The cover for "The Wrenchies" by Farel Dalrymple. (First Second)Link
Two pages from "The Wrenchies" by Farel Dalrymple. (First Second)Link
"The Wrenchies" author Farel Dalrymple. (First Second)Link
Imagine a world in which children brutally slay demons in order to survive, knowing that when they grow up, they’ll become demons too.
“The Wrenchies,” an upcoming YA graphic novel from alternative comics star Farel Dalrymple, chronicles the adventures of the toughest gang of those children, the so-called Wrenchies. The book is due out this fall from First Second, and Hero Complex readers get a first look at the book’s cover, which shows the eponymous gang clad for battle.
Dalrymple is best known for his award-winning comic series “Pop Gun War,” an urban fantasy about a boy who acquires a pair of angel wings and uses them to fly off on adventures. He also co-founded the comic anthology “Meathaus,” illustrated the Marvel limited series “Omega the Unknown,” written by novelist Jonathan Lethem, and authors the ongoing Web comic “It Will All Hurt,” a sad and strange fantasy adventure series set on a post-apocalyptic planet.
It is in that world that “The Wrenchies” takes place. The book follows a group of children and teenagers who must fight demons, zombies and “shadowsmen” in order to survive on their desolate planet. It’s a sort of twisted, science-fiction “Peter Pan” story, with time travel, graphic violence and magic thrown in.
Hero Complex caught up with Dalrymple, who talks about his inspiration for the 300-page graphic novel, his intended audience for the metaphysical tale, and the dark world in which he weaves his stories.
Hero Complex: This is one of the strangest fictional worlds I’ve seen in ages. What inspired this project? How did you develop this world?
Farel Dalrymple: The idea for “The Wrenchies” came from a 15-page story I did for the “Meathaus S.O.S.” anthology about two brothers who go into an evil elf cave. Using that as a springboard and a bunch of other notes and ideas and drawings from my sketchbook I put a few pages of plot together. Then I did a bunch of color character and concept drawings for what I had in mind. I gathered inspiration from a variety of sources: “A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeleine L’Engle, “Fight Club” by Chuck Palahniuk, “The Brothers Karamazov” by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, “Akira” by Otomo Katsuhiro, “Nausicaa” (the manga and movie) by Hayao Miyazaki, movies such as “Over the Edge” (1979), and movie directors like David Lynch, Werner Herzog and Wes Anderson, “The Prisoner” television program, Moebius’ “Airtight Garage” stuff, and old Heavy Metal magazines, Marvel comics from the 1980s, the cartooning work of Tom Herpich, Brandon Graham, Mike Mignola, Taiyo Matsumoto, Tatsuyuki Tanaka, Dave Cooper, Paul Pope, and a whole bunch of other guys.
The world itself is something that I am always thinking about and building on. All my stories, everything I write myself are all related at least by a few of the characters that appear in them. My Web comic, “It Will All Hurt” (Study Group Comics), is on the same post-apocalyptic planet as “The Wrenchies.” There are characters and references from “Pop Gun War” in there too. I remember noticing a family tree that Madeleine L’Engle had in “Many Waters” and how all the characters in all her stories were all related in some way. She had two universes, a science fiction one and a more real world setting. Only a few characters crossed over into both. That sort of thing was very exciting to me, and it has been fun over the years creating my own mess based on that concept.
HC: “The Wrenchies” live in such a bleak world, and Sherwood’s story is so tragic. Was it difficult for you as an artist to spend so much time in such dark creative places?
FD: Yeah, it was pretty difficult for sure, especially for the last and darkest chapter of the book. There were more than a couple times I was concerned for my sanity. I started meditating and made sure I got regular sleep but I still had a few freak-outs and a lot of breaks (too many). I am glad my partner was willing to put up with me through the whole thing.
HC: Speaking of dark and gory, I’m curious about your intended audience. Are you writing for children? For adults? Whom would you like to read it?
FD: People who are familiar with “Pop Gun War” and some of my other stuff might be surprised at the language and subject matter in “The Wrenchies.” My main intention when making this was to have a literary work that would appeal to someone who likes more existential and metaphysical fiction. When someone writes a similar themed prose book it seems easier to categorize it being for an adult. Because I choose to work in comics I think most of the time there is this automatic assumption that you should expect children to enjoy it. I understand that, but there is some stuff in there that just isn’t appropriate for really young readers. If you object to a lot of swearing and violence and drug use in your stories then you probably won’t like it. I mean, I haven’t showed it to my mom yet. Most of my work until “The Wrenchies” has been weird but still kid-friendly and all-ages. With this book I was deliberately trying to make it more intense and horrific. I didn’t want anything exploitative or sexy in there, but I wanted the world to feel edgy and scary like a lot of real-life, grown-up situations feel to me. In the previously mentioned movie “Over the Edge,” I love the way the kids talk to each other and drink and do drugs. The same goes for the amazing 1983 graffiti documentary, “Style Wars.” The children in those movies, which aren’t kid’s movies, seem like adults and are just dealing with life. In a different way but sort of like in Charles Schulz’s “Peanuts,” there aren’t any adults around, just these kids dealing with life on their own, negotiating philosophical points.
HC: There are a lot of children in your work. Why do you enjoy drawing and writing young people?
FD: That is something I have thought a lot about over the years. Growing up I spent so much time alone playing, reading and watching television, I must have stored up a lot of ideas from that time in my life. Or maybe that is just where my head is. Even now at almost 42 years I still forget that I am an adult. I think a lot of dudes around my age might feel something like that too, a psyche caught somewhere between child and teenager. I don’t have any children or plan on ever having any, but my sister has five of them. So being sort of detached from the whole parental thing, I think kids are pretty hilarious and I am interested by how they relate to the world and each other. Like I mentioned before with ‘Peanuts,” something about the melancholy and nostalgia from that time of life is very interesting to me. Teenagers also sort of terrify me too, especially when I was one. Maybe that is part of the whole appeal of writing about them.
HC: You’ve been working on this book since 2008. What about this story kept your attention and interest? Did the length of time you had to work on this change your process? For example, did you go back and alter decisions you’d made early on? Did you write first and then draw?
FD: I stuck with the basic premise and story points throughout the entire thing, but it was hard to keep focused on it at times. A lot of life happened in those five years. Working in relative isolation for that long, well, I don’t know if I ever want to tackle a project quite like that again. I really tried to remind myself to enjoy the process and the journey. It is so boring seeing a comic book that looks like the person making it doesn’t like to draw. I did add a lot of stuff to the story as I was going, especially the last chapter. There was so much extra stuff by the end, the biggest challenge was deciding what to leave out. This book is not only the single biggest book I have done, I feel like it is the densest story I have ever cartooned.
I was also aware that my art might change over the course of working on this so with each chapter I deliberately changed up the art style a little while trying to retain an overall look and feel to the whole thing. I really like work that is idiosyncratic and obsessive, so hopefully people will respond positively to the care and attention I gave to a lot of details.
HC: Your story deals with space/time travel. What are some of your favorite time travel stories, and what, if any, tropes did you try to avoid?
DF: I find the whole single timeline paradox really annoying so I tend to focus more on alternate realities and divergent timelines. Something I touch on a little but not in any sort of scientific way in “The Wrenchies” is time dilation. I remember watching a TV commercial for a book set that mentioned that Einstein thing, the baby on Earth becomes an old man after you got back from an hour of light speed travel. I have been rather interested in the theory of relativity since then. The time dilation concept was all really brought home to me in “The Forever War” by Joe Haldeman. As previously mentioned I liked the work of Madeleine L’Engle. I’m also into Kurt Vonnegut, Douglas Adams and Ray Bradbury and the specific ways they all write about time and dimensional travel. I like stuff like “Star Trek” and the old Tom Baker “Doctor Who” as well, although the time/space travel on those shows never makes any sense to me.
HC: Is there a scene or page in the book you’re particularly proud of?
DF: The entire Hollis chapter is my easily favorite part of the book. Creating that section came the most naturally to me. I think it features more of what I am the most competent at in cartooning. Hollis is kind of a special kid who is really the hero of the book and the heart of the Wrenchies team. I have a done a couple live readings of that chapter in front of an audience. It was hard for me not to get choked up while reading it. Not that it was intentionally sad or anything but just because of how attached to that character I am and how personal some of the scenes were. I was a pretty sensitive kid growing up and relate a lot to that little guy’s life. I’ve used him before in some other stories that were collected recently in my personal anthology/art book, “Delusional” (AdHouse Books).
HC: Anything else you’d like to add?
FD: This is for sure a weird and silly book in the grand scheme of things, I know. At first glance it might seem like just a weird sci-fi comic, but I tried to touch on some deeper stuff too. I am very grateful to First Second for taking a chance on publishing a book like this. I hope people can enjoy it on a superficial level, but it would be neat to me if it made some people think and connect with it. Hopefully there is some stuff in there that sticks. Get into it.
RECENT AND RELATED