For as long as I can remember I’ve always read comics. Naturally, at the beginning, the vast majority would be British titles with a few DC 80/100 Page Giants and Smash! (Marvel) thrown in before moving onto more American/European and Japanese works. My prose reading may also have changed a lot from when I was younger (more political and historical than fantasy these days), but comics have always remained with me. The stories in them have made me laugh, be sad, be enthralled, taken me to other universes and worlds, a few have even made me want to wash my hands afterwards. But none have made me relate; except for one – Minimum Wage by Bob Fingerman.
Minimum Wage is the tale of Rob and Sylvia, a young New York couple trying to get along in the world like the vast majority of us. Rob is a semi-Jewish atheist graphic illustrator/columnist, mostly working in the porn magazine industry, but desperately trying to break into the big time. Sylv is a hot-blooded Italian who works in a hairdressers but also has artistic leanings. Their playground is New York City and Brooklyn, its inhabitants the demons sent to torment them. Two characters with lives that are funny, sexy, happy, sad and cleverly written with a supporting cast and environment that feels real and breaks the cardinal rule of “real-life comic books” in trying to be “relevant and meaningful”. Rob and Sylv’s life, like most peoples, just is.
I’m something of a private person, so naming what I can fully relate to in Minimum Wage is difficult for me, but I think I can say that we’ve all had a group of friends with one major asshole in it. One best friend that lasts a whole lifetime even if distance and relationships interfere. Trying to set up home with your partner and the horrors of flat-renting and moving day (I have a lot of books and dvd/blu-rays/music). Deaths in the family, weddings, funerals, annoying members of the public, working for clients that can either be brilliant or…
I’ve worked tables at comic conventions and wondered what the Hell I’m doing there. Like Rob, I’m a cultural sponge who will use quotes in a situation knowing that doing so drives friends and family up the wall. Unfortunately, going to a strip club on a casual basis was little before my time, but I digress. More importantly,
I’m in a loving and lasting relationship that has its ups and downs. So yeah, I can relate.
I’ve always liked Fingerman’s art (even White Like She (Fantagraphics), the failure that started Fingerman on the more loose style of the original Minimum Wage). It has a solid fluidity that can encompass a large cast and give them a different look and feel to each of them. Maximum Minimum Wage is the Criterion version of MW, gathering together the original series: a great plus, for its extra scenarios and filling out of characters, pinups and the unused script for issue 11. The main story is the re-touched version of MW called Beg the Question which Fingerman has re-touched even more. Like Rob and Sylvia’s relationship, Minimum Wage is still a work in progress.
NY and Brooklyn with its inhabitants are also characters in their own right. Something always seems to be going on in the backgrounds: even a simple walk down the street could bring up another story. This is a NY that is at its O.Henry/Hammett best. And with his art Fingerman brings out one thing in particular – heat. He conveys New York as a hot town, Summer in the city beautifully with just a few sweat beads and a Brooklyn attitude. I’ve been to NY a few times and I can easily recognize and feel it within the pages of MW.
But. But, but, but… There is an underlying, dark streak to MW. Rob and Sylvia love each other, there is no doubt about that, but they really don’t know each other that well. Rob is surprised to learn that Sylvia has had three abortions before she met him whilst in the script for the unfinished issue 11, Sylv is the first to break their marital vows by having a quick sex session with her old lesbian partner Maddie. When its suggested that they make it up to Rob by indulging in a threesome, Sylv replies that Rob is too neurotic and straight-laced for such a thing when we (as readers) know by his daydreams that he’s not. By the end, you have to wonder whether they have married too soon. Fingerman may have been going in this direction, who knows, but if he decides to continue MW by way of Kickstarter, count me in.
Maximum Minimum Wage is a book that I’d recommend to anyone who wants to read about people and places that are real, funny, neurotic in a good way and not full of angst. Go buy, you won’t regret it (and if you do, blame yourself for not having a heart).