I have always been vaguely fond of Daniel Clowes' young-loser heroes and heroines, and enough a fan of his deadpan draftsmanship to pick up a new book whenever it came out. But in the end, I've always come around to thinking that he tends to pull his punches, that he always stops just short of genuine pathos. David Boring is a good example--there, Clowes seemed to be relying too heavily on his strengths, and on the prevailing tastes of his genre.
But I love this new book Wilson. A novel-in-vignettes that spans a long, sad life, it sees Clowes experimenting with narrative and visual style, and digging deeply into aspects of human character he'd previously explored only glancingly. Wilson, a single man, is pathologically unpleasant, narcissistic, and paranoid; he vaccillates wildly between knowing himself all too well and seeming not to know himself at all. He is pathetic and mean, loving and loathesome--and weirdly appealing nevertheless. Clowes renders him in a variety of comic styles, morphing him according to subject and mood; the vignettes are laid out as Sunday funnies, of a sort you'd never see in the paper, with deeply depressing punch lines in the final panel. The book is a real achievement for Clowes, and has moved me firmly into the category of dedicated fan.
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't add here to the chorus of praise for the brilliant, uncategorizable Harvey Pekar, who died this week at 70. We loved his work and will miss it.