By Chris Wilson
Few stories resonate with me more than when idiosyncratic characters –– weirdos, if you will –– find their place in the great wide world as loveable and typical people. Such is the story of midlife divorcee Marshall and Natalie his blind date.
When we were dating, my wife and I invariably got the table in the corner of the restaurant and stood at the intersection of walls at college parties and get-togethers. We are weirdos, Kathy and I. We are outsiders who always seem to live on the outskirts of the mainstream. In our younger days that was a source of frustration and sadness. Not so in college. Somewhere along the way we learned to embrace our eccentricities and kooky ways –– something safe and secure when freaks find geeks.
Marshall is much more comfortable with himself and his hysterical inner monologue than with other people, any people, all people really. With Natalie he feels oddly comfortable and in his own neurotic way becomes her Mister Wonderful almost overnight. When freaks meet geeks. It’s adorable watching these two midlife losers find sanctuary in one another’s insecurity and peculiarity, being there to understand one another’s deep sorrow and scars.
Marshall and Natalie would most likely be ignored or misunderstood by most people in real life, left to their own devices wearing loneliness like chainmail. Daniel Clowes creates such a powerful narrative that the reader cannot help but relate to the rather quirky couple. That’s what I love. Two people who go mostly ignored in life are celebrated and understood in MISTER WONDERFUL. That is true beauty in literature in my mind.
Clowes begins his narrative with an uncommon, nonconformist book size (6 x 11 inches) that sets the tone for the entire theme of the book. His art is colorful, cartoonish art with simple lines and moderate details. His use of dialogue and internal monologue is layered –– literally layered –– on top of one another, creating interplay between character conversation and Marshall’s neurotic and self-deprecating thoughts.
|Notice the layering of dialogue (internal and external) permeating the page.|
It makes for an interesting and authentic read and allows the reader to make inferences.
Clowes even uses Super Deformed, a technique common in manga whereby the characters are drawn as chubby children displaying very strong emotions. As is the case in MISTER WONDERFUL, the SD technique is often used humorously.
|Example of the Super Deformed technique in MISTER WONDERFUL.|
It works. All of it: the book size, the coloring, the panel layout, the SD. Everything works together to project throw-away characters (in the real world anyway) to the stage and make them loveable and compelling and not so throw-away after all.
MISTER WONDERFUL is my kind of love story. It’s as quirky and unique as my wife and I. For that I am most happy.
|It's a special kind of love when freaks find geeks. One I can personally relate to.|
Chris’ Rating: High school
There’s nothing inappropriate in the book, but the protagonists’ plight is such that it might be uninteresting to more immature readers. High school seems the best starting place to me.
There is a significant amount of profanity, however it is always displayed as symbols (@#&%). There is a fight scene, but it is represented mostly outside the panels and inside the reader’s mind.
IN THE CLASSROOM
MISTER WONDERFUL can do for students what it did for me: bring forth the freak pride and help build an understanding of those who live on the outside of the world. It would also make a fantastic character study where students could extrapolate from the comic and infer about the lives of Marshall and Natalie as children, teens and young adults. This could then morph into a writing assignment where students must create a weirdo (if you excuse my use) character, write about their lives and make them likable in the end. I could even see such an assignment used as part of an anti-bullying lesson, although the students would not need to know that ahead of time. They should come to that conclusion on their own as the lesson progresses.
Author & Illustrator: Daniel Clowes
Genre: Realistic fiction
Color: Full color