Review by Frank Plowright
Daniel Clowes first registered on the public consciousness with these tales of early 1960s hipster Lloyd Llewellyn, whose life revolves around the era’s more progressive social culture with healthy side dishes of sleaze and paranoia thrown in. His is a world of hoodlums, impossible loves and living toothpaste, and weirdness makes an extra effort to track him down.
Either Clowes or Fantagraphics was very selective about what features in this collection, as it’s far from the complete Lloyd Llewellyn, omitting all but the single story from 1986’s first rush of enthusiasm. As Charles Burns had already done, Clowes filters a youth watching endless hours of late night television into a personal fantasy world, where noir narration accompanies encounters with demented axe murderers, drug-addicted superheroes and women from Venus. Sometimes Lloyd is only the way into a story that others then occupy, and elsewhere his seedy pal Ernie Hoyle takes the spotlight. Some stories are funny, others not as funny as intended, and strangely it’s the humour standing in the way of Clowes’ progression, with only hints of the distanced approach that would see him so well through the highspots of his career.
While also not as smooth as his later work, Clowes’ art stands up better, because although it’s extremely angular and straight, it’s also individual, and there’s considerable personality to the quirkiness. It’s especially effective in a strip that takes Lloyd out of his early 1960s ennui through the rest of the decade and on to the 1980s, for Lloyd the look and attitudes a greater horror than any threat he’s previously faced.
There is fun to be mined from these stories, but they’re limited. Clowes would later filter the weirdness, the moods and the reflection into material where Lloyd was surplus to requirement, as these are the strengths, not Lloyd himself, who’s a one-note personality, just the peg on which the strangeness is hung.
A more limited circulation hardcover The Manly Worlds of Lloyd Llewellyn eventually compiled all Clowes’ early work.