I remember reading the original “Minimum Wage” comics from Fantagraphics back in the day; a graphic novel and then a ten-issue series in the late ’90s, it detailed the life of Rob, a cartoonist who drew porn comics and had a rocky relationship with his girlfriend Sylva. Over the years, Bob Fingerman’s comic has shown up in a few different collected editions, culminating in “Maximum Minimum Wage” last year from Image. As it turned out, that was a lead-in to an all-new “Minimum Wage” #1, picking up in the year 2000 and showing that not all is well with young Rob. What’s surprising to me is even after all of this time, how quickly Fingerman can pull the reader back in.
The new “Minimum Wage” #1 does everything that a first issue should. It provides some backstory, it makes its characters interesting, and there’s a strong plot progression right off the bat. In two pages new and old readers alike get a sense of Rob’s mopey personality, they learn about his divorce from Sylva, and to a lesser extent the relationship he has with his friends. And from there, the book just keeps on trucking.
At the same time, this isn’t just a retread of everything readers have seen before. After the original “Minimum Wage” was full of Rob and Sylva having sex, the new “Minimum Wage” #1 shows anything but that. Rob’s single, miserable and striking out time and time again. There’s a lot of story potential in a single Rob, even as it makes him hate life more and more. Two things help with this particular angle from Fingerman. First, his friends rag on him enough that it’s made very clear that Rob is indeed being a bit of a baby. Sure, his marriage falling apart is a bad thing. But at the same time, his friends ground the story. It’s a reminder that everyone has these problems, that Rob is hardly a precious little flower. The second thing is that Rob’s dating woes will feel awfully familiar to just about any reader. As he tries the (at the time) new world of Internet dating, it’s easy to recognize a lot of the disastrous dates that he goes on. Fingerman hits them in fast secession, with each single panel being just enough time to dwell on it before moving on.
Fingerman’s two-color art looks nice; the pale blue provides a nice extra level of texture to the comics, and it’s surprising how little Fingerman’s art has changed since 1999. His blocky, clean character designs have come into vogue these days, and he does a nice job of keeping the year 2000 in mind when he draws everyone. The scenes in the club are, in particular, quite excellent. Those of us old enough to remember what people on a night out were wearing then will be having flashbacks, while younger readers will just shake their heads. And in general, I appreciate that Fingerman’s using the 2000 setting to his advantage; not only is online dating gaining traction, but so is online porn. As someone who makes his living selling porn comics to magazines, the revelation that he’s going to probably be out of a job sooner rather than later has quite a bit of bite to it. While I would have loved to see Rob muddling through 2014, having the book set in the past allows Fingerman to get away with moments like this.
“Minimum Wage” #1 is a nice, pleasant start to the series’ return. Fingerman’s plan is to release the comic in batches of six issues, and provided there’s enough demand, after he builds up some more comics he’ll come back with another six-issue story. This was a good first issue; it set the stage well, and it has a promising lead-in to next month’s installment. It feels like the sort of comic where each issue will build on the previous one and make the overall experience that much better, but even on its own this is worth looking at. Check it out.