Never Being Boring
Tripwire continues its daily recommendation of 100 graphic novels people should read with Fantagraphic’s David Boring, by Daniel Clowes, out now in trade, reviewed by its senior editor Andrew Colman …
Writer/ artist: Daniel Clowes
Fantagraphics/ Jonathan Cape
Clowes’ follow-up to Ghost World takes us once again through the classic noirish terrain of urban lost souls, but this time with an even more pathological slant – the lead characters are not alienated, but disconnected, numb, and aware of their inability to escape their compulsions and their hermetic environment. The tone is one of placid, passive resignation and repressed emotion rather than rage.
David Boring, the eponymous protagonist and narrator is a neutral entity, both the eye of the storm and the perpetrator of his downfall – virtually blank, his obsession with women (that conform to his ideal) leads him through a tangle of abortive, cyclical assignations, unrequited longing, violence and despair. As always with Clowes, the narrative is brilliantly knowing – “Yes, my friends, the act was absolutely real” and brutally existential “In a way I was glad that Whitey was dead. You can never really trust someone who remembers every embarrassing detail of your adolescence”.
Echoing Boring’s quiet inner turmoil is an ever-present threat of terrorist annihilation (interestingly the book was published pre – 9/11) that is always just out of vision, plus the subplot of his absent father, whose presence is channeled through fragments of (sinister and oblique, as you’d expect) 1960s comic books.
Clowes’s milieu is, as always, a muted, night-time netherworld of broken, troubled spirits that drift in and out of the plot – Boring’s obsession shifts from one interchangeable woman to another, his only concern to find sanctuary with each of them from the oppressive bleakness. When it all becomes too much, he escapes to a remote (and all too symbolic) atoll called Hulligan’s Wharf, only to remark detachedly in his diary that his demons, his family and his friends have created an even harsher prison than back in the city.
Clowes may occasionally drift into cumbersome intellectualism – subtexts about authoring our destinies are much mused upon – but this is every bit as accomplished as anything he’s done. One of the few comic artists whose writing is perfectly apt for his art, Clowes is the effortless master of the medium here – creating a paranoiac, venal, unreal world of enclosed consciousness that is deeply familiar, with seemingly unsympathetic characters that you inevitably grow to sympathise with – even sharing their fears and confusion. A magnificent work and, in my humble opinion, another celluloid candidate.
David Boring is out now from Fantagraphics Books and Jonathan Cape in the UK
Here’s a link to the first three of our 100 GNs too