Man, the late '80s and early '90s were a fantastic time for 'alternative' comics, weren't they? This was a golden age, my friends, where Peter Bagge's Hate, Roberta Gregory's Naughty Bits, Paul Chadwick's Concrete, Cerebus of course and many others shared space with Batman and Spider-Man. And perhaps my favorite of the alterna-gang, Dan Clowes' wacky anthology Eightball. The first issue I picked up of it was #5, and indeed it was one of the first of the alternative comics age that I was soon drawn into. In my ongoing alphabetical look at comics in my collection, "E" is for edgy, exotic and Eightball, by gum.
The gem of this issue was part five of his 10-part David Lynchian epic, "Like A Velvet Glove Cast In Iron." A man wanders through a night in a strange city and an awful hotel room, with a headless dog, horrifying dreams and a prostitute crashing in for good measure. It all floats by in a haze of imagery -- few words -- and it's kind of incomprehensible on its own yet it caught my interest. Reading this was like taking a shower in surrealism -- Even when I pieced together the entire story (now in a nice collection of its own), I realised plot wasn't the point. It was mood, mystery and menace. Images from "Velvet Glove" still haunt me -- the misshapen girl-fish thing "Tina," the dreams of animals chewing at your legs or even just the throwaway lines filled with desperation. Clowes tapped into the world of nightmares, a Kerouac-meets-Dada haze, and the uneasy feeling was just increased by his '50s-ish, straight-lined artwork.
"Velvet Glove" was the bulk of the issue but there were also several of Clowes' more straightforward short satires. The one that really hooked me was "Playful Obsession," taking a page straight out of R. Crumb or the Freak Brothers with his take on the Harvey Comics characters like Richie Rich and Casper -- except, y'know, naughty. (I can't see "Little Dot" without thinking of Clowes' depraved fetishist "Little Octagon.")
There's an ongoing sense within Clowes' work that the world is tissue-paper thin, and far stranger and weirder beneath than we'd ever imagine. Later issues of Eightball brought forth the masterful "Ghost World" and stuff like "Art School Confidential" (which both became movies -- one great, one, eh, not so much). Clowes -- and Eightball -- is still cartooning, but it seems like the publication has radically slowed down (I'm not sure how many years ago the last Eightball came out!). In fact a lot of the same group of artists I followed so much 15 years ago or so - Bagge, Gregory, Chadwick -- have either faded away or their work has dropped a lot in quality. Clowes is still chugging away, but it might be selfish of me to say I wish we'd see his work a little more often.
Previously in this series: A, B, C and D.