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OMCA Chats with Hometown Hero Daniel Clowes

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When his
latest graphic novel, Wilson, was named one of the top fiction books of 2010 by
Time magazine, it may have seemed like a seminal moment for Daniel Clowes. But
that was actually just the latest in a long line of impressive achievements for
the Oakland-based writer and illustrator: an Academy Award® screenwriting nomination,
multiple comic-industry honors, and a serial in The New York Times Magazine, to
name just a few.

Now, OMCA is hosting the first major survey of Clowes's work, a
huge accomplishment in its own right.

An Oaklander, Clowes lives near
Piedmont Avenue with his wife, son, and pet beagle. He's currently at work on two
books and is adapting a screen version of Wilson for director Alexander Payne.
Here, Clowes chats with OMCA about his career, the graphic novel genre, and his
adopted hometown.

Q: How did you first get into comics?

A: Comics were part of my world ever since I
was born. I had a brother ten years older than me
who bequeathed me this giant stack of comic books and magazines. I grew up
without television until age eight or nine, so those were my only source of
entertainment. I remember, before I could even read the words, piecing them
together by the pictures and spending hours trying to replicate the
illustrations. As a kid, I thought I could maybe be a guy who does inking for
Marvel comics. I had no great notion I could do anything as fun as I'm doing
now. I didn't even have an inkling of that five years into my professional
career.

Q: What is it about the genre of comics
that appeals to you so much?

A: I'm a visually oriented person.
Originally I just wanted to draw; that was the big appeal.
Comics are the one visual narrative medium that you have absolute control over.
Even though they take a long time, you can get them out by yourself and have
control over the way the story is told and how it looks and all the other little things
about it. That's very satisfying.

Q: You were one of the de facto leaders of
a Bay Area movement in the early
1990s that helped revolutionize the way people think of comics, incorporating
social commentary and subversive themes. What was that time
like?

A: It wasn't like a revolution where you're
out in the streets joining hands with your fellow
man. You're doing the exciting stuff in your room by yourself. But there was a
group of us that had been influenced by people like Robert Crumb, and we had a
sense that there was a lot of stuff you could do with comics that hadn't been
done before. We were slowly realizing that these could appeal to a general
audience. It felt like almost anything you did was new.

Q: Where did the idea for Wilson come
from, and how did the story end up being set
in Oakland?

A: Wilson was a character who just emerged
without anyone asking him to. My dad was sick,
and I was in the hospital with my sketchbook, trying to amuse myself by
doing as many comics as possible. After doing ten or fifteen, I couldn't stop and
Wilson just emerged. I couldn't stop writing because Wilson could give you something
on almost any subject, and a character like that comes along very seldom. I was
also working in a lot of coffee shops at that time, and he felt like someone who
could be in that world I was inhabiting. He felt like a guy that could be hanging out
on Grand Avenue or Lakeshore or Piedmont.

Q: Oakland has gained a national
reputation as a fertile place for artists.
Why do you think so many artists have been drawn here lately?

A: Up until ten years ago, artists could
still live in San Francisco, but now that's just
impossible. San Francisco also feels kind of precious, like everyone knows everything
already, whereas Oakland feels a little bit undiscovered. I think people like that.