Sunday, November 25, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #329: Memoirs of a Very Stable Genius by Shannon Wheeler

Disclaimer No. 1: I'm not related to Shannon Wheeler, as far as I know. We both carry an ancient Anglo-Saxon name, and probably have at least one ancestor in common, somewhere in the misty dawn of time, but there are a lot of Wheelers in this world.

Disclaimer No. 2: Wheeler has a recent book about Our Current President, but this is not it. If that's what you're looking for, may I direct you to Sh*t My President Says?

Memoirs of a Very Stable Genius is a collection of Shannon Wheeler's cartoons, both comics-format and single-panel. The supposed connection, according to the back cover, is that these are all "personal comics," but I'm not sure what makes these single panel cartoons any more "personal" than, say, the ones in I Told You So or I Don't Get It or I Thought You Would Be Funnier.

The longer stories all are autobiographical in some way or other, so they're more obvious. But, if the single-panels all really do come out of Wheeler's life somehow, it would have been good to have an introduction, or endnotes, or something to make those connections clear. Wheeler does have a fair number of mildly political cartoons, mostly reacting to the frighteningly authoritarian bent of the current US administration -- but the majority are just regular single-panel stuff, from desert islands to couples (in bed, or on a couch, or out at a table) to kids to cocktail parties to crime (and superheroes) to death and cupids.

Well, we didn't get that, so any reader will just say "huh, this cartoon of a guy and his pet fish on a desert island is personal. Wonder what that means?" to herself without getting any answer.

Also quirky and not entirely clear: the book is divided into a number of numbered chapters, without any indication of why or for what purpose. There may be a theme for each chapter, but, if so, I couldn't detect any of them. Or they may be excuses to run Wheeler illustrations on the chapter-title pages without those having to be jokes.

The longer stories start with the opener, "Camp Micro-Penis," about a boy with an unfortunately tiny male appendage who Wheeler knew as a boy at summer camp. Also included are the self-evident "My Meeting with Congressman John Lewis" and "How to Pack for a Trip" and "Paris '89" and "San Diego Comic Con!" and "The Dirty Little Secret Origin of Comic Books" and "How to Sell a Love Doll." Slightly less obvious are "Cubana" (about a 1996 trip to Cuba) and "Portugal" (ditto, year unspecified) and "The Urine Squirt Gun" (a Chekhovian story about Wheeler and his kid friends and a horrible weapon) and "Dog Bully" (A teachable moment with his kids) and "How to Choke Your Chicken" (in which Wheeler had to kill his ill egg-layer).

All of the long stories are amusing; all of the cartoons are at least amusing, and I laughed at a few of them. Wheeler has a nice cartoony style which works well in both formats, and a lot of this book is in color, too, which surprised me.

Given that he is a Wheeler, I was inclined to like this book anyway. But I can do that without any qualms: there's a lot of good stuff here. I can't judge the claims of "very stable" or "genius" from these works, but, what the hell! let's let him claim that. He's definitely not the worst person ever to do so.

No comments:

Post a Comment