As I’ve said before and didn’t elaborate on, Farel Dalyrmple’s The Wrenchies is a real weird comic book. It deserves an evaluation that talks about it, but it is tricky to know where to begin: How about the beginning? It unfolds cryptically, a series of pages with characters that aren’t in most of the rest of the book, that moves into a weird impossible physics. And then there’s the ending, a series of epilogues, following a scene which is basically an anti-climax.
The emphasis in every scene is always off-kilter, a result, I think, of trying to do a couple of things at once, rather than just pursuing a single effect for multiple pages. For instance, there are frequently big splash pages that are meant to be big and impressive, maps of spaces, but in these there are characters saying little asides to one another. These aren’t even necessarily main characters. It’s like, comics are words and pictures. When there is a picture that is carrying a lot of narrative weight, there will be a line of dialogue that is superfluous, decorative.
The action is forever elsewhere. There are multiple planes of reality, travel between them, magic spells that make comic characters real, children being sent into a future. There is a sense of darkness, of palpable evil, that is defining one doomed world, but also mentioned as being present in the world of the child who travels into that world. Characters are frequently nonplussed. One child is explicitly religious, no one makes fun of him. Other kids are constantly doing drugs. These are just coping mechanisms, or fun, or a part of someone’s character, not really worth judging. The comic sort of seems like a kid’s comic, in terms of the youth of its characters, and the fact that it’s published by First Second points to maybe it being marketed in that direction. It also feels unmarketable, in the sense that any attempt at a plot summary is basically lying, or at least going into it expecting: A kid is transported into a weird dystopian future, (that is not necessarily his reality) where he is capable of being a savior by bringing characters from a comic book to life- knowing that’s what the book ends up being about doesn’t prepare you for an introduction that features exactly none of those characters.
It’s a comic to read, and reread, and maybe obsess over. To function something as a puzzle. The comic, in talking about another comic, and this obsessive quality a child can bring to something, is its way of teaching you how to read it: You, an adult reader, need to read it like a little kid reads comics. Multiple times, trying to make sense of something, that maybe resists making sense. It’s a “graphic novel” in that there are a lot of pages, but all it does is insist on itself as being something the reader contend with: That they keep reading, to make sense of it, and then it doesn’t really resolve in the way of a traditional narrative. You need to accept its eccentricities the same way the children, who are basically around each other arbitrarily, despite a lack of things in common, accept each other.