"It's not too much to say that Clowes' best work has the emotional resonance and mordant humor of literary satires such as Portnoy's Complaint and The Catcher in the Rye." – Marc Weingarten, San Francisco Magazine
"Clowes has explored the tedium and mystery of contemporary American life with more wit and insight than most novelists or filmmakers." – A.O. Scott, The New York Times
A new Daniel Clowes book is something to pay attention to particularly as the likes of Ghost World and David Boring seem so long ago now. In Wilson (Drawn & Quarterly), Clowes once again exposes a character who feels dislocated from everyday life. This time the story is told in one-page, six-or-seven panel scenes. Also the art style changes throughout dipping into references to other comic artists but always managing to return enough to his own style.
Given that the story takes place over several years of one mans life, Wilson feels like a book by someone wishing to reflect on cartoon history, after all every cartoonist of any note uses different styles and techniques to deal with the same important concerns regarding life and mortality. It feels, for example like Peanuts taken to the extreme, Charlie Brown all grown up (he even has his own dog, famous amongst the locals). Another artist whose work is evoked is Seth. His two most recent books - George Sprott and Wimbledon Green - use a similar structure of building the story of a characters life through seemingly random moments so that if you dip into the book it seems almost lightweight but as you progress depths emerge. For example a scene later in the book shows Wilson sat with two people by a lake. This has poignancy because of something Wilson has said in an apparently throw away manner earlier in the story though Clowes is never crass enough to remind you.
The one-page storytelling demands a punchline of some description, sometimes its a joke, sometimes its a valuable character insight. On the whole I didn't find the jokes particularly funny but, strangely that seemed to be the point as with Wilson's nihilistic, undermining of life, he sees the absurdity in everything but can't turn it into wonder and joy.
It would be easy to appreciate rather than enjoy a book such this - the central character or his world isn't especially pleasant - but in many respects that is the challenge of the book for both creator and reader. It seemed to me that Clowes is trying to reach out to the unreachable, to form bonds. To make the character too sympathetic would defeat the object. Clowes even goes as far as appearing to be keeping us at arms length from Wilson by showing his moments of vulnerability by either drawing him in a more cartoon-like manner or showing him in silhouette. However your opinion of the character isn't as important as your engagement in his story and even from the opening page I felt that Clowes was always attempting to provoke a reaction.
And the two white pages at the back? The quiet after the storm? The moment of health after illness that Wilson himself talks about at one point. Allowing a moment to appreciate and reflect on Wilson.
The book is in hardcover, costs £13 and can be previewed here.