Sam Ombiri on Daniel Clowes’ Eightball No. 20: The Further Adventures of David Boring!
Sam Ombiri here: More often than not, I sense some dishonesty when people talk about their work – as opposed to when their work does the talking. When I say “people’s work doing the talking” I’m not commenting on the overall quality, necessarily, but on how much the creator believes in the power of the form with which they are engaging. If they have to talk so much about what they’ve done with their work, do we really need the work at that point? Is it anything less than a prop for a prepared monologue?
I couldn’t get a specific statement out of issue #20 of Eightball: The Further Adventures of David Boring – and this was for the better. It was all about characters being pushed in certain directions, and through engaging fully with the characters the story really goes places. The comic doesn’t need to convince me of the reality the story is taking place in – the story is so engrossing and captivating. There are turns that seemingly come out of nowhere, but fit in. Are these characters really just “characters”? They seem like humans to me.
I’m going to risk navel gazing for a moment and I hope I won’t come off as Νάρκισσος falling in love with his own reflection, talking about what I’m about to talk about…but when confronted by a name like Dan Clowes, these days I’m skeptical of my reaction to it, because my reaction might be based on a large number of other people’s reaction to it. I feel like I run the risk of attempting to replicate variations of that collective reaction towards his wonderful work.
I guess in some ways that can show that I’m not really one to think for myself, but I read comics to feel first and think later, and I personally think it’s good to gauge my reaction. I question whether my reaction is sincere, however, under these circumstances. I could just be having a sincere attempt without lucidity, which is the last thing I want to have!
Luckily, this didn’t happen when I read David Boring. All that happened was I was hit by the story with an unforgiving gravity.
David Boring didn’t seem to be pandering to a sensibility – it felt like it was doing its own thing, which happened to catch on. There’s a whole thing of, “No, duh,” with me saying this, but I was really struck with it.
This issue of Eightball, like all issues of Eightball, feels like it exists in spite of a trend – and not at the service of a trend. The first time I read something by Clowes, I think I was 13-ish or 14. I could feel a bowling ball form in my gut and sink – there was so much gravity in the work, and I wondered, “Who is this, who has so much contempt for his characters?”
Whenever I read Clowes work now, I really feel there’s something special about how we’re following the characters that we follow. When I opened the comic it’s so sudden, and for some reason or another I was really taken with that. At a certain point in the story I’m told, “You’ve placed yourself above another individual based on your own morality or whatever, so that it is only you who decide who should be dehumanized while pretending it’s at the service of humanity.” Manfred, possibly the most despicable character, is accused, but the accusation that’s made of him isn’t dehumanizing – still his actions seem foreign and distant, but not unhuman. The story between David and Pamela; the story between Manfred and Iris; the story of David and his father, told through David reading a comic that his father drew, David trying to savor every panel, not reading more than a panel a night, not knowing what he’s looking for – we’re suddenly presented with all these things that are equally compelling. I was suddenly presented with the issue, and then just as suddenly I am so involved in these people’s lives.
This was the realization for me – that when Clowes is remembered and canonized the way he is, it isn’t done as a favor to him. It’s done as a favor to his readers. Clowes’ work cares about your understanding of what it is and what’s going on, even if what’s going on is supposed be a form of estrangement. From panel to panel, there’s plenty to read into. Clowes is putting things on display that are very straightforward. It doesn’t feel like dishonest work – even when it’s optimistic or pessimistic about humanity and the way that it can be. – Sam Ombiri