One of the mostly highly anticipated graphic novel debuts of the year has been The Wrenchies. But there is, perhaps, no one more relieved by the book’s eventual release (by First Second) than its creator, Farel Dalrymple, who has spent the last five years of his life working on it.
And he’ll be the first to admit that it was his own fault, as he continued to add more and more to the story as he went along. The result was a final count of 304 pages, all painstakingly penciled, inked, and watercolored by hand.
Farel did take on some side projects along the way. These included his art contributions to the Prophet series from Image Comics and his own serialised webcomic, It Will All Hurt, on the Study Group Comics site.
This has resulted in a few projects coming out at once, as the release of The Wrenchies coincided with the printing of the second collection of It Will All Hurt. And for Floating World Comics in Portland, OR, it made perfect sense to host a release party and signing for both of these books.
Farel was kind enough to meet up beforehand for this interview, in which we talked about both these titles, how he first got into art, and what projects he’ll be working on next.
The event tonight is for both The Wrenchies and It Will All Hurt #2. What’s it like having a release party for two projects at once?
Farel Dalrymple: I feel like it’s a good way to kick off my Wrenchies tour. It Will All Hurt came out a few months back at Linework NW, and Zack Soto, publisher of Study Group Comics, originally wanted tonight to be a Study Group opening for It Will All Hurt #2, Haunter (by Sam Alden), and his 3-D magazine.
But with The Wrenchies getting printed early, it just sort of worked out. So Jason (owner of Floating World Comics) and Zack both thought it was a good idea to move the Study Group release to next month and just have tonight be for The Wrenchies and It Will All Hurt #2.
Is The Wrenchies officially out now? The original release date was supposed to be next month.
Yesterday was the new publication date, except for retailers who ordered it through Diamond, who aren’t going to get it til the first week of September. That was the original publication date, meant to coincide with SPX [the Small Press Expo in Bethesda, Maryland].
Have you been working on The Wrenchies and It Will All Hurt simultaneously?
I had been working on The Wrenchies for about four years before I started It Will All Hurt. I wanted to start doing a webcomic because the format allowed me to get a lot of ideas down on paper that I wasn’t able to do with The Wrenchies.
I was working on it for so long that I wanted to do all this other stuff, but I just couldn’t fit it in because the book was going to be like a thousand pages at that point. The Wrenchies is more like a finished comic, and It Will All Hurt is more of a stream of consciousness thing. I didn’t fuss with it a lot. I just went straight in with pen, no pencils or anything.
Did you have any kind of plan for where the story would go when you started?
Well, now that I’m taking a break from it and about to start the second chapter (the first chapter comprises the first two issues), I have a really good idea for how I want it to end and how I’m going to get there. But up until that point, I was just playing it by ear, more stream of consciousness.
How about The Wrenchies? Was that all mapped out from the beginning?
It was. I had a whole plot set out, but I just kept adding to it. I wanted to fill it out. Part of the fun for me in doing comics is being able to play with the form, drag things out, do character development, add different aspects to it.
The book was originally supposed to be a hundred and something pages but it ended up becoming 304 pages. I had to stop adding stuff to it. I could have made it three times that big.
Did you ever release any of the pages from The Wrenchies beforehand as a webcomic or anything?
No, everything in The Wrenchies is just in The Wrenchies. I posted a few pages on my Flickr and on my blog, and I published a short Wrenchies story on Tor.com, but even that was a separate story – a standalone story that wasn’t part of The Wrenchies graphic novel.
And you hand watercolored every page of The Wrenchies?
Yes – it was a long, tedious process. Well, a tedious process that I enjoyed. I would pencil it, get the pencils to the point where they were tight and I liked them and then I would ink it. Then I would watercolor it and then scan it.
The first half of the book was drawn on Bristol board before I switched to watercolor paper. It’s funny, I’m really strict about the type of brush and ink I use (Raphael Kolinsky 8404 and Dr. Martin’s Black Star) but with paper I was always like, “I can just do it on anything.”
But I would spend too much time working on the Bristol board and I would notice that anything I would do on the watercolor paper would turn out much better, and I was like, “Oh, this is actually suited for watercolor, maybe I should just use it instead.”
Well, now that we’ve got the art supply question out of the way, let’s dial it back to your upbringing. You grew up very Christian, is that right?
I was super-religious growing up. This was in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It was really Evangelical, you know, lifting your hands, praying in tongues, all that stuff.
My mom is still religious. She was the only one in her family and she took my sister and me to Tulsa, Oklahoma when we were five and seven and that’s what I knew growing up. I went to Christian schools and Christian churches.
When I was in my early 20s, I moved to New York and I was like, “Oh, there are other ideas and outlooks.”
This is when you went to SVA (The School of Visual Arts)?
Yes, that’s why I moved to New York. When I lived in Tulsa, I was going to Tulsa Community College and a recruiter from SVA came by and showed us a bunch of slides and I remember being really intimidated and saying, “Wow, that is really good. I can’t even believe people are that good.” And thinking about it now, it’s like, that was just a senior portfolio, art school stuff.
I said, “I’ve got to go there because it scares me.” Back then, I was into doing stuff that scared me. Moving to New York, I didn’t know anybody there. I knew the guy who was the recruiter. Beyond that, I didn’t know anybody so it was really intense.
I stayed at the McBurney YMCA my first week there. I remember being on the pay phone and there was a guy next to me who was just holding the pay phone drooling. There was so much craziness that happened in those first couple of days. I remember being really terrified and thinking, “If I can’t get into student housing this week, I’m going to move back.” But it all worked out and I made some friends.
What years were you at SVA?
From 1996 to 1999. I transferred as a Sophomore. I had an Associates in Art degree. They were trying to get me to do the foundation classes anyway. They want their money. But I managed to not have to take too many Humanities classes, which is nice.
I took a class taught by Walt Simonson, who was a childhood hero of mine. But I was an illustration student so I didn’t have many cartoonist instructors.
I realized while I was in school that I didn’t want to do illustration. I just wanted to learn how to draw and paint because I felt like you could take a lot of really intense drawing and painting classes.
It seemed like SVA was a school that was so big and had so many options that you could really suck the marrow out of it if you wanted to or you could skate by. And I tried to suck the marrow out of it.
Is that a Henry David Thoreau reference?
If it is, it’s by way of Dead Poets Society. That’s where I know that line from.
So what about after you graduated? Is that when you started working on Pop Gun War?
It was 40 pages in black and white that I originally got printed all on newsprint. A friend of mine had a friend who was a printer and was just like, “As a graduation present, I’ll print this book for you.” And I was like, “Free comic!”
Then I started Pop Gun War right after that, and I got a Xeric grant for that. I ran into a friend who told me about this grant started by one of the turtle guys [the Xeric Foundation was established by Peter Laird, co-creator of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles], and I went home and sent away for the information.
I got it in the mail. It wasn’t online or anything. I mean, you could probably find information about it on the internet, but I remember mailing in for it. And they wanted you to be 90% done with your book, so I sent them all the pencils and inks, whatever I had finished. And they wanted five copies of everything and I sent in five but at the last minute, I threw in one copy of Smith’s Adventures in the Mundane.
And they wrote me back and were like, “Hey, you still have a little time before the deadline. You need to send us four more copies of that. We want five copies of everything.” So I think that might have helped that I had already published something on my own.
Is that how you published the original Pop Gun War series before Dark Horse published the collection?
Yeah. The Xeric Award was just for the first issue. I published the next four on my own and Dark Horse picked it up and turned it into a collected book. I think Diana Schutz actually got a copy of the first issue from somebody and started giving me work at Dark Horse, little things and anthologies back when they still did that kind of thing.
It seems like they did a lot of indie-themed anthologies back then where they would publish stuff like Evan Dorkin’s Milk & Cheese. It seems like they don’t do that as much now, because it’s not super-economical for them. I don’t even know how well Dark Horse Presents does for them. But it’s cool that they still do that because it pays people to make serialized comics.
I’m working on a story for them now. I’m collaborating with Chris Stevens on a science-fiction love story called The Ear Farmer. I think it’s going to be around 90 pages when I finish it, split up into eight-page chunks, so about a year’s worth of work once we start. I’ve only done eight pages so far.
It takes place in the future and it’s about a girl who’s deaf, and they’re going to a place where they harvest ears to get her new ones.
That sounds like an interesting concept. Anything else you’re working right now?
I started working on Pop Gun War again – the sequel to it. I started working on it years ago before I even started The Wrenchies and now I’m going to pick it up again. It’s going to be serialized in this book called The Island, which is Brandon Graham’s new anthology with Image.
Image is going to be publishing Pop Gun War and Dark Horse is publishing The Ear Farmer and Study Group will be publishing It Will All Hurt. So I’ve got a lot on my plate. Oh, and I have to finish up a three-page Captain Victory story that Joe Casey is writing and Dynamite is the publisher. I’m way late on that.
Do you have any dream projects you’re dying to be able to do?
I feel like I’m doing it with Pop Gun War. That’s really my dream project. I like all the other stuff. It’s fun working on The Ear Farmer with Chris, who’s an old friend and I like the story a lot. And I’m glad I’m done with The Wrenchies and that it’s out.
It Will All Hurt is just fun to work on. And I wanted to work on Prophet primarily to work with Brandon and also just because of how weird it was. I felt like there was this niche that was being filled by it existing. In American comics there really isn’t anything out there like it.
But Pop Gun War is my life’s dream. That’s the one.
I really enjoyed reading the first volume of Pop Gun War, so I’d be eager to see more.
Thanks! I should have just stuck with that. I think the strength of it really comes down to the fact that I wasn’t trying to figure out what people wanted. I wasn’t trying to get commercial work with it or anything like that. It was just a thing I wanted to do. It was just for me. I feel like when creators get to do that, it’s their best work. That’s the stuff that holds up over time.