Book of the Month

Book of the Month – Wilson

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Avg Rating: 4.7
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By Daniel Clowes

Size: 80 pages
Price: 21.95

When I entered the world of indie comics in the mid 1990s, one of the first comics that attracted me was Eightball, by Dan Clowes.  I can't tell you how or why I started buying Eightball, but I imagine it had something to do with the fact that it looked like nothing else on the comics racks at the time, but for whatever reason, every time an issue came out, I bought it.  There was something to Clowes' art that was extremely attractive to me. Cartooonish, but also honest and realistic in emotion at the same time.  His anthologies showed a comic creator who keenly observed the world, processed it and was able to turn it back around in his own unique voice.  Like most indie creators I read at the time, I cherished it as if it was my own personal secret for me and only me to enjoy.  Like any good thing, this came to an end in the early 2000s when Clowes' story Ghost World was adapted into a major motion picture starring Thora Birch, Steve Buscemi and a then unknown Scarlett Johansson.  While it was great to see one of my favorite stories get accurately adapted into a movie, it began the long period of the 2000s where we didn't get any new comics work from Clowes, something that made me, a fan of his comic work, quite sad.  You could imagine my excitement when I heard the news that Wilson, a graphic novel by Clowes, would be published in 2010.
 

Wilson by Daniel ClowesAs I carried the wonderfully designed hardcover album of Wilson home with me, I read the supporting copy on the book including Daniel Clowes bio on the last page.  In that little blurb, it revealed that Wilson was Clowes' first original graphic novel and that hit me like a ton of bricks. It couldn't be right, and yet as I thought about it, sure enough it was.  Ghost World, David Boring and the other collections of Clowes' that I  had purchased over the years had all been published within the pages of Eightball! It's amazing that here, in 2010 and Clowes, much like Dave Mazzuchelli last year with Asterios Polyp, was releasing his first original graphic novel.
 

At it's most simple, Wilson is the tale of a man named Wilson, whom we join in the middle of his life to see how the rest of his life progresses.  Clowes has chosen to tell Wilson's story through a series of one page comic strips, each featuring a 6 panel grid.  Every strip carries its own mini-storyline, often with a setup and a punchline, while at the same time, carrying the narrative thread of Wilson and his life forward.  We are introduced to him, alone in his middle age living with his dog.  We watch through a series of strips as he he deals with his father's passing, his reunion with his ex-wife, his discovery of a child he never knew (now in her late teens) and ultimately all the way to his old age.  Clowes' presentation of the tale of Wilson is done in such an elegantly simple manner, that it's not until the very end of the book do we realize just how classy his storytelling method actually is.
 

By subtly moving the story forward, 6 panels at a time, Clowes is able to disengage the reader from the traditional linear story in favor of focusing on the magnified moments portrayed within each page's strip.  Disarming us with he same level of honest, dark humor that is present in his other stories, Clowes is able to maneuver Wilson in and out of situations and positions without the reader even realizing it.  What I found so delightful about this book was the number of times that I found myself laughing out loud or looking around for someone to show what I had just read because it was so unbelievable or ridiculous.  You really have to wonder about how Clowes sees the world, judging it by some of the words coming out of Wilson's mouth.
 

In addition to the simple storytelling structure, Clowes is able to break up the action by changing art style from strip to strip.  Story points aside, if anything is a showcase for artistic talent, it's the pages of Wilson.  Bouncing from super simple, practically stick figures to hyper detailed, realistic cartooning and all points inbetween, Clowes is able to flex his artistic muscles to show off every aspect of his skill.  Ranging from black and white, to blue tones, to fully colored, you ride the roller coaster, not knowing what to expect as you turn each page.  Even though he's never drawn the same way, you instantly know who Wilson is in every strip.  His trademark glasses and beard giving him away each time.  I find it absolutely fascinating that Clowes was able to pull this off in such a way that feels so natural, even though it works against our basic instincts for visual stories.  We expect the characters to look the same from panel to panel, from page to page.  Hell, look at how we freak out when there is a fill in artist on our favorite comic book series.  And yet here, Clowes challenges that by mixing the art styles from page to page, pressing the reset button for the reader each time and knocking our expectations off the table each time.
 

At the end of the day, Wilson is a tale about a pathetic man with little to no social skills who ponders the meaning of life and wonders why he's alone, even though when given the opportunity to interact and care about people, he's rude, insensitive and self-absorbed.  It's an ugly picture of people and relationships that if one were to examine without a sense of humor, could appear to be quite depressing.  But as much as this is a work of comics in the art style, it is within the story as well.  Wilson pushes the boundaries of what is socially acceptable just far enough to make you realize the intended humor and even draw the lesson from the story if you choose to.  
 

To say that Daniel Clowes is one of independent comics' masters would be an understatement.  His work has defined a generation of indie comics for myself and many others.  While I've been happy for Clowes with his success outside of comics, I can't even put into words how great it is to have a graphic novel done by him.  It's like a little book sized gift that he and Drawn and Quarterly have created just for me, and it feels like it did when I bought Eightball for the first time.  Comics so unique and out there that they could be found in only one place, by one creator.  It makes me so happy to see this trend of the graphic novel continue with such naturally talented people such as Daniel Clowes.  If you're at all curious about his work or looking for something to try by him, you cannot go wrong with Wilson.  You may not like what you read as you read it, but that's part of the fun.
 

Ron Richards
Some of these strips got damn well eerie in how much I could relate to them, and I'm not sure how that makes me feel
ron@ifanboy.com

Comments

  1. YES. Thank you Ron. This book was the best thing Clowes has done since David Boring.

  2. I laughed out aloud at many of these strips.  Very entertaining and insightful.  For Clowes fans, it was well worth the wait. 

  3. How good was The Dark Knight strip? hahaha.

  4. Great pick Ron!

    I picked this up last week. I am usually tough judge of comedy and this book is REALLY funny from beginning to end.

    @SirCox – The Dark Knight strip was very funny, but I have to say made me think about my motives as someone who enjoys that sort of thing(Batman). Haha

  5. Man, as soon as the InStockTrades 47% discount appears on this, I’m sold.

  6. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    I’ve seen the Ghost World movie and love it. But it occurs to me that I’ve never read a single Clowes book. That’s gotta not continue to be true. 

  7. Jeff Reid (@JeffRReid) says:

    If you liked the GHOST WORLD film, you should check out the comic. They’re very similar in tone. However, the Steve Buscemi character doesn’t appear in the comic.

    Thanks for talking about this, Ron. I’m looking forward to reading it. The art makes it sound very interesting.

  8. Any comic that kicks the Dark Knight in the pants is OK by me!

  9. Too damn big to fit on my shelves.

  10. sounds too close to home . . . 

     

    shhhhh 

  11. Great review Ron.  I’m glad that Clowes is finding the spotlight on the book of the month.  I’m currently re-reading Ice Haven, and I too have been a long time fan of Clowes.  He can’t make enough comic books for me, so I’ve definitely got this on my to-buy list.  Funny, you mentioned the six panel page thing, but on the examples you provided there are seven.  Boy, I wonder at times what happened to a lot of those alternative (I don’t exactly like that word to describe these sorts of books, but can’t thing of anything better at the moment) creators, and if they’ll ever come back to comics.  Missing in action: Charles Burns, Bob Burden, Chester Brown, Joe Matt, art spiegelman, Mark Schultz, Paul Chadwick, and a few others.

  12. Just read the two example pages above and it already seems film-worthy.  I could see the Coens, Jim Jarmusch, or someone along those lines doing this pretty easy.

  13. Question:

    Is the InStockTrades discount still going on for BoTM? Is it going to be active for this one? When does it go active? With the podcast? Just curious, because I want to get it in my next IST order if possible.

  14. word!

  15. Excellent review!

  16. I just finished the copy I picked up from the library.  It was really interesting.  Definitely a solid read with some laugh out loud comedy.  Wilson is so unlikable that he’s likable.  It’s a strange thing.  I really enjoyed the structure and art in the book.  The last page is really awesome!

  17. enjoyed it. very thoughtful.  if you want more on it, this is an interview with daniel clowes on the sound of young america.  good piece if you want to know more about the book.  http://maximumfun.org/sound-young-america/dan-clowes-comic-artist-wilson-interview-sound-young-america