Patience, the latest graphic novel from Daniel Clowes (Ghost World, Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron), presents a story that is very much rooted in themes that the author has been exploring for some time, but also reaches beyond anything that he has done previously. The plot of Patience revolves around Jack Barlow, a man who travels through time to prevent the murder of his wife Patience. From that basic premise, Clowes is able to accomplish a great deal, exploring masculinity, justice, anger, the nature of consciousness, and love, in what is arguably the most firmly developed narrative found in any of his books.
Patience continues in the science fiction vein last explored by Clowes in his 2011 novel The Death-Ray, with time travel being a significant vehicle for the plot. The science-fiction aspect of the story is never overemphasized, however, leaving much more time for the human element to be examined. The novel opens in 2012, with Jack and Patience living together as a happy but anxious couple who are madly in love and about to become parents. It is implied that Patience has had a troublesome and abusive past, about which Jack knows very little. I never got the sense that this is because of outright callousness, however, but rather due to Jack not wanting to even think about Patience suffering. This bubble is burst when he arrives home to find Patience dead on the floor of their apartment, a narrative box telling the reader, “And this is where my story begins.”
The major characters in Patience are extremely well developed in a characteristically Clowes-ian manner — that is, with most of it done between the lines. While Jack, for instance, speaks directly to the reader in the form of narration, he is such a damaged person that he cannot really give any kind of full idea of his character because he does not truly understand himself. There is no shortage of cynicism in Patience, which shows a world inhabited mainly by flawed and often grotesque characters, but Clowes manages to show beauty in the world as well, and overall this may be one of his more optimistic narratives. That being said, Patience is not for the faint of heart. Jack and Patience’s biting commentary, combined with the highly recognizable setting, can cause the reader to look very hard at the people around them and even harder at themselves.
The visuals in Patience are nothing short of spectacular, with Daniel Clowes showcasing his unique style in settings ranging from the perfectly inane to the utterly fantastic. One of the things that I have always admired most about Clowes is his ability to portray normal people and places in all of their beauty and hideousness. While parts of Patience take place in the near future, most of it takes place in the present or recent past, and it is hard for me to not find people and places that I recognized. From small town diners to filthy, sprawling city streets, and from mullet-headed store clerks to rich frat boy rapists, all of the details that we might not want to notice or think about as we pass through our lives are on display on the page.
Clowes also has some unique opportunities to explore with his artwork as well, with the science fiction aspect of the story allowing for some truly unforgettable psychedelic sequences. I read Patience a couple more times to prepare for this review, and it held up every time mainly due to Clowes’ incredible sense of detail; there was always some small expression or element in the landscape that I found that I had not noticed on a previous reading.
For all of its bizarre time travel elements, Patience may have the most coherent plot of any Daniel Clowes comic, with a very linear and clearly defined narrative. Part of this is probably due to the fact that it was not serialized, like much of Clowes’ most notable works. For this, as well as its relative optimism, Patience is definitely one of Clowes’ most accessible comics, and would not be a bad place to start if you are considering getting into his work.
As a longtime fan of Daniel Clowes, I found myself more than impressed with Patience. It’s certainly a great work in its own right, but it also feels like a perfect step in the evolution of Clowes’ work, showing once again that he is an artist who is able to show the world and its fragile human element in a way that gets under your skin like few other writers can. Patience is a beautiful story, and one that I will be picking back up off of my shelf for years to come.
— Quinn Stratton, Comic Blogger