The Book of Other People: Part 2, Daniel Clowes

I bought a discarded collection of short stories from a bankrupt library a few weeks ago, the inside cover displays the dates of the five times it was checked out. Edited by Zadie Smith and published by Penguin, The Book of Other People collects shorts from Daniel ClowesDave Eggers,Jonathan Safran Foer and David Mitchellamong others.

Being semi-ambitious, I plan to read and review each short. Not in any sort of literary context, but in the context of my personality. I am not trying to be objective.

Justin M. Damiano

Daniel Clowes’ inclusion in The Book of Other People is, for me, exciting. Clowes is a staple in indie comics, best known for Ghost World, a benchmark work that seems to capture the general angst of the late 90s Buffy-era West Coast. His style, both visually and structurally, is ultra-realistic, with just enough mellow drama to be fiction. Clowes draws his characters with exact proportions but colors them with flat Crayola tones. Similarly, he writes dialogue in a spot-on cadence with just enough exaggeration to fit the medium.

Basically, Daniel Clowes is depressing. As hell.

Justin M. Damiano is no exception. The four page short is extravagantly depressing, both in it’s art and it’s story. Oddly, I think that’s part of Daniel Clowes’ genius, his visuals mimic his writing. No character is particularly attractive, neither aesthetically or in concerns to personality. Overall, everyone is just kind of sad.

The story follows film blogger Justin Damiano. He spends the opening panels establishing his disappointment with modern cinema, popular culture and popular opinion, specifically in reaction to a newly released movie.

Justin gets the surprise opportunity to interview the filmmaker, who is one of Justin’s past idols. It’s revealed that the filmmaker had a different vision for the movie and that pivotal scenes were cut out by the distributor.

In the last pannel, where Justin is finishing a review of the film and lamenting about lost love, Clowes focuses on Justin’s hand clicking the mouse. The text reads “And so I hit the upload button and launched fifty unstoppable megatons of Justin Damiano into the ether.”

 So the filmmaker’s message was destroyed because of a faceless editor. So Justin’s opinion is uploaded into the “ether,” where everything is nebulous and gassy. So words don’t matter?
This story was depressing, but that’s what one comes to expect from Daniel Clowes. Don’t get me wrong, I respect him and acknowledge his talent, both as writer and illustrator, but at the end of the day his work just isn’t for me.
It should be mentioned how proud I am with Zadie Smith for including a comic in a short story collection. It’s a great medium that is, I hope, becoming more legitimate.

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