Written & Illustrated by Daniel Clowes
Published by Drawn & Quarterly
Wilson is a jerk. And that’s why he’s a whole lotta fun to read about.
Daniel Clowes latest book, Wilson, chronicles the most recent of Clowes’ socially abusive misanthropes. The broad, open humor makes it perhaps his most accessible book to date. Each page operates as a one-page gag, placing Wilson is a situation where he plays off another person or even off himself, revealing the depths of his antisocial extremes. Dry and sardonic, Clowes’ wit manifests itself through Wilson’s rants about how people in society behave, diatribes frequently undermined by Wilson’s own behavior and his lack of self-awareness.
While each page operates as a unit, setting up and delivering a witty moment, Clowes weaves an ongoing storyline about Wilson’s heretofore unknown family through the entire book, building a series of astonishing life discoveries, each of which fails to pierce Wilson’s self-absorbed blowhardiness.
Clowes isn’t necessarily asking readers to connect with or care for Wilson’s unveiling family; rather, he’s showing the world as Wilson sees it, as a reflection of himself. Whether tragedy or happiness occurs, Wilson’s reactions are the same, put-upon and irritated.
Experimenting stylistically more for his own amusement than any story purpose, Clowes brings a different visual interpretation to each page in Wilson. Some are played straight, while others showcase deformed or minimalist versions of the cast. Clowes, as an illustrator, handles each style with ease, fitting it into his precise grid layouts and accompanying it with his acerbic dialogue.
Maybe that doesn’t sound like much fun, but it really is. It’s sharp and surprising, and you’ll see more of yourself in Wilson than you really care to admit. And where you don’t see yourself, you’ll find snippets of people you know. It’s very bleak humor, but painfully funny nonetheless. If you know Clowes’ work from projects such as Ghost World, he’s both playing with similar themes, yet also showcasing new approaches and insights. The social inadequacies of man remains a recurring motif, but Clowes plays Wilson with a more humorous touch, perhaps reminding us that it’s better to laugh than to allow the Wilson’s of the world to ruin our day.