Review by Frank Plowright
Although by Shannon Wheeler and featuring a dose of Too Much Coffee Man, the cover of this collection only mentions him in passing. It’s a thin compilation, pulling together some TMCM work along with other work, particularly direct autobiographical commentary. It’s Shannon Wheeler in a secure groove. He’s on unique home ground with the doleful comments on politics and society dished out by Too Much Coffee Man himself, and can now spread a little further. Wheeler’s earlier attempts to diversify his strips as seen in Parade of Tirade weren’t always successful, but the economy and timing mastered over subsequent TMCM strips is now successfully applied to the other content that would fit poorly with TMCM’s one step distancing.
There is an ironic self-awareness about encounters with people who have ideas for Too Much Coffee Man, each of them blissfully ignorant that theirs is a suggestion supplied to Wheeler at every public engagement. These are portrayed as tiresome, but knowing they’re minor irritations compared to the daily indignities of salaried workers, and Wheeler gives the strips good pay-offs. The best of his autobiographical pieces concerns his college architectural studies, starting with a great put down, before moving into the self-deprecating tale of a course project. However, the brevity of the collection and the piecemeal selection of strips indicates a form of ennui. After all these years, coming up with original ideas without repetition seems to be taking its toll. The opening sequence about love is followed by a half-hearted attempt at satirical superheroes when Too Much Coffee Man is abducted by government agents before the autobiographical content and some clever toying with the comic form. The four page whimsy of a bathtime dream is nicely drawn, but over-extended, and Wheeler has resorted to the acknowledged creative redundancy of drawing strips about drawing strips in earlier collections.
To anyone picking up Screw Heaven without having read Wheeler’s earlier work, the criticism will seem harsh, as in isolation there’s more insight and observational nuance than there is to be found in more highly praised personal work. As such it’s worthwhile, but it is Wheeler treading water.
One final Too Much Coffee Man collection followed five years later, Cutie Island. That’s the one collection not gathered in the larger Too Much Coffee Man Omnibus.