Of all the great comics from the late 1980s and early 1990s — Love and Rockets, Weirdo, Hate, Acme Novelty Library, Optic Nerve, The Rocketeer — my favorite is Daniel Clowes' Eightball. Each issue included one chapter of a serious graphic-novel-length story, and several pages of misanthropic, funny, bizarrely imaginative shorter comics. I loved both sections. One of long stories in Eightball ("Ghost World") and one of the shorter pieces ("Art School Confidential") were turned into movies, with Clowes writing the screenplays for both.
To celebrate the 25th anniversary of Eightball Fantagraphics released a slipcase 2-volume facsimile edition of Eightball that includes the first 18 issues of the comic book. It's stunningly gorgeous, and Fantagraphics went all out to create a package that will please people like me who read Eightball in its single issue format as well as people who are new to his early work.
I interviewed Clowes about the creation of slipcase edition and his thoughts about how Eightball changed over the years.
(Interview edited for clarity)
Mark: Fantagraphics sent me a hand-glued-together version of the Eightball slipcase edition.
Daniel: hat's all I have, too. I have a really funky one that feels like an early prototype for the Apple I or something.
The one they sent me has different paper stock throughout the book, based on the kind of paper used in the original issues of Eightball, which often changed from issue to issue. Is that how it actually is going to be?
Yeah. It was beyond insane. We couldn't get newsprint. The first four or five issues of Eightball were on newsprint. We had to get this really fancy stock that has the feel of newsprint but it's not. It's just so interesting. You go, "How can newsprint not exist anymore?"
You and Fantagraphics put a lot of care into making this as accurate a facsimile as possible.
I wanted it to be like if you bought all the issues when they first came out and had them bound, it would have that feel. Also it's remastered in a weird way. A lot of the covers and the color pages from after around issue number 7 used very early digital printing. They scanned the stuff, but that was back when it was like, "Well, 300 dpi should be fine," When it should have been 1200 dpi or more. Some of the pages looked awful. Some of them are missing tons of lines and look really digitized. We went through this painstaking process of finding all the old originals. We had to track them down through five owners, and cajoled the people into sending them to us so we could scan them. We rescanned them using the best possible technology. It's a very strange idea to try to capture that funky early misprinting using the optimal files.
You scanned them and then you purposely degraded them again so that they would look like the comics when they first came out?
No, we wouldn't degrade … I always tried to keep the line quality as sharp as I could. That's the only difference. In the book the line quality is always as crystal clear as we can get it but, all the weird little quirks of coloring and things like that, I tried to keep those things accurate to the force-of-nature quality you had when you sent the stuff off to the printer and had no idea what to expect. There was one episode of "Ghost World" where it was printed in orange and we have no idea why. It was just a total fuck-up and we kept that in because there was something so magical about that. People were really wondering why I did that and everybody had these theories what that meant.
That's cool. I noticed quirks like that on the cover for issue number 1. On the profile of Clay Loudermilk [the protagonist in Velvet Glove] you see a kind of a shiny part in his orange-ish hair. It's a swipe of orange overprinted on the black ink so you have that glossy …
Is that something that you wanted to do on purpose?
Oh yeah, because that's how it was originally printed and at the time I was like, "Why did this happen?" You later learn there's always tricks to prevent that from happening, like printing an additional layer of black over that, but back in those days we had no idea of that and so it became part of my artwork. I remember a young cartoonist asking, "How do you get that effect with the shape over the color?" like it was intentional. I felt that kind of thing had to be kept in.
It was just a piece of Rubylith that you cut out, right?
It was a piece of … Those early covers are actually colored using color film that was like Zipatone. It was this adhesive product where it was transparent color that you would actually apply to the artwork. It was a very crazy, painstaking process.
That's interesting. The actual transparent color had the same color that you were spec'ing just so that you could have an idea what it looked like?
This was actually photographed and it was the color used but it never came out anything close to what the original looked like. You know, back in the old days.
It's funny, just yesterday I had the opportunity to see the original art for Robert Crumb's Cheap Thrills cover, the Janis Joplin record. He was using that same color film. Back then I didn't know anybody else did that but me but that's apparently what he was doing in the early days as well.
I thought that that piece of art was stolen and lost. I remember reading an interview …
No, I think it had been for a while and it turned up in … Some collector turned up with it 10 years ago maybe and then I had just met the guy who got it from him so it was pretty interesting.
I wonder, was Crumb able to get that back because he claimed that it was stolen from him.
He is aware of this collector so I think everything's fine with that. It's not like on the black market or something.
I've been looking at the covers and studying the evolution of them. I didn't realize this at the time they came out, but for almost the entire run of Eightball you use a format that's more like a magazine, especially a magazine from the '40s or '50s where you have a lot of cover lines and callouts to advertise the different stories in the book.
That wasn't something I saw much in comic books. Was there a reason why you went with that approach?
Part of it was I could never come up with cover images that felt like it encapsulated what was going to be inside. If I just had something about the "Velvet Glove" story I thought people would be thrown by the little funny filler stories in the back and if just had that some people would be thrown by the "Velvet Glove" story. I felt like I had to, in the very beginning at least, I had to express the variety of that was going to be inside. I always hoped I could come up with single images that would encapsulate everything but it was too hard in the beginning. Then later I felt more comfortable that people understood what it was and I felt like I could experiment more with just single images.
What gave you the idea to change up the Eightball hand-drawn typeface design each time?
If you notice, actually, the first two issues have the same logo. My intent was to have the same logo throughout. I spent forever doing that very first one and I used it for the second issue and then when I did the third issue it didn't look right in the drawing I did. I waited, you just leave it blank because you're going to just paste it in with a Photostat, and I just didn't like the way it looked, so I thought, "Well, for this one I'll draw a slightly different logo," then with the next one I just felt like it was the same thing and then by the I felt like, "Okay, I have to do a new one every time now." That's my one regret in Eightball is that I used that one logo twice. It really drives me crazy.
That's funny. Number 4 revisits the first two but it's more jagged.
It's similar but … It wasn't for a while that I took it really seriously and at a certain point I was definitely looking for weird old album covers and things that had crazy lettering that I could steal and things like that because it felt that I really had to push it.
Crumb did that with Weirdo too. I think he used old record labels.
He did, and with all his comic books, really.
You changed your covers for the last few issues. You just went with some really beautiful full cover paintings with no text at all.
That was after we did the very early computer-colored issues. I didn't have my own computer. I didn't have anybody helping me do any of that stuff. I would just send the artwork off and I would Xerox my own artwork in black and white and then paint it in watercolor with an indication of the kind of colors I wanted to use. Then I would get it back and it wouldn't look anything the way I wanted it to and I just didn't know how to communicate the muted tones that I wanted to get. There was just no process for that, that was ever explained to me anyway. It was very frustrating. I'm sure if I had really looked into it I could've figured that out but I felt too alienated by the distance between me and the colorist so I thought if I did paintings at least I had control over it. I did a couple stories that were painted and then I decided that was the thing to do for the covers and those were incredibly labor intensive. Those were probably a month each, those two big wraparounds, and took a lot out of me but they were really rewarding and fun to do.
They're beautiful. Is it gouache, or what is that? [Note: gouache is like opaque watercolor.]
It's gouache. The thing I always wanted to be able to do is to do watercolor, really beautiful watercolor, like Richard Sala or the old New Yorker cartoonists or Jack Davis can do — really good watercolors. I thought that would be great and I would always start out doing watercolor and then it would just … I'm not good at it. To do watercolor you have to be one of those guys who just gets it right the first time. You can't correct it and I'm a corrector. I would wind up just painting over it in gouache every time. I'd start out painting just one little area, I'm going to fix that, and then by the time I'm done the whole thing is painted over so both of those covers are just layer upon layer of mistakes 'til I finally got to the one I liked best. I felt like understood how use gouache and I like using gouache.
It's really cool and it's fun to see the color palette that you wanted to finally express because it's quite a bit different than the colors that have appeared on previous …
Garish colors, yeah.
That's cool. The cover to number 17, where you're looking inside the guy's mind and he's got those little compartments, was that inspired by William Kurelek's, The Maze painting?
You know, it wasn't. I almost feel like you wrote to me when that came out and asked me that and I became aware of it. I think it really might've been you and I had absolutely no awareness of it. It was inspired by, I had a book called Popular Phrenology that had a profile and all the different parts of the brain with little images on it and I thought it was a great idea for a cover.
The Maze is insane; it's incredible.
It's great and it was in a book that I still have called The Mind. It was part of the Life Science Library that Time-Life Books put out.
Now I'm sure it was you who told me that because I remember you saying that.
That's one of the greatest books ever and I remember just being fascinated by that painting because you can see through the guy's mouth … The weird thing is that he was uncredited in the book. He was just identified as a 26-year-old schizophrenic artist raised in rural Canada.
"You don't count."
Exactly. Of course, thanks to the Web, you can find out anything.
Time-Life cropped the painting so you couldn't see all of it. It was just a detail of about two-thirds of the painting but online you can see the whole thing and it is mind blowing it's so good.
Does the painting exist somewhere?
I think it is in Canada.
That would be one to see in person. That would be really something.
Absolutely. It's from, I'm looking at it right now, from 1953 and actually now that I'm looking there's a documentary about this artist.
I would be very, very interested in that.
How many years does this Eightball collection represent?
I believe it is about 10 years. I think it's 1989 through '98.
Did you stop with issue 18?
After 18 I did the three "David Boring" stories that were part of Eightball but there's no shorter stories in them, and was done in a larger, magazine-size format. Then I did "Ice Haven" which was again stand alone with no other nothing added to it, and also magazine-size. Then "The Death-Ray" which was an even bigger magazine. I just felt like those five issues were a separate thing, and they didn't have the same feel as the first 18. Those 18 feel like a unit to me and the others, I really kept doing Eightball just because I couldn't bear not to. I felt like I worked hard to create this thing that had become somewhat iconic, this magazine Eightball and this name and everything and I just couldn't walk away from that easily. I had separation anxiety so I kept the name on those comics but it really made no sense to do that. Those aren't really part of Eightball as far I'm concerned.
Sure. That is interesting because, of course, I've read "The Death-Ray" and "David Boring" and all the other things that followed but I don't even remember them as being Eightballs. Just in my mind they're just separate titles. That makes sense to have the set this way.
I should have had … With "David Boring" I can see that should've been the transitional one and at least the last two I should've just done as stand-alone books but it's hard to walk away from these things.
Tell me about the really cool slipcase box that the two volumes fit inside.
It's the only slipcase I've ever done and probably ever will do because that's my longest thing that I'll ever have that will need two volumes. I wanted to do everything I could with a slipcase and I always thought that it would be great to print something inside the slipcase. The box has this reduced version of the guts of a human being, all the senses and all the processing organs and things. I wanted it to feel like when you pull the volumes out that you're wrenching them out of the chest of the slipcase. I wanted to have a visceral gory feel to it when you pull them out.
It's so cool. I love it. That kind of attention to detail I think rewards the reader and makes them feel like you are caring about this an awful lot and you want to give them little surprises and stuff.
The thing I didn't really know about it when I was doing it is that it's artwork that you can't really look at closely. It's like there's something really off-putting because if you're prevented from looking at the detail … I was actually trying to examine it to make sure it printed okay and I realized that the only way I could do that was to insert a microscope in there or something. You have to assume it looks okay.
A dentist's mirror or something.
The front of the box has cartoony drawings of some of your most notable characters.
It felt like that was the great opportunity to do the big crowd scene of all the characters.
I like that Lloyd Llewellyn is down and out. Did he never appear in Eightball?
He was in the first couple of Eightballs but in a sort of a mock version of himself. He was already a has-been when Eightball came along. I like thinking of all the characters as actors in a way because I sort use the same types over and over and I always feel like, "Well, this character is played by this actor who also played Rebecca in 'Ghost World.'" It's like John Ford always had this stable of old Western actors that he used interchangeably in every movie and it kind of has that feel. Lloyd Llewellyn's the guy, "I was the star in the old days but it passed me by."
One character that I don't see — who is one of my favorites — is that guy who would go to the coffee store in his wheelchair and find out the trivia question of the day and then go back home and look it up and return for his free coffee.
I think you see the wheels of his wheelchair on the right and there's a little bit of a …
He wears one of those piano scarves, yeah, so you do see a little …
Excellent, there it is. I'm so glad he's there.
Me too. He was a real guy although it was based on a woman, actually.
Was he in the Ghost World or Art School Confidential movies?
He was in Ghost World, and played by Crispin Glover's dad.
Tell me a little bit about this tour that you're doing for the book. Where are you going and what have you done so far?
It's a massive tour of two cities. There are a very limited number of these books that made it over here as of now so we're just going around to the key cities which are Seattle, Portland, I think we're going to Chicago and LA, and maybe one or two more after that. Just getting the word out basically. I've been shocked at how people seem to be interested in this. It's the people of our generation. It's like, "Yeah, of course, I have all my old EightballsOrder The Complete Eightball 1-18 on Amazon