I first came across Daniel Clowes’ work when Terry Zwigoff turned his Ghost World graphic novel into a quirky, offbeat coming of age movie starring Thora Birch and Scarlett Johanssen. I loved the movie so it was hardly an imposition to pick up the source material. Since then, I have followed Clowes work assiduously.
For the unitiated, Clowes’ emerged from the underground US comics scene back in the mid to late 80s, bringing an intelligence and humanity to comic book writing whilst losing none of the quirkiness and often eccentric juxtaposition of kitsch and horror, themes that Clowes has incorporated into his work time and again.
Patience is his latest work and is a masterclass in comic book narrative, straddling an often delicate balance between sci-fi, domestic realism and murder mystery. Patience may be an apposite title for a graphic novel that is as intricate and detailed as it is emotional and moving.
This is a graphic novel in Three Acts, each linked. In Act One, we join our eponymous heroine in 2012, discovering that she is pregnant. This pregnancy, and her relationship with her boyfriend Jack Barlow are the only two positive aspects of a life that appears to have been blighted by poverty, neglect and a whole heap of angst. Barlow, one of life’s nice guys, is also seeking salvation and redemption through his relationship with Patience. He arrives home from work one day to discover that she has been murdered, apparently by an intruder. Barlow gets fingered as the main suspect and, in a sequence of terrible event after terrible event, we see a decent man descend into emotional, psychological and physical freefall whilst he obsesses over who killed the love of his life.
Act Two takes place in 2029 where we find Jack an almost pyschopathic entity, hell bent on revenge. In this Act, Jack meets an odd character called Bernie who may have stumbled over a form of time travel. Jack travels back to 2006, voyeuristically eyeing a younger Patience’s life and convincing himself that her killer is an ex-boyfriend, a ne’er do well named Adam. Jack decides that the only way to save Patience is by murdering Adam through intervening in the space time continuum. Perhaps not unsurprisingly, things don’t exactly go to plan with Jack finding himself back in the 1980s, learning about Patience’s past and, as the time travelling intervenes in events, the story begins to spin on its head.
In Act Three, we find ourselves coming back full circle to 2012, with the full impact of the situation, Barlow’s meddling and our emotional connection to our protagonists reaching their climax. No spoilers but this is something you will read and re-read.
Like his previous masterwork, the Hitchcockian melancholia that was David Boring, Patience is the sort of graphic novel that you read in one sitting and then realise that you have missed a huge amount because you didnt pay sufficient attention to every single one of the panels. Clowes is an artist of detail and efficiency: every panel matters. Patience is the sort of comic book that you can heartily recommend to those people who will tell you that they don’t like reading comic books. Essential.