What Chicago Looks Like As a Daniel Clowes Illustration

The local native and Ghost World creator narrates his circa-1978 vision of Chicago, a comic illustration on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art.

Illustration by Daniel Clowes

Illustration: Daniel Clowes
 

At 52, Ghost World creator Daniel Clowes is the elder statesman of a generation of Chicago comic artists who color the world with equal shades of tragicomedy and Midwestern banality (Exhibit A: Chris Ware).

And while Clowes now lives in Oakland, California, his formative years in Hyde Park and Wicker Park cafés still influence his work.

Witness Looking at the City: Daniel Clowes, which inspired a new mural on display through October 13 at the Museum of Contemporary Art.

 

The Skyline

“The Hancock Tower [A] was the tallest building in Chicago for a long time. There was a sense of pride in this huge building.” Clowes says that the scene is “totally inaccurate”: “I didn’t look at photos or anything. All my visions of Chicago are circa 1978.”

 

The Midwest Archetype

John Belushi [B], the late Chicago comic known for The Blues Brothers and Saturday Night Live’s Billy Goat Tavern cheeseburger sketch, “embodies the ‘Chicago guy,’ ” says Clowes, “with the physical presence of someone who grew up eating Vienna hot dogs [C].

 

The Media

“I had a chip on my shoulder,” Clowes says about growing up in Chicago in the 1960s and ’70s. “I felt inferior to NYC because all the good artists were there.” Likewise, there were no major media outlets in the city. “Roger Ebert [D] was the first Chicagoan to be a national [media] figure. He spoke at my grade school. He seemed like a Chicago guy.”

 

The Ad Industry

“Every kid my age remembers the Magikist ad [E],” he says of the carpet cleaner’s famed campaign.

 

The Childhood Association

The shadow characters [F] in the windows and on the streets are specter-like homages to Clowes’s own relationship with the city. “I feel like I could easily never go back to Chicago ever again,” he says. Chicago is a “haunted” place where he experienced “the loss of my childhood.”

 

The Art Community

“In the ’90s, I lived in Wicker Park in a nice apartment. It was not a good neighborhood, but you could get large places [for cheap].” Clowes recalls Chris Ware once coming home from the School of the Art Institute at 2 a.m. and spotting Clowes in the window at his drawing table [G].

 

GO: Modern Cartoonist: The Art of Daniel Clowes runs through Oct. 13 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago Ave. For info, mcachicago.org.

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