'WILSON' is Daniel Clowes' first new work in almost 3 years. His output has become less frequent over time - issues of the seminal 'Eightball' were trickling out roughly 18 months apart (originally they were issued quarterly). So whilst not prolific, it is very much about quality not quantity - and he does everything (pencil, ink, layout, lettering and story). The joy with Clowes is the attention to detail and his unique view of American living. It was always worth the wait for new 'Eightball', because Clowes delivered something familiar in style, but new in approach every time.
And so it is with 'Wilson'. Having left Fantagraphics (who issued 'Lloyd Llewellyn' and 'Eightball') he has made his first fully complete graphic novel for Drawn & Quarterly, which has a simultaneous British release through Jonathon Cape.
With 'Wilson', Clowes presents a graphic novel that at first glance appears to be individual page cartoons. Each page is titled as an individual cartoon with a pay-off line in the last panel, yet also has a continuous narrative throughout. Though these last panels do provide some humour, it is often at an innocent's expense, which tends to unsettle rather than amuse, but to me that seems the intention. They highlight the titular character's lack of people skills (this is the man who says at the start 'I love people!', but his rampant misanthropy undermines this claim). At the heart of 'Wilson' lies human tragedy, much caused by him. He comes over as intrusive, insensitive and selfish. He is difficult to sympathise with, but rare glimpses of desparation to bond with estranged members of family betray a vulnerable side.
'Wilson' tackles themes of ageing, loneliness/loss, family, rejection and regret. There are no scenes of violence, sex or drugs (though all are implied). The impression of single page cartoons is enhanced by Clowes use of different drawing styles per page - a sort of 'greatest hits' of his versatility familiar to 'Eightball' readers. Fine detailed, normal proportioned figures on one page juxtaposed with simplified exaggerated 'strip cartoon' styles on others (with variations of both on other pages). Yet in every strip, Clowes skillfully portrays background (streets, shops, signs, landscape) to add depth to his characters and story (something Crumb also excelled at). The book itself is beautifully bound, and lovingly crafted and presented by Clowes.
Well worth the wait for Clowes fans, and a great introduction for new readers.