Ghost World is awesome.
I don’t hate museums, but they sometimes feel like an overflowing catacomb, bursting with previously heralded artistic and social potentials that are now empty of relevance.
Go to the Oakland Museum of California’s current exhibition of Oakland-based cartoonist, author and screenwriter Daniel Clowes and this will be the last feeling that you’ll have.
The appropriately titled "Modern Cartoonist: The Art of Daniel Clowes" is at OCMA through Aug. 12 and offers an interior view of a real artistic rarity: A cartoonist whose work remains heartfelt among its original fan base and is meanwhile relevant with a new, more youthful cohort.
Walking through the exhibition’s Clowes-adorned corridors, dark undertones of cynicism assorted with modern forms of alienation create a quixotic mixture that’s sure to be felt by those who are subject to any level of generational dejection.
One work on display, "Ghost World" - a comic that was adapted into a movie in 2001 - exemplifies this with depictions of two coming of age teenagers who find everything within their small town as deplorable as the popular culture that’s been imported into it. Moving aimlessly through their friendships, this artistic relic of the '90s is sure to resonate despite its lack of smart phones, Facebook or other items of current cultural significance.
The exhibit also displays original pieces of Clowes most recent work "Wilson" - a graphic novel that is currently being developed into film and is set to be shot in Oakland. Teetering on the most extreme levels of cynicism, the main character whose name mirrors the title is a hopelessly lonely, friendless and divorced middle-aged man that is incapable of relating to people in any socially acceptable manner. An unwittingly annoying gadfly, Wilson goes about his day grasping for friendship in the most insincere of ways, constantly creating some form of tension between himself and the strangers that he pesters. Always leaving the reader uneasy about how they might personally relate to him, you’ll have to see it to decide for yourself.
Other seminal works from Clowes’ series "Eightball" - a series of comics that were highly influential within the indie-comic sphere - also are on display. The humor of this 1989 material has yet to be dated and has even remained applicable with the advent of Internet-based humor. Slotted within these talented illustrations are highly cynical social criticisms that are commonly regenerated in the form of “memes” within today’s Internet culture.
The exhibition of Clowes’ work is essentially a small showcase of our contemporary moment, a time where deeply held levels of cynicism become ingrained to the point of comedy. Unlike some showings, you don’t have to be a comic junky to enjoy the work. Simply throw your idealism to the wind, come with an insatiable thirst for cynicism and maybe you’ll find it to be one of Oakland’s greatest exhibits of the year.