Wilson is a new graphic novel by Daniel Clowes, the author of Ghost World. Clowes is one of the great fiction artists of our time, and Wilson is his darkest work to date.
It's a sort of existentially bleak version of Winsor McCay's Little Sammy Sneeze, a strip McCay drew in the years before he created the legendary Little Nemo.
In McCay's strip, Sammy finds himself in a new place and situation every week, and as events unfold around him he starts a build-up to a sneeze, which explodes eventually with awesome power, severely disrupting or destroying everything around him. It's a strange idea for a strip, not really funny but oddly satisfying, in an anarchic way.
Wilson consists of self-contained one-page episodes all featuring a single protagonist, Wilson, a lost soul. Wilson has insights into life or hopeful encounters with other people all of which explode by the end of the page in an outburst of self-deception or cruel narcissism. As these emotional dead ends accumulate, Clowes constructs a portrait of genuine and utterly hopeless despair. Kierkegaard said that “the precise quality of despair is that it is unaware of itself”, and such is Wilson's.
It's not satisfying on any level, but rather heartbreaking, infuriating, sickening. It sucks us into the black hole of Wilson's psyche and makes us feel that there's no way out of it. It's slightly terrifying.
A life's narrative emerges from the self-contained episodes, a story of sorts, and they are varied by being done in contrasting styles, usually in Clowes's familiar naturalistic mode, using color panels, but sometimes in black-and-white pages and sometimes in crude comic-book caricature style. The variations only serve to emphasize the relentless coherence of Wilson's spiritual pathology.
It's a profound meditation on contemporary angst and one of the finest of all graphic novels.