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You may be well aware by now that I’m a big Daniel Clowes fan; ever since his most famous work (Ghost World) was made into a film, I’ve been trying to get hold of all his published works. There’s something amazingly dramatic about his graphic novels, none more so than the bizarre and compelling “David Boring”.
It first appeared in “Eightball”, Clowes’ self-penned monthly comic, in three acts, and has since, in the tradition of all the best comic serials, been collected together in one volume. It’s quite tricky to find, but hopefully once you have it in your possession, you’ll cherish it as much as I do.
The title is presumably ironic; even from the first page it’s impossible to describe David, or any of the strange things that seem to plague him, as boring. Each part has a distinct beginning, announced by a full colour plate, a middle, and an end, on both occasions with a cliff-hanging twist that urges you to continue onto the next part.
The fact that each section is called an act should clue you into the artist’s view of his work; it’s obvious (at least to me) that Clowes is trying to create something beyond a normal comic book, and the story feels as if you’re watching a film rather than reading. Some frames are given over to atmosphere building landscapes, whilst others are filled with dialogue.
**A short précis of the plot (what there is of it)**
Act one introduces the main characters. After a childhood spent in a school for gifted children, where he met his current roommate Dot, David now lives in the city. He has a fixation on women with large backsides (see frame 1 below), which Dot finds amusing, and after meeting Wanda in an airline shuttle, he follows her until she is his. He also finds an old comic his father drew about ‘The Yellow Streak’, which becomes something of a comfort to him as he carries it around, reading from it now and again.
By the time act two begins, David and Dot have retreated to Hulligan’s Wharf, a childhood haunt of David’s on a secluded island. I won’t spoil it by saying why they go there, needless to say it is the cliffhanger in act one. We follow the strange relationships both he and Dot build with the other inhabitants of the island, until they go back to the mainland.
Act three follows the story to its climax, where we discover the eventual fate of both David and Dot, and start to make sense of some of what has gone before.
**What did you think of it?**
I personally think Clowes is a genius. He has managed to create a black and white film on paper, the only colour coming from the frames of David’s comic that helps him to make sense of his life (see frame 3 below). Even though the characters are literally 2 dimensional, they have been given believable backgrounds by the artist, as well as well-rounded personalities. We begin to care about them as we read what happens to them, and although on the first read I found it slightly hard to follow what was happening, I don’t mind saying that I had a lump in my throat when it finished.
Clowes has created a graphic novel that is both moving and puzzling at the same time. His shift between dialogue and plain text (usually narration by David) and use of flashback frames can make the story confusing, but it’s tightly controlled by the artist. Not once is there a superfluous frame, and every bit of confusion is there at Clowes’ whim.
The drawings must have taken much longer than the writing of the story, but they still seem fresh and alive with movement. His ability to render realistic weather conditions, or make each character look the same in each frame, might seem unimportant, but it makes all the difference to telling whether scenes are set outside or inside, and telling the characters apart, which leaves the brain free to concentrate on the plot.
**Would you recommend it?**
I’m going to be honest, it’s not the best story line in the world. Like I said, it can get confusing at times, and even now, after about 6 reads, I’m not entirely sure what Clowes was trying to achieve.
However, what he has achieved, and in spades, are beautifully drawn pictures, and fantastic characters, which makes me more forgiving on the plot than I might be if it was a novel in any other form.
(In case you're wondering, the title of the review is a play on a line from the book)
ISBN – 0 224 06323 5
N.B. If the pictures aren't showing, they are merely frames from the comic illustrating the points I've mentioned before citing the pictures. The first picture shows a frame with Dot making fun of David's ability to tell what women's bottoms look like from their face, and the third picture shows how the coloured pictures from the Yello Streak comic fit in with Clowes' pictures.
Pictures of David Boring - Daniel Clowes
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