"But there is that thing with those guys. I was at Angoulême, and Adrian Tomine, Chris Ware, Dan Clowes were all lined up, signing books, and I would sometimes see what they drew, and it would always be a two-inch-tall face of one of their characters, looking sad. And Chris Ware had one that was him at the drawing board, crying. Someone showed that to me, and I thought, 'Why are you doing this?' [Laughter] That just killed me! Because you know he's not like that."
—Dash Shaw, in conversation with David Mazzucchelli in the 300th issue of the Comics Journal

You can't seriously call a Daniel Clowes comic a bad comic. His newest book, Wilson, is as brilliant a work of cartooning as he has ever produced. Clowes tells the life story of a misanthrope in a series of one-page short strips that hum with the clockwork pacing and economy of a Charles Schulz comic, and though each story is told in a slightly different cartooning style, the narrative feels cohesive.

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But there's a glaring problem: The tone of Wilson is the exact same tone as the rest of Clowes's work. Almost all of the strips have the same pattern: Wilson will wax philosophic about something—usually the alienation he feels in the modern world—and then he says something flip and nasty as a "punch line." (Examples of punch lines: "Fuck it, this is a snooze-fest," "Hey! Can you get that brat to shut up for two fucking seconds!?" and "Jesus Christ, has it really been 16 years since she left?") Clowes's problem is emblematic of his generation of cartooning geniuses, like Chris Ware or Adrian Tomine: His work is always relentlessly cynical, and it offers a thimbleful of hope at the end, only to snatch it away at the very last second. It's as though the world's greatest painter decided to use only one shade of turquoise, or if Nabokov chose to write only dark novels about pedophiles.

Instead of supporting Clowes's tiresome self-loathing, those looking for a new comic should consider young cartoonist Dash Shaw's BodyWorld, a science-­fiction story about a bitter botany professor who discovers a plant that produces telepathy in anyone who ingests it. BodyWorld isn't as successful as Shaw's earlier novel, Bottomless Belly Button, but it's at least a risk, a 180-degree retreat from the terrain he mastered with his previous work. Every page features some new exploration of the art of comics—the book features a foldout gridded map, and Shaw continually updates the readers on the exact whereabouts of his characters, in a clever take on our obsession with GPS—and the enthusiasm is infectious. In defiance of Clowes's depressing gray world, Shaw shows us colors we've never seen before. recommended