Writer & Artist: Farel Dalrymple
Publisher: First Second
Release Date: September 16, 2014
Comics and literary modernism aren’t often mentioned in the same breath, but what other terminology could describe the approach of luminaries like Alan Moore or Grant Morrison. The latter Multiversity scribe builds up his works like an artist constructs a collage, filling his psychedelic epics with allusions to important predecessors. Like the works of T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, who both composed their most acclaimed poems by weaving the same kind of dense referential web, Morrison’s stuff can only be fully appreciated by those willing to parse through it. More recent and less “high culture” — if still afloat in references — would be something like Lost, which gained much of its appeal from the narrative puzzle solving that its followers were sure would lead to a concluding revelation. Farel Dalrymple’s The Wrenchies, an original graphic novel and the longest work the author has created, is very much in the same category as all of the above; its success is contingent upon whether you’re the kind of reader who enjoys unpacking a creative work for its allusions, or the kind who sees it as a hall of smoke and mirrors.
Dalrymple weaves a tapestry that sports cameos from the “Book of Revelation,” The Matrix and even the aforementioned Eliot. This vision of collapsing realities cements when the Wrenchies gang literally encounters (spoiler alert) characters from a comic book within its universe called The Wrenchies. Meta, right? One character later states “When I was younger I could see some sort of hidden message all up and through the pages, hidden inside the panels… But I can’t see it anymore.” It’s debatable whether we can, either.
As for the visuals, Dalrymple’s art is gorgeous stuff — as it’s always been. His gift with watercolor is rare and tremendous; his characters glow with diffuse light. Many of these panels could stand on their own in a frame, and yet they also work together nicely in moments of action and quiet. Reds and pinks and yellows and browns combine to create a fascinating dystopian world.
The characters themselves aren’t just beautifully rendered, but initially interesting. Is The Wrenchies a work of young-adult fiction? It might be. Most of the characters fall in the right age range, and the plot — kids form gangs to combat mysterious Shadowsmen and demons in a world where adults are corrupted and largely vanished — fits in with many a current YA literature trend. The fact that the book is fairly violent or contains occasional foul language doesn’t necessarily disqualify it as such. And the way in which Dalrymple draws elaborate lairs, complete with labeled parts, resembles adolescent construction, if better painted than the efforts of those in the actual age range.
This confluence seems to suggest that if you pay close enough attention to all the details within the several worlds and periods that span The Wrenchies, you may be able to put together a holistic picture that’s more than a collage: a jigsaw puzzle where the lines between the pieces fade away to create something complete. Unfortunately, either all the pieces aren’t supplied or the point is that the world is forever broken, humans incapable of reversing entropy. It could be both. How much you ultimately enjoy The Wrenchies depends on your tolerance for frustration and your level of idealism.