SPX Spotlight 2014: The Wrenchies

Welcome to another entry in the 2014 SPX Spotlight series!  For the next month, Panel Patter will be highlighting creators and publishers who will be at one of the best conventions, the Small Press Expo.  You can check out all of Panel Patter's spotlights for SPX from both this year and prior years here.

Written and drawn by Farel Dalrymple
Published by First Second

The Wrenchies is the story of a dystopian future that was created in the present day.

The Wrenchies is the story of a boy who believes in heroes and then is given the opportunity to become one.

The Wrenchies is a story about comic books and imagination.

The Wrenchies is the story of a man who could be both the savior or destroyer of the world.

The Wrenchies is the story about Farel Dalrymple and the myriad things that go on in that man’s head. I really want to make some kind of vague blanket statement that Farel Dalrymple’s The Wrenchies is all of the above and none of the above but that’s not fair to you or to him. On the surface, The Wrenchies is a dystopian thriller about a group of children, called the Wrenchies, who have to save the world. Time travel and astral projections are involved and the villain may actually be creating his own story. The book opens with two brothers, Sherwood and Orson, who battle the evil of the Shadowmen in the present day. That evil still exists in the far future, corrupting the world so that the only true warriors left to battle it are children, those still too innocent to be touched and corrupted by age and conformity.

Dalrymple’s heroes are the kids we all wanted to be growing up. They are Peter Pan's Lost Boys and The Goonies, fighting in a Mad Max-like future. They're warriors when they should be kids. Dalrymple allows one boy to remain a child; Hollis is brought from our present to the future because of his links to Sherwood. Hollis, dressed up in a red superhero costume with big "H" emblazoned on his chest, is the most childlike character in this book. He is the figure of hope and innocence throughout this book. More than just being dressed as a hero, Hollis is a hero because he faces up to his fears and the evil without flinching. Dalrymple has told stories about Hollis before (see his Delusional collection from Adhouse Books) and Hollis is every kid who's spent a lifetime with his head buried in comic books but he is also the kid who gets to live the dream of being a real superhero.

In Hollis, we see an imagination at work that actually turns Hollis into the superhero he wants to be. In Sherwood, Dalrymple suggests both the creative and destructive power of imagination. It's that imagination which powers this book as Dalrymple struggles with the all too real powers in the world that want to keep imagination limited and controlled. What strange things to say about imagination-- limited and controlled? The world of the Shadowmen is a controlled and monitored world. The world of the Wrenchies is filled with magic and chaos. It’s the world where a boy in red leotards can travel in time to save the future.

The Shadowmen are the lack of imagination in the world that ultimately stifles the world. The Shadowmen are the aged conservatism that we all battle as we get older. Our worst images of our parents and grandparents, the Shadowmen are the people who created a world that wants to mold us into everything that we aren't. But isn't that what every generation before us has also faced? Maybe that's why Dalrymple's story is a time travel story; the battles that Hollis fights in the 21st century aren't all that different than the battles the Wrenchies fight to save the world in the far future. The names and faces have changed but the battle for childhood continues in every generation.

Even in the future where the children are the rebellion, the watercolors that Dalrymple uses are muted, deep and greyed out. His artwork is filled with a somber energy. There are no bright, vivid colors except in the red in Hollis's costume but even that is washed out to the point where it looks dirty and soiled. It’s dingy, looking like it hasn’t been properly washed in a long, long time. Using greys, yellows and greens, Dalrymple ages everything in this book. The pages themselves are battling against age as the artist lets his imagination run wild in the images but pulls that imagination back by muting the colors. The fight of the characters are also the fight of the artist and the reader as Dalrymple uses everything at his disposal to mirror the struggle of these children already fighting against age and repression.

That murky coloring is utilized against some wonderfully startling images. Dalrymple can fill the pages of this book with startling, fantastical scenes of a future where monsters and robots can exist and every moment is filled with danger. But he also brings that same sense of awe to the modern city streets where Hollis lives. Hollis's present day isn't the burned out future of the Wrenchies but the details of those city streets are no less evocative. Scenes of church services, playgrounds and just normal city sidewalks contain the same sense of oppression as the future's secret hideouts and devastated fields. By the end of the book, these various settings begin to merge as Dalrymple reveals the true shape of his story. Our present and future sit side by side on the pages as we return to Sherwood, the true villain and true hero of the story, and Dalrymple approach doesn't vary as everything becomes a threat against our collective childhoods.

The Wrenchies is about the battle of having to grow up in this world, a world that none of us created but that we're all responsible for. Dalrymple shows our lives and our struggles as a continuum of everything that has come before us. The adults are the cause of all of our problems but aren't we someday destined to be those adults for future generations? At least, isn't that how we see it as kids and the way that we wish it was as adults- that we could just blame everyone but ourselves for what is happening?

You can read a new Wrenchies short story at Tor.com.