The world of comix, however much it has influenced popular movies, television, and videogames, remains fairly insular. Pussey! depicts that world through the life of a long-suffering, often insufferable fanboy who gains momentary fame and fortune in the industry that has shaped him.
Daniel Clowes wrote and illustrated the chapters of the graphic novel (pronounced Poo-say) between 1989 and 1994. Fantagraphics published the completed work soon thereafter, and republished it in 2006 with a new, illustrated introduction.
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 the central character’s life. One chapter features a comic book industry event hosted by "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 by Infinity. Clowes clearly has some bitterness towards the industry, and an awareness of its often unsavory history.
Another outstanding section relates "Dan Pussey's Masturbation Fantasy." This piece gives us astute, hilarious, and often uncomfortable insights into the psyche of an arrested adolescent who has experienced diverse kinds of bullying.
Clowes attacks everyone: the comic book industry, the art world, high school students, and the fanboys. One chapter concerns Pussey's forays into the world of supposedly legitimate art. 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. In another chapter, Pussey's teacher tries to steer him towards "highbrow" comics, represented by The Emperor’s New Clothes (a swipe at Raw), Affection and Torpedoes (Love and Rockets), and Nerf Ball (Clowes’ own Eightball). Pussey finds the creators of these comics even more dismissive of his work than the fine artists, stung as they are by their medium's association with heroes in tights.
Pussey later finds success. His financial achievement validates his work in the eyes of people who previously regarded with contempt the medium of comics and those who create and enjoy them. Success also changes Pussey. Never the most admirable individual, he begins behaving contemptuously, like a child living out a revenge fantasy.
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 and haunting realism of Clowes' best work, Ghost World1 And while Dan Pussey seems depressingly believable, the other characters remain one- and two-dimensional.
Clowes' artwork varies in style and quality. Some panels nicely capture the characters and their worlds. I'm not a huge fan, however, of the bobble head look used in some chapters.
I recommend Pussey, but with some caution. Clowes has crafted a very funny but also a bitter look at comix and at a dedicated, emotionally damaged fanboy.
Writer/Artist: Daniel Clowes
1. Two unpleasant elderly women appear in the death segment. They seem to be Enid and Rebecca from Ghost World.