The much admired Mr. Daniel Clowes (if you visit his website, it is important to view this hilarious curmudgeonly little strip) recently released his newest beautiful book, Mister Wonderful. Josiah sweetly ordered a copy for me as a surprise, and I couldn't resist reading it the night it arrived.
The story originally ran in the New York Times Magazine (where I completely failed to keep up with it) but has been expanded into this lovely hardback volume. One of the nicest things about reading a Dan Clowes book is that every detail of the object is so considered -- everything from the shape/size to the lettering to the color-scheme to the Author bio/'photo" (an endearing drawing in his case) is thoughtful and clever.
This story is really humble and...well, wonderful -- very simple in scope (spanning less than 24 hours of a couple's initial meeting) but at the same time, beautifully expansive. Mister Wonderful weaves one man (Marshall) and one lady's (Natalie) sweetly-imperfect blind date into a story that elegantly and subtly reaches into their personal pasts, presents and the futures. Over the course of the story, it feels less like a date, and feels more like these two fighting their way through a dense thicket of their respective histories, worries, neurosis and hopes.
One technique Mr. Clowes uses to this end is to overlap Marshall's thought-bubbles with the dialogue bubbles. This (very brilliantly) shows Marshall's internal dialogue - which consists of pretty normal date neurosis, like fretting over if he's saying the right thing, worrying about how he's appearing/sounding, daydreaming, The thoughts cloud the dialogue, so you only get bits & pieces of the actual conversation. It's next level, sophisticated bubble-use, and I was quite dazzled!
I also think it's important to mention what a contrast this book is to Mr. Clowes' last book, Wilson, which also concerns a middle-aged fellow and his particular plight and worries. While I loved Wilson, and found it hilarious, the protagonist (Wilson) is wildly self-righteous, acidic, angry, misanthropic. Marshall/Mister Wonderful is quite a different creature: nervous, kind, inward, much more mildly misanthropic.
I read this excellent Comics Journal interview in which Mr. Clowes juxtaposed the two in this way: "Wilson is the pure id creature, and Marshall in Mister Wonderful is all superego, all repression...I made him a character that was constricted, and was self-censoring to the nth degree, to where he’s actually obliterating what’s going on around him and living entirely in his own head".
When I was thinking about the difference between the two characters/books, I kept imagining each guy's laugh. I imagine Wilson's to be a loud, harsh (probably disdainful) GUFFAW!, while I imagine Mr. Wonderful's to be a nervous, quiet, stammering sort of laugh.
I could never say I prefer one to the other, because it takes both laughs to fully explain why I love Dan Clowes so much.