Even if you’re not a graphic novel aficionado, you probably know the work of Daniel Clowes. A frequent contributor to The New Yorker and The New York Times Magazine, Clowes has written two movies based on his comic works, “Ghost World” and “Art School Confidential.” In his latest book, the bold, zesty “The Death-Ray,” Clowes follows a 1970s teenager named Andy, who, with a puff of a cigarette, discovers his special powers. And once Andy gets his hands on a special ray-gun, Clowes turns the traditional superhero story on its masked head.
A kid who smokes a cigarette to discover his secret powers is subversive — and brilliant.
It seemed like, in a way, the most taboo thing to ever happen in a work of art. It’s almost better if he injects serum into his arm or takes blotter acid to attain super powers. Nothing makes you more of an outcast than portraying smoking in a positive light.
Are you a smoker?
No. And I can’t stand to be around people who smoke. My dad even died of lung cancer. But you can’t say there isn’t a certain adolescent appeal to smoking. And he needed a way to discover his powers. So …
Why take on the classic superhero genre??
I read comics as a kid and was really attracted to the way they looked; the early Marvel comics especially seemed so charged. They suggest this rich world of imagination but they never quite live up to it as you’re reading them. I wanted to create a story that has some depth but also uses the iconography of the old superhero comics.