Event: Daniel Clowes at Bookshop Santa Cruz

Last night, my wife and I went to go listen to Daniel Clowes talk about his new book, "Mister Wonderful," an expansion of a serial strip that appeared in The New York Times Magazine a few years ago. The book is nothing less than vintage Clowes: a deceptively simple character study of Marshall, a middle-aged bachelor out on the town for a blind date that may very well be his last chance at love. Marshall's story is sweeter than the kinds of tales Clowes is known for - that is, it's sweeter on the surface. Because just below that surface bubbles a hidden reservoir of self-destructive tendencies. For starters, Marshall admits to having a problem with his temper. But perhaps most important is Marshall's self-absorbed narration, which dominates the book's action. Clowes renders Marshall's "voice-over" in heavy blocks of text that often obscure other characters' dialogue and faces - a concrete graphic representation of Marshall's neuroses.

Clowes' presentation featured the author standing at a lectern in front of an audience of about 35 people; an assistant manned a laptop computer, which fed a PowerPoint presentation to a projector. Aided by the slides, Clowes reviewed his career briefly before launching into a more detailed discussion of "Mister Wonderful"'s genesis in The New York Times Magazine and how he arranged and added to the story for the book.  Clowes focused mostly on anecdotes about his experience working for the Times, and on his own storytelling techniques.

As witty and enlightening as Clowes was, one of the evening's highlights came courtesy of a questioner in the audience. In fact, it was this exchange that kicked off the Q&A following Clowes' talk:

Questioner (a middle-aged hippie lady, standing in the back of the room in a neon green jacket, and a weird faux-Indiana Jones hat): Who are you? (pause) I'm sorry - I mean, what have you written?  What was your first book?

Clowes: Did you miss the presentation?

Q: I'm sorry. I just came in.

Clowes: My best-known book is called "Ghost World." It's about ghosts.

Q: Oh, okay.

Clowes: Just kidding. It's about two girls. People want it to be about ghosts, but then I tell them it's about two girls and they're like, "Oh..."

Q: Should I read that first?

Clowes: You should buy all my books. I can tell you'll like them just by looking at you.

It was a very Clowesian moment, to have his presentation capped by a question from someone who had no clue what was going on. Thankfully, the remainder of the questions weren't quite so "Santa Cruz" in nature.  

The remainder of Clowes' tour dates can be found here.

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