I went to a talk and book signing by Daniel Clowes yesterday at the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge. The event was put on by the Harvard Book Store, and Clowes discussed his career and his new book, Wilson, with the comics scholar Hillary Chute. It was a really fun talk. Clowes explained how as a kid he was inspired to become a cartoonist in part by a Wally Wood comic (in which Wood glamorized his own life as the creator of awe-inspiring fantasy worlds), and that he held on to that ideal even after he was confronted with an actual photo of Wood. We saw the photo: Wood appeared middle-aged and disheveled, drawing while seated on his thin mattress, with what Ivan Brunetti called a "piss-bucket" at his feet. I was really struck by that as the space for Clowes' art, somewhere between the dream world of mid-century comics and the frequently pathetic lives of the cartoonists who made them. He was, as came up later in the talk, one of the first to treat the audience of comic books as a subject in itself.
But the funniest bit of the evening came during the discussion of Clowes' work for Coca-Cola's ill-fated OK brand. Apparently the drawing Clowes did for the can (second from the left, above) was based on a mock-up sent to him by the ad agency. The mock-up was made of a composite of two of Clowes' drawing from Eightball--the outline of a head from one drawing, with the facial features from another. What Clowes didn't tell the ad agency, or anyone else at the time, was that he'd drawn the facial features from a photograph of Charles Manson. Which means that for a brief period around 1994 hundreds of thousands of Charlie Manson's eyes could be seen staring out of convenience store coolers across the nation. "Things are going to be OK."