Several years ago I had the opportunity of running the Too Much Coffee Man comic strip in one of our publications and I wish I had the budget to run it in our weeklies. When I learned that Shannon Wheeler had a new collection out I wanted to give him some press. The following is the story:
With a skin-tight suit with the letters "TMCM" emblazoned on the chest and a headpiece - or head - shaped liked a coffee mug, one might assume that Too Much Coffee Man is a superhero of sorts.
Despite the costume - and the large coffee mug head - Too Much Coffee Man doesn't have any super powers and he doesn't fight super villains. He muddles through life like most of us do, questioning just why he is here and what's going on.
Too Much Coffee man is the star of a weekly syndicated comic strip by Portland, Ore., cartoonist Shannon Wheeler. Wheeler's new collection, How to be Happy: Too Much Coffee Man is now available through books stores and Wheeler's website www.tmcm.com
The current collection is sarcastically described as a self-help book, but in reality Wheeler's cartoons take a biting look at human behavior, American society and Bush Administration politics.
Wheeler explained to Reminder Publications that he has writing and drawing the Too Much Coffee man strip for over ten years.
"I'm built to do it," he said with a laugh.
Originally presented in a mini-comic format - an eight-page format - Wheeler admitted that his creation had far less to do as a parody of superheroes and far more the result of a search for something that would appeal to people who hang out in coffee shops.
Although many of his cartoons are very political, Wheeler who grew up in Berkeley, Ca., doesn't consider himself as political as the residents of his hometown. He is a self-described "news junkie."
He said that by following the news every day, he gets angry and that the anger leads to astonishment. He expects to rise up in protest and start a revolution, he added.
"It's the best soap opera around," he said with a laugh.
Don't expect a lot of caricatures of the president and senators in his strips, though. Wheeler uses more subtle visual representations, such as a little boy with over-sized hands to represent George W. Bush.
Wheeler's strips frequently cause a reader to question himself. Among his favorite themes are rampant consumerism and how Christmas can depress people.
When asked if he hates Christmas, Wheeler laughed.
"I actually enjoy it," he said. What he doesn't like is the "inordinate pressure to consume" the holiday brings with it.
"My family was not all that materialistic. It wasn't a major consumer holiday for us," he added.
Too Much Coffee Man has been joined over the years by a number of regular supporting characters including Espresso Guy, a curmudgeon who has a demitasse cup strapped to his head. Wheeler said that many people pressured him to create a "Too Much Tea Guy" and "Too Much Hershey Man." He said they just didn't understand what he was doing.
So, he brought in Espresso Guy "just to shut people up," and the character has worked out well as a foil to Too Much Coffee Man.
One strip has Espresso Guy coming up with the ultimate moneymaking scam - he has copyrighted the copyright symbol: ©.
"Now when someone uses a © they have to pay me a royalty," he declared.
In response, Too Much Coffee Man said, " I flip between hating him and wishing I had though of it first."
Wheeler said that one of his main inspirations has been underground cartoonist Gilbert Shelton, the creator of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers. Shelton's artistic sensibility of his blending political commentary with humor was one lesson Wheeler learned from him.
Another was selling the same material two to three times. Originally Wheeler put his characters in comic books. For the past few years, he has syndicated his strip into newspapers and then released collections.
Wheeler also started a magazine, which collected other comic strips, essays and articles on popular culture and coffee.
When Wheeler started publishing his comics, there were a number of distributors that serviced comic book shops. Today there is one major distributor and Wheeler has diversified to make sure not all of his eggs are in one basket.
He said that the comic book market, especially for novices, is "real tough."
"I see other people starting out and it's hard," he added.
Fans can read Too Much Coffee Man on his website, if a newspaper in their area doesn't carry it. And Wheeler's magazine, which is available in bookstores, also carried the strip.
His website also features a number of Too Much Coffee Man products, from tee shirts to a lunch box.
Wheeler has put the magazine on hiatus while he returns to comic books with two non-Coffee Man projects, but he will start it back up at some point as he enjoyed working with his contributors.
Although Wheeler has made Too Much Coffee Man available to different audiences, there's one who probably never sees it: television audiences. Wheeler said that companies wanting to make an animated version of his strip have approached him.
Each one has offered a treatment in which Too Much Coffee Man uses coffee like Popeye used spinach. That's not what the strip is about.
"It's [an offer] has come an gone three times," he said.
Maybe those guys have been drinking too much espresso.