Review by Frank Plowright
Parade of Tirade is the anomaly among Too Much Coffee Man collections as Too Much Coffee Man’s actual appearances are nowhere near as frequent. On the other hand we are treated to his origin, every bit as ridiculous as might be expected, and a highlight of the book. It merges a succession of preposterous incidents to create the character, yet they’re not much sillier than the standard superhero origin. However, after the more focussed Guide for the Perplexed, Parade of Tirade thrashes around somewhat.
Three threads run through the collection, two of them analysing different forms of cliché. We have Too Much Coffee Man’s deliberately clichéd fights, and the misstep of a drama featuring self-pitying protagonist Joel on the verge of splitting up with his girlfriend, taking advice from his tiresomely self-obsessed friend Trixie. Shannon Wheeler’s purpose is satirical, but the presentation is straightforward and its whiny lead character so lacking any kind of sympathy that is there’s little discernible difference between subject and satire. Eventually Wheeler appears to reach the same conclusion as the strip peters out.
The actual adventures of TMCM subsist on subverting cliché, which continues over a ripe selection of stories. First up is the legal villainy of Trademark Copyright Man, resulting in Too Much Coffee Man battling for his very existence, followed by the visualisation of a superhero fight in which the protagonists spout hollow proverbs. Both are brief, to the point and witty. After that there’s the origin, the death of TMCM and ‘Too Much Coffee Man versus Everything’, which as much as anything is summed up by the book title.
Wheeler also takes a step into directly autobiographical comics. While Too Much Coffee Man himself is frequently an obvious distancing mechanism for Wheeler’s own thoughts and discontent, these strips deal directly with the humiliations, disappointments and annoyances of his career. As such they occupy a strange middleground, his own almost Neanderthal self-satire funny, while some of the situations he dislikes could be avoided, so complaints about the results lack a validity. The best of these strips has Wheeler flying to a convention, appearing there and his musing before meeting another cartoonist.
By the time Wheeler began working on this volume there’d been a distinct evolution in the art. Wheeler’s always been a good cartoonist, but was finding his style over much of Guide for the Perplexed. It’s established by this work, and the exaggerated expressions that really sell the despair are evident. In the strips that need them, faces are contorted in torturous ways, and they’re great.
Spreading his reach too wide makes this the weakest of Too Much Coffee Man’s collections, but Wheeler is good enough that there’s still enough value. Furthermore it hosts a fantastic introduction from Henry Rollins, which highlights the aspects that generally make Too Much Coffee Man so appealing while avoiding the usual back-slapping hagiography of so many graphic novel introductions. Whether or not you’re an admirer of Rollins’ work, this is an introduction worth reading.