His first published work appeared in Cracked Magazine in 1985, and 1986 saw the debut of his first comic-book series Lloyd Llewellyn, which ran for seven issues.
In 1989, he created the seminal comic-book series Eightball, where virtually all of his major comics work first appeared. The series ran for 23 issues through 2004 and earned the artist a large following and multiple industry awards including several Eisner, Harvey, and Ignatz awards. Collected from its pages are the graphic novels Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron, an indescribable nightmare-journey through pre-millennial America; Pussey!, a brutal examination of the comics industry; Ghost World, his breakthrough hit about the last summer of a teenage friendship; and David Boring, a dark and apocalyptic story of obsession. Clowes has also released two anthologies of his Eightball comics: Caricature, an acclaimed short-story collection; and Twentieth Century Eightball, a collection of humor strips including “Art School Confidential” and “Ugly Girls.”
Clowes moved to full color with the last two issues of Eightball, each of which featured a stand-alone story and a shift in both visual and storytelling techniques. These issues include Ice Haven, an intricate tale of kidnapping and alienation in a small Midwestern town (published as a book in 2005) and The Death-Ray, the unlikely story of a teenage superhero in the 1970s (to be released as a book in 2011).
Since the end of Eightball, he has created the widely acclaimed (and occasionally reviled) graphic novel, Wilson, and a serialized comic for the New York Times Magazine, a “middle-aged romance” titled Mister Wonderful, which will be collected in an expanded hardcover edition in 2011. His comics, graphic novels, and anthologies have been translated into over a dozen languages, and his work has been the subject of numerous international exhibitions.
In 2001, the film adaptation of Ghost World, based on a script by Clowes and director Terry Zwigoff, was released to great acclaim, earning an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay and winning the Independent Spirit award among many others. Their second collaboration, Art School Confidential, written by Clowes and starring John Malkovich and Jim Broadbent, was released in 2006. He has several film projects in development, including movies based on The Death-Ray and Wilson.
Clowes was the first cartoonist to be selected for Esquire’s annual fiction issue in 1998. He created the much-praised animated video for the Ramones’s “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up,” designed the packaging for Coca-Cola’s “OK Soda,” created the poster illustration for Todd Solondz’s Happiness, and has contributed numerous memorable covers to The New Yorker. His work has also appeared in Time, Newsweek, GQ, and many other magazines. In 2007 he appeared as a character on an episode of The Simpsons.