Tripwire continues its 100 Graphic Novels You Should Read While Stuck Inside with its nineteenth choice, Patience by Daniel Clowes, from Fantagraphics, reviewed by Tripwire senior editor Andrew Colman…
Writer/Artist: Daniel Clowes
Waiting for fresh comics work from Dan Clowes indeed requires patience – it’s usually every four or five years in fact, when a new graphic novel surfaces unexpectedly – and each effort is always an event. And despite couching this opus in his habitually ironic, kitsch terms (“a cosmic timewarp deathtrap to the primordial infinite of everlasting love”) this is a deeply personal, if not touching piece, which in its ambition and scope is remarkable, even for him.
The story also demands patience, as it jumps from one timeline to another – in 2012 protagonist and narrator Jack Barlow, married to the eponymous Patience, finds her dead in their apartment. Convulsed with despair, his life seemingly over, Jack nevertheless survives the impulse for self-annihilation by hunting down Patience’s murderer. After wrongly being imprisoned for the crime, he renews his quest but all trails gradually dry up. The story then flashes forward to a particularly futuristic 2029, when a considerably older and more grizzled Jack happens upon a man in his town who has the means to time travel. From there he jumps back to 2006 and then (accidentally) 1985, where he believes he is permanently trapped. Failing to kill Patience’s presumed murderer, Jack is then contacted by the original inventor of the time travel device. At this point he has an epiphany – that serendipity and determinism may have played a part in his journey, rather than random causation.
Patience, even more than David Boring, Wilson, or Ice Haven, is Clowes trying to blend all of the genres and tropes in his vault – a gaudy noir whodunit spliced with banal, hermetic suburbia and cosmic musings about the nature of existence. Jack’s hero is a shadowy, amoral blank canvas who is also viscerally, expressively human – we feel his desperation and hopelessness in his attempt to realign his fate with his lost partner. The character of Patience is also beautifully delineated – an equally lost and damaged soul who shares Jack’s misanthropy but is, needless to say, worth fighting for.
Clowes’ tale is still situated firmly in his cloistered, skewed, subtly hostile world, yet Jack’s travails are still romanticized. As we are taken back in time through Patience’s case history and demons, he continually breaks his rules of impassivity, becoming the plot device and guardian angel that keeps her from oblivion. Despite all the inherent pitfalls in telling such a convoluted story, Clowes succeeds in retaining our belief suspension, partly at least through Jack’s naturalistic, unalloyed declamations. He frequently questions his sanity or existence, while waiting aeons in the margins for the odd crucial moment. Unlike the passive but equally confessional David Boring, Jack is aware that he is dust in the wind, but doesn’t allow that notion to stymie him. He is comfortable with being an outsider both in the existential sense and also while he drifts through other people’s lives. His thoughts as he returns to the world of his childhood (“In a way, it feels like I never left…these were awful years, sad, terrible. I’d never want to go through it again”) are brutally palpable despite the negativity. Like many in the real world, he clings to the one “thin shaft of light” that validates.
Patience may be a semi-ironic take on several overly-familiar genres but Clowes cannot escape the fact that his characters are imbued with sledgehammer truths. Jack, Patience and the rest of the ensemble never recede into whimsy or lightness, while the underlying fantasy and wish-fulfillment are all too manifest – the transcendent pay-off at the end, ambiguous as it might be (and indeed has to be), will chime with every reader of this book who has lost something or someone dear to them.
Clowes had stated after the book’s release that Patience was perfect cinema fodder – and after the success of Ghost World and Wilson, one would find it hard to disagree. All the contradictory elements are here – a psychedelic yet low-key tour de force that manages to deftly swerve contrivance despite itself. Strangely Patience didn’t seem to get the fanfare it deserved when it was published, as it is quite easily as brilliant, compelling and thought-provoking as anything he has ever done. A masterclass in storytelling, it deserves the highest possible recommendation.
Here’s links to the other graphic novels reviewed so far