I guess my introduction to Daniel Clowes was the movie Ghost World – and then much later I read the collected strips of it when published as a single-volume graphic. There was probably the movie Art School Confidential in there too before I ever got to the comics. But in the last few years I’ve worked through quite a few of the best-known of his strips (David Boring and Like A Velvet Glove Cast In Iron, Caricature, Eightball and Ice Haven). But the one I have loved the most and the one that really spun my head was Wilson.
I’ve yet to watch the film but I think I’ll dive in and see it. One day. Maybe soon. Why not?
The book though – what a story. And what a brilliant way of telling it.
Wilson – the character – is a grump. He’s worse than that – he’s a misanthrope. He’s a character that Clowes dreamed up, placing him somewhere between his own father and the portrait of Charles Schulz he got from reading a big Schulz biography.
I saw my dad in Wilson somewhat. (And myself). And I think that reading Wilson directly impacted on me in terms of the poems I started to write that had my father as a character – or a voice.
Wilson’s plot eventually arrives – and the reader fills in the blanks. It’s a brilliant device. Basically the book (and it was designed as a book, unlike much of Clowes’ other work this wasn’t published in anthologies or comic publications ahead of being made into a book in and of itself) is a series of single page stories. A frame. A few frames. There’s passage of time between each page. But how much? That’s up to you really. Wilson is drawn differently – the figures are messy and loose in some pages, tight and detailed in others; it’s a clever way of getting into the setting and mentality of the characters and the world that the artist is creating.
I loved the brutal misanthropy – this is no lovable grump. This is a guy that lives deep inside his own resentments and he’s annoying to spend time around, comically so. Flawed characters are the best. Unlikeable characters are often wonderful. Wilson is hilarious. He’s awful, insensitive, a jerk – but he can be funny. And finding the funny in this is a dark, beautiful joy.
Also as you turn the pages the narrative starts to form, a momentum builds – suddenly those standalone frames don’t seem so standalone after all. Making the curation of this, the planning, the detailing, utterly meticulous.
I read this book through twice, cover to cover without swapping in any other books in between. Turned to the end page and then just re-opened the front cover and started again. That’s never happened before. Or since.
Books That Blew My Mind is an occasional series here at Off The Tracks – thinking back on great books that I loved (and still love); books that found me at just the right time.