by Daniel Clowes
I've been a bit slow to read and review this one, especially as it's only about 70 pages and takes around only an hour to read from cover to cover. That cover to cover thing is worth noting as this is Clowes' first 'original graphic novel', by which is meant the first that hasn't been serialised previously, the first designed to be read from cover to cover. And yet it appears like a serial, each page a stand alone-sketch or vignette, which together provide snapshots of the middle-age of its sociopathic protagonist. According to the back of the book Wilson is 'a big-hearted slob, a lonesome bachelor, a devoted father and husband, an idiot, a sociopath, a delusional blowhard, a delicate flower. 100% Wilsonesque.' What is Wilsonesque? Well the first page should give you the idea.
From one page to the next Wilson attempts to connect with his fellow man (or woman) only for it all to crumble in the final panel. This structure had the effect in the early pages of making me laugh out loud at the end of each scene, but it's the kind of laugh that comes from the same comic stable as The Office, a laugh accompanied by a wince. As John Self said in his own review it's 'funny mainly because it’s not funny', and each punchline usually cuts right to the heart not only of the matter but the man. There is no social interaction too small for Wilson to turn into a confrontation, whether that be a casual conversation in a diner or passing a stranger in the street whilst walking his dog, Pepper.
Despite his claim to the contrary Wilson is far from being a people person and as the pages progress we realise that these random interactions with strangers really are the only human contact Wilson has, the rest of his time devoted to Pepper for whom he has developed a creepy falsetto voice ('People get really creeped out when you talk in the fake dog voice'). This wasn't always the case. In a classic page we discover something important about Wilson's past.
When he is forced into a last attempt to communicate with his father he begins a journey in which he attempts to find his ex-wife and confront a past filled with more than he ever knew. I won't say any more so as to avoid the surprises along the way, and some really are surprising, the book taking an almost surreal turn in the final third. You'll notice from the three pages above that Clowes employs various styles throughout, creating an effect (to borrow an observation from the person who leant me their copy) not dissimilar to one of those films that has multiple directors. Quite often the style will suit the sketch: a priapic nose as Wilson rhapsodises about fat girls (only for the comic pause panel to be followed by 'Of course, some of them really are disgusting'), a single colour to mark the simplicity of Wilson's staring at melting icicles, awaiting a moment of revelation. For that reason, and the huge weight of what we sense lies in between each page (and even sometimes between panels) this is a book that can be read carefully, slowly and repeatedly.