Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Wally Gropius: A Graphically Speaking Review

Words: Christopher Irving

    What happens when Richie Rich grows up and ages into an indy comic?

    Wally Gropius.

    Actually, that’s selling Tim Hensley’s dark humor-laced teen book for adults short. Hensley’s clean art, drawn in a 1960s cartoon style (and complete with bright color pallete) is a bizarre mish-mash of the best in ‘60s teen book cartooning with the absurdity of an episode of The Monkees and the severity of indy comics. It’s common for indy and underground cartoonists to take tried and true kiddie cartoon character conventions and throw them into adult situations, and Wally Gropius is the latest in a long line.

    Wally is a self-absorbed teen millionaire with a world-wide syndicated presence, a mod rock band, and countless high school girls killing themselves in despondency over him. He loves Huey Lewis and goes to Iacocca High.

Oh, and his old man gives him the ultimatum to marry “the saddest girl on Earth” or be disinherited.
When Wally meets his match, it’s in the blond and pony-tailed form of Jillian Banks, whose love of national anthems (she knows 150, total) gives Wally his shot when he gets her in a sound studio. The resulting courtship plunges into a satirical and dark disaster, with Hensley’s biting humor either as spontaneous on the final page…or so well timed and planned that you don’t see it coming.

In all honesty, I had trouble figuring Wally out – I expected a nostalgic pastiche with an edge, but what I got was an unpredictable and sometimes unsettling reading experience, literally not knowing what to expect from page to page.

And that’s where Hensley excels, with a narrative sleight of hand, his seemingly innocent characters hiding more base and sinister motivations, using classic cartooning techniques to conceal a darker underbelly.