Daniel Clowes has become one of the pillars of indie comics since he started Eightball way back in 1989. I was all of six years old when this came out, but discovered his work when I attended college 13 years after he started this long running series. Luckily I discovered it at an age where I could appreciate the vulgarity, the maturity and the complex point of view. It wasn’t until it was collected in this complete collection that I realized the man was using comics as a soap box and to read his 15 years of thoughts in one collection is an experience, but does it hold up? Is it worthy of your time?
The Complete Eightball 1-18 (Fantagraphics Publishing)
This book is massive, topping out at 450 or so pages and certainly isn’t meant to be read in one sitting. But then, that’s the charm this book brings as you go back to a different time and see not only a different America, but a different Clowes. It’s a fascinating bit of reading one might liken to Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, another work written over a long stretch of time which was incredibly personal. Clowes may not inspect the world around him in quite as much detail, but he almost does in regards to society and the quirks of people in day to day life. The sad part is Americans today haven’t changed much since 1989, as we’re still just as lazy, annoying and superficial. These are three types of people Clowes points out as rubbish people, but they aren’t the only ones. Religious fanatics get written about within as well, but that isn’t to say this is all reflective writing of the times. No, it also contains some wild and weird stories, stories about comic artists and even stories from the future.
Many of these issues collected here are titled shorts with beginnings, middles and ends. Take for instance the story of Nature Boy, which is beautifully drawn story about a boy wandering through a forest. He comes upon a squirrel with Q-Tip nipples. Weird. He comes home (presumably it’s home), and is told he’s going to miss his flight. The story then ends ominously on a panel of the forest. The end. It’s strange, makes you think, but also makes you reflect on the meaning of it all. In a sense it shows the power of comic books and how it can be as reflective as any work in a museum. And this is only a three page story in an issue with other stories.
They aren’t all shorts like Nature Boy however, with a few stories carrying over the course of most of this series. That’s a testament to Clowes’ ability to stick with characters that clearly resonate with him, and while not every chapter is glowingly interesting, they still contain a thread of something that’s consistent throughout his work. They either capture the reality of being a comic artist or capture the visceral weirdness of being human—being frail, alone or confused, which are very powerful messages to say the least.
Love the art.
Given the size of the book I don’t think it’s possible everyone will enjoy every page, every story or every panel, but that’s okay. This is a masterwork in its ability to stay with stories, telling them over years, or simply telling a fantastic story that touches on something in the reader’s core. The stories within vary so much there’s bound to be a gem in here that will capture your imagination.
Ghost World fans will need to buy this no matter what though as there are many shorts with the characters. It’s here where Clowes’ strength in dialogue resonates as it’s so fluid and realistic. One might wonder if these bits of dialogue were actually taken from reality they’re just so damn real. At a glance one might think these stories are pointless scenes of young girls chatting about nothing, but there’s always something under the surface that you can graft from the scenes. This makes the read more of an exploration, which is exciting and interesting. Much like Clowes has studied people and society, this work is a discovery for the reader as they piece together meaning and purpose behind these characters.
For mature readers
One of my favorite sections in this book was the piece called On Sports which explains how all major sports have nothing to do with games and are in fact a “freudian battleground on which primitive psychosexual conflicts are played out.” Using some rather graphic images Clowes explains how baseball bats are just metaphorical penises, goals of all sorts are vaginas and more often than not aggressive behavior is a form of domination. It’s great stuff because it actually makes some sense, but is also so over the top with its imagery it’s laugh out loud funny.
Of course none of this would even work without Clowes’ exceptional art which actually morphs and changes as you read through it. There are different styles used—some portions in color, but most in black and white—you’re never going to get bored with the work. So often collections like these stick with one style throughout, but it seems Clowes was aware a change in story sometimes requires a change in style. While some stories are hyperrealistic others are cartoony. It’s safe to say you’ll never get bored reading this when it comes to the visuals.
This might be important.
The Complete Eightball is without a doubt a masterwork that’s a rare example of a creator’s life work collected in one massive book. Like any life work there are ups and downs, pieces we may not agree with or enjoy as much, but there are so many strong works that make you reflect on humanity, yourself and ideas you’ll be contemplating hours after you pick up, read and pick it up again.