging along city rooftops and battling crooks in the traditional superhero manner, even as they themselves continue discussing the far more quotidian battles in which they’re engaged. (The occasional “Right again, old chum!” is thrown in, but only to demonstrate the depths of the budding psychosis; we know that this was not spoken aloud, but it’s no less an accurate depiction of Andy’s mindset for that.) And it’s not just mass, mainstream culture that’s to blame, by the way. Louie’s cookie-cutter punk outlook is as much a catalyst in the terrible events that follow as is the boys’ familiarity with superhero tropes, since it gives Louie’s preexisting contempt for nearly everybody a cultural framework in which to thrive. Punk does little more for Louie than providing him an avenue to get laid, making him a bigger asshole than he already was, and giving him an excuse to pick fights—which he then cites as proof that other people are assholes who deserve what they get.

Indeed, the real problem besetting Andy and his supposed sidekick is the arbitrariness of their actions in combating crime and bad people. Simply put, the disconnect between the crimes committed and the punishment Andy and Louie dish out is so great that the act of punishment itself becomes meaningless. Andy and Louie use a discarded wallet as bait, then bully the impoverished man who picks it up, committing a “crime” that couldn’t even have occurred without the boys’ intervention. Andy roughs up a couple of burglars who he spies running off with an old man’s TV set, but even before he catches up with and knocks the snot out of them, they’ve dropped the TV, destroying it; it’s clear from the old man’s expression that he can’t afford to buy another. A girl Louie has the hots for gets smacked around by her father; Louie and Andy beat the man, but do so as he’s walking the girl’s beloved dog, who runs away, thus making her even more upset. Louie constantly tries to persuade Andy to have at a high-school meathead named Stoob with whom Louie has a long-standing and incredibly stupid grudge; it gets to the point where Louie lies on the sidewalk motionless in front of Stoob in hopes that the kid will kick him, in order to “prove” that Stoob deserves to die. In a sequence that quietly hits home for the grown-up Andy, a bartender is rude to a man who’s drinking because his grandmother died that day; Andy subsequently beats the oblivious barkeep to a bloody pulp. The beginning of the end for Andy and Louie occurs when Louie’s resentment toward his sister Teresa’s drug-dealing boyfriend leads the boys to indulge Teresa’s ex’s semi-veiled request to take the man out permanently. As Louie, abuzz with newfound moral qualms, puts it to Andy after the event, “You know, C.J. was an asshole, but he didn’t deserve to die. You didn’t even know the guy.” This from the kid who came up with the whole idea in the first place, as Andy immediately points out to himself. Louie may have had enough, but by now Andy is too far gone, too attached to the notion that he finally has the ability to “impose structure on the world,” to stop.

So at last we come to the heart of Eightball #23’s darkness: We’re witnessing the birth of a serial killer. Murder has never been far from the surface of Clowes’s work—with the exception of Ghost World, all his major works have contained violence or the threat of violence—but this is his most thorough (and not coincidentally his bleakest) examination of the subject to date.

The day before I bought this comic, I used my employee discount to pick up Michael Newton’s The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers. In it, Newton quotes a jailhouse monologue from prolific serial murderer Henry Lee Lucas:

It’s a damn shame about people, it really is. We are surely the ugliest creatures in all of nature. Look at you: What have you ever done? What gives you the confidence to sit there with a smirk on your face like you’re better than me? You think anybody cares about you? Guess what—they don’t. You can lie to yourself all you want, but the rest of us are wise to your scam. You should have been an abortion or sold into slavery. Who gave you the right to take up space in my world? I’ve never done anything to anyone they didn’t deserve. My justice is nothing if not merciful. Does that mean I’m soft? Hell no. You think I’m afraid to erase you from the landscape? Look, I know what you’re thinking. Hell, maybe you’re right. It’s a lot of responsibility, but I’m not one to complain. I’ve got a job to do like everyone else. Who am I? Your worst nightmare.

Chilling, horrifying…and fictional. That wasn’t Lucas at all, but our hero Andy, toward the end of the book, in one of the strongest sequences Clowes has yet created. Throughout this grotesque monologue the present-day, middle-aged Andy’s “mask of sanity” remains intact: He returns from the grocery store, puts away his food, strolls over to his closet, reaches inside, walks up to his apartment building’s roof, surveys the green below him, eats his TV dinner. It’s only just now, after several readings of the book, that I’m realizing that the thing he reaches into his closet to grab is the death-ray, that his talk about “eras[ing] you from the landscape” is no idle chatter, that the bell-shaped silhouette in the eighth panel of this sequence is not the doorknob to Andy’s apartment but the muzzle of the death-ray as outlined against the evening sky, and that the man sitting on a park bench below Andy (the appearance of whom made me nervous, in a Charles Whitman-referencing sort of way, but little more) has just become his next victim. The insipid banality of the Rambo quote that ends the passage merely heightens the horror: Andy has no real insight into why he does what he does beyond the cheesy vigilante morality of Hollywood.

And this momentous act is not the only one that happens in a caesura. At the end of the book we see a partial line-up of Andy’s victims, answering the section’s sub-title’s question, “Why did Andy destroy you?” We learn that the two divorces Andy has spoken of having were caused by men with whom Andy’s wives cheated, men who Andy then murdered. We learn that a brief conversation between the teenaged Andy and his housekeeper, in which the housekeeper implied that her daughter had been taking drugs, led to the execution of a man whose crime was nothing more than selling the daughter some weed. In the same way that the disturbing crime at the heart of Eightball #22, as well as its resolution, took place between the panels, so too do many of the killings in #23. It’s as though, to our central character, they’re hardly worth mentioning—the events he does choose to depict are assumed to be explanation enough. Given the circumstances, Andy seems to suggest, any one of you would have done the same.

As with nearly all serial killers, sex is a key component of the killings, although not as obviously as with some. Most serial murderers hunt within the gender to which they are sexually attracted (as an aside, this gives lie to the notion that The Silence of the Lambs is homophobic: Buffalo Bill is not gay at all, but a woman-hater whose transsexualism is intended as a mockery of both homosexuals and women; we even see Polaroids of the guy with strippers at one point). This is not the case with Andy, as near as we can tell’he maintains an idealized long-distance relationship with his “girlfriend,” Dusty (“I hadn’t stopped loving her—and still haven’t to this day, come to think of it,” he says 24 years later, though once again this is likely just an attempt to assign meaning to a life where none has truly existed). But he displays true, romantic feelings (which it nonetheless appears he is trying to hide from the reader; he never describes them to us, and the one time he does address them directly in the context of a dream about having sex with her, he talks to her (“you”) directly) toward his African-American housekeeper. Clowes clearly wants us to see this attachment as an integral part of what makes Andy into what he becomes. The key sequence in which Andy discovers the truth about his superhuman inheritance from his father, “THE ORIGIN OF THE DEATH-RAY,” begins with two panels of disembodied sexual dialogue (“Fuck me, Andy!” “Yeah, baby—that’s it!”), and eventually includes yet another (“Oh Andy, you fuck me so good!”). It’s not until two-panel daydream sequence pages later that we learn the idenity of speaker: Dinah, the housekeeper who keeps the place from falling apart as Andy’s Pappy becomes more infirm. Andy eventually makes his feelings for Dinah clear to her by attempting a kiss; by the very next panel, she’s gone, and the placement of this sequence just before the most traumatic one in the book implies a causal relationship between Andy’s actions in the former and his actions in the latter.

Similar goals influence Louie’s behavior. Right after a scene in which he and Andy discuss their lack of superheroic motivation (“Look at the Hulk—his wife died, or something”), Louie spots the girl on the basis of his crush on whom he and Andy would later assault her father. It’s Louie’s later discovery of a pretty punkette that leads to the moral conversion that catastrophically unravels his relationship with Andy. (Yes, the “one friend in the world” the grown-up Andy refers to is not Louie, to our surprise.) Moreover, nearly all of the victims of Andy we know of have some sexual connection to him, whether they’re the men who ‘fucked his wives” or the dealer who sold grass to his beloved housekeeper’s daughter. And finally, of course, there’s the unspoken sexual dimension of Andy and Louie’s relationship itself. Paired killers are not at all uncommon, from the Hillside Stranglers to Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole, and often the killings serve to consummate the sexual tension that the killers themselves aren’t (or, sometimes, are) willing to consummate themselves. It’s no coincidence that, just before Andy and Louie’s traumatic “break-up,” Louie seems to have found an actual girlfriend and Andy has finally acted on his love for Dinah. The two don’t need each other anymore. (It’s also no coincidence that the one scene we see without the interceding viewpoint of Andy is of a weepy Sonny, Louie’s sister’s lovelorn ex-boyfriend and the man whose desire to win her back sets the ultimate breakdown between Andy and Louie in motion. In the world of serial murder, love and death are inseparable.)

Of course, Clowes’s usual pitch-black insights into the human condition are omnipresent. Whether it’s Pappy’s cri de coeur (“Oh God, why can’t I remember things?”) and his inability to recall that his wife Sarah has died (“Dear S” reads his unfinished letter to her); Andy’s “girlfriend” Dusty’s tragicomic pose with a garden hose, using it as a microphone, lipsyncing to the radio with braces on her teeth; carrot-topped Stoob’s sensitive acoustic-guitar wooing of a pretty girl; Louie’s pre-NYC assessment of punk music (“You like this?” “I dunno…I think so. It makes me want to kill somebody.”); the fact that the mechanism Andy’s dad chose to activate his latent superpowers will likely give him lung cancer….You’ve got to laugh to keep from crying. It all culminates Andy’s closing address to the reader, delivered on what we assume is the Fourth of July after a run-in with a grown-up Stoob (you can insert the de rigeur “It’s about Iraq!!!” reading here, if you absolutely must):

He couldn’t fool me. Underneath it all, he was still the same guy. Nobody ever changes.

That’s not to say that everybody’s an asshole. I know better than that. Hell, you’re probably a decent person yourself. There are plenty of you out there.

For you, Mr. and Mrs. Decent Citizen, I’ll do anything. Just say the word.

You’ve got a friend in old Andy.

Of course, we don’t. But in the same way that Andy’s thoughts superimpose themselves against the events of his life, it’s Andy’s view of The Way Things Are, not ours that has the final say. Andy’s among us, and we’re his one friend in the world. Maybe he is our worst nightmare, after all.