Wilson by Daniel Clowes

Wilson
by Daniel Clowes
Drawn & Quarterly, 2010

It’s been twelve years since Daniel Clowes published the first collected edition of Ghost World, 80 pages of perfect character observation. Since then I’ve found his work a lot harder to like – David Boring is nearly as surreal as Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron but basically not as good, Ice Haven is stylistically very clever but hard to like, and the short stories of Caricature are good, but… it’s not really fair to compare people to their early work, is it? Sometimes stylistic sophistication and experience can’t match up to actual content, however raw.

Anyway! Clowes is still basically brilliant and a lot better than his imitators, and any time he publishes something new it’s an event, and worth studying. He never does the same thing twice and is still willing to experiment – although successful, he presumably still answers only to himself and has complete creative freedom, unlike (for example) the director of a big-budget film.

So, with this freedom, why create someone as unpleasant as the title character of Wilson? Flawed characters are usually interesting, but as I discovered three years ago, it’s unpleasant to spend an extended period of time in the company of a total jerk. Structurally the book is great – seventy single-page cartoons drawn in several different styles (hobbling the pace a bit by their insistence on punchlines) which build up an unappealing portrait of the protagonist over the years.

Many reviews of this book have attempted to seriously analyse the meaning of this format. Like many Clowes heroes, I have the intellectual tools to investigate its hidden depths, but not the inclination. It would require reading the book again. My instinct is that he just does it for the hell of it.

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