Graphic novelist Daniel Clowes makes his otherworldly return in 'Monica' It's his first work in seven years, with a protagonist he says has allowed him to process his own life.

Graphic novelist Daniel Clowes makes his otherworldly return in 'Monica'

Graphic novelist Daniel Clowes makes his otherworldly return in 'Monica'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/1204875559/1204884046" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

The cover of Daniel Clowes' latest graphic novel. Courtesy of Fantagraphics hide caption

toggle caption
Courtesy of Fantagraphics

The cover of Daniel Clowes' latest graphic novel.

Courtesy of Fantagraphics

Daniel Clowes' newest work is a labor of love touching on birth, death and everything that might come after. How does he reckon with those themes in his own life?

Who is he? Clowes is a legend in the world of graphic novels and comics.

  • From Lloyd Llewellyn to the original source material for the beloved cult classic film Ghost World, Clowes is lauded for his complex worlds and the detailed illustrations that accompany them.

A sample from Monica. Courtesy of Fantagraphics hide caption

toggle caption
Courtesy of Fantagraphics

A sample from Monica.

Courtesy of Fantagraphics

What's the big deal? After a seven year hiatus, Clowes is back for the newest installment of his work, which was released last week.

  • Monica is the summation of stories depicting the life and experiences of the eponymous protagonist, from being abandoned by her mother as a child to her mysterious connection to the afterlife.
  • Clowes, whose own mother left him with his grandparents when he was 5, says that although he doesn't share life experiences with Monica, he feels that the process of writing her life was the result of trying to "create somebody who sort of shared the same emotional experience I had growing up."

A sample from Monica. Courtesy of Fantagraphics hide caption

toggle caption
Courtesy of Fantagraphics

Want more on books? Listen to Consider This on how the battle over book bans takes a toll on librarians and comes at a financial cost.


What's he saying? Clowes spoke with All Things Considered host Juana Summers to discuss the attachment and processing he experienced through creating this work.

On how much of the book is autobiographical:

There's not a single fact, I think, that lines up with my life. But the beats of her life, sort of the rhythm of her childhood and adulthood line up, you know, sort of algebraically exact with those of my life. In this story, Monica's mother runs a candle shop, and that's sort of her dream. And my mother ran an auto repair shop. That was her dream.

On his own relationship with Monica:

You know, I've created a lot of characters over the years, and some of them seem like they only exist in the pages of the book. But Monica feels — despite the ending of the book, which I won't reveal — she feels like she still exists out there somewhere, you know, and I might one day actually meet her. That happens sometimes, where characters just feel like they're out there living their own lives. And you'll meet readers who act that way. They act as though the characters are independent of my creation. They're just talking about them like they're people, and that's always very gratifying.

On the book's approach to straddling the line between belief and skepticism in the supernatural:

Well, the book is kind of an investigation of that — the things that we imbue onto life to give it some kind of meaning. And the structures we imagine — the idea of creating religions or cults or things like that. It's very similar to writing fiction, in a way, or creating characters, or creating worlds like in comics.

Clowes says it can be strange releasing a new work into the world. Brian Molyneau/Images courtesy of Fantagraphics hide caption

toggle caption
Brian Molyneau/Images courtesy of Fantagraphics

Clowes says it can be strange releasing a new work into the world.

Brian Molyneau/Images courtesy of Fantagraphics

So, what now?

  • Despite all of the critical praise, Clowes says he doesn't feel completely confident about having his work out in the world:
  • "It's kind of like raising a child. And then releasing it to the world is like putting that child when they're not fully grown, alone on the subway or something. It's like, what am I doing?"
  • Monica is available now.

Learn more: