The Atlantic

Daniel Clowes on Creating Wilson and Translating Him to Screen

The legendary cartoonist talks about turning one of his most irascible protagonists into someone who could be the hero of his own film.
Source: Fox Searchlight

Daniel Clowes’s 2010 graphic novel Wilson was a masterful joining of two of its creator’s greatest talents—his blunt, savagely funny humor and his ability to elicit sympathy for the most outwardly miserable characters. Wilson is told in single-page vignettes, following its protagonist through his seemingly dead-end life as he strikes up irritating conversations with strangers, struggles to connect with various estranged family members (including a father, wife, and daughter), and dotes on his dog, the only creature on Earth he doesn’t have an embittered rant readied for.

Wilson might seem like an odd choice for a film adaptation because of its punchline-heavy narrative and intentionally choppy approach to storytelling (huge chunks of time often pass in between each page). But Clowes, who hasn’t written a film since 2006’s Art School Confidential (which was directed by Terry Zwigoff, who also made Ghost World in 2001 with Clowes), has returned to Hollywood with his irascible anti-hero, this time collaborating with the director Craig Johnson (The Skeleton Twins). As played by Woody Harrelson, the on-screen Wilson is a little more playful and charismatic than the character might seem on the page. But Wilson, which opens in theaters Friday, is still a singularly acidic work that tries to capture the dark humor, the misdirected passions, and the deep frustrations of Clowes’s character.

I spoke with Clowes about how he first created Wilson, then translated him to the screen, all while trying to steer clear of the actual filmmaking process itself. Our conversation has been edited for clarity and length.


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