Book Review: Mister Wonderful by Daniel Clowes

Title: Mister Wonderful
Author: Daniel Clowes
Publisher: Pantheon
Genre: Graphic Novel, Comic
ISBN: 978-0307378132
PP: 80 pages
Price: $19.95
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

Once again, Clowes has demonstrated his mastery of cartooning in “Mister Wonderful”, a book previously published in installments in The New York Times magazine. In this story, we follow Marshall (the story’s protagonist) on an eventful blind date that includes a late start, a purse-snatching, a trip to the hospital, a posh party and several punches being thrown. Through it all, Marshall might actually find a happy ending after such a peril-fraught evening.

The book moves along at a good clip, neither breezing through personal details nor miring in what might be called Marshall’s maudlin life. His preoccupation with making a good impression on Natalie (his blind date) is both scathing and sad… we are often privy to Marshall’s thoughts at the expense of Natalie’s dialogue. Yet this works beautifully, as Marshall’s observations and eccentricities are often hilarious. Although Marshall might be considered a “typical Clowes character”, he usually has an air of guarded optimism and hopefulness, which differentiates him from previous Clowes creations such as Wilson.

Although not as stylistically inventive as Clowes’ previous book “Wilson”, “Mister Wonderful” shows he is still in top form, letting the narrative do the talking, so to speak. Gone is the busy cross-hatching of early “Eightball” issues, in favor of a more simplistic, pared-down style that is in service to the story at hand. This is how a true cartoonist thinks, letting words and pictures work together to tell the story instead of one overpowering the other. This is one of those books that repeated reading rewards the reader, as subtle pieces of the story become clearer after revisiting.

The surprise for some will be the optimistic ending of “Mister Wonderful”… at least, optimistic for a Clowes story. Several reviewers/critics have often complained of Clowes’ stories being nihilistic or pessimistic. Although this might be somewhat true, isn’t this how life truly is? Rarely is the pot of gold waiting at the end of the rainbow. I think Clowes is fearless in depicting this in his stories. Even “Mister Wonderful” doesn’t give us a flowery, false-ringing happy ending we get so often from Hollywood or more mainstream comics. Clowes’ stories ring truer than 99% of the media out there, something most reviewers/critics easily forget.

The only complaint I might have is the size of the book… it’s a bit uncomfortable as it’s wider than it is tall. A very poor fit on the bookshelf. Yet this is a minor complaint. Ultimately, content is more important than packaging, and this book is a home run in that department. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

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