Mister Wonderful

Daniel Clowes, Mister Wonderful
Publisher: Pantheon
2011, 77 pages, hardcover, $19

the opening set-up sounds simple enough. There is a guy, middle-aged, no longer married, and quite down on his luck, sitting in a coffee shop, waiting on a blind date who is running late. His name is Marshall. The woman he’s waiting for is named Nathalie. Will you care? Yes. You will. Through his narrative and visual artistry, Daniel Clowes, from the first page to the last page, makes the reader care, deeply.

Before Nathalie shows up, Marshall’s personality and overall ‘status’ in life is deftly established. As readers, we get to peer in on Marshall’s interior thoughts. We observe his humorous anxiety as he wonders if one woman, sitting alone, could be the woman his friends Tim and Yuki have arranged for him to meet. While considering the chance that this solitary woman is the-never-before-met Nathalie, Marshall is quick to think the following: “No, she looks far too wholesome and undamaged to have been set up with the likes of me.” Not long after the woman’s boyfriend shows up, Marshall relays some of his back-story. Here too Clowes’s sharp-edged sense of humor is on beautiful display. Following his divorce and a six-year “dry spell,” Marshall reflects on the experience of his last tryst (with “an unstable, crank-snorting sociopath”) in this way: “It wound up costing me $800, my grandmother’s earrings, and a laptop, but such is the price of transformative human events, I suppose.” The hilarity, in this case, and really throughout the voyage into Marshall’s insecure consciousness, removes any sentimentality from this graphic novel (which is subtitled as “A Love Story”). At the same time, the comedic nature of Marshall’s thoughts and moods, which swing from crushing dejection to getting-way-ahead-of-himself-elation, deepens the reader’s empathy for him. We laugh with Marshall. Or, you could say, for him, when he cannot quite laugh for himself.

Because the reader empathizes with the protagonist from the start, the story has plenty of room for other interesting elements to grow and thrive out of Marshall’s vulnerability, which, one could argue, is the story’s core emotional ground. Just as he is caught in his most despondent reverie, thinking about life passing him by, musing on the transience of time and how he is sure to perish “alone and forgotten,” Natalie arrives and, in an emotional swing, perfectly captured by a close-up (spanning two pages) of his wide open eyes and the interior thought “Oh My God!” repeated three times, Marshall falls for Nathalie instantly. As he interacts with her we get to discover another endearing character. Nathalie is kind-hearted, funny, and, in her own way, just as “damaged” as Marshall, recovering, or trying to, from the break-up of a fifteen year relationship. As they get to know each other, our sympathy quickly stretches out to include Nathalie just as thoroughly as it does Marshall. Now that Nathalie is here, we root for a happy, meaningful connection between these two battle-scarred survivors. We feel suspense, knowing how easily their bond could break, given Marshall’s unpredictable behavior, speech, and, more broadly, the inherent fragility their own separate emotional states.

Once they leave the coffee shop, the story follows Marshall and Nathalie through several very compelling twists and turns (out on the street and then at a volatile party) and ultimately ends in a scene at a park, the next morning, which is both restrained and genuinely moving—beyond words. In addition to its authentic emotional underpinnings and the instinctive ‘rightness’ of the story’s movement, Mister Wonderful succeeds so well as a work of first-rate art because it never fails to surprise, astonish, and entertain its readers along the fast-paced yet always rich and emotionally resonant journey that unfolds. Whether a cynic or romantic, one could pick up this graphic novel and simply delight in the joyful leaps Clowes makes from one line or panel to the next. Clowes’s inspired creative touches make this is a book that’s fun, impossible to forget, and well worth revisiting. Viewed as a whole, what emerges is the most beautiful kind of love story: One that points to the reality of suffering as well as the pain-alleviating wisdom of a heart that’s opened up.

—Richard Robertson


Executive Editor
Tom Grimes

Managing Editor
Jane Hawley

Co-Managing Editor
Reyes Ramirez

Poetry Editor
Jennifer Whalen

Fiction Editor
Stan Rivkin

Nonfiction Editor
Heather Lefebvre

Eric Blankenburg

Copy Editor
Sessa Kratz

Interviews Editor
Amanda Scott

Public Relations Manager
Samantha Tanner

Book Reviews Editor
Mallory Chesser

Blog Editor
Josh Lopez

Assistant Blog Editor
Alicia Salzmann

Sarah Howze
Dan Barton
Niko Kyriakou
Theresa Holden
Brandon Ricks
Casey Winters
Rachel Gray
Lawton Cook
Lauren Bull
Benjamin Seanor
James Deitz
Timothy Dailey
Maggie Ilersich
Stuart Gill
Katrina Goudey
Dorothy Lawrenson
Ram Hinojosa
Meg Griffitts
Jacob Massey
Paul Adams
Allison Myers
Phillip Mandel
John Edgar
Michaela Hansen
Shelby Newsom
Ashton Kamburoff
Graham Oliver

Faculty Advisor
Steve Wilson

Founding Editors
Michael Hart
Evelyn Lauer
Josh Magnuson
Toby Peterson
Michael Wolfe

Advisory Board
Katie Angermeier
Ben Engel
Evelyn Lauer
Herpreet Singh


logo for the CLMP

All photos were taken at the Katherine Anne Porter Literary Center, by Sameera Kapila and Herpreet Singh.

Website design by Sameera Kapila