In recent years, we’ve seen a boatload of comic books and graphic novels make their way to the silver screen, from Big Two stalwarts like Spider-Man and Batman to independent titles like Scott Pilgrim and 30 Days Of Night. Among the various adaptations, though, some creators have emerged as magnets for Hollywood types — and unlikely and under-recognized one is Daniel Clowes.
Clowes was one of the driving forces of alternative comics in the ’80s and ’90s, and was identified as one of the earliest “literary” cartoonists — that is, cartoonists whose storytelling goes above the level of stereotyped “traditional comics” and into the level of literature. His work was quickly embraced by the younger generation, and Clowes illustrated over 20 album covers, several skateboard decks and even a soda brand. Crumb director Terry Zwigoff picked up the story of Ghost World, which appeared in several issues of Clowes’ anthology Eightball. After the success of Ghost World, Zwigoff and Clowes followed it up with 2006’s Art School Confidential, also based on stories found in Eightball. Clowes has also worked on several movies not based on his work, including a project with Michel Gondry.
With those two alt-films released and successful, here’s a look at some other Clowes stories and ideas for adaptation:
The Death-Ray: Clowes take on the conceit of superhero-dom and the motivations of someone with those powers. Clowes’ signature pacing and themes of alienation work their way into a fatherless teenage longer who gets superpowers by smoking a cigarette. The teenager quickly goes after his high school tormentors, while our hero deftly turns into a thug looking for trouble. This project is already close to production, with music video director Chris Milk on-board and Jack Black’s production company putting it together. Sounds like Nacho Libre for super-heroes, but maybe the source material will make it more than that.
Wilson: Clowes’ newest project and first un-serialized graphic novel, Wilson tells bite-sized stories of a lonely and bitter man making sense of his life and throwing up his hands at it all. The work goes from hyper-realistic to Sunday cartoons comedy, told in single-page gag strips that stand on their own and add up to tell a compelling, albeit rough, narrative. This project would be a harder book to film that Clowes’ previous movies, but our sibling site Spinoff Online reported two months ago that writer/director Alexander Payne (Election, Sideways) is working with Sam Raimi’s production company and Fox Searchlight to bring it to the big screen.
Lloyd Llewellyn: A set of tongue-in-cheek noir tales spun over the lounge era of the mid-50s. As Clowes first major work, it’s often overlooked by the cartoonist’s follow-up Eightball, but Lloyd Llewellyn stands as a unique glimpse at what became Clowes’ defining style. The best fit for this in this blogger’s opinion would be as a cartoon series similar to Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim, shot from Clowes’ original comics.
Pussey!: Clowes’ vicious satire of the comic industry. Think Aaron Sorkin’s “inside baseball” approach to industry as in West Wing, but in comics — and with less pontificating and more addled attitude. Clowes’ saga of the anti-hero Dan Pussey takes on American comics straight-on with superheroes and even Stan “the Man” Lee in the crosshairs. Although comic fans live and die by faithful adaptations of comic books, any true representation of this on film might make any Wednesday comics reader balk. I’d love to see two-time director of Clowes’ work, Terry Zwigoff, take this on. It would mix the acerbity found in his 2003 flick Bad Santa with the Clowes’ aesthetic he’s done in Art School Confidential and Ghost World…. just don’t cast Jon Heder in it.
David Boring: In this book, the titular character is searching for two things: “the perfect woman” and the truth about his absent father, an obscure comic artist whose sole work was a book called The Yellow Streak.Adapting elements of New German Cinema and Russian literature, Clowes’ story shows a polite detachment to the world and a unique perspective on the world David Boring lives in. Created during the filming of Clowes’ first film Ghost World, you can sees a lot of elements from that experience show up in the pages and under the surface of David Boring. Although Clowes has stated that this book was his attempt to create a comic that could never be made into a film, I’d like to see someone try.
Ice Haven: An idiosyncratic take on a Agatha Christie-style mystery in a hamlet of a town called Ice Haven. Clowes’ ennui is in full effect in the 29 self-contained stories that build to form the narrative in the book as the town’s residents try to figure out a child abduction. This would probably be the most straight-forward story to adapt into a feature film — imagine the Coens teaming up with the Clowes and someone like Philip Seymour Hoffman in the role of Random Wilder and you’re on your way.
Like A Velvet Glove Cast In Iron: Like many of his later works, this Clowes story pits a man looking for someone — in this case, his estranged wife. After catching a glimpse of her in a bawdy BDSM flick as the film’s star dominatrix, the husband sets out with new vigor to find her. That’s where the story diverges from standard storytelling tropes and enters a world of paranoia and off-kilter imagery including two crazed copies, religious cults, a potato-like woman and Hitler’s birthmark. Although no one has attempted a film adaptation yet, Clowes himself did a subsequent story about a hypothetical movie adaptation in Eightball #11 which showed the adaptation veering off-script and failing at the box office. This would probably be one of the most difficult stories from Clowes’ ouvre to bring to the big screen, but not impossible.
You tell us — what Daniel Clowes comic would you like to see on the big — or small — screen next?