Pat: So I just finished The Wrenchies on Friday and I’ve been trying to think about what to write here about it but here’s the thing; while Wrenchies is brilliant I’ve been thinking about it for three days and the inherent complexity of the book makes it difficult to pin point just one aspect of the comic. I mean it’s an amazing and epic story, it’s a meta commentary on superhero comics, it’s beautifully drawn, it’s wholly unique and it’s creator is one of the most exciting in modern comics. That said it’s difficult to hone in on one thing that stood out for me about it. How about we start off we a small intro, Wrenchies is an original graphic novel from cartoonist Farel Dalrymple whose done work on Image Comics Prophet, Marvel’s Omega The Unknown, DC Comings Caper, Dark Horse’s Pop Gun War and Study Groups It Will All Hurt. He’s been around for over a decade but I’ve only started becoming aware of his work from Prophet. Reed, where did you first become aware of his work and what made you want to check out Wrenchies? What stood out about it for you?
Reed: I first noticed Dalrymple’s work in Marvel’s Omega the Unknown (which was excellent, but it didn’t overly impress me at the time), but his work on Prophet is what caught my attention and made me seek out his other work. I think I found out about The Wrenchies while shopping for another Dalrymple book on Amazon; the premise of super-powered kids in an apocalyptic world intrigued me.
As you say, The Wrenchies has a lot going on, but for me the core of the book is the dichotomy between Sherwood Breadcoat, an extraordinary young boy who fears that he will grow up to be something awful (which proves correct), and Hollis, an idealistic-but-troubled boy who wants to be a superhero, and literally escapes his worldly problems in the pages of a comic book. There are other interesting characters (like Tad, for example), but Sherwood and Hollis were the core of the book, in my opinion.
The Wrenchies has a big cast – did you have a favorite character?
Pat: Cyclops kid all day. I love the way he never says anything but always kind of sits there looking surly. A lot of my favorite characters are the original Wrenchie’s from when the book starts off and they are in the apocalyptic wasteland. The beginning of that when he is building the world was probably my favorite part but at the same time what makes the comic special as a whole is the way he builds it for what’s essentially four different realities concurrently. You have Sherwood’s world, Hollis, The Wrenchies of the post apocalypse and The Wrenchies of the Sherwood’s comic book. That he manages to get all those stories working together to form a cohesive and engaging narrative is a pretty impressive feat in and of itself. You’re right about Sherwood and Hollis being the core of the story though. What I’m wondering, is the dichotomy you speak of supposed to represent the relationship between reader and creator in some way? And if so do the post apocalyptic Wrenchies represent the teenage version of those readers after they “grow out of comics”? If Sherwood is responsible for the apocalypse what does that mean?
Reed: Yeah, Tad, with Cyclop’s vizor and Wolverine’s attitude, was the quite star of the show. As a character, I think Sherwood represents that fear that all of us have when we’re younger, that we are going to grow up to be something we hate. To me, the horrible thing that Sherwood becomes is a metaphor for the dead end job, the broken marriage, the unfulfilled life of adulthood. Hollis is the kid in all of us who can still dream even though he lives in bleak surroundings. I don’t know that the dichotomy between Sherwood and Hollis is meant to represent the dichotomy between creator/reader, so much as it is the dichotomy between adulthood/childhood or corruption/innocence.
I think the differences between the adult “comic book” Wrenchies and the teen apocalypse Wrenchies also illustrate this tension.
That being said, I do think that Dalrymple makes a strong point that creativity is redemptive. To save himself from being a monster, he becomes a comic book creator. His master plan is a metaphor for how following our creative passions can redeem our soul. As human beings, we are all responsible for creating our own personal apocalypse, but we are also capable of saving ourselves through creativity.
You mentioned that the apocalyptic wasteland was your favorite part of the book – my favorite part was the interim crazy years for Sherwood, where he is having adventures in space, killing demons, and is a secret agent, taking drugs with his best friend who thinks all Sherwood’s stories are made up.
Pat: First of all Sherwood’s part was great. Secondly, the way you explain it makes a lot more sense & also makes me appreciate it more. I still think there is a meta commentary in there about comics in itself but you’ve identified the larger theme. If the Sherwood/Hollis dichotomy represents adulthood & childhood then the teenage/comic representation of The Wrenchies represents what to you? I could see the comic being an idolized version of adulthood & the actual Wrenchies being the reality. Like as a kid you read comics & think “I’m gonna be like that when I grow up” but then you hit adolescents and you just become some punk kid struggling to survive; I could also be projecting. Thoughts?
Reed: I agree completely about the comic Wrenchies being an idolized version of adulthood. The kid Wrenchies – like Hollis – live bleak lives; the former in an apocalyptic landscape, the latter in a modern – but no less depressing – world. Both The kid Wrenchies and Hollis aspire to greatness and escape their world through the characters in a comic book. Although Hollis’ escapes literally from his world, the comic provides hope and comfort to the kid Wrenchies as well.
Of course, Dalrymple allows the kids to meet their heroes from the comic, and it turns out that the kids are ultimately stronger and more important than the fictions that sustain them. So I think that is two strong messages that this graphic novel conveys: 1) We can save ourselves with creativity; and 2) We are just as strong as (and perhaps a lot cooler and stronger than) the fictions that sustain us.
Pat: think maybe that last point you make is possibly the most poignant. Something that I think is interesting about Wrenchies is how the characters that are supposed to be “real” are actually much more interesting then the ones from the comic within the comic. Like I said I could literally just do a whole comic of the teenage Wrenchies or Sherwood. This is also a credit to Dalrymple’s character and world building which is pretty epic and spot on in it’s scope and precision. While Sherwood and Hollis are the only two that are really fully formed everybody else still feels so full of life and interesting. And then the settings are just amazing. I think part of the reason those two things work so well together is that this is very much a comic about the people engaging with their environments. Like every person is synonymous with their setting and that’s something that was really refreshing to me, especially since so much of this comic is about those two things. It doesn’t hurt that Dalrymple is an incredible artist. The pages here are just fascinating to explore with all the details and he does thing’s like that severed head with the insects inside of it flying away that just look awesome.
Reed: You’re right, the settings are just gorgeous, even when they try to be hideous. Dalrymple’s colors in this book are so lush and enticing. If you took out all the dialogue, I could still just look at the images from the book and be enthralled with the book.
Pat: I actually think he could probably do a really cool no dialogue comic if he wanted to. Overall Wrenchies feels so next level to anything he’s done or just comics in general. It’s really dense and unpredictable but if you stay with it, it’s ultimately really rewarding. Just a fantastic graphic novel all around.
Reed: I agree that it’s Dalrymple’s best work to date, with beautiful art and a complex but rewarding story.