By Dan Clowes
There was an oddly muted reaction to the latest book from Dan Clowes. While there were loads of decently dull reviews in semi-alternative magazines and websites when it was released, it felt like it barely made a dent in the overall comic culture.
Which is a bit bizarre, not only because it’s a new book by one of the most perplexing, frustrating and wonderful creators out there, but because it’s also a lovely book with a couple of classic Clowes touches – both slightly charming and slightly off-putting.
There was a terrific attempt by the Savage Critics crew to nail down a bit of critical analysis. While that sometimes got horribly sidetracked by odd tangents – something about the idea that Clowes couldn’t make fun of the Dark Knight because he wrote Art School Confidential – it is well worth a read, because smart people talking about smart comics is always worth a look.
And, make no mistake, Wilson is Smart Comics, with all the capitalization that deserves. Sometimes it’s intentionally smug to a ridiculous degree, the oh-so-clever way the story meanders around big life-changing events as if they were nothing is oh-so-clever that it feels like I’m chewing down on tin-foil, and the juxtaposition between the shifting cartooning styles and Wilson’s tragic little life are about as arch as arch gets.
But it’s still a Dan Clowes comic, so the story itself is also constantly making fun of its own smugness. It often wanders off in unexpected directions and that art juxtaposition might be painfully obvious, but it often works incredibly well.
It’s also genuinely funny. The slow realization of what Wilson is actually doing on that road trip is slightly disturbing, but it’s also beautifully absurd. Wilson’s whole life – and his blind reaction to it all – is so sad it’s funny, and there are some terrific one-liners in the brief vignettes.
It’s entirely possible that it’s all just a bit too accurate, which might explain some of the lukewarm reaction. While Ghost World found a strong audience with the kind of spunky and ambitious teenage girls it depicted, older men with beards, nice slacks and a crushing sense of disappointment with the world are unlikely to get too excited about comics featuring older men with beards, nice slacks and a crushing sense of disappointment with the world.
Who can blame them? Mirrors are bastards – they don’t care how you feel, or how old you are. They just give you the cold, hard reality. Some of the things Wilson says to the random people in his life are disturbingly familiar, and that makes me a bit uncomfortable.
But hell, at least it’s getting some kind of reaction, and that kind of discomfort can be ultimately beneficial. That’s why Wilson is my tenth favourite comic of 2010. It’s funny, is beautifully designed and holds up a mirror to my world that I can’t help recognizing, giving me the opportunity to do something about it before I start kidnapping my lost daughter.
It’s a great comic book.
But it’s not as good as Kick-Ass 2.
Tomorrow: #9 - Kick-Ass 2