Tomine arrived at the show, fresh off releasing “Optic Nerve” #12. A California native, the acclaimed cartoonist moved to New York about a decade ago and has since worked his new home into his work as the setting for many of his comics. Clowes, most famous for “Ghost World,” “Wilson” and “Art School Confidential,” attended the show in support of the just-released new hardcover edition of “The Death Ray.”
Moderator Dan Nadel pointed out that both Clowes and Tomine have moved away from autobiographical comics in the last few years, observing, “Dan never really did much in the first place, but there was always a feeling that there was [Clowes] sort of seeping through the character.”
Autobiographies, Tomine said, are simpler to work on, but can be a bit boring.
“I feel that none of my work is autobiographical,” Clowes said. He mentioned one story he did called “The Stroll” as his only autobiographical comic strip, an exact replica in comic form of his commute to work when he was younger. Clowes did admit, however, that he is sometimes “horrified” at how deeply personal some of his work is when he looks back over it years later.
Clowes explained that when he works, he likes to represent where he lives as best as he can. When he was younger, this meant accurately portraying Chicago and then Berkeley. “I slowly started to think I should be setting my work in [Berkeley], and all of a sudden palm trees and things started to appear where they never were before,” Cowes shared. “Then I met Adrian [Tomine], and he was setting all of his comics in Berkeley and it was almost like we bumped into each other on the street taking Polaroids of a building or something for photo reference. I started to feel like he had more claim to it than I did, because he went to school here and was living here before I was ever in California.”
Clowes made certain the audience realized his current work is very specifically set in Oakland, where he lives. “I feel like I’m a California artist now.”
Tomine admitted to going through the same issues when he first moved to Brooklyn, and even now doesn’t feel like a “true” New Yorker.
Nadel pushed the pair to discuss how their narrative process has changed through the years, specifically pointing out the way in which Clowes uses multiple strips to tell a single story, like in “Wilson,” whereas Tomine doesn’t have as much continuity between strips or books.
Clowes said he realized that at some point, he was more interested in characters than stories, which lead him to reuse good characters again and again.
Tomine said he is actually jealous of creators with stories that last 600 or 700 pages. “It seems more impressive!” Tomine joked. “Plus you make more money and can be sold in bookstores.”
Clowes said when he first started drawing, he was obsessed with perfection. If a page had one line off, he would throw the entire thing into the garbage, including the first cover for one of his most famous creations. “The first cover for ‘Eightball’ #1 is very different from the one [I published], and I wish I still had it.” Now that his standards have loosened somewhat, he’s found his art hasn’t suffered at all and it is “much more enjoyable.”
Clowes reminisced about the atmosphere of the industry in the past, and how he has a strict personal deadline of two finished pages a week. “All the artists I really liked worked under these unbelievably strict deadlines and it didn’t seem to help anybody to have extra time, it seemed to force something out of you if you have to work under pressure.”
Nadel pushed Clowes to discuss if his book “The Death Ray” was a response to 9/11. Clowes denied the connection as conscious at the time but said that, “I can now see it so clearly in the character.”
At this point, the floor opened for a Q&A session, though the first audience member didn’t have a question at all, simply asking the panelists panelists to speak up louder as the panel room was indicative of the show’s intimate experience, separated from the convention floor by only a piece of cloth draped from the ceiling, making it tough to hear what was being said at times.
Tomine disagreed with a fan’s opinion of Sacramento being “a black hole,” and said he felt lucky to grow up there.
Tomine was a bit embarrassed to say that the much-loathed character Ben Tanaka from “Shortcomings” was, in fact, based on himself, although he often denies this fact in interviews. “The guys not even wearing glasses, how could that be you?” joked Clowes.
Clowes starting drawing comics every day when he was 15. “Thankfully, no one will ever see those,” he said. “You’re lucky!” interjected Tomine, who was a published artist as a teenager. Clowes got his big break when his friend was hired as an office boy at “Cracked” magazine. His friend was promoted to editor-in-chief two weeks later and hired Clowes.
Clowes recounted the time a female fan camped out for an entire day, curled up on his porch in an attempt to meet the artist. Clowes ignored her, and by the next morning she was gone. “I should have married that girl.”
Asked how he was able to able to write 16-year old girls so well in “Ghost World,” Clowes answered that in high school, was very quiet. “I learned to blend in to the wallpaper so I was barely there. I found myself very often in the company of girls who were talking very freely and would say, ‘Oh, I forgot he was there!’ So I felt like I had this inner sense that they were closer to me and my friends than I could ever imagine. The success of that strip was that both [men and women] felt it was right.”