Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #231: Minimum Wage, Book Two by Bob Fingerman

If you read a lot of books, you buy a lot of books -- and it's even worse if you actually work in the glue factory. I imagine a lot of you out there have this same joy/problem: a set of shelves of books (real or virtual) filled with things that you haven't read, many of which have been there so long that you've forgotten they exist at all or why you ever wanted to read them.

Before my flood in 2011, I had that in spades: one big bookcase of unread stuff, double-shelved, with mass-market paperbacks jammed into three-rows-high pseudo-shelves up top and stacks of newer acquisitions ranged nearby. It was the result of two decades of grabbing books with both hands, and there were at least dozens -- possibly hundreds -- of books I couldn't have told you I owned if you asked me. It was a glorious mess, and I could waste an hour or so just trying to figure out what to read next -- and that's one of the least-recognized joys in life, those minutes spent in front of a shelf, pulling down one book after another and trying to match your exact mood.

That disappeared in one day when Hurricane Irene came through, which shows either how transient physical media is or how dumb it is to keep paper products in a basement: you can choose the lesson you prefer. But that was three years ago, so my to-be-read shelves have been building since then -- still only single-shelved, so I haven't quite forgotten about them yet -- and care packages from comics-world friends soon after that flood added a wonderful element of randomness and surprise to the shelves as well. So I do have books that I don't recognize and am only vaguely aware how I got them on those shelves, which means I can still do what a serious reader always wants: to find something unexpected and pleasing right under my nose.

All that goes to explaining the question: why on earth do I have and was I reading Bob Fingerman's Minimum Wage, Book Two, anyway? It's the middle part of a '90s comics series that has been better collected twice since then -- Beg the Question was the standard for a good decade (and I mentioned in here, in a "Great graphic novels you might not know about" post that I need to use as a shopping list to replenish my shelves), and there's a recent authoritative version called Maximum Minimum Wage, which is the book I actually recommend you look at.

But this volume was the one I had, out of serendipity and luck, and so I read a collection of five episodes in the life of Rob Hoffman, a struggling mid-twenties mid-'90s cartoonist who we've all always assumed was mostly a stand-in for Fingerman himself, and his girlfriend, the very Noo Yawker Sylvia Fanucci (who I suspect was less based on anyone specific). Fingerman tells stories about them with equal parts broad humor and closely-observed details of life in the just-scraping-by class: Minimum Wage was a lot like a good, smart sitcom in comics form.

It was the kind of sitcom that could never be on TV in those days, though -- and would be edgy for HBO even now -- with frank sex and nudity, a main character whose day-job is drawing cartoon porn for a thinly veiled Screw magazine, lots of geekery about comics and horror and monster movies, and even an abortion in the issues collected here. Minimum Wage was comedic, but it was never lightweight: it was a comedy about these young people's actual lives and struggles. And it stands up, not just as a snapshot of How We Geeks Lived Then, but as an honest account of real lives in a real place and time -- told as comedy, yes, because if you don't laugh at life you'll inevitably cry.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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