Wally Gropius: I Was a Teenage Millionaire
Wally Gropius (Fantagraphics, 2010), by Tim Hesley, tells the story of the titular character, who is a teenage millionaire. This is an understatement, of course. What you really have in this book is something extremely nonsensical, packed with surprising, absurd turning points. Visually, and also in relation to its overall tone, it resembles 1950s to 1960s comics, such as Richie Rich. Richie, by the way, would be a younger, and at the same time an older relative of Gropius. Both are filthy rich and blonde, and both live crazy adventures. But only one of them is where he is not supposed to be.
Recently, I published an article on American Barbarian, by Tom Scioli. In this article, I mentioned how the American Barbarian character was almost a literal copy of its predecessors, such as Conan and Thundarr, yet with an ironic twist. This was made clear by Scioli’s hyperbolic tone. Also, the character was clearly displaced; it made for a new reading experience because, in spite of being similar to those older barbarian characters, American Barbarian was taken out of their original context. It gave the word “originality” a new meaning.
In Wally Gropius, the main character is constantly mistaken by the German architect Walter Gropius. This is a good example of Hesley’s sense of humor or anti-humor. In any event, Gropius is actually a teenage millionaire. Around him, a series of stories develop in an episodic and chaotic manner. One of these storylines is that of Gropius’ search for the saddest girl in the world. He wants her to be his wife. In fact, this is Gropius’s father project. Thaddeus Gropius is the owner of a gas oven factory and he wants to tap into the suicide girl market.
All the girls from Iacocca High, Gropius’ school, became suicidal to be considered for the position of Gropius’ bride to be. But there is one exception, Jillian Banks. Jillian seduces Gropius by being herself. She also knows the national anthem to all countries. She is not the right person, according to the one rule posed by Gropius’ father, being the saddest girl in the world. But Gropius decides to get closer to Jillian anyway, by recording an album with national anthems. Does it make sense so far? Probably not.
After that, one of the most interesting scenes in the book takes place. Jillian has an argument with her father whom, like Gropius’ father, does not agree with their relationship. They scream at each other and (I hope this comes as a surprise to the reader as much as it was for me) they end up making love on the sofa. Basic incest. I swear I had to turn some pages back to see if I had missed something. As it turned out, it was all a plot to deceive Gropius. They only wanted to put their hands on the literal gigantic check that was the prize for being the saddest girl in the world and thus Gropius’ bride. The guy was not actually Jillian’s father, but her lover. He also appears at the beginning of the book, disguised as a homeless person, following Gropius. Why they pretend to be daughter and father, even when they are alone? My guess is as good as yours…
And that is just one of the stories!
In the book, you still will find Gropius’ amazing band, the Dropouts. Their lyrics appear in the comics, and they all sound promising. “Puberty is the tectonics of the face,” you can see them singing. Or “We can play table tennis until we vomit.” Gropius loves Rock n’ Roll. He is a huge Henry Lewis fan. Have you heard of him? Probably not, as he is a fictional rock star whom, at the last scene of the book, ends up in the altar, interrupting Gropius marriage, which was arranged by his father.
Did you get a sense of the book? Probably not.
Well, I read it, and it does not make much of a sense to me. But I loved it. I strongly recommend it.