The world of comix, however much it has shaped popular movies, television, and videogames, remains fairly insular. Pussey! depicts that world through the life of a long-suffering, often insufferable fanboy and artist.
Daniel Clowes wrote and illustrated these chapters between 1989 and 1994. Fantagraphics published the completed work a decade ago. The 2006 edition features a new, illustrated introduction that examines the relationship among the author, his character, and the world both inhabit.
Writer/Artist: Daniel Clowes
The graphic novel tells, in fragments of chapters, the tale of Daniel Pussey, an insecure nerd who gains momentary fame and forture in the comic industry.
Although Pussey ends with its protagonist’s death in 2029, Clowes generally eschews chronological order, and his strongest chapters take us beyond a straightforward narrative of Pussey’s life. One chapter features a comic book industry event which stars “Dr. Infinity,” Pussey’s mentor and a representative of Jack Liebowitz, Harry Donenfeld, William M. Gaines, Stan Lee, and other self-promoters and manipulators from the genre’s history. Infinity lavishes praise on various artists and writers who created the major characters and trends. The story then undercuts these comments with stories of the creative talent’s mistreatment. Clowes clearly has some bitterness towards the industry, and an awareness of its sometimes unsavory history.
Another outstanding section relates “Dan Pussey’s Masturbation Fantasy.” This piece gives us an astute, hilarious, and often uncomfortable insight into the psyche of a person who experienced diverse forms in bullying before finding success in an often devalued medium.
Fans of Clowes’ movie work—- the Ghost World adaptation and Art School Confidential— will find early versions of concepts and even scenes later realized in those works.
Clowes attacks everyone: the comic book industry, the art world, high school students, and the fanboys. Pussey himself does not exhibit the most admirable characteristics, especially once he becomes successful. I don’t dispute many of Clowes’ observations, and they’re often presented in an entertaining manner. Individually, the chapters work; taken as a whole, the unrelenting negativity of the graphic novel may leave some readers cold. I enjoyed diving into Pussey, but it lacks the deeper characterizations, complex tones, and haunting realism of Clowes’ best work, Ghost World.1
1. Two unpleasant elderly women appear in the 2029 segment; they seem to be Enid and Rebecca from Ghost World.
Originality: 5/6 Comics regularly cannibalize and comment on their own history, but Clowes’ particular approach is unusual in the genre.
Artwork: 4/6. The artwork varies in style and quality. I’m not a huge fan of the bobble-head look used in some chapters.
Story: 5/6. Pussey forms a whole, but it is a fragmented whole.
Characterization: 4/6 The titular Pussey seems depressingly believable. Other characters tend to be stereotypes.
Emotional response: 5/6.
Overall: 5/6 Clowes has created a bitter but very funny look at comix, and at a dedicated, emotionally damaged fanboy.
In total, Pussey receives a score of 31/42.