Wally Gropius: The Umpteen Millionaire graphic novel review

Wally Gropius is billed as a sharp satire on capitalism and 60s comics, but does it remember to be entertaining? Michael finds out…

Have you ever read something, or watched something, or listened to something, finished it, and thought, “I should have liked that”? That almost guilty feeling you get when people you like, and people you admire, have recommended something, and then you read it, or watch it, or listen to it, and can’t quite see what all the fuss is about? No, more than that, found it, at best, actively dislikeable, bordering on offensively bad?

Because the promotional gumpf from publisher Fantagraphics has Daniel Clowes (and I bloody love Daniel Clowes) touting Tim Hensley’s Wally Gropius as “a work of unassuming genius”, one of his favourite ‘graphic novels’ of all time. Other reviews I’ve read of the book have been similarly gushing, heralding Hensley’s biting wit, his clever satire.

But I just didn’t get it.

Wally Gropius, as he introduces himself, is a “teenage millionaire who fights crimes and solves mysteries!'”This collection of cartoon strips deals with Wally’s father’s ultimatum that he marry “the saddest girl in the world” in order to sell gas ovens.

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Add to that a peppy, self-involved love interest in the shape of Jillian Banks, occasional adventures with Wally’s band, The Dropouts, and a plethora of Huey Lewis And The News references, and you’ve got Tim Hensley’s opus in a nutshell.

Perhaps it’s the format that doesn’t quite work for me. The book itself, sumptuously presented in oversized hardback, collects Hensley’s strips, as previously serialised in alt-comics quarterly Mome.

And it’s a good-looking book, no doubt, well-drawn and beautifully coloured, Hensley’s artwork aping the 60s teenager comics that it parodies brilliantly.

Each strip is only two or three pages long, however, and they’re hardly packed to bursting with material. Hensley’s playful with words, but his words rarely go anywhere. That’ll be Fantagraphics “dada and elliptical dialogue”, then, but it didn’t do anything for me.

But then, I have no real background in the source material. On paper, it’s a brilliant idea, using the aesthetics of a 1960s teenager comic (Wally himself is essentially the douche bag Richie Rich always threatened to be) to satirise and parody contemporary capitalism. But again, it’s a parody and a satire that rarely goes anywhere or does anything interesting, essentially saying ‘teenagers are arseholes’ over and over again, ad nauseam, until you wonder who’s laughing at who.

It would be decidedly Daily Mail to isolate some of the more arresting strips for commentary, but when there’s so little to go on, you wonder where else to go. One panel, then, has Jillian Banks, the Veronica to Wally’s Archie, if you will, essentially being raped by her own father, doubtless in a grotesque parody of the terse father figures of the 1960s.

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Elsewhere, there’s a stark visual reference to the Abu Ghraib torture photographs, with Jillian commenting on how she wants “to be a conduit for the tender feelings a people have for their homeland”.

Hensley does relatively little with these arresting visuals, however, and there’s an overriding feeling, in this reviewer, at least, that Wally Gropius too often tries to be clever and confrontational and forgets to be any good whatsoever.

Wally Gropius is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.


2 out of 5