Save this storySave this storySave this storySave this story
For the cover of the Money Issue, the cartoonist Daniel Clowes evokes the lavish, concentrated wealth that governs our world. The true billionaires, rich beyond comprehension, hardly need to flaunt their affluence; Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, for example, seem more devoted to amassing power than to amassing stuff. Then again, billions of dollars—a nearly unimaginable sum—can buy more caviar and chandeliers than one person could possibly enjoy: why not build a fleet of satellites instead? Meanwhile, former President Donald Trump, who has built his reputation upon ostentatious displays of fame and fortune, is being challenged in court for inflating the value of his net worth. Money talks, but real money doesn’t need to shout. For the October 23, 2023, issue, I talked to the cover artist about his new graphic novel, “Monica,” his thoughts about wealth, and the distorting influence of unfathomable riches.
Even though this image isn’t based on any real living persons, did you have to do any research for it?
To get started, I did a few image searches using terms like “ornate” and “filigree,” along with phrases like “world’s most valuable cufflinks” and “horror vacui.” I found a few interesting results: for some reason, in-home pillars seem to be a good indicator of extreme wealth.
What was your relationship to the idea of wealth when you were growing up, and has it evolved since?
I never knew any really wealthy people growing up, so my entire notion of how they lived came from “The Beverly Hillbillies” and the “Richie Rich” comics. As an adult, I’ve had a few occasions to be in a room with rich people, while someone begged them for money to fund a movie or a museum show. I always find myself thinking that they could probably have me thrown in a dungeon or hunted for sport, and so I’d better be on my best behavior.
If you had a billion dollars, how would you make use of it?
How dare you assume I don’t already have a billion dollars!
You might as well ask me what I’d do with some magic beans; I have no idea. All of us like to imagine we’d feed the poor or fund initiatives to fight climate change, but when the money appears we wind up buying spaceships and starting private militias. I already have a shaky sense of self, and can’t even imagine how profoundly something like that would rewire my brain.
You’re currently on a tour for your new book, “Monica.” What are the best parts of the experience?
The best part, as hokey as it may sound, is getting to meet the actual people who buy and read these books. Mostly I work in a total vacuum, and have no clear idea of who might one day read the final result, so it’s fun to see the audience, some of whom have been reading my comics for more than thirty years.
You spent seven years working on “Monica.” Do you know what your next project is going to be?
I have some lofty notions and a notebook full of bits and pieces, but I’m probably a year or more away from knowing what it will all turn into.
For more covers about money, see below:
“The Money Tree,” by Winston Smith
“New Money,” by Bruce McCall
“Fat Cats,” by Richard McGuire
Find Daniel Clowes’s covers, cartoons, and more at the Condé Nast Store.