Daniel Clowes + Wilson + Death Ray = Hollywood Comics Smarts

It’s been years since director Terry Zwigoff brought Daniel Clowes’ alternately poignant and smartass comics to the silver screen, giving indie cred to Scarlett Johansson, an Oscar nod to the Oaksterdram-based Clowes and more. But then came the playboys into pantsuits, armored and otherwise, and all kinds of post-traumatic stress disorder broke loose.

But at last Hollywood is turning back to Clowes, one of indie comics’ crossover titans. Alexander Payne is taking on the sad-sack Wilson and Jack Black is arming himself with anti-superheroic Death-Ray. And all is delightfully abnormal in the world. I spread the strange love for Wired.

Anti-Superhero Comic Death-Ray to Hit Hardcover, Then Movie Screens

Out-of-print anti-superhero fable The Death-Ray is being re-released as a hardcover graphic novel next fall by Drawn & Quarterly. The award-winning story, by geek comics heavyweight Daniel Clowes, is also being made into a movie by Jack Black’s Electric Dynamite Productions, with music video and commercial director Chris Milk attached to the project.

Clowes’ deconstruction of superhero clichés in the comic is both hilarious and painful in heavy measure.

“I always read superhero comics as a kid and I thought that, up to a point, they seemed realistic until they get their powers,” the Oakland, California-based writer said in 2004 after Fantagraphics released The Death-Ray as Issue No. 23 of Clowes’ brilliant alt-comics series Eightball.

After their superheroic transformations, the characters usually veer off into selfless heroics and impossible moralism. But that’s the opposite of what happens to The Death-Ray’s teen outcast Andy, who discovers his superpowers after sucking on a cigarette from his obnoxious pal Louie. Once Andy gets his hands on a weapon that can eradicate anything in sight with an audible pop, things quickly fall apart into an existential muddle with little to no redemption in sight.

“The Death-Ray is one of the most perfect and fully realized comics of the past decade,” said Chris Oliveros, editor-in-chief and publisher of Drawn & Quarterly, in a Wednesday press release announcing his all-star acquisition. “The story of the alienated Andy is drawn and written to perfection with Dan’s signature subtle humor, stylistic eloquence and understated social commentary, showcasing all of the hallmarks of why Dan is one of the pre-eminent cartoonists of the comics medium.”

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Daniel Clowes’ Comic Wilson Worms Toward Hollywood

Great news for fans of smartass indie comics: Daniel Clowes’ scathing and hilarious Wilson is heading for Hollywood, helmed by director Alexander Payne.

The deal, as reported by Deadline Hollywood, sounds like a marriage made in snarky heaven.

Director Payne’s subversive cult classics like Citizen Ruth and Election mercilessly hazed do-gooders and derelicts dabbling in sex, drugs, politics and media. Even his midlife crises like About Schmidt and Sideways were filled with cranks, winos and idiot savants.

Adapting Clowes’ graphic novel, about a sad-sack heckler named Wilson who continually tries to connect with a humanity he really abhors, for the silver screen should be a cinch.

Better yet, Payne’s Wilson could top off a hat trick of cinema winners based on Clowes’ brilliant comics. The last two — Ghost World and Art School Confidential — were both moving gut-busters. They were also breakouts for future Hollywood heavyweights like Scarlett Johansson and cult heroes like The Middleman himself, Matt Keeslar. The mind reels at who Payne and Clowes might choose to inhabit Wilson’s pathetic frame, but Bill Murray definitely comes to mind.

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