Before Louis C.K, before The Office and before Curb Your Enthusiam, there was another storyteller that gave an unflinching and cringe-worthy view on everyday life; that was Bob Fingerman, doing his independent series Minimum Wage. And now, almost two decades since the series ended, Fingerman returns to the life of his semi-autobiographical character Rob and finds this fictional character with quite a few changes in his life. These new stories play out in a new Minimum Wageseries launching this January from Image, a surprise for Fingerman who was a staple of indie comix in the 1990s.
“It’s both surprising and great – in equal measure,” Fingerman says. “I didn’t think I would ever be working on Minimum Wage again, but not because I didn’t want to; I just didn’t think I’d be able to do it the way I wanted. Up until I worked with Image on the collection of the earlier Minimum Wage comics, I never thought this would be a reality. But I’m coming back to it now, and it’s been almost fifteen years – although only three years have passed in Minimum Wage story-time. I didn’t want to pick up on Rob and the cast in middle age; I wanted them to still be young, but not quite as young as before.”
At the end of the original Minimum Wage series, Rob was seen marrying his long-time girlfriend Sylvia but the final page left a question mark to how that would turn out. The outcome of that becomes a central part of the new Image series.
“This is a little bit of a spoiler, but it’s mentioned in the solicitations; Rob’s going through a divorce with Sylvia. Instead of laboring on how it came about, the new Minimum Wage jumps from the final panel of him saying ‘I do’ to clear being in a state of ‘I don’t,’” Fingerman reveals. “We will learn why over the courses of the series, but I will say officially that we will never get any flashbacks to the marriage; that’s not the kind of storytelling I want to do. That’s not interesting to me as a storyteller. It’s more fun to fill in the details as we go. There will be little allusions along the way as to why the marriage didn’t work.”
The publisher has been marketing heavily on the fact that Fingerman’s original Minimum Wage series was an early example of a modern-day trend in comedy titled “cringe comedy” with shows like Louie and the acts of comedians like Patton Oswalt and Marc Maron. When asked about being one of the first to delve into this brand of satirical and self-obsessing comedy, Fingerman says he never had a label for it but that he was always aiming for “stuff that hits you on a gut level.”
“I wish that I could get the credit for inventing cringe comedy, but that seems very egotistical to say. There was no real term for it while I doing it. Fingerman admits. “Years ago when I was doing the original run of Minimum Wage with another publisher, I had a conversation with Peter Bagge who was, at the time, working on Hate. I asked him why he thought Minimum Wage wasn’t selling as well as Hate, and his theory was my series got too real and made people uncomfortable. So in a way it was cringe comedy before the term had been coined.”
“I’m certainly happen to own up to that title, but I never sought to insert comedy in it other than stuff that hits you on a gut level,” explains the cartoonist. “I want people to experience things as Rob experiences them, and I hope people experience them on a level that’s familiar to them. A lot of people over the last 10+ years have approached me and said, ‘Oh god, I went through exactly the same thing.’ Nobody says it with a big smile, but they say ‘yeah, I’ve been there.’”
The star of Minimum Wage is a cartoonist named Rob who, like Bob, worked extensively on comic magazines like Mad and on erotic comics in the 1990s. In his return to Minimum Wage however, there is a bit of a break as the cartoonist is making steps for his character to go down a different path that he himself took.
“I was always kind of cagey about referring to my real life and how much it informed the original series. In this new series, I’m doing more of a mixing and matching of events I’ve had and fiction. As a writer I’ve grown more confident in writing fiction, and the fictional aspect of Minimum Wage will now probably be more in the 50% or so range, with it before being around 20%. It’s more liberating, and also gives me more material to work with. If I’m purely relying on my own life, I don’t think I’d have as much material to work with.”
One of the most interesting aspects of Rob’s new life in the new Minimum Wage series is that he’s moved on from doing porn and humor comics to being a mainstream superhero comics writer. Fingerman dabbled in the genre briefly, but his Rob character seems fully entrenched in that work and Fingerman is excited to explore that line of work for its story potential.
“I worked on a superhero franchise book in the early 90s, and it was really going straight from doing adult comics to working on something completely kid-friendly. Rob works on a fictionalized version of that,” Fingerman explains. “There will be this recalibration going on in Rob’s brain as he shifts gears from working on smut to working on stuff squarely aimed at kids. Having his career transition from stuff outside the mainstream to stuff squarely in the mainstream, it begins to change his role in the world he works in – and the world he seeks to be a part of. Rob’s involvement in the franchise books will be a bit longer than mine was; I want to portray the upsides and downsides. I want to immerse him more in the world of artistic compromise and how it affects him as a creator.”
This new Minimum Wage series follows up on the aforementioned collection of Fingerman’s 90s Minimum Wage run by Image, and comes thanks to behind-the-scenes support for Fingerman from The Walking Dead’s Robert Kirkman as well as publisher Eric Stephenson. Fingerman said he first floated the idea of doing a new Minimum Wage series to an Image staffer at a book convention, and was surprised to learn that Stephenson was open to it.
“It was really easy after that; he said ‘let’s do it.’” Fingerman explains. “So it kind of went from something that was sort of haunting me for a couple of years to being almost to easy to finally implement. I’m glad something went smoothly for a change.”
One of the reasons he chose to work with Image as opposed to the original publisher or others was because Image still has large line of single-issue series as opposed to graphic novels that many independent publishers have gone to.
“I wanted to work with a company that had a deeper reach into the Direct Market; that’s the whole point of coming back to this, to reach a bigger audience than I did before and I think that Image is the company to do it with. I feel like a shill for saying that, but I’m okay with that,” Fingerman says. “Also, Image offers just about the best deal for creator-owned books in terms of contracts. That’s something that, when I was younger, was the kind of thing that didn’t seem as important. But doing things as long as I have, I look for the contract that’s the most beneficial – but that can also delay finding a home for a comic.”
But now Fingerman’s new Minimum Wage series is firmly entrenched at Image with a January 2014 start date, and unlike the first series this new ongoing will come out on a dependable, monthly basis according to the cartoonist.
“There’s no way to go back to the way I did the original series. It was coming out serialized but not on any fixed schedule; just as I was able to do them,” the comics creator explains. “My working method has changed, and I’m also banking a bunch of them. I’m midway through the third issue and should have the fourth dong be the end of the year. I’m creating a cushion so they can actually com eout on schedule. I think the original series coming out piecemeal held it back, but now readers will know exactly when it comes and hopefully plan on hitting their shop when it comes out.
“I’m also working ahead mentally on the series,” says Fingerman. “In the original I had an outline in my head, but it was very loose and I wrote each issue as I went. This time I’ve actually done outlines for the first 18 issues, so I think having a much clearer idea of the story has changed the way I’m working on it. I’m much more efficient now.”