PUBLISHED ON NEXTPLANETOVER.COM in MARCH '99
By Nick Krewen
SHANNON WHEELER is a psychic's nightmare. Jo-Jo, Dionne, LaToya and the others just can't get a grip.
"They can't get a handle on me," says Wheeler, 32, CEO of Adhesive Comics.
"I'm doing what I want to do, and my parents are supportive. I dress like a hippie/slacker guy, so they try to assume that I'm interested in changing my career or not happy with what I'm doing. I'm in that five percent of the population that's odd."
Aside from confounding commercial mind-readers, what other public service does Eisner Award winner Shannon Wheeler provide? He's the creator/cartoonist/mastermind behind Too Much Coffee Man, the anti-hero of the '90s, the New Millennium, and today.
A manic depressive, caffeine-and-nicotine-addled love-handled worrywart, Too Much Coffee Man is probably closer to you and yours than you would care to admit. Too engrossed in the next dilemma to actually do anything about it, TMCM's honest, entertaining bouts of analysis offers healthy doses of cynicism and humor as he roasts a number of social issues and topics.
Not bad for a guy with a cup for a head and coffee -- black, no cream, no sugar -- for a brain.
And although his creator has somehow nailed the stereotype of every angst-addled writer and journalist between Timbuktu and Tampa, Wheeler deflects and deflates any potential targets.
"I think I'm just making fun of myself," says the good-natured, San Fran-whelped, Portland-based father of 13-month old twins.
Wheeler says he first brewed Too Much Coffee Man a handful of years ago while experimenting with a number of similar characters.
"They were relating, having conversations, going on dates, breaking up, and having their existential crises -- a lot of the same stuff that's in Too Much Coffee Man. The problem is that there wasn't a hook. It was a largely autobiographical strip, and I felt like I needed to do something more high concept.
"As a joke I invented Too Much Coffee Man, because he has the handle on his mug as a handle for the audience. It was a really bad pun."
What's even more rewarding is that Wheeler has been able to make a living exposing the manic depressive in all of us, er, manic depressives. Especially since most of us love --no, crave -- the insidious narcotic that camouflages itself inside the coffee bean.
"In part, that's what coffee does," Wheeler agrees. "I'm really fascinated by manic and depressive behavior, and it's odd that these moods wash through us and color our view of the world and reality. Somehow that's independent of who we are.
"It really fascinates me that you wake up, have chemicals in your body, and you're happy. Or you wake up, have other chemicals in your body, and you're depressed. The chemicals are part of your identity."
Wheeler is surprised that people are picking up Too Much Coffee Man's adventures strictly because of java love.
"People will say, `I like coffee.' So they buy the book and read it. Or else they'll say, "My (dad, aunt, dog, insert your name here) loves coffee," and they'll buy it for them. I get a lot of impulse buys.
"I think what people expect is a superhero parody done in the key of coffee. They expect a Popeye the Sailor type of storyline, where the superhero is fighting some anti-coffee supervillain -- that kind of standard fare plot. But they open the book, and they realize it's existentialism. He's always making fun of the social norms. It has content."
On his website (www.TooMuchCoffeeMan.com), Wheeler offers 121 TMCM on-line strips of his Java-entrenched subject, and a whole lot of analysis.
"More of that comes from my Dad being a therapist, getting that influence and growing up in Berkeley, too, where everyone is way over-educated for their jobs," Wheeler states. "My Mom ( a teacher) had a gardener at one point who was a lawyer, and all of my teachers in middle schools had graduate degrees. People were way overeducated, but dysfunctional too. They had all this observation and knowledge and it's paralyzing. I just saw that over and over again."
Wheeler's own educational journey included stabs at architecture and cinema.
"Comic book artistry didn't come until after college."
The film-maker aspect of his aspirations may be realized after all, as Canadian animation house Nelvana has optioned Too Much Coffee Man as a series and is busy shopping around.
Wheeler is wary.
"I'm a little bit nervous because one of the reasons I moved away from that in college is because I saw what a collaborative effort it was, and how much compromise was involved in the projects.
"That's one of the great things about doing the comic book: you're doing it yourself. You don't have to justify your decisions. If you want to skip the action/adventure part of an action/adventure story, you just do it."
Instead, Wheeler is finding that people are attempting to find motivation and explanation for all things Too Much Coffee Man, rather than just adhering to the Beatles' old pearl of wisdom, "Let It Be."
"Why is he doing this? Because." states Wheeler.
THANKS: BETH RIMMELS
©1999 Nick Krewen, Octopus Media Ink
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