Bob Fingerman’s “Minimum Wage” #4 is a throwback to “comix,” like reading a grunge song on a Columbia House Music Club CD that you bought for a penny from an ad in TV Guide. It’s a nostalgia trip to an era where autobiographical comics weren’t something that appear in a Tumblr feed. The book is also like a teenage grunge fan — it may be a little long-winded and confused about its emotions, but its heart is in the right place and it means well.
The issue opens with the sort-of fallout of Rob going home with one of his childhood idols and continues as he learns how to build a life for himself as a mid-20s divorcee. The time of life in which Rob currently exists, especially in early 2000s New York City, is a time when people are trying and failing to figure out who they are and how they fit in to the greater world around them. Rob is struggling with the notion that he still draws smut for cash under a pseudonym and aspires to a different sort of artistic expression. He knows what he wants but doesn’t know how to get there. The confusion that Bob Fingerman infuses our protagonist with is palpable. The impressively detailed pages of the book practically sweat with unexpressed anxiety.
Regardless of your station in life there is something relatable in every scene. Rob’s mix of excitement and uncertainty about getting his apartment; the desire to be alone and then not be alone as soon as he has solitude; the aimless adventure of a night on the town for no reason at all; drinking so much Rob almost forgets why he even was drinking in the first place; urinating in public. Fingerman approaches storytelling like “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner — each installment moves the overall plot forward while not necessarily continuing directly from the last issue. It’s a good format for a monthly title, especially in an era of comics where I am bombarded by so much longform storytelling that it’s hard to remember what happened the month before. The characters do a little too much tell-and-not-show here, but I think it works with this story. Rob is in a fragile, insecure place, and the flood of dialogue across the book conveys a sense of unease, a thinking-out-loud, stream of consciousness oververbalization. It’s like the first ten minutes of an episode of “WTF” but with less talk about cats.
Fingerman’s linework has the detail and cartooning of alt greats like Robert Crumb or Peter Bagge — intricate and realistic while not being weighed down by reality. The locales are all authentic but the characters are exaggerated. No two look the same in these pages, and the designs of each make sense and ring true to their personalities.
It’s no small feat for a slice-of-life comic succeed, let alone succeed twice, but Fingerman looks to be bucking the odds through great art and honest, believable dialogue. For all of the uncertainty within the story, Minimum Wage is a book that knows its place, knows what it does, and continues to do it well.