Screw Heaven, When I Die, I’m Going to Mars
By Shannon Wheeler
I almost feel bad saying (read: writing) it, but my first reaction upon receiving a copy of Screw Heaven, When I Die I’m Going to Mars was something along the lines of, ‘oh goody, a new Shannon Wheeler book that’s not about Too Much Coffee Man.’ It was a confusing bit of momentary relief—after all, I’ve long been among TMCM’s supporters, still eagerly awaiting the follow up to 2005’s How to Be Happy. The thing is, though, we don’t often see the artist come out from under the mug.
Those seeking a non-TMCM book are in for a sore dissapointment, however. Screw Heaven collects Wheeler’s short strips, sneaking a few TMCM appearances into the proceedings. After a few pages, however, something about Wheeler’s work becomes clearer than ever before: the existence of Too Much Coffee Man is largely incidental.
Save for the occasional story of superheroics, the mugged crime fighter has always been less of a character than a funnel for Wheeler’s own psychoses, to a degree that few characters–even in this particularly neurotic field–have managed. Wheeler gets far less lost in his characters than his characters have a tendency to get lost in him.
Whether or a not storyline in Screw Heaven is filtered through TMCM or not hardly matters. The end goal to each is the passing of some sage piece of wisdom, in a humorous manner, and the triumph of the strips contained therein is Wheeler’s sharply honed method of idiom dispensing. Stories that would have formerly taken the authors pages upon pages to tell, are quickly and clearly presented in a single page strip. The author has become a master at concisely delivering pieces of sage life wisdom, as if he were piecing together the contents of a lesson-a-day calendar, targeted squarely at an audience of pessimistic hipster academics.
These are invaluable lessons about life, love, and mortality, but Wheeler has never been one to paint them rosily, because, as most of us are well aware, life rarely is. And perhaps that’s the over-arching lesson to take aware from this exercise: the bittersweet punchlines are not only the funniest, they’re also the most true, and it doesn’t take a guy with a coffee mug on his head to tell you that.