Interview: Daniel Clowes on the Evolution of Wilson
Wilson, the title character of Daniel Clowes' latest book, is smart and incredibly funny, but he's largely alone and filled with a sense of regret that prompts a very strange chain of events. He's flawed, just as you might expect for a character coming from the mind of the famed cartoonist, and coming to terms with the quick passage of time. Friday night, Clowes will stop by Skylight Books to discuss Wilson.
We spoke with Clowes by phone to get the lowdown on the evolution of the character and the book.
What was the evolution of Wilson?
The genesis of it was, well, my dad was in the hospital very much like Wilson's dad was in the hospital in the story. To keep from going crazy in there, I thought, I'm going to draw some little funny comics to amuse myself, to take my mind off this. I didn't think about it for two seconds, I just started drawing little joke comics with this guy that just emerged right out of my head immediately, without any censorship or forethought or any of that. The next thing I knew, I had drawn hundreds of little comics with this guy. His personality was intact from minute one, but I did note that there was no real story to it. I just had him reacting to all kinds of things that I was thinking of and, the more I got to kind of know the guy, the more the story suggested itself. This guy is completely alone, absolutely unconnected to anyone in the world and it's just now hitting him that this is his condition and he's trying to do something to create a family kind of after the fact, long after he should have had that figured out. That's what suggested the whole story. Once I started writing the book, I had a pretty clear narrative thread in mind.
Were there things that you started to change after you began writing the book?
Yeah, it was very loose. I had a very loose structure. I actually had a lot more to the story. It was much more filled in. I got more and more interested in tearing it down to the absolute minimum, anything that didn't need to be shown, I tried not to show. I wanted there to be a lot more suggestion and a blank space in between the pages. Some of the strips, there are years in between one strip and the next. Other strips, there are just a few minutes in between. I wanted the reader to kind of participate more than you normally do in comics. I wanted people to be able to fill in their scenarios in between the events and make it their own story in a way that you don't normally do in comics.
Had the idea of reader participation been a part of your work before?
I think early in my career, I was very interested in being this sort of godlike dictator on the comics page and really controlling the reader and kind of forcing people into my own mindscape and taking absolute control as much as you can in comics. With this one, I was more interested in making it a little more collaborative, having spaces where the reader can kind of personalize the story in his own way.