Sunday, 10 April 2016
Wilson by Daniel Clowes Review
Bill Bryson-lookalike Wilson lives alone with his puppy, narrating his life to no-one. When his father dies he decides to look for his ex-wife, in the process discovering that he has a teenage daughter he’s never met. Together they strike up a flawed plan to (illegally) reunite their family.
Dan Clowes is best known for his oddball characters from Dan Pussey to Enid from Ghost World, Marshall from Mister Wonderful and David Boring. Wilson is my favourite of Clowes’ creations because he’s batshit insane. He’s a complete lunatic who likes to believe he’s a people person but when he strikes up random conversations with strangers, ends up insulting them. He’s a self-centred, rude, abrasive asshat whose behaviour borders on the sociopathic - but he’s so damn funny!
His conversations with strangers are hilarious, berating a woman he started talking to with “For the love of Christ, don’t you ever shut up?”, mocking a man for saying he’s in IT by saying random groupings of letters, even at one point mailing a box of shit to his former sister-in-law! I was laughing out loud so many times reading this.
Clowes structures the book so that each page is like a self-contained story but they add up to a coherent, cleverly put-together narrative. You can’t stop reading once you start, Wilson’s life is such a train-wreck in slow-motion, you can’t look away! But even though each page often ends with a punchline there’s a lot of pathos, tragedy, and drama within the story.
Through his random interactions we slowly see Wilson’s life come into focus: the failed marriage, the distant relationship with his father, how isolated he is without family, friends or a job, how adrift he is within the modern world. Clowes reflects the many sides to Wilson by varying the art style constantly throughout. It’s an inspired psychological portrait of a complex, probably crazy, person and how they view their world.
As funny as Wilson is, it wouldn’t have been as good if it had just been a barrage of jokes, one after the other, so I’m glad Clowes mixed in the other elements to give the comedy more depth and nuance.
Wilson is one of Dan Clowes’ best books that definitely holds up on re-reading. It’s a smart comic but a really fun one too that all indie comics fans will enjoy.