The 90s was a pretty exciting time for popular culture in a lot of respects, with the possible exception of comic books. Mainstream comics were mostly crap, some of the worst ideas in comics merchandising and marketing were initiated then and the market was pretty dismal. Not so for indie comics, however, and one of the best, most varied and distinctive was Dan Clowes’ Eightball. I loved the idea of a book written and drawn by a single creator that had the look and feel of an anthology. Plus Clowes dealt with themes that were interesting to me and his drawing style was (and still is) awesome.
Clowes is finally back, after about five years, with Wilson, an episodic “graphic novel” (I don’t care for the term), narrated in one-page, strip-style vignettes. It tells the story of a cranky, annoying, self-centred middle-aged man who, when his father dies, decides to go looking for his ex-wife, who left him 16 years ago. It’s a deeply human story, punctuated with Clowes’ darkly comic punchlines.
Clowes is a great storyteller and every single scene in Wilson has been impressively observed and rendered. As a portait of a cynical, disconnected and yet movingly sensitive middle-aged man, it is incredibly effective. It has always been Clowes’ gift to make his oddball characters feel recognizable and familiar in all their cynical, often charmless, otherworldliness.
His drawing style changes from page to page, ranging from really cartoony to Tomine-style clear lines, much like it did on Eightball. It is direct and effective, effortlessly expressing the nuances of Clowes’ storytelling. As much as I appreciate the formal experimentation of someone like Chris Ware, I am a sucker for the subtle craftmanship that goes into the creation of a seemingly simpler story like Wilson. Loved every lovingly drawn page of it.