In case you weren't just a little bit surprised to read Adrian Tomine doing something sweet, funny and kind of romantic in Scenes From An Impending Marriage, Daniel Clowes now completes the double-whammy. Well I suppose it's not that much of a shock seeing as how each of his books offers something different but coming relatively close after Wilson (see here) and particularly as Mister Wonderful (Jonathan Cape) begins with a lonely older man in a cafe struggling with low self-esteem as he waits the arrival of a blind date, my brain was set in Clowes = Existensial Angst mode albeit nicely observed and efficiently executed.However a third of the way through the book and I found myself enjoying the company of these characters - something I never really did in Wilson. By two thirds I had found that I was reading something that was actually sweet, funny and kind of romantic. It wasn't because there was a dramatic change of tone, it was just that Clowes had beautifully navigated the book along the delicate balance between tragedy and comedy. Wilson was doing something similar by presenting a joke per page type format but I felt it was deliberately subverting the form and the comedy had a cynical edge.
If you've never read a book by Daniel Clowes this may be a good starting point despite the fact that it doesn't represent the prevailing tone of his work. It does offer his familiar archetypes of character struggling for a sense of purpose in life whilst painfully aware of their failings, as well as displaying Clowes' expert use of the meduim deploying stylistic tweaks, such as the central character's internal monologue box overlapping the conversation bubbles or the nice couple of panels depicting the end of the female character's previous relationship when there was nothing actually said. And I think regular readers of Clowes will find the book rewarding - as if this is the book that breathes out and relaxes with genuine note of hope.
Mister Wonderful was originally commissioned by the New York Times and published in a serialised form which accounts for the landscape format (although it is hardcover and it's larger than Ice Haven) and slightly awkward pacing of the narrative. It also means that some of the online interviews about the project are a little dated but still worth looking at (see here). It really is nice to have new Daniel Clowes books in the shop again and his catalogue of work is looking varied and important, more so than ever.
Mister Wonderful is due out on 14th April.