If you only read one new book by Daniel Clowes this year, then you are missing the best one. No, I am not judging your reading choices—promise! Instead, we somehow live in a world where the indie artist, author, and Oscar-nominated screenwriter published two graphic novels in 2011. And both are superb.
The first, Mr. Wonderful: A Love Story, published in April by Pantheon, and we selected it as our top pick for Best of the Year So Far in Comics and Graphic Novels. Next week, Drawn and Quarterly will release The Death-Ray, which is a hardcover reprint of a 2004 story originally published as Eightball #23 (the last single issue comic illustrated by Clowes). Aesthetically, the package could not be more dissimilar from Wonderful—whereas the latter is horizontally shaped and hangs over the side of most bookshelves, The Death-Ray is vertically shaped, taller than any book in Clowes’ catalog (even Wilson). It’s true to the size of the sought-after original issue, with new front and back covers, signature pages, and end papers.
What sets The Death-Ray apart from most of Clowes’ work is that this is a superhero story, albeit a recognizably Daniel Clowes superhero story. Andy’s parents are deceased (classic superhero origin stuff), he is a loner and misunderstood (check), and he has a sidekick (double check). Where Andy’s story begins to separate from the power-fantasies of contemporary comics is that the source of his powers is definitely not Comics Code approved, and he definitely does not use his powers for good. Ever. “Like Holden Caulfield with his phaser set on kill,” says Time magazine, and they are absolutely correct. Clowes explores disaffected youth via goofy blaster guns and stock bully characters, but as the narrative’s sly wit turns sinister very few readers will be able to finish the book without wincing. Never has an “Excuse me?” read so menacingly.
To celebrate this must-have release, Daniel Clowes offered us three exclusive cutting-room-floor images from The Death-Ray sessions. See below for two early sketches [click for larger versions], and then head over to the book’s page to see an unused cover design. Life is good--maybe not for Clowes' characters, but certainly for his fans.
P.S. For more Clowes, check out Tom Nissley's four-part podcast with the artist.