Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #285: Minimum Wage, Vol. 1: Focus on the Strange by Bob Fingerman

If there's anything the pop culture of the late 20th century has taught us, it's that there's always an audience for the old stuff. Classic rock radio, throwback cable TV stations, retro fashions -- getting the band back together for a reunion tour is almost always a good financial deal, and sometimes it's the only deal you can get. So it's not surprising that cartoonist Bob Fingerman has gone back to his most famous and durable property, the mid-'90s semi-autobiographical stories of "Rob Hoffman," with a new Minimum Wage series.

For Fingerman, it's been nearly twenty years: the first series of Minimum Wage ended in 1997 with Rob's marriage to his girlfriend Sylvia. And we hit the ground in these new stories -- the first arc collected as Minimum Wage, Book 1: Focus on the Strange -- with some time passing for Rob as well.

But for him it's only been three years -- Rob is now 25, and it's the beginning of the summer of 2000. He's divorcing from Sylvia, for complicated reasons that aren't limited to her probable infidelity and their increasing clashing about having children -- but those are the explanations Rob can explain to his friends and himself. He's moved back in with his mother in Rego Park. He's still mostly drawing smut comics -- these days for Gander magazine -- though the winds of the Internet are starting to put that business model to the test, and will destroy that market niche before long.

Rob is still morose, depressive, and relentlessly negative about himself: this book is somewhat autobiographical, but Fingerman is clearly not making his stand-in character the hero of his own life. He still has the cluster of jerky and generally inappropriate mid-20s friends: though they all have jobs, they all feel incredibly young, which is only exacerbated by Fingerman setting the series a decade and a half ago. (He's also going to have to deal with 9/11 eventually, if he keeps going -- any story set in New York around 2000 has that looming over it ominously, no matter what kind of story the creator is trying to tell.)

This story arc, though, is primarily about Rob getting back into the dating scene. The cover unsubtly depicts him with the three women he dives into bed with over the course of the book: his first rebound girlfriend, an older woman he has a brief bizarre fling with, and an editor at one of Gander's sister publications. Rob, though, can't quite be happy with any of them, because he's the kind of guy who has trouble being happy at the best of time -- and this is definitely not the best of times, as he's depressed about his failed marriage and dreaming about Sylvia at every turn. The first run of Minimum Wage seemed to be about how Rob was finding ways to be happy, but this second series throws him back to a worse point that we ever saw him the first time around.

Fingerman's writing is smart and colloquial: this is a book with a lot of dialogue, and it's funny, zippy, big-city-guy dialogue, with quips and veiled attacks flowing in every line. And his art is still lumpy and very physical -- he has a bit of Corben-esque flashiness to his figures, though he works in pen and ink, mostly, not in paint as Corben does -- which works well for his very fleshy concerns here.

There's no hiding that this is a revival or cover tune, and that it's a very late entry in the '90s poor-me autobio genre. Fingerman has given himself fourteen years worth of time to work with, though, and has expressed an intention to write Minimum Wage in six-issue arcs. So I have hopes that he's not going to just plod slowly forward from August of 2000, stuck with a mid-twenties Rob trapped in that same moment. (Interestingly, Fingerman is himself almost exactly a decade older than his creation -- he might be having Rob do many of the same things, but they're not in the same sequence or connected to the same cultural moments as they were in Fingerman's own life.)

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

No comments:

Post a Comment