Pitt alum and graphic novelist debuts with fantastical ‘Cloud Town’


Courtesy of Daniel McCloskey, Photo by Tara Bodin

Daniel McCloskey, 2008 Pitt Alum and graphic novelist.

By Maya Valletta, Staff Writer

2008 Pitt alum Daniel McCloskey created a fantastical and bizarre world filled with monsters and mad science in his debut middle grade graphic novel, “Cloud Town.” 

McCloskey released the novel last spring. The plot follows two best friends as they navigate adapting to a new school while simultaneously trying to save their world. McCloskey said the novel is a cultivation of two and a half years of work and is a vivid example of his original art style. 

“Cloud Town” incorporates silly and ridiculous scenes, McCloskey said, such as someone throwing up in a giant robot. Despite its humor, the book also presents serious and emotional themes, such as the struggles of friendship. McCloskey said he is glad that kids can discover and read a book that is just as weird as they may feel. 

“I am proud of making a book for young readers that you can find in a Target or Barnes and Noble — that is super bizarre,” McCloskey said. 

McCloskey said he became interested in animation during middle and high school. He attended his local Kutztown University’s animation program during the summer and used their animation equipment to master his craft, some of which he used to apply to Pitt. 

“When the [students] were away on summer vacation, the professors would let me use their equipment, which today would probably be less good than the average cell phone, but it was really exciting for me,” McCloskey said. 

While at Pitt, he majored in writing and minored in film studies, but began focusing on comics once he graduated. He met many cartoonists and found a place in the Pittsburgh comic community. McCloskey said he often found inspiration and mentorship from Bill Boichel, owner of Copacetic Comics in Polish Hill. 

“He’s been a long-standing inspiration for young people, and many of the adult, professional cartoonists that are still in Pittsburgh, like ‘New York Times’ bestsellers, were partially inspired by him,” McCloskey said. 

Boichel opened Copacetic in 2000 to promote comics as a major form of expression. The shop carries primarily creator-owned and small-press comics. 

“We focus on the smaller, more intimate, literary, artistic, creator-owned, personal expression vehicle comics,” Boichel said. 

Boichel witnessed Daniel grow from a small-press, self-published comic creator to releasing his book with a publishing company. 

“He got the contract and then spent two, maybe three years working on that book, which became ‘Cloud Town,’” Boichel said. “He went from one world to another. He made the transition from a small-press, self-published, local artist to a nationally recognized, published graphic novelist.”

Both Boichel and McCloskey emphasized the importance of having a strong creative community. McCloskey finished his pitch for “Cloud Town” during his time at the Bunker Project residency while he finished the pitch for “Cloud Town.” The gallery provided him with a creative place to draw alongside other artists working in the same building. 

“Having that time away and a dedicated space to focus is really important and being around other creative people is really inspiring,” McCloskey said. 

The residency connected McCloskey with fellow artist-in-residence Camden Yandel. The two artists often took long walks with McCloskey’s dog where they would chat about their work and update each other about their lives. 

Yandel, a cartoonist and graphic designer, said his friendship and walks with McCloskey reminded him of his childhood.

“It reminded me of drawing with my friends as a kid,” Yandel said.

Yandel himself is currently working on a comic that he’s put four years of work into. 

“I’m just getting to a point where I’m thumbnailing everything,” Yandel said. “So I’m sketching out pages and mapping out what they’re going to look like now, which is pretty exciting.”

Yandel has worked with the same characters in his project since his residency in 2017. While the original cast of characters were adults, he is now working with them as children, a decision that he said McCloskey influenced.

“Dan makes books for middle school students and was like, ‘you should do that because I’m doing it and I want company,’” Yandel said. “He loves it and he thought that I would love it too, and it would be a good way to connect with my teenagers.” 

McCloskey said he is excited to create more stories that reach larger audiences and delight the “weirdos” that run into his books. 

“I’m really proud of the reactions I’ve seen,” McCloskey said.