Books: Comics Legend Harvey Pekar Channels Studs Terkel

Can a graphic adaptation of the master reporter’s Working interviews work?

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THIS COMIC BOOK isn’t the most far-fetched attempt to repackage Working, the late Studs Terkel‘s signature work of oral history—that would be the 1978 Broadway musical of the same name. Harvey Pekar proves to be the perfect person to turn Terkel’s 35-year-old homage to the workaday world into something worth rereading. Pekar, after all, immortalized his life and times as a file clerk for the Department of Veterans Affairs in his indie comic series American Splendor (itself the inspiration for a movie and, recently, an opera). Collaborating with 16 artists, Pekar has edited a selection of Terkel’s first-person tales of drudgery and dignity, as told by baby nurses and grave diggers, prostitutes and stockbrokers. The quality of the art varies greatly, but the original words rise above the rough spots (even when presented in that goofily unproletarian typeface, Comic Sans). Some of the material is amusingly dated—barbers and hairstylists griping about dirty longhairs; an airline ticket operator weirded out by spending her day in front of “an electronic typewriter” that “can retrieve information—forever.” But the storytellers’ sense of unease that the bottom could drop out of the American Dream at any moment is all too familiar. Working remains an engrossing portrait of ordinary Americans and the perpetual tension between our desire to find meaning in our work and our need to be more than just our jobs.

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THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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