I Was a Tomboy Too Long. Whisper My Name. Goodbye, Lover. Happy Ending. My Shameful Past. Trapped by Love. Temptations of a Car Hop. Mister Wonderful.
Seven of these are real titles of classic “romance comics,” published by DC in the Sixties and Seventies. The other one is by Daniel Clowes.
With Mister Wonderful, the Oakland-based creator of such modern underground comic classics as Ghost World, “began with the idea of doing a romance comic — the simplistic and formulaic stories of interchangeable young heroines who must overcome obstacles to find true love, the kind of thing that has since migrated to Ashton Kutcher movies.” It’s a sort of reversal of Clowes’ traditional storytelling timbre: Though his stuff has always been dark, there’s often an insistent romantic longing. In his very early series “Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron,” the protagonist is on the hunt for his long-lost girl, and persists in his search despite the most nauseating and/or pornographic setbacks. Mister Wonderful brings the romance to the forefront without losing any of Clowes’ deliciously acid gloom. “I thought it would be interesting to try to tell one of these stories using believable — and even sort of hopeless and depressing — characters.” Perversely befitting a genre with a hard-on for firsts — dates, loves, and so on — Mister Wonderful depicts “a guy on his last date, his last attempt at finding a girlfriend before giving up.”
And what a date it is. Violent altercations with a bum and an ex-boyfriend, and awkward exchanges about eating disorders, failed marriages, and theoretical adopted Korean babies fill the night-into-day, all underscored by the anxious chatter and feverish hopes swirling inside the brain of our narrator and very own Mister Wonderful, Marshall.
If you’ve always dreamed of being immortalized in a graphic novel, consider taking up loitering in the 510 — or just attend Clowes’ reading on Thursday, April 21, at Diesel (5433 College Ave., Oakland). Much of Mister Wonderful’s events take place, he admits, “on a thinly disguised Piedmont Avenue, while my previous book, Wilson, was set mostly on Grand Avenue. I’m working on a screenplay for a Wilson movie that’s all Oakland, and I have an Oakland-centric career retrospective coming up in February 2012 at the Oakland Museum of California. My goal is to be included one day in a crudely painted high-school mural of Oakland artists.”
Parts of Mister Wonderful originally appeared in the New York Times Magazine. “I was contacted out of the blue by an editor at the Times,” Clowes recalled, “to do a strip for their late, unlamented Funny Pages section where, for about two years, a series of cartoonists did a weekly full-page strip of twenty episodes each. I had always wanted to try a weekly strip so I agreed. She said the section was quite unpopular and was looking for something that would attract readers and I jokingly said, ‘How about a romance comic?’ She laughed dismissively and we discussed other ideas but, by the end of the phone call, I had it all figured out. I wanted to create a main character that was my vision of the quintessential New York Times reader and put him through a night of torture on Piedmont Avenue.” 7 p.m., free. 510-653-9965 or DieselBookstore.com