When Your Alter Ego Is Pussey!

The Complete Saga of Young Dan Pussey by Daniel Clowes

You knew a kid just like him. Pimply chin, buck teeth, always picked last for dodge ball. And after some bully grabbed his lunch money, there’s a pretty good chance he’d bury his shiny nose in a comic book.

Dan Pussey is that kid. “I set out to create a truly pink human being, someone totally hideous physically,” says creator 34-year-old Dan Clowes, who’s best known for his Eightball comic book.

In a series of vignettes, Pussey! charts the mercurial career of Dan Pussey, from an adolescence of sexless ridicule to star penciller at Infinity Comics to washed-up has-been. Through it all, Pussey dreams of little but sex, but even his erotic fantasies morph into superhero scenarios. The book lampoons the world of superhero comics and the slippery men who run it, and Clowes writes with an ear that reveals plenty of hours logged at the dorkiest event Western civilization has yet devised, the comics convention.

Yet in Pussey!, there is at all times an underlying love for these kids who inhabit them, with their Doctor Who pins and “Who Farted” T-shirts. That ability to pull off subtle shadings, the simultaneous embrace and mockery, lifts Clowes onto that hallowed ground occupied by too few comic artists: He’s a real good writer.

Some of that writing is in the art.

“I use a lot of visual shorthand. Pussey’s usually wearing a Member’s Only jacket and his upper lip’s always sweaty,” said Clowes in an interview. Some of Clowes’ references are more obscure but no less hilarious. In “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Pussey,” Clowes takes a rip at the Raw school of art comix.

Self portrait.

Gummo Bubbleman peeks at Pussey’s work—Maus author Art Spiegelman once worked for Topps bubblegum cards— and concludes that Pussey’s “captured the primitive essence, the crude vitality of derivative mindless slop!” That is, until he realizes that Pussey’s superhero story wasn’t satire and roughly shows him the door.

Clowes draws convincingly in a variety of styles but maintains a distinctive look, whether illustrating a soda can (his work appeared on Coke’s doomed soft drink OK Soda), a Ramones video or an Urge Overkill record. Clowes’ art retains certain signatures (oddly rectangular boobs, for one) that serve as guideposts to his own burgeoning career.

“Pussey’s the autobiography of what might have been. He has all the qualities that I dislike about myself, and that’s probably why I feel some sympathy for him. In the end, Pussey! is a cautionary tale. I mean, there’s a million guys who can draw rings around me. But there’s always something missing. In comics, if someone’s really ‘got it,’ that’ll make itself known. Pussey hasn’t ‘got it’ but I’m hoping I do.”

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Ken Kurson

Ken Kurson is the founder of Sea of Reeds Media. He is the former editor in chief of the New York Observer and also founded Green Magazine and covered finance for Esquire magazine for almost 20 years. Ken is the author of several books, including the New York Times No. 1 bestseller Leadership.

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