Monday, January 2, 2012

Smells like teen spirit

That's Andy's best friend above. Louie. That photo shows him shouting the P word to distract Andy from making the shot in a basketball game. Louie, however, isn't the main character in Daniel Clowes's Eisner- and Harvey-award winning graphic novel, The Death-Ray. Andy is.

The Death-Ray isn't about a superhero at all. It's a graphic novel about teen angst. Andy, the main character, somehow reminds me of Napoleon Dynamite. Almost every panel in this book depicts Andy as a loser. And it doesn't help that he's best friends with Louie, who is as much a loser as himself.

And so Andy and Louie go through their high school lives inconspicuously. Andy fancies himself to be the boyfriend of a blonde who he writes letters to frequently. The blonde lives next door. He also fantasizes about the African-American woman who takes care of his invalid grandfather. Things get a bit more exciting when Andy inherits the death-ray, a gun that zaps things to nothingness.

Of course, Louie tries to capitalize on Andy's weapon, urging Andy to zap the people that make their high school lives a living hell.

I was surprised to note that The Death-Ray is as much about a death ray than, say, The Da Vinci Code is about gay erotica. Andy is compared with Holden Caulfield in a lot of reviews. I haven't read Catcher in the Rye, but if HC is every bit as angstsy and introspective as Andy, then the comparison deserves merit.

Clowes's work is very episodic, with sections running at a page on the average. (The Death-Ray is a big book, so a page can have more than 20 panels.) There's plenty of space devoted to character development. By the novel's end, you see a part of yourself in Andy.

The drawings are very clean and a bit stiff IMHO. However, the stiffness works with Andy and Louie's apparent aloofness to the world around them. It's the kind of artwork style you'd expect to appear on a graphic novel that's more character centered than plot driven.

The Death-Ray has lots of panels showing faces and several lines of dialogue. The scenes involving the characters can be funny, though it isn't the usual in-your-face sort of humor. Again, it reminds me of the humor that's wonderfully employed in movies like "Napoleon Dynamite".

Daniel Clowes has earned a huge following, with his other works such as Wilson and Ghost World.

Read this book if:
  1. You like unconventional graphic novels.
  2. You identify with Holden Caulfield.
  3. You'll read anything that won the Eisner and the Harvey.


fantaghiro23 said...

Hey, Peter, was thinking of getting this, too. Read a review mentioning it in the same breath as Watchmen. Where'd you get your copy?

Peter S. said...

Hi, Honey! I got this from NBS. Although, I'm not sure about the Watchmen reference. Moore's seminal work didn't come close to my mind while I was reading this.

You can also get this from Powerbooks. There's another Daniel Clowes work that's been recently republished -- Wilson.

fantaghiro23 said...

Thanks for the heads up! Actually the reference was more of how the character wastes his new found "power," like how the characters in Watchmen also waste their superpowers.

ןıuǝ oɟ ɟןıƃɥʇ said...

i've tried to read this blog but the heading has overwhelmed me with teenage memories of tori amos' cover of nirvana's song... i feel stupid and contagious, here we are now, entertain us.... but re-reading, i am intrigued by the summary of a graphic novel, except zsa zsa, i found g.novels distracting... but this looks like it may be another exception...

Peter S. said...

I think you'll like this book, line of flight. It's a very unconventional graphic novel.