by Farel Dalrymple
Farel Dalrymple's work can be a little inaccessible at times. I enjoyed his Pop Gun War, but by the end of it, wasn't really sure of what it was that I had read. His Omega: The Unknown is universally adored, but he didn't write that.
I went in to The Wrenchies a little unsure of what to expect, but came out of it with a massive appreciation of Dalyrmple's plotting and story construction, to go along with my usual enjoyment of his art and sense of design.
The Wrenchies is a multi-layered book, basically about a future where only the young are able to survive, and even they are in a constant battle with the Shadowsmen, as well as with the hostile environment the Earth has become. The gang of kids who have built a reputation as being able to best fight off the Shadowsmen are The Wrenchies, who have named themselves after an old comic book.
This comic was written and drawn by Sherwood Presley Breadcoat, who as a young child entered a cave with his brother, did battle with demons, and then embarked on a long adolescence of being a hero, then an art student, and eventually an unhappy comics artist. He embedded The Wrenchies #1 with a number of puzzles, to draw mystics to him. Next door to adult Sherwood lives young Hollis, a misfit child in a bad homemade superhero costume, who has a ghost as a best friend, and who believes that his Wrenchies comic may be making him do bad things.
The narrative shifts between these different groups of characters as the book unfolds, and as we learn just how connected all of these different plotlines are. Dalrymple blends, very successfully, a variety of genres in this graphic novel. We get some pretty cool post-Apocalyptic action, a coming-of-age story that I'm sure a number of comics fans can relate to parts of, and some pointed commentary on the nature of the comics industry, and its influence in the world.
I found the book's shifting narrative structure, and embedded connections to different layers of the story, to be reminiscent of novels like David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas. Dalrymple's art is terrific, and I especially liked the pages where he laid out the floor plans to secret underground lairs or scientific laboratories. There were some pages where the colouring process rendered things a little too dark or muddy, but overall, this was a beautiful and rewarding book that screams out for second and third readings so that its nuances can be completely understood. Highly recommended.