SCREW HEAVEN: Wheeler "Sweetens" Too Much Coffee Man

Shannon Wheeler's 144-page collection of short comics, "Screw Heaven, When I Die I'm Going to Mars," is hyped by publisher Dark Horse as "a sweeter look at life than what we would normally expect from Too Much Coffee Man."

With the book now on sale, CBR News asked the Eisner Award-winning creator, "What's the deal? Has Too Much Coffee Man switched to decaf?"

"No decaf for our hero," Shannon Wheeler told CBR News. "It's my other cartoons that are sweeter. Sometimes you need a sledgehammer and sometimes you need a sweet scalpel."

Wheeler, whose weekly comic strip "Postage Stamp Funnies" appears in the print edition of The Onion, graduated from the University of California, Berkeley in 1989 moved to Austin, Texas – a southwestern mecca for coffeehouse culture. With TMCM book ending the collection, Wheeler – ever the barista – serves up a bevy of characters in "Screw Heaven, When I Die I'm Going to Mars" ranging in taste from bold and full-bodied to mild and well balanced.

"TMCM opens and closes the book with short stories, but there are a ton of new characters in the middle, and also a lot of autobiographical material," explained Wheeler. The book is a collection of all the stuff I've done over the last few years. It's a lot of short stories and weird stuff. I'm really proud of it."

Wheeler is presently coming down from his caffeine-high following five Comic-Con performances of the Too Much Coffee Man Opera.   The writer-artist teamed with Emmy Award-winning composer Daniel Steven Crafts and Damian Wilcox to bring TMCM to the world of "Madame Butterfly" and "The Barber of Seville."      In the opera, TMCM, a caffeine-fueled Everyman who dons spandex-enhanced, red long johns, yearns for the love of his local barista. Trouble brews, however, when Espresso Guy, a cynical opportunist, also makes a play for the young woman.

Wheeler admitted opera was not at the top of the list when the decision was made to explore other mediums for TMCM. "It was definitely an unexpected event," explained Wheeler. "Daniel and Damien were amazing to work with. I did the opera not expecting it to ever really happen. But when I saw an opportunity to make it real I threw myself into it. I was incredibly lucky to work with actors like Stacey Murdock, Joey Prather, Matt Dolphin, and Jasmine Presson. The people behind the scenes were equally as good. It's been amazing."

The "Too Much Coffee Man" title itself debuted in 1995 and won an Eisner for Best New Series. For Wheeler, seeing his creation jump from the page to the stage has made for a wild ride. "I've been there for every show. I love it," gushed Wheeler, who is working on a sequel to the opera. "Stacey, who plays Too Much Coffee Man, and the others are amazing. The nature of live performance is that every show is different. It's endlessly entertaining."

Wheeler is also keeping busy illustrating a children's book that a friend of his wrote, and has himself written a new "whodunit" story with an interesting twist of the wrist.   "I wrote a rock/scissors/paper murder mystery," explained Wheeler. "I also have a graphic novel to illustrate written by Jesse Michaels."

Michaels, a ska punk mainstay from Berkeley, California responsible for designing artwork for numerous bands, notably the "ska man" character for his own legendary band Operation Ivy, also wrote the introduction to Shannon Wheeler's "Screw Heaven, When I Die I'm Going to Mars."

Wheeler also let slip that he had one more project in the works that's even bigger than a sequel to the Too Much Coffee Man Opera, but refused to divulge any details.   "I have a new project that is especially big but it is a few years down the line," teased Wheeler. "Ask me again soon."

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