There are certain comics that leave an impression on you. For me, the original Minimum Wage graphic novel is one of them. I can distinctly remember getting a review copy in the mail, courtesy of Eric Reynolds at Fantagraphics. Right off the bat, I could tell this one was different: a softcover book with a dust jacket was (and still is) unusual, and the whole package had a nice, eye-pleasing design. On a quick flip through the book, Bob Fingerman‘s black-and-white art stood out—expressive characters with distinct designs and mannerisms, and backgrounds heavy on detail without being too crowded or busy. Once I dove in and started reading a few pages, I knew I had to cover this comic in “Palmer’s Picks.”
Because of a slight logjam in the schedule, I wasn’t able to write a full column about Minimum Wage until Wizard #55, after Fingerman had released two issues of the “Volume Two” comic series that followed the debut graphic novel (which was billed as “Volume One”). Fingerman was a great interview and was really open and forthcoming when talking about the beginnings of his career and what he was hoping to accomplish with Minimum Wage. I had a lot of great material from our talk and it was difficult to boil it all down to what saw print. But in the end, I think I came up with something that works.
Starting way back in Wizard #15, the design for “Palmer’s Picks” included space for a pull-quote on the first page. These were always selected by my editor and, for the most part, were usually pretty good. The one used for this issue was decent, but I think there’s a quote from Fingerman—explaining why Minimum Wage isn’t like other auto-biographical comics—that would have been better:
“Since everybody does go to the bathroom, I don’t think it needs to be portrayed. None of my characters have sealed-over sphincters like Ken dolls, but I don’t have to get into that.”
Issue 4 of Fingerman’s original Minimum Wage series might be one of my favorite single issue comics. It’s the infamous “comic convention” issue, and it perfectly captures the look, feel, and background details of every New York-area comic show from the ’80s and ’90s. It also features appearances by thinly-veiled stand-ins for several comic creators like Evan Dorkin, Barry Blair, and Glenn Danzig. Even if you have no desire to read the entire run of Minimum Wage, you owe it to yourself to track down a copy of that one issue.
And if you are interested in checking out all of Minimum Wage, you’re in luck. The original comic series ended after ten issues, but Fingerman extensively reworked all of that material and drew a brand-new opening chapter for Beg The Question, a graphic novel released in 2002 from Fantagraphics. Minimum Wage super-fan Robert Kirkman got Fingerman to bring his series over to Image, first with the oversized Maximum Minimum Wage collection in 2013, and then with two 6-issue series featuring new stories of Rob Hoffman and crew. No new Minimum Wage material has appeared since 2015. There was a gap of almost fifteen years between the end of the Fantagraphics run and the new Image incarnation of the comic, so hopefully we won’t have to wait that long for more Minimum Wage.
By Tom Palmer Jr.
“I chose to do comics so I could be happy with my work,” says Bob Fingerman, creator of the semi-autobiographical series Minimum Wage. “I figured if I’m going to be doing this for the foreseeable future, I shouldn’t be miserable.”
Before he started Minimum Wage, Fingerman bounced from project to project and wasn’t particularly happy. He created parody strips for various European anthologies and Cracked magazine, drew commercial illustrations, and even cartooned for several pornographic magazines. In 1994, he created White Like She, a realistically drawn, humorous sci-fi story put out by Dark Horse Comics, but the experience was not completely satisfying. “At that stage, I was refining my style to the point of the ridiculous. What I did was refine all of the enjoyment and spontaneity out of it, and it just became work.” Fingerman finally found his voice when he adopted the loose style he now uses on Minimum Wage. “I had always drawn cartoonier for my own amusement. Everything in my sketchbooks is kind of goofy-looking, so I thought, ‘Why not?’ I’m going to scratch my own itch, finally, and do something that’s completely my own kind of thing. I haven’t regretted it, since I’m now drawing true to my own instincts. It seems that this style is much more well-liked than anything I’ve done before, because there’s a sense of enjoyment that comes through in my artwork. I think people consequently have more fun looking at it.”
Part of the fun of Minimum Wage is the vivid characters that Fingerman has created. Unlike other character-driven comics, Minimum Wage features a cast that is full of energy and life. Rob Hoffman, the main character of the series, is a frustrated cartoonist who must brave the wilds of New York City while making a living drawing cartoons for porno magazines. Rob has to keep his sanity as he deals with disgusting editors, tries to enjoy the city’s nightlife and hunts for an apartment with his girlfriend, Sylvia Fanucci.
If Rob sounds similar to Fingerman, it’s because he is. “I’d be completely lying if I said Rob wasn’t just a really transparent stand-in for myself,” Fingerman explains. “At the same time, since I’m portraying him as a 24-year-old. I’m kind of looking back on where I’ve been, as opposed to where I am now. I think I’ve got the benefit of hindsight to look back at both his foibles and his triumphs. Since he’s not as far along as I am, I can see the humor, whereas maybe when things were happening to me I would have thought that they were just terrible.”
While Minimum Wage is partly based on Fingerman’s life, he has made a point of avoiding the usual trappings of other autobiographical comics. “You don’t need to see three panels of somebody sitting on the toilet reading or picking their nose. In some ways, I think there’s a little too much of dealing with the minutia of daily life. Minimum Wage is a little bit broader in terms of avoiding stuff like that. Since everybody does go to the bathroom, I don’t think it needs to be portrayed. None of my characters have sealed-over sphincters like Ken dolls, but I don’t have to get into that.”
Minimum Wage attempts to skip the overtly boring events in life, but that doesn’t mean it’s all fun and games. “There will be more of a balance of serious content mixed in with the humor as the series goes on. If there’s no conflict, then there’s no drama, and if there’s no drama, you’re going to lose interest. There’s going to be more of an emphasis on the ups and downs, but I’m looking to keep the whole thing balanced so it doesn’t get too heavy. I’m not going to turn this into a drama by any means, but there will be more dramatic content as it goes on.”
Fingerman, who studied at the School of Visual Arts, has a bold drawing style that is full of details, yet easy on the eyes. As Minimum Wage takes place in New York City, Fingerman makes a point of placing recognizable landmarks like the Limelight, St. Mark’s Comics, and the Vault in the background. “One thing I’m trying to do with this series is lend a certain atmosphere to the whole thing. I didn’t want to make this look like Genericville, U.S.A., or the typical Marvel city where you have the typical Marvel tall office building. I just can’t fake it. I’ve got all these photo albums of shots of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, because it definitely has its own flavor.”
Readers in the New York area can pick out familiar locations, but there’s a different sense of enjoyment for those who have never experienced the Big Apple. “For people who don’t live in New York, its fun to have stuff that they normally wouldn’t see. For me, backgrounds aren’t just backgrounds. They shouldn’t be completely passive; they’re part of the story, especially for something like this story. The background is integral to the whole thing. No detail is too small, but I also miss thousands of them, because I’m not Geof Darrow. Otherwise, there would be every brand-specific candy wrapper on the ground and I’d only put out one issue every three years.”
Luckily, fans of Minimum Wage won’t have to wait that long for the next installment in the lives of Rob and Sylvia. Fingerman has a rough idea of where the two of them will end up, but for now he’s quite happy improvising. “When you’re doing a series, I don’t think its a good idea to plan too far ahead. I don’t know exactly where this is going to go. That what will keep this fresh for me.”
Contrary to published reports, Tom Palmer Jr. really is the hardest-working man in the comic book industry.
FYI: Minimum Wage debuted last summer as a 72-page black-and-white graphic novel from Fantagraphics Books. The regular series followed in the fall, and there are two issues out now, with the third due shortly. If you can’t find Minimum Wage at your local comic store, you can contact the publisher at: Fantagraphics Books, 7563 Lake City Way NE, Seattle, WA 98115, or you can call 1-800-657-1100 for a free catalog.
Bob Fingerman’s Recommended Reading
“I love Eightball and Hate, but they certainly don’t need a plug from me. Dave Cooper has a book called Suckle coming out, and it’s incredible. It’s a magnificent piece of work. He’s boiled down his style where it’s not quite as obsessively rendered. He’s got a real good story, and I just think it’s an amazing book. I also like that book Preacher. There’s a real thing in the ‘alternative community’ where you can never plug anything that’s mainstream, but I think there are some real good mainstream books. I’ve got no prejudices against the wonderful world of four-color comics.”
IN CASE YOU MISSED:
Little Mister Man: James Kochalka, the self-proclaimed superstar of mini-comics, penned this little gem that was recently published by Slave Labor. The concept of this story is simple enough: A superpowered boy must deal with the taunting of other kids and with his father’s attempts to make him “normal.” Little Mister Man seems silly and goofy at first glance, but it is full of wit and charm. Kochalka takes his simple concept and runs away with it. His artwork is incredibly simple, but that’s what makes it so endearing. All three issues of Little Mister Man should still be available from Slave Labor Graphics, at
979 S. Bascom Ave., San Jose, CA 95128, or you can call 1-800-866-8929 for a free catalog.
IN STORES NOW:
Tales from the Bog: The second issue of newcomer Marcus Lusk’s self-published, black-and-white series about the anthropomorphic denizens of a swamp should be out right now. Lusk has created a cast of wonderful characters, and he uses this series to show off his excellent storytelling abilities. He pays close attention to the small events in life, and he also has a loose and expressive cartooning style that fits perfectly with this comic. In case you can’t find Tales from the Bog locally, you can order directly from Aberration Press at
416 Cahaba Park Circle, Suite 107-B, Birmingham, AL 35242. Sample issues are $2.95 and six-issue subscriptions are $18.