Patience, Daniel Clowes, Jonathan Cape, £16.99
Daniel Clowes is a cartoonist who veers in his work between Lynchian surrealism (most notably Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron) and dirty realism (Ghost World, Wilson) that at best has a bitter potency and at worst slides into sour misanthropy.
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But as one of the key creators of America’s indie comics scene of the 1980s and 1990s he has been one of the key figures in pushing American cartooning into new areas. Patience, his first graphic novel sees him pushing himself.
In some ways Patience occupies a typically Clowesian universe. It’s a world of diners and cheap supermarkets and emotional disconnect. On this occasion, however, Clowes bolts his familiar fascination with failing relationships and the essential unknowability of other people to a time travel narrative that perversely is perfect for his recurring concerns.
It begins with a couple, a pregnancy and then a violent death. A young wife is killed and her husband goes seeking for answers in her abusive past. It doesn’t go well.
What we have here is a complex weave of narrative that jumps back and forth between now, the 1980s and 2029, one that takes in a political cult of personality, an unreliable, unlikeable narrator and a sense of how beyond our control our own life can be.
Patience works because Clowes has paid attention to plot. He makes the temporal echoes resonate as the pages turn. It is not a story interested in the science of time travel but in the morality of it. The result is satisfyingly complicated.
But equally as interesting is how Clowes is pushing himself as a cartoonist. His style is more grungy sweat than sci-fi gleam so in the moments when he visualises time travel you feel you are seeing a cartoonist at the edge of his comfort zone, trying to find a way to escape his own style and discover a new way of expression. I’m not sure he necessarily succeeds all the time but it’s thrilling to see him try.
The result is dark, harsh and, yes, bitter, but it has a kick to it and a melancholic undertow that pulls you deep under.
The Imitation Game, by Jim Ottaviani and Leland Purvis, Abrams Comics Art, £15.99
From science fiction to science fact. This memoir of the mathematician and scientist Alan Turing is an intriguing insight into the life and work of the man who helped break the Nazi Enigma code during the Second World War. Turing was a pioneer in the fields of computers and artificial intelligence. But he was also a man whose reputation was ruined by a charge of gross indecency in the years when homosexuality was still a crime in this country.
Writer Jim Ottaviani has previous in the field of comic-book science, having worked on the graphic memoir of Richard Feynman. That experience shows. There is an impressive balancing of ideas and incident here, giving the man and his work equal weight (maybe it overdoes the eccentric scientist trope. or maybe the scientists in this story just fit that mould).
At first glance Leland Purvis’s art can feel a little flat and pedestrian given the complexity of the ideas and Ottaviani’s multi-layered narrative, but the more you read the more the simple art grounds the often complex ideas at work.
And while the appearance of Ada Lovelace at one point may conjure up images of the contrasting brio and panache of Sydney Padua’s cartooning in last year’s The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Computer, Purvis’s approach carries the story forward perfectly adequately. If the science goes over the heads of some of us this remains an entertaining insight into a troubled genius.