Shannon Wheeler and The Slow Roasted Death Star
An interview with the creator of Too Much Coffee Man!

By Tom Waters
August 16th, 2002

Let me begin by saying that I do my homework. I've been interviewed by hacks, seventeen year old college reporters and clowns who don't have the good sense to ask you questions other than those that an eight year old could come up with after a rousing half hour of "Sponge Bob." And I was dumbstruck when Mr.Wheeler's package of background material arrived in the mail. He sent me a veritable Akashic library of previously published work. I'll give you the break down.

Some time around 1995, Shannon started a mini comic which he distributed for free in the Seattle, Washington area. It was about a lunatic of a creative mouthpiece who raged against everything unjust and paradoxical about the world with a humorous slant the likes of which I haven't seen since my all time favorite indie "Reid Fleming, World's Toughest Milk Man." The comic and the character were named "Too Much Coffee Man." He had his emotional ups, downs, and psychotic rants in between. The mini mag turned into an independent comic that drew a monstrous underground following. Before he knew it, loyal readers like Henry Rollins were calling him up and asking if he was interested in freelance work. Mr. Wheeler, in an effort to create an iconoclast that struck the Jungian nut sack of the Western psyche, had struck gold.

"..there's so much alcoholic humor, and it's such a great addiction."

Within no time, Shannon parlayed the first block of installments into a handsome compilation trade paperback by none other than Dark Horse Comics entitled TMCM's "Parade Of Tirade." After that, the sky was the limit. He was at the helm of a merchandising and creative empire. Coffee mugs, t shirts, back issues, etc. Within the last year, he decided to branch out a bit further when he announced to his loyal fans (from all over the world, mind you) that he was taking the character (and the publication), in a different direction. "Too Much Coffee Man" was going magazine. A few issues later and the cult has grown and the magazine is the buzz of the Starbucks jet set. All the mom and pop chains that entertain people who mooch free refills and spend the majority of their evening swilling mud and breaking down the latest Woody Allen film. The magazine is really brilliant for a newcomer. It takes chances and it's not the same homogenized horseshit that most publications try so hard to be in their first few fiscal years. They featured an article on the coffee enema, film trailer reviews, relationship discourses with a slant that people under 80 can relate to, and other highly offensive pieces that solicit audible laughter. He's on his way to a cash cow of Lucas proportions. Shannon is poised on the cusp of financial gluttony, and on behalf of other greedy writers, good for him.

I track Shannon down shortly after dinner at his Seattle home. Since I don't have a fly pod, we're corresponding over the phone. He's a wiry conversationalist, jumping, stopping and flying about and circling on back to his theme like (for want of a better description) someone hopped up on too much coffee. After making me call him back repeatedly (testing me by way of some sort of journalistic gauntlet), the interview begins:

When did you decide to transmogrify TMCM into a magazine?
I guess about two years ago. I finished the major plot lines that I had with Too Much Coffee Man and that was a story arc with the guy who wrote Two Much Coffee Man (a fictional/autobiographical cartoonist) and the relationship arc where he becomes worse and worse off and homeless. When I started the comic, I did think of it as one large story with three aspects to it. My friends thought that my audience might object to me having so much non TMCM in my book. But I felt that the other arc was a nice story of excess. If I'm bored, I might as well be working for Marvel.

One of the semi-autobiographical characters from TMCM's "Parade Of Tirade" discussed plans for a movie project. Are there any plans for a TMCM feature film?
Um, there was talk of an animated series, and there was talk of a feature film, but it moved in the direction of doing a weekly TV show and it got to the point of Comedy Central and an animation company. They wanted a pilot script and it got pretty far in the process, until we submitted the pilot and I was supposed to be an intimate part of creating the show. The writer and I worked together on a script and I didn't like it, but I was a minority. They made TMCM a mean person, and they explained to me that television and comic books are very different things. I was very unhappy with the script and thankfully Comedy Central agreed with me that it sucked.

Do you see TMCM (the character) as a vehicle to tackle political, religious, and philosophical topics now, or has he taken on a life of his own?
Yes and yes. Early on I figured out that I would get bored if what I was going to do was coffee jokes,that it would end very quickly. What I was thinking about was personal responsibility and our obligation to the planet and the quandary of our lives. Better photographs and better smells. He really works well because he is an innocent and it's an aspect of my personality that I've tapped into.

What other expansion/marketing plans do you have for the TMCM empire?
The magazine, I want to push that as far as I can and that's just been really quite a bit of my focus, is how to do that, how to get interviews with people and interesting articles and thinking about how to make the magazine interesting, and that's just been a blast. I've like working with writers, having ideas, and manifesting them, making them real. By working with other people,making them better than what I could have possibly done on my own. "The War Review" was a good example. (In one issue of the magazine, a writer 'reviews' all of America's great wars as if they were movies.)

Is it true that Robin Williams committed to the role of "Expresso Guy?"
It's interesting because Patch Adams has corresponded with me, and he's an amazing guy, and I've seen a picture of Robin wearing a TMCM t-shirt, and I've wanted do an interview with both of them separately. I think it's interesting that a guy like Patch Adams has dedicated his life to helping people and then Robin portrays him in a movie, and because of that, whenever they talk to Patch, the public mostly wants to ask him about Robin or the movie. I ended up chasing Robin's promoter, and telling him my idea of the direction I wanted to talk about, and the guy was a dick. He was condescending and rude, as well as dismissive and a stereotype. Talking to the manager made me wonder if that's why William's reputation is so bad. If this guy's so negative, maybe he's rude to everybody, and maybe that's why Robin gets so much bad press.

What happy surprises did you learn working as an editor in chief for a magazine?
(Laughs) Let's see, what surprises? Let's see....ad sales, I'm amazed at how many things I suck at. Rejection letters or telling people no, editing I am terrible at, proof reading I'm awful. Every weakness of my liberal education comes out, like how bad my spelling is.

Should Tom Toles be shot?
I don't ever see his comics. I know of his comics and I've seen them on occasion but not lately.

What's the most effective way to make the most money off of a creative product?
One thing is that I've always been really careful not to make anything I wouldn't want in my house, because I figure if I can't sell it that I'll have five hundred of them. Don't make fly swatters because you can't possiblyuse them.Panties are useful and we did those recently. At comic conventions women are getting back into comic books and there's really nothing for them to buy, plus these guys are not as geeky as they used to be and they have girlfriends and they're going to look for something to buy for the girlfriend.They've done well for us!

Do you like working with a team as opposed to being a lone gun?
Absolutely, I'm still lone gun when it comes to creating the strip, but it's really nice to be able to delegate and it's nice to work with people that are smarter than yourself. They can bring things to the table that you cannot. And the conversations are a whole lot better when you're not by yourself.

Will TMCM sell out and lose sight of what's important when the cash starts rolling in (like Rolling Stone)?
Who's to say it hasn't already happened? Only time will tell. I have a knack for burning bridges and doing stupid things, so hopefully I won't sell out.

Is there such a thing as too much alcohol, and if so, are you developing a character?
Um, yeah, I did bring in a Mr. Alcoholic at one point and it was one brief appearance, and I keep meaning to, because there's so much alcoholic humor, and it's such a great addiction. Plus all our Internet sales come in at around 2 am, and I think they shop drunk.

How far do you want to push the envelope humor-wise?
I don't know how far to push it. Nudity...we haven't been exploitative with it...that's not even a word, we're not an exploitation magazine, the ideas are pushing as far as possible. The next issue we have a story on the gay twin towers and we might be crossing the line. It portrays the twin towers as a gay symbol for obvious reasons. The al Queda have a prejudice against homosexuality and they have a thesis that it was an obvious motive for bringing homosexuality down and that was why the president was standing up for gays.

Is Seattle supportive to artists who don't blow their heads off?
(Laughs) I have a hard time in Seattle because I think they hate their own reputation. They see me as part of the problem, so outside of Seattle I might become a symbol for Seattle, but the town needs to look past the obvious aspect of TMCM.

 

TMCM magazine (as well as the universe of cool accessories, books, and back issues associated with it) can be purchased at any of your cooler local bookstores, comic shops and coffee houses, as well as online at TMCM.com. Too Much Coffee Man himself can be rented for private parties and stagettes by appointment only. Columbians with a lecherous look in their eyes need not apply.




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