Daniel Clowes: What I Really Learned in College


The graphic novelist — and bard of outsiders everywhere — remembers the ‘horrific post-nuclear freak show’ of late-Seventies New York

I grew up in Chicago, but I always planned to move to New York the minute I got out of high school. I was obsessed with comics, and everything I cared about — Mad magazine, Marvel comics, National Lampoon — came from NYC. I had no plan other than to somehow learn how to draw comics and eventually to somehow make a living at it, and so I figured art school was my best bet. I picked Pratt because they had a dorm. I got there in 1979. Before that, my only impression of Brooklyn came from Welcome Back, Kotter. New York, at that time, seemed like it was on the verge of collapse. There were horrific tales of freshmen held up at gunpoint, lawless corrupt police. There was so much tension in the air — everybody was stressed out, waiting for it all to fall apart. The movie Escape From New York seemed like a pretty accurate prediction of where things were going. I would just wander the streets of Manhattan in an overstimulated daze, eighty or ninety blocks at a time, absorbing it all. The New Yorkers of the late Seventies were mostly hideous — men wore cheap toupees without bothering to trim the stray gray pubes growing underneath, and even grandmothers wore stupid tight-fitting polyester clothes. Everyone was sweaty and sticky-looking. I grew to love the horrific post-nuclear freak-show feel of the neglected parts of the city, but I also would squint my eyes and try to imagine I was in an episode of The Odd Couple.