Dan Clowes on The Death-Ray, Resenting Kick-Ass, and the Status of His Many Rumored Movies

Dan Clowes

When people talk about comic books, and comic-book movies, they often only talk about superheroes, even though some of the best don’t have superheroes. Dan Clowes is someone who understands this, having penned both the books and subsequent screenplays for Ghost World and Art School Confidential. But he did dabble with superhero doings in The Death-Ray, in which a teenage boy discovers (by smoking a cigarette) that he has special powers; he inherits an instrument, the titular death-ray, that can annihilate anyone he chooses. The story, which was first published in 2004, was reissued last week and is also on its way to becoming a movie. Vulture caught up with the author at his book signing at the Housing Works Bookstore Café and got a progress report on which of his projects are being embraced by Hollywood, and which can’t seem to find any love.

So that makes two movies you were going to do with Michel, including Master of Space and Time.
That never got beyond the two of us going to pitch meetings and trying to get people to give us money. We didn’t have an ounce of work into that. We just loved the book, but one producer said, “This would be like a $150 million dollar film, and it would make like $200,000.” Literally, the main actor switches from male to female in the middle of the film, so you lose your star, which is a great thing for a Michel Gondry film, but not a $150 million film. It just had no chance.

Did Raiders, the one where a group of kids would do a shot-by-shot remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark, have a chance?
It died the day the fourth Indiana Jones movie got green-lit. I got a call from my agent, “Put your pencils down,” because Paramount said we would never fund this dumbass little thing. That’s their big tentpole franchise, and they’re not going to have something that might confuse audiences. I also think they thought we were making fun of Raiders, but we took Raiders as gospel. They were the only company that could have made it, which is the frustrating thing, because they own the rights, obviously. And we can’t make it with Indiana Smith. Cincinnati Smith? Plus the new movie killed the idea of it being a relic from the eighties, because now it was new again.

So you’re about to have a museum show? Following in the steps of Tim Burton?
It’s like being Tim Burton, without all the millions of pesky fans to get in your way. [Laughs.] Like I’m a real artist. And then you get all these people digging through your closet, “Here’s a funny photo of you when you were 7,” which I’ve had my whole life, but now it’s out there in the world. Strange.

On your way to immortality …
My wife’s grandma is 103. Still lucid, still calls us up on the phone, uses an iPad. That’ll be my claim to fame: My grandmother-in-law is the oldest iPad user!