Sunday, October 03, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 242 (10/3) -- Wally Gropius by Tim Hensley

Some satirists leave no doubt as to their targets, and pin them to the board in great detail. But others give more of a general sense of the neighborhood of their attack, perhaps thinking that it's jejune to be too "on the nose" with their complaints. Tim Hensley's work has always felt like the second category to me -- I'm pretty sure he's against something (inherited wealth, perhaps, or maybe bland comics for young readers, or even the romantic impulse in general), but I'm never quite clear as to what it is he detests.

Wally Gropius collects a bunch of semi-independent strips, many of which have appeared previously, which together assemble to tell an almost coherent story. (The ways in which it is incoherent, though -- almost entirely due to Hensley's elliptical dialogue -- are entirely planned and absolutely part of his strategy. And it may be more coherent to those who can follow his satire.)

Wally, our main character, is a teenaged millionaire -- drawn in a modified Dan DeCarlo '60s Archie style, though the details of his wealth is more Richie Rich -- who has various semi-coherent attributes and adventures:
  • he's the lead singer of a band of moptops, whose lack of ability would be punk if the story weren't so aggressively '60s
  • he's ordered by his father to marry the "saddest girl in the world," though seemingly, for many pages, left to his own devices as to the determination of the holder of that title
  • he's obsessed with Huey Lewis, mostly for jokey purposes
  • and is pursued by gold-digger Jillian Banks, who snares him with her preternatural knowledge of the national anthems of the world.
Vast swaths of Wally Gropius appear -- at least to my eye -- to be visual homages to images that Hensley particularly loves. (The alternative is that he lays his panels out in his static, staccato rhythm just for that feeling, which is close to the same impulse.) It's all very loud and manic and bright and bizarre, veering towards and away from coherence often within the same panel.

It may be that Hensley has specific satirical targets, and that I just failed to perceive them. But it seems to me that his attitude towards satire is the same as that toward rebellion of Marlon Brando in The Wild One: he'll take whatever he can hit, and so he builds his story by punching as many hot buttons and tossing out as many artistic references as quickly as he can. The end result has that go-go energy and restless heat of the authentic products of the era Hensley sets his story in, but loses something in coherence and precision along the way.


Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index

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