Shannon Wheeler has been drawing Too Much Coffee Man for 20 years now—the last few here in Portland—and Dark Horse's new doorstop of a book, Too Much Coffee Man Omnibus, is a comprehensive anthology that collects five previous TMCM collections with a few new cartoons for good measure. The book's enormity notwithstanding, it's a convenient and all-encompassing overview of Wheeler's evolution as a writer and artist, as well as a surprisingly effective time capsule of the past two decades.
The '90s saw the rise of coffee culture, both in the actual quality of coffee and in the proliferation of coffee shops (chain and otherwise), and there's an innocence to Wheeler's early work that nestles comfortably alongside the existential ennui that's become his de facto trademark. Too Much Coffee Man began as bitter, self-abrasive, and about seven layers thick with satire—its early, meta plotlines not only dealt with the titular hero but also the cartoonist himself and a reader of the comic—but it wasn't until the Bush administration and the fallout from 9/11 that Wheeler's outlook got really dire.
In intervening years, TMCM exploded the one-gag format of the typical comic strip—something to be quickly scanned while gulping down a cup of coffee, for instance—via humor loaded with irony and self-deprecation. The rest of the world has since caught up with Wheeler's temperament; indeed, Too Much Coffee Man seems to have predicted the mood of the 21st century with remarkable accuracy. As a result, this massive retrospective feels more vital than a simple, nostalgic look back.