Monday, April 26, 2010


Wilson is the new graphic novel by Daniel Clowes, his first comprised of all new material not previously serialized. The structure is unique: 77 single page cartoons, drawn in a variety of styles, in which the narrative of the miserable life of the titular protagonist begins to emerge. The single page cartoons follow a classic Sunday comic strip format, many ending in very funny punchlines, some ending in profound moments of intense sadness.

The story concerns the social misfit, Wilson, an obnoxious blowhard whose intense rudeness and misanthropy conceal a deep loneliness. After a series of darkly comic vignettes establishing Wilson's life and personality, the plot gets rolling when he receives a call informing him that his estranged father is dying. The severing of this last, tenuous link to family sets Wilson on a course of reconciliation with his ex-wife, and eventually to the discovery of the existence of a daughter he never knew he had. If that all sounds a bit treacly, rest assured that the shape these reunions take pushes the narrative into some surprisingly dark areas, including kidnapping and a stay in prison for Wilson.

Clowes' thoughtful construction of this graphic novel is nothing short of brilliant. The use of single panel cartoons to tell this story seems less like an artist "experimenting" with form and more like the logical extension of the comic strip narrative. It actually reminded me a lot of Charles Schulz's Peanuts, in the way an accumulation of short "gag" strips reveal a deeply sad narrative just underneath the surface. Some of the cartooning styles Clowes employs even resemble the drawing in Schulz's strip. Wilson's dog looks a lot like Snoopy. Should I mention here that Dan Clowes' son, Charles, is named for a certain famous comic strip character? You get the point.

Wilson is one of the saddest and laugh-out-loud funniest graphic novels I've come across in quite some time. It is among the author's best work, which is saying something, and is the best comic of the year so far. Oh, and that last page is brilliant.


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