Everyone’s had a first date that didn’t go according to plan; those stories are a dime a dozen. So we take train-wreck enjoyment in the less common tale of the bad blind date. In his uncomfortably amusing graphic novel, Clowes mines that exact territory – and thankfully returns with a refreshingly unexpected payoff.
A Chicago native, Clowes became a darling of the literary comics scene in the ’80s, when underground ‘comix’ began the transition into ‘graphic novels’. The slim Mister Wonderful will already be familiar to readers of The New York Times Magazine, where it was serialised a few years ago. Now slightly expanded, it stays within the same constraints: all its events transpire in less than 24 hours (with a few flashbacks tossed in) as a pair of awkward adults meet for the first time.
Marshall, the protagonist, is his own worst enemy. He’s suffused with such low self-esteem, we cringe every time he overcomes his own thoughts of doom because he leaps straight into fantasies of a perfect future. The ironic tone also pokes fun at Marshall’s seemingly inevitable heartbreak, so there’s room for laughter, too. Clowes’s linework breezily conveys these playful visions, and he uses overlapping lettering to depict how Marshall’s inner monologue crowds out the present.
The story defies easy labels. Is it a comedy? A drama? We could call it a romance (the subtitle is, after all, ‘A Love Story’), but add an asterisk: it’s a typically Clowesian one, filled with misfits and misanthropes. Yet that just makes the ending all the sweeter.