Daniel Clowes is an acclaimed cartoonist best known for his series of Eightball comics, which ran from 1989 to 2004, and the graphic novel Ghost World (1997), which was made into a cult film with Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson. His latest novel, Monica (Fantagraphics, Oct. 3), is on our list of the Best Fiction Books of 2023. Clowes joined us on Zoom to answer a few questions; our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
How do you begin a book like Monica?
I have little fragments of ideas and observations that I write down in sketchbooks. When I finish one, I start a new sketchbook, and I go through the old one. I find the, like, four things that are actually still interesting to me, and I transfer those over. Some of the things in Monica are 20 sketchbooks old. I wanted to do something that was really expansive and sort of epic. I wanted it to feel like an assembly of all the interests and influences and inspirations from my entire life.
It feels that way. Do you have an ideal reader for the book?
It’s an amalgam of all my friends. I have friends that are all slightly different—one who’s into old movies, a friend who’s into comics, a literary friend. I try to amalgamate my 10 favorite people and write for them, and hope I please them. When I finish the book, it’s always very fraught, because they’re the first 10 people to read it. It’s all-important that they actually like it, and then once they’ve read it, it’s like the point of diminishing returns.
You’re just starting the book tour for Monica, and you did an event at the Strand in New York City last night. What’s that been like?
Having been locked in a room for seven years, it’s very surreal just to see people, to see the readers. There’s no buffer between being alone in your room with nobody and then being in the spotlight with 200 faces staring at you. It’s like throwing you into the deep end. I mostly like to talk to people one-on-one in the line when they’re getting stuff signed. I had a couple of people yesterday who were like, “I’d never heard of you before, but I saw something about the book in the paper today, and I figured, why not?” You know, that’s a dream come true.
Are there any graphic novels or comics that you especially loved this year?
Rina Ayuyang did a book called The Man in the McIntosh Suit that I thought was really great. Sammy Harkham’s Blood of the Virgin is a really impressive work. I spent the last six or seven years ignoring new comics and immersing myself in the world of 1950s EC Comics and their imitators. Now I’m emerging from that, and I feel like Rip Van Winkle. What happened?
Tom Beer is the editor-in-chief.