Baltimore Comic Con 2011 – Spotlight on Shannon Wheeler

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Shannon WheelerWhen I go to conventions, I tend to spend my time on the floor talking to publishers, writers, artists or stumbling through Artist Alley.  But, there’s usually an excellent choice of panels to attend too, that I never seem to manage to attend.  At Baltimore Comic Con, I decided to attend the panel hosted by BOOM!‘s Chip Mosher spotlighting the talented Shannon Wheeler.

Wheeler is the creator of Too Much Coffee Man, and recently won an Eisner Award for his collection of rejected New Yorker cartoons, I Thought You Would be Funnier.  Shannon also has written an opera and you might see his work in The New Yorker.

Wheeler began cartooning at an early age, taking classes from Michael T. Gilbert during the evenings.  He went on to study architecture at Berkley and started to create cartoons for $10 a pop.  Shannon from there began to recount stories that were beyond entertaining.  In the first he recounted how he and a friend dissected cartoons and how jokes were told.  This lead to a lot of discussion, but not a lot of creating.  The second explaining how he had to defend his cartoons at Berkley as he was lined up with the other cartoonists and would be grilled if his comic met certain criteria in it’s depictions.  The lesson he learned from there was to answer “yes.”  His first major comic at Berkley was Tooth & Justice.

Around 1988 Shannon moved to Austin, Texas where he became a video store clerk and would hang out at The Daily Texan newspaper with other legendary cartoonists such as Chris Ware.

His first real hit was Too Much Coffee Man which saw over 10,000 copies sold for it’s first issue and is in it’s seventh printing.  The series ran for ten issues (sort of).  Wheeler explained how he skipped two issues because he wasn’t having fun creating it, thinking the readers wouldn’t have fun reading it.  He really liked the ending, so decided to skip two issues.  He needed to skip two so that the covers worked the way he wanted.  This lead him the exclaim:

There’s nothing rarer than a non-existent comic book.

The stories flowed from there and here are the highlights, some never having been told before.

  • In 1993, Wheeler and his friends decided to make a bullet hole comic book gimmick.  They’d shoot a comic with a bullet and work the hole into the stories (one person forgot that part).  They debated if it was a good idea, Wheeler said no matter the idea, people will look for excuses not to do it.  They shot the books 3 times with the last time being done in a house garage and music covering up the gun fire.  A 9mm gun and a shotgun has been used and the shotgun was guaranteed “unreadable” selling fort $20.  The lesson, as condition goes down, the value goes up.
  • Japanese bootleg shirt – this was the “big story reveal’ of the show.  Wheeler wanted to do a t-shirt with Kanji writing and a picture or Too Much Coffee Man.  He felt it was a bit pretentious to do.  But, if the t-shirt is already selling in Japan, that’d justify the t-shirt.  So began the story of the bootlegged shirt.  Wheeler explained to people that a friend saw the t-shirt and that he was bootlegging and bootlegged t-shirt.  The translation was even off stating, “Person who drinks coffee often” as you’d expect in a t-shirt of that nature.  Ironically he was later contacted by a Japanese company, who actually licensed the t-shirt.
  • Wheeler was irritated he at one point had never gotten an award, so he had planned on creating a fake award for him to receive.  While this was in the planning stages he then actually received one, scrapping the plan.

The stories went on and on, going over the Too Much Coffee Man opera, his work for The New Yorker and his latest book collecting rejected submissions.  Wheeler throughout was honest and open recounting the good and bad.

The panel was engaging and entertaining, running over it’s hour allotment.  If you head to a convention and have a chance to see him speak, absolutely take advantage, you’ll be entertained and learn a lot.