Fans of Farel Dalrymple have been waiting for “The Wrenchies” for years. Dalrymple, who made a name for himself in comics with “Pop Gun War,” has been working on the First Second original graphic novel for five years — a neat trick considering how busy he’s been in the past decade. Whether it was his short comics that appeared in anthologies, like “Project: Superior” and “Bizarro World” or some of his more mainstream work like “Omega the Unknown” with Jonathan Lethem for Marvel, Judd Winick’s “Caper” miniseries and contributions to “Prophet” and “Captain Victory,” Dalrymple’s name has never stayed off the page for long. Now, with “The Wrenchies,” the Xeric Grant winner is branching out into new territory with an original graphic novel that is part quest story, part fantasy epic with elements of horror, and part tragic tale of a boy who grows up to destroy the world.
Dalrymple spoke with CBR News about the project, discussing the metaphysical fantasy quest nature of “The Wrenchies,” the origins of the story and plot itself, juggling a larger cast of characters, how his childhood anxieties and questions worked their way into the story, working in color and more.
CBR News: Farel, to start, how do you describe “The Wrenchies?”
Farel Dalrymple: “The Wrenchies” is a metaphysical fantasy quest in a hellish future as well as a journey through the internal mental aguish of a wizard warrior known as Sherwood Breadcoat.
Where did the story originally begin for you? From where did the concept originate?
The back up story at the end of “The Wrenchies,” “Photogoloctica” originally appeared in the anthology, “Meathaus: S.O.S.” I used that story as a springboard for “The Wrenchies.”
How long have you been working on the book? I ask in part because the structure of the book is complex and jumps around a lot. Did that change as you were working on it?
I worked on “The Wrenchies” for about five years. Not counting working on the initial plot and pre-sketches and drawing and previously mentioned “Meathaus: S.O.S.” story. The plot I originally came up with pretty much aligns itself with the finished product. There were a lot of detail changes and additions but the same basic framework I had settled on at the beginning.
What was the challenge specifically about having such a large cast and juggling all of these characters?
Trying to find a distinct voice for the adult characters was a bit more challenging because they didn’t interest me as much as the story progressed. Even with the Sherwood character, who is shown at various stages throughout his life, was more fun to me as a little kid interacting with his brother than he was as an adult.
But at times the ensemble got so big I had trouble having each character proclaim his or her own identity and fit it all in the book.
I wanted to ask about Sherwood — he’s a complicated character and the book shows him at various stages throughout his life. Exactly who is he, and did your perspective on him change over time?
Sherwood is a boy hero, adventurer, demon slayer, wizard and astronaut, who eventually causes the destruction of the world. He is given a lot of power and uses it to have this incredible life until he gets to be around 30 and kind of loses his soul. On some level, I am trying to say something about the myth I was fed as a young person that when we grow up that we are all special flowers and can be anything we want if we just work hard enough: President of the United States, or an astronaut, or movie star, or whatever. He becomes this type of superhero and has this adventurous life as a young person. Sherwood is then is eventually corrupted and falls into despair and anger and helps reshape the world into his own deranged vision.
My perspective on him must have changed at least a little over the course of working on the book but overall he remained the same basic tragic figure. I didn’t want him to seem evil or anything like that. He is trying to be a good person but his fears and regret and the loss of his brother overwhelmed him. I knew how I wanted the book (and Sherwood) to end. Who he was before he got there was solid in my head since I first started on “The Wrenchies.” I was raised in a very religious home. Apocalyptic scenarios were often put in front of my eyes and into my ears in all sorts of various ways growing up, either by the media and Reagan era nuclear proliferation, or the weird schools I went to, or the church I was going to three or four times a week. So at some point I developed this anxiety that I might be the Antichrist who is featured prominently in the book of Revelations. I thought if the Antichrist were a child would he know he was the Antichrist? Or would he think he was a just a normal child? I tried from the beginning to incorporate all of this weird stuff into the Sherwood character. Certain details about who he is and was are still being added as I make up new stories.
You said that the adult characters were less interesting for you as time went on. Why do you think that was? Was it just a question that you liked the younger characters more? Are you often more interested in younger characters?
I have talked a lot about his recently, but I guess it mostly comes from some sort of nostalgia. I think it is pretty common for people to idealize their youth or think of the world being a better place back in the good old days. It is a delusion I know, just a mental construct because everything is constantly changing, but the world generally seems more hopeful to a lot of young people. I don’t see a lot of cynical 11 year olds. I think there is something to that because that time of my life is where I just naturally draw most of my ideas.
Is there a character design you especially liked or came to dislike over the course of drawing the book?
The design of the leader of the adult Wrenchies, Diamond Day, kept bothering me as I was working on the story, but I figured I could change the way she looked from page to pages because the story took place over a long period of time. I changed her costume and others a few times during the book. I like Diamond’s character but I am still trying to figure out how to draw her.
Hollis is the easiest for me to draw but I think Bance and Tad probably look the coolest so they are probably the most fun for me in that regard.
As far as never being happy with Diamond Day’s design, has that ever happened to you before?
Sure. But one of the fun things about making my own comics is that I can change how anyone looks whenever I feel like it. Of course, I understand if that is confusing to the reader but that is an interesting challenge for me to figure out a way to make it clear and true to story.
Many of your fans know you more for your black and white work. What was the experience like of working in color?
I enjoy painting. I have a lot of training and experience working in color, on comic books and illustrations and paintings over the years and have shied away from using too much Photoshop stuff. This was definitely the biggest thing I have ever colored or cartooned at all for that matter. By the time I got done, I was giving a lot of thought to working out more color stuff on the computer because water coloring each page started to feel a little tedious at the end. I definitely learned a lot and am approaching my newer stuff a little different. I switched from Bristol board to watercolor paper at some point during the book and have been using it ever since.
You mentioned that you had changed your approach as a result of working on “The Wrenchies.” How has your approach changed?
You mean my approach to making comics in general? That is always changing, even during the whole “Wrenchies” process I was changing up the way I worked. I mean my materials changed in the middle because I switched from Bristol to watercolor paper. But whenever I am about to dive into working on a new set of pages I try to re-think how I am going to work on them. I used to draw in libraries and coffee shops, in studios, at friends houses, etc. I used to work all night in long work marathons. I hardly do any of that stuff any more, but every few weeks or so I try to come up with some sort of new efficient system for turning out pages. But really, those never take with me. I am too lazy and rebellious to stick to anything for long. So even though I am constantly deluding myself and then beating myself up about being so slow, I seem to be able to get some amount of pages done eventually by sort of fooling myself into being excited by what I can create. I don’t have much of a life outside of comics but I am okay with that for now.
You collaborated with Jonathan Lethem on “Omega the Unknown” and I’m curious if there was anything you took away from that experience which informed your work on “The Wrenchies?”
Lethem is one of my favorite writers so that was like a once in a lifetime dream job in a lot of ways. If nothing else I got a sort of behind the scenes at how a real writer works by reading his scripts. I am sure I took away from that ten issue gig a lot of things, but I do specifically remember while drawing that comic trying to pull back a lot more and give a real weight to the characters and the version of New York City they inhabited.
Was it a challenge in finding the right cover image for the book?
Finding the image wasn’t any more challenging than most illustrations jobs, but the cover did seem very important to First Second. I had a cover that I wanted to do from the beginning, but I was told when I agreed to do the book that they would most likely want a different cover. That seemed reasonable to me, so when I finished the book I talked my editor and the designer and they came up with some ideas. I did about 20 thumbnails of different covers, then I was asked to do a new cover sketch featuring the three prominent characters from “The Wrenchies”: Bance, Marsi and Tad. So I did three more finished sketches based on this suggestion and they went with the one we all liked best and I made a nicer inked and color version. There was a lot more back and forth about the title treatment I wanted than anything else it seems. That was the most challenging part of the entire process but in the end we settled on something we were all cool with. I’m pretty pleased with how the book came out.
“The Wrenchies” arrives July 15 from First Second.