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Paying tribute to cartoon royalty

Oakland’s reigning king of comics gets his first-ever retrospective.

Courtesy of Oakland Museum of California

Acclaim came early for Daniel Clowes in the underground world of alternative comics. By the beginning of the ’90s, the then-thirtysomething cartoonist had won several prestigious Harvey Awards for Eightball, an experimental comic book that R. Crumb dubbed “a masterpiece.” And when the live-action film adaptation of his graphic novel Ghost World was nominated for an Oscar in 2001, Clowes gained a mass audience that had previously had no idea that cartoons could be so serious. Viewers were staggered to see the emotional lives of teenage girls so movingly shown on-screen. Now, a full-scale retrospective at the Oakland Museum of California, “Modern Cartoonist,” pays tribute to the world-class graphic art at the heart of it all. 

     Looking at Clowes’s myriad drawings and layouts, you might assume that this was a group show. His style ranges from raunchy to pop to classically elegant, sometimes even in the same comic. His fluency in every cartoon vernacular, always perfectly matched to the meaning of his story, is what gives Clowes’s comics their narrative richness. Even more than Crumb, whom many consider the father of alt-cartooning, Clowes is a graphic virtuoso. Oakland Museum of California, Apr. 14—Aug. 12, 1000 Oak St., 510-318-8400, museumca.org