Review: Patience by Dan Clowes

After five years in the making, Daniel Clowes' new graphic novel "Patience" is out. It's about a guy, Jack Barlow, who loses someone, tries to make it right, and then gives up. Years later he gets a chance to fix that messed-up event and commits to resolve everything or die trying. I don't want to give any spoilers, but the back cover says Patience is "a cosmic timewarp deathtrip to the primordial infinite of everlasting love."

"Patience" deals with many of the same themes as Clowes' earlier books.  It starts with two relative innocents, Jack and his wife Patience, who learn they are about to have a baby.  The scenes of them walking around town discussing their future is reminiscent of Enid and Rebecca in "Ghost World" wondering about their futures and searching for meaning in the world.  Anyone reading these pages would recognize them as classic Clowes.

Then the page turns and everything changes. In an interview with NPR, Clowes said he wanted it to be as shocking as the turn of events in Pyscho after Janet Leigh's character steals the money and hides out in Bates Motel.  'Nuff said there.

After that, both the style and story are more aggressive than any other Clowes book, but "Patience" still has his signature themes. For example, both "Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron" and "Ice Haven" center around people who are searching for someone.  In "Velvet Glove" Clay Loudermilk searches for his ex-wife after seeing her in a porn film. In "Ice Haven" a boy is kidnapped, and the story is wrapped around how this changes the town.

Even "Wilson" is recaptured in "Patience."  Wilson is described as a misanthrope who desires deep connection with people, but fails due to his abrasive personal style.  The older Jack Barlow is much like Wilson. He has no time for niceties or small talk. He either wants oblivion (through drink and drugs) or answers to his own personal mysteries and problems.  Given a chance, Barlow will go to the end of the universe and change time and space to solve his own personal problems -- which in fact is what he ends up attempting.

In "Wilson" Clowes played with changing drawing styles to underscore themes in different scenes. Sometimes it was cartoonish, sometimes sparse, other times much more true to his standard detailed line art.  "Patience" has a more consistent drawing style, but in this case Clowes pushes the content. He has fist-fights, ray guns, drug-like freak outs and space babies a la Stanley Kubrick's 2001.  Is this Clowes trying to grow, or is he simply reflecting back on the comics he used to read as a kid? Maybe "Patience" is an example of what superhero comics look like when drawn by Daniel Clowes.

Patience is an amazing story of love and destiny that both reflects Clowes' existing body of work, and also pushes his boundaries. The hardback book is nicely printed, and the weight of the volume is appropriate to the story contained in it.  Even if you were previously mixed about Daniel Clowes' graphic novels, you will find something new and wonderful in "Patience."

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