Sunday, January 22, 2012


Graphic novels, comic books, whatever you want to call them, have never really been my thing. I've always been open to them in theory, but was never particularly drawn to them as a genre.

I use the word "genre" deliberately because it highlights a major misconception about what comic books are, one I was guilty of in the past, and one that is slowly being overcome in the literary establishment. Graphic novels are not a genre unto themselves; the term describes a format, like book, movie, painting, article, that delivers some kind of narrative (hence the "novel" part). I have over the years read in the form of graphic novels: adventure stories, fantasies, journalistic reportage, science fiction, historical memoirs, love stories.

My other half has always been a big fan of Daniel Clowes. This Christmas I gave him a handful of Clowes's latest, and since nobody gave me any books for Christmas this year (what the fuck?!), I've taken to reading over his shoulder.

Saturday morning I managed to squirrel away on my own with Mister Wonderful. Dark comedy romance? It's an evening in the life of a divorced middle-aged man out on a blind date. It's funny, perceptive, sweet. The night's events are visually depicted, but the meat of the story is Marshall's internal running commentary. In this way we also get glimpses into his past, learning how he came to be the man he is today.

But one night about three months ago, I was "befriended" by a strange woman. We wound up spending a crazy, sleepless weekend together. It was sort of like "Breakfast at Tiffany's," except in this version, Holly Golightly is an unstable, crank-snorting sociopath. It wound up costing me $800, my grandmother's earrings and a laptop, but such is the price of transformative human events, I suppose.

Clowes is a keen observer of behaviour. We miss a lot of Natalie's chitchat because Mister Wonderful is too busy thinking about having to pee but this not being a good time to go pee. Her emotional confessions are interrupted by the waitress. He grumbles about the rich party-goers and insults them in his head. It's all very human.

I'm learning that reading graphic novels requires a certain kind of literacy; one review notes some of the artist's techniques:

He makes judicious and creative use of comic book devices: three dimensional words to symbolize emotional distress; a little floating man to represent Marshall's superego; text in word balloons running off the side of a panel or obscured by inner-thought boxes; vignettes drawn in cartoony style to depict imagined consequences; flashbacks tinted a rusty orange.

Mister Wonderful originally ran in the New York Times Funny Pages.


Nymeth said...

I really enjoyed Ghost World when I read it many years ago, but that's the only Clowes I've read to date. I should pick up some more of his stuff.

Also, I completely agree about comics requiring a specific kind of literacy. Scott McCloud talks a bit about that in Understanding Comics (which I highly recommend).

Isabella said...

I loved Ghost World and Art School Confidential as movies, but I have yet to check out their source material. I'm definitely inspired to after reading Mr Wonderful. I highly recommend it -- this is a tight little story, near perfect.