GRAPHIC NOVEL REVIEW: Screw Heaven, When I Die I’m Going to Mars
Screw Heaven is copyright 2007, and doesn’t contain any information about previous appearances of any of the strips collected in it. That either means that it’s all completely new and never-before seen (plausible, but I’d expect the book would hold together more coherently if that were the case) or that Dark Horse neglected to mention that these are from Wheeler’s previously-published comics, or website, or magazine work, or something else entirely. I’m a suspicious, pessimistic, grumpy guy, so I’m assuming that the latter is actually the case – though I have no evidence either way.
Screw Heaven opens with an introduction by Jesse Michaels (singer of something called Operation Ivy, of which I have never heard) and then dives into twelve “chapters,” each with between one and twenty single-page cartoons. Some of the chapters collect cartoons that clearly go together; chapter three, for example, is nearly a complete narrative. Others are more general, and only tied together by a theme.
You know, I might as well just run through the chapters one by one:
- a single-page strip about life and aging, to set the tone.
- a storyline in which Too Much Coffee Man meets Mystery Girl, falls in love with her, gets carted off to prison, and eventually freed.
- a batch of cartoons about a young man (presumably Wheeler) falling in love with a young woman, and their clichéd “modern love is really, really tough” interactions.
- a group of existentialist cartoons (for a sophomoric, “doesn’t life suck” definition of existentialist).
- exploring Wheeler’s new satiric religion, Dollarism.
- cartoons about modern anxieties, mostly having to do with the government, which Wheeler dislikes intensely.
- cartoons about cartooning, art, and other “meta” topics.
- not unlike Six, some more cartoons about how horrible modern life is, but without as much of an anti-government focus.
- more art about art, like Seven.
- the most interesting stuff in the book, all about Wheeler’s days studying architecture, and, in particular, about one school project.
- some random TMCM strips.
- like the first one, this is a single-page cartoon – this time with TMCM.
If Wheeler hadn’t been doing this for a decade or so, I’d think this stuff was fine – some of it is funny, and some of it is thoughtful, and his art is an interesting take on the standard editorial-cartoon look. But, since he has been doing these cartoons for ten years, the relentless sophomoricness is really worrying, and wearying. Every single one of us who went to college had long discussions like these (often under the influence of various substances) during those years, but we moved on to other things. Wheeler, from the evidence of these cartoons, is stuck at the “man, life really sucks” stage of intellectual development, and desperately needs to move on.
To be blunt, he’s not saying anything new, and he’s not saying it in a particularly interesting way. A few of these cartoons are quite clever and engaging, when he stops worrying about existential despair and the vast communications gulf between men and women. I think Wheeler needs to do longer stories, to explore ideas and situations more deeply, and to dig down beneath his Goth-greeting-card philosophy to say something new, and specific, rather than being yet another mouthpiece for Gen Y ennui. He’s got the cartooning chops to do it; he just has to stretch into longer stories and take some risks.
Screw Heaven, When I Die I’m Going to Mars
Dark Horse, 2007, $12.95