May 8, 2015

University acquires papers of prominent graphic novelist Clowes

The University of Chicago Library announced that it has acquired some of the papers of Daniel Clowes, a prominent and pioneering literary cartoonist with personal connections to Hyde Park and the University of Chicago. The acquisition was announced a little more than a week ago.

Clowes’s offbeat and sometimes grisly cartoons were showcased for 15 years in the comic book Eightball. Two days ago, Clowes’s publisher announced that Patience, his first entirely new book in more than five years, will be published next March. The donated papers include preparatory materials for three of his graphic novels: The Death Ray, Mr. Wonderful, and Ice Haven.

“What the [materials] show is the creative process that Daniel Clowes uses from the original conception of the idea for the comic all the way through the development of the different ideas and characters to the final drawing and renderings of the work that becomes a finished comic strip or comic book,” said Daniel Meyer, director of the Special Collections Research Center.

English professor Hillary Chute teaches several of Clowes’s books, including The Death Ray and Ice Haven. Chute arranged a conference called Comics: Philosophy and Practice, where Clowes spoke in 2012. According to Chute, interactions like this between Clowes and the school built toward the acquisition.

“I think Chicago had a leg up on other institutions…[because] we had a demonstrated record of taking his work seriously,” Chute said.

Chute said she pushed to acquire the papers behind *Ice Haven* in particular because of its importance as a graphic novel and its connections to Hyde Park: The book is set in Chicago, and touches on Leopold and Loeb, the famous pair of murderers who were University of Chicago graduates.

Ice Haven, Chute said, is interesting in its presentation—a small, almost postcard-sized book—and the variation of the book’s flat, colorful style in each of the story’s several episodes. “It’s sort of pushing on preconceptions of what a graphic novel could be—so to have all of this archival material related to this book in Special Collections is going to open up so much thinking in terms of what it’s trying to accomplish, in terms of form and in terms of format,” Chute said.

Clowes grew up in Hyde Park and graduated from the Lab School. His papers will join the papers of his grandfather, James Lee Cate, a medieval history professor at the University, in Special Collections. While being shown the archives last Thursday, Chute said, Clowes noticed some books from his childhood bedroom had been preserved with Cate’s papers.

Over the last several years, the University Library has acquired several special collections related to comics and cartoons, including a growing collection of Chicago-based zines. “What I’m hoping now is that the Dan Clowes archive will set a model, and that the University of Chicago will be able hopefully to successfully reach out to other Chicago cartoonists and try to get their work as part of the [special collections] too,” Chute said.

The donation is a portion of Clowes’s papers. According to Chute, another portion went to a private collector. Meyer said the Library hoped to add more of Clowes’s papers to the new collection. Special Collections plans to publicize the papers with a public exhibition.