It feels like at least half of my graphic novel choices this year have been based on how wacky the title strikes me. Since I had such wonderful luck with “Get Naked” and “Kabul Disco”, how could I possibly pass up “Memoirs of A Very Stable Genius?” There was zero chance I’d let this slip by, and while not ground breaking, it is a wonderful book with a lighthearted and whimsical vibe that leaves a lasting smile on your face every time you read it.
Written and Illustrated by Shannon Wheeler
New Yorker cartoonist and multiple Eisner award-winner Shannon Wheeler offers an irreverent book of personal short stories and gags featuring his critically acclaimed humor, pathos, and honesty—including a 40-page full-color section!
A brand-new collection from the bestselling author of Sh*t My President Says, God Is Disappointed In You, Too Much Coffee Man, and many more.
This new release by Shannon Wheeler brings with it the witty and quick comedic sense that the creator of “Too Much Coffee Man” is known for. Comprised of a collection of single panel comedic offerings as well as several short stories, the book is a beautiful representation of the author’s world view and political orientation.
While the one page gags will be familiar to fans of Wheeler, it is the short stories that are clearly the jewels of the book. Running the gamut from reminiscing on the time he met political rights leaders to a summer camp encounter with a kid with a baby carrot penis, if there’s an underlying theme to the book, it is the sincerity of these stories.
With that being said, I am going to dip my toe into the main shortcoming of the book. Bar none, the best part of “Memoirs of A Very Stable Genius” are the stories. Unfortunately, there are not enough of them. They are extremely fun to read, and I’d say that Wheeler’s storytelling is far better than his gag writing. It was a bit surprising then when I thumbed through the book and saw that there are only a handful of stories. A reviewer’s opinion might very well be meaningless to an author, but if there is one thing I’d like Wheeler to take away from this is that his narratives are quite engrossing and should be given the spotlight more often.
Taking this a step further, the lack of additional stories makes the book very short. It is difficult to justify paying the cover price for something that can be read cover to cover in under an hour. While fans of Wheeler will know that the book is more of a cartoonist collection that will be found on a coffee table, the quality of the work deserves more. That’s not to critique it per se. The book is what it is and should be taken as such, but it is important that potential readers know what to expect. When I buy a book that chronicles the 75 best DC Comic covers, I know very well that I’m getting a comic related coffee table book. Given that the tagline for “Memoirs of A Very Stable Genius” is “an irreverent book of personal short stories and gags,” it brings with it the promise of more storytelling. Unfortunately, that’s a promise that doesn’t quite hold up.
Putting the length of the book aside, old and new fans alike will be very pleased with the one page gags. While not all of them land, most are quite humorous and some a legitimately laugh out loud funny. Some will even leave you scratching your head and questioning your intelligence as you won’t quite understand where the humor is coming from. Nevertheless, Wheeler channels both James Thurber and Gary Larson as his political and sociological whit is sharp and to the point.
The net effect of the one-pagers and short stories is a very pleasing book that will satisfy long-time fans and hopefully bring in new readers alike. I myself, as a Cuban born American, will take with me one of the greatest descriptions of my home Country that I’ve ever read. In a short story where Wheeler visits a then, highly illegal Cuba, he describes it as “The Downtown looked like it recently emerged from being underwater for 50 years. Everything was from another era. It was simultaneously worn down and preserved.” That juxtaposition bridging both humor and keen observation is what makes Wheeler’s work so enjoyable, and what makes this book a worthwhile read.