Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Unlikable, flawed character emerges as sympathetic

  • Print

Wilson

By Daniel Clowes

Drawn and Quarterly, 80 pages, $24

It's a recurring rebuke levelled at writers, playwrights and filmmakers that their characters are just so unlikable that it's impossible to care what happens to them.

The title figure of Daniel Clowes' first all-new graphic novel seems the kind of character such critics are thinking of. Indeed, for the seminal American "alternative" comics artist, whose Ghost World and Eightball also challenge the reader with off-putting protagonists, the misanthropic Wilson may represent a pinnacle.

"I love people! I'm a people person!" Wilson says on Page 1, Panel 1. By the final frame of the full-page sequence, he's asking a fellow dog-walker, "For the love of Christ, don't you ever shut up?"

Wilson's shtick is to disdain just about anybody and everybody, whether on account of their jobs, vehicular preferences, or admiration of the Dark Knight. Little wonder that, even at middle age, his only companion is his dog Pepper.

The advantage (and, one could say, great value) of fiction, however, is that it provides a means to endure abrasive personalities -- and develop empathy for the flawed human beings that generate them.

Wilson isn't likable. God no. But he nonetheless emerges as sympathetic because, God help us all, he's just like the rest of us in the really important ways.

When he sits down, uninvited, with total strangers in coffee shops, or collapses on a childhood baseball diamond whimpering "Oh Daddy Daddy Daddy" -- well, he's merely looking for love, acceptance and some form of human connection.

He's a tragic figure. Deep inside, he's got some inkling of who and what he is. Yet he's so self-focused, he'll never achieve any meaningful communion with others.

How Wilson manages to live comfortably with no visible means of support Clowes never clarifies; he suggests Wilson's father, a tenured professor, provides a subsidy.

When the old man is struck by cancer, Wilson is spurred to reconnect first with him, then his ex-wife, who reveals a long-held secret: Wilson is a father.

This is a man singularly unfit for parenthood. One of the book's biggest laughs inspires a simultaneous cringe, when Wilson informs a successful professional "some of us have to act like grown-ups occasionally."

While Clowes has constructed a clear overall narrative, he structures Wilson like a series of one-page gag strips, with each page-long panel sequence ending in a punchline of sorts. Simultaneously, however, the structure enables the greater continuity, with each final panel compelling the reader to turn the page.

No, characters don't really have to be likable. You don't even have to completely understand them; we're never given any explanation, after all, as to why Wilson is who he is.

All characters really have to be is human. Look at Wilson, and one can see a prize jerk, loser and anti-social misfit. But if you can't also see something of you and yours there, you're not looking hard enough -- or you're denying what you see.

Winnipegger Kenton Smith is a freelance arts and culture critic and comics enthusiast. He reviews movies for Uptown magazine.

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 29, 2010 H9

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

OT Glenn January and RB Nic Grigsby disappointed in loss to Riders

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A baby Red Panda in her area at the Zoo. International Red Panda Day is Saturday September 15th and the Assiniboine Park Zoo will be celebrating in a big way! The Zoo is home to three red pandas - Rufus, Rouge and their cub who was born on June 30 of this year. The female cub has yet to be named and the Assiniboine Park Zoo is asking the community to help. September 14, 2012  BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
  • Geese fight as a male defends his nesting site at the duck pond at St Vital Park Thursday morning- See Bryksa’s Goose a Day Photo- Day 08- May 10, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Do you agree with the mandatory helmet law for cyclists under 18?

View Results

Ads by Google