Maximum Minimum Wage
Writer/Artist: Bob Fingerman
Review: Will Dubbeld
Indy books, Underground Comix, Small Press, Creator-Owned.
These are amongst the most glorious words in comicdom, right up there with 'New Comic Day' and 'Man-Thing'. Not that there's anything wrong with the Big Two (well, there's a lot wrong, but anywho...), but there's always a measure of satisfaction in reading a book that was squeezed out of the heart of some guy or gal over the course of years, with endless nights toiling in a cruddy apartment, eking out a living whilst attempting to craft a labor of comic love.
At least that's how I envision the independent comic book creation process.
I suppose there could be some trust fund babies slinging Indy Books, but I kinda doubt it. Thus Spake Maximum Minimum Wage. Paging, once again, through Previews, I discovered a solicit for Bob Fingerman's new Minimum Wage series. The description grabbed me immediately and the accompanying preview art sealed the deal. The book screamed the primal scream of a time when Fantagraphics was the premier publisher of Indy Books and Image was slinging shoulder pads and belt pouches.
Times, they are a changin'...
Solicited along with the new Minimum Wage series was a plug for Maximum Minimum Wage, an oversized hardcover collection of Fingerman's original series. I gave it a good, long look, but ultimately didn't order the hardcover as it was a bit on the spendy side.
Not that I balk at droppin' bills at the comic shop, but I'm trying (mostly) to be a bit more frugal.
These funnybooks ain't free, folks.
Upon reading Minimum Wage no. 1, I immediately regretted not ordering the hardcover.
The first issue was phenomenal, a slice of life snapshot of some poor schmuck, recently split from his wife and bemoaning his fleeting youth.
And the damn thing near demanded I read the preceding series.
Cursing my sporadic frugality, I found a significantly cheaper copy of Maximum Minimum Wage on the Internets and promptly ordered. Upon receipt, I devoured the book in a couple of days and was awestruck by the contents.
Minimum Wage is a slice-of-life, semi autobiographical account of a budding cartoonist named Rob, his mildly damaged girlfriend Sylvia, and their potpourri of friends and coworkers in '90s New York City.
Fingerman paints us a picture of an Everyman, albeit a bit exaggerated without delving into the fantastical. Moving in with your girlfriend, putting up with neurotic family, friends and coworkers, and marriage. It's a book about common, everyday occurrences presented in an uncommon and interesting manner. The characters are evocative of those idiot friends, those crazy exes, those asshole supervisors we all have or have had. But it's not us, not our obnoxious Godzilla-fanboy friend or archetypical Italian grandmother. It's a mildly oblique version of these friends and family, in the same reality as ours, but just slightly to the left. Much of the book is tongue in cheek humor, but Bob Fingerman touches on some very real issues through the life of Rob, his hapless Everyman. There is a sequence involving Rob and Sylvia and their decision have an abortion that disturbed me more than anything I'd read in a comic in quite a while. It wasn't a graphic depiction, it was merely a frank discussion and emotive sequence that unsettled me. I'm not hypersensitive when it comes to the topic of abortion, nor am I easily shaken, but that particular chapter of Minimum Wage was so vivid, so raw, that I was unnerved. If that was Fingerman's intention, well done.
After that bit of gravitas...
The Art! The art in Minimum Wage is fantastic. The seemingly simplified black-and-white line art contained some deceptively complex pieces of background and character studies. Every so often, a background character or passerby would be rendered with such an amount of detail, you know it was Fingerman's landlord, his aunt, his pizza delivery boy, or the guy who ran the 7-11 down the street from his apartment. The character designs of the main characters are great, not overdone but neither are they simplified to the point of monotony. The characters reminded me stylistically of the Mission Hill animated series from some years ago. An R-rated Mission Hill...
Bonus features, bonus features, bonus features, will you guys get your money's worth out of this book!
The main story concludes on pg. 236. The book clocks out at pg. 384. You do the math, but it's somewhere in the neighborhood of shitloads of extras, and none of it felt like filler. The next hundred (100!) pages are early stories/incarnations of Minimum Wage, followed by a cover gallery, pin ups from Peter Bagge, Gilbert Hernandez, and some other Indy luminaries I could name drop to be hip.
Closing out the book is some sketches, character designs, and an unused script.
Minimum Wage is a less foul Robert Crumb, a less zany Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, a more fanciful American Splendor, and nearly as full of human drama and study as Strangers In Paradise. Or Omaha the Cat Dancer, but without all the graphic, anthropomorphic cat-sex.
Maximum Minimum Wage is a 384 page hardcover available from Image Comics for the worth-the-money price of $34.99. Skip a few books from the Big Two for a couple of weeks and buy this collection instead. You'll feel better about yourself, and Spider-Man will still be there next week.
Plus, this book has a dust jacket and one of those fancy bookmarks that's sewn into the binding.