Review by Frank Plowright
Pussey! compiles the strips originally published in Daniel Clowes’ Eightball anthology during the early 1990s, when it was a whip sharp critique of the comics industry, largely, although not exclusively, as perceived by superhero publishers, creators and fans. How does it stand up many years later?
Very well actually. You don’t have to know the precision of what Clowes is satirising to appreciate the first story’s revelation of a huckster taking advantage of impressionable youngsters, filling their heads with nonsense as he mythologises the mediocre. Dan Pussey is a young man with limited experience of the real world who’s copied enough poses from superhero comics to produce an approximation of them, leading to massive acclaim.
The scenes concerning comics and their marketing are funny enough, but what makes Pussey! something more than potshots is Clowes in later episodes concentrating on Pussey as a person rather than an artist, mercilessly peeling back his personality, or lack of it. A highlight begins with Pussey settling down for a masturbation session, and Clowes revealing the paucity of his imagination as proposed gratification takes some very disturbing turns.
However well it’s done, pointing out the deficiencies of superhero comics as they were in the 1990s is shooting fish in a barrel to some degree, so Clowes also targets the shoddy history of comics, and the hollow values of modern fine art.
This has the same detached, observational style as Clowes’ later works, but is funnier than pretty well anything else he’s produced and populated with brilliantly drawn grotesque people, yet the sadness seeps in. It’s most apparent in the genuine pathos as Clowes looks back on Pussey growing up and why his refuge is the revenge and protection fantasies of superhero comics. However, while Pussey slides in alongside the Clowes library of people puzzled at their life or circumstances he differs from them as there’s little likeable about him.
People used to the air of mystery, poignancy and alienation common to later works possibly won’t connect with Pussey!, but conversely readers who just don’t connect with Clowes might want to try his comedy turn.