Rob Price
Gutbrain Records
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2016 April 08 • Friday

Daniel Clowes has sustained an intensely personal and immediately recognizable style while developing his work, not returning to the same well over and over again but creating more mature work that builds on and advances from what's come before.

His new book, Patience, continues the subversion and exploration of genre conventions that Clowes previously mined in The Death Ray, but is a larger, weightier, wiser undertaking.

It's worthwhile to compare the front and back cover. On the front, that woman is Patience. Her name is the book's title, like Emma, say, or Rebecca or Justine. It's an odd image, particularly in its use of color, but it's more or less symmetrical, balanced, centered, calm. Patience herself is dangerously close to overshadowing her creator's credit on the cover and her name is an attention-grabbing silver.

Turn to the back cover, however, and everything has gone off the rails.

Patience has been shoved aside by a creepy figure who seems to wear shadows like he wears clothes. (No shadows to speak of on the front cover.) The bright rays of colors and patterns are replaced by mostly bizarre and unsettling images. Patience herself is dressed in rags and her name/title has literally lost its shine and been reduced in size as well.

Daniel Clowes's credit is unobstructed now and has changed from white to black, making it stand out from the new subtitle the book now carries: "A Cosmic Timewarp Deathtrip to the Primordial Infinite of Everlasting Love".

This subtitle describes exactly what the gist of this book is. Pregnant Patience is murdered and seventeen years after this unsolved crime, her husband, a broken man, travels back in time to prevent the murder from happening, vowing to save Patience and their unborn child.

Clowes is as aware as anybody is of how familiar this plot will seem, of the conventions of time travel stories, love stories, crime stories. These are not his concern. In fact, his target is so far removed from them that the subversion of readers' expectations might actually be unintentional. The path he makes with his work is so unique to him that he doesn't even have to consider the trite and the tried.

Neither does he waste time with explaining how time travel is possible, how various futuristic devices work or even what they are. As with the superpowers in The Death Ray, time travel is surprisingly lowly and organic. "Show, Don't Tell" is a cliche but sound advice nonetheless. Running parallel to that is the importance of economy, understatement and restraint, all virtues of an assured and focused artist, such as Daniel Clowes.