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Bob Fingerman on Minimum Wage

Bob Fingerman’s legendary comic book series about living in New York City in the early ’90s is revisited in a beautiful new collection from Image, Maximum Minimum Wage. We talked to Fingerman

Maximum Minimum WageMaximum Minimum Wage
How did this massive new collection come about?
The idea came from an editor friend, actually. I don’t have false modesty, but I don’t have the hugest ego, either, so the notion of doing a deluxe collection of Minimum Wage hadn’t occurred to me, but once the seed was planted it took root and then all I could think was, why wouldn’t I want this? So, as is my wont, I got busy redoing some of the art, bringing it up to speed, making it how I wanted it. I pitched it to [The Walking Dead’s] Robert Kirkman, who in addition to being a real mover and shaker, also happens to be an old fan of MW from way back in its serial days. I told him what I had in mind and he got right back to me and said he’d make it happen. I wish all deals were that easy. Although working with Image, they kind of have been. They’re great and I’m thrilled to have found a home there.
Near the end of the book, you note that the real-life person on whom the character Elvis was based is no longer around. It's a lovely tribute you wrote, and it made me wonder if revisiting all this material made you nostalgic for the time and place and people you depict in Minimum Wage?  
Not really. Not nostalgic. Reflective, maybe. I don’t really harbor much nostalgia for my early twenties. I did things, lived life, made mistakes, built a career (insert laugh track here) and so on, but other than being younger I don’t really look back with rose-colored glasses and yearning. I was more reactionary, angry, frustrated, overwhelmed. I’m much happier now than I was then.
The mid-’90s are, in my view, one of the weirdest times in comics publishing. What was it like to be part of it and to be launching a personal story like this in the midst of all that?
I don’t even know how to answer that because I was and am too close to it. I wasn’t really thinking about the time at the time, but looking back I gather I sort of just missed the boom but got in before the bust. Now I think things are a bit more even-keeled. No more speculator market, just fans buying books they want to read. No inflated numbers from opportunistic collectors. I’ve been told, by Tom Spurgeon, that my doing Minimum Wage at that time was inopportune, but what can I say? I never thought it reached the numbers it could have, but it did okay. And I did it the way I wanted to do it.
One of the things that kept striking me is how the comics industry is a vastly different animal than it was back then. If you were in your 20s now and just about to embark on Minimum Wage, could you see yourself doing it? Would it be more or less difficult? 
Huh. Not sure. I wouldn’t have been launching MW in my twenties, as it was me looking back at that period of my life, but I take your meaning, I think. The marketplace is a little different now, and certainly the advent of digital publishing didn’t exist then. If I was in my twenties now my whole frame of reference would be different, so I doubt I’d bristle at the idea of digital as much as I do in my dinosaur brain. But who can say? Maybe I’d still be a paper traditionalist.
Could you see yourself doing Minimum Wage now as a digital comic?
I can sort of see the appeal of digital comics, but I don’t like reading them. At all. I see you can do some novel things in terms of presentation, timing panels, dropping in dialogue as you go. But I prefer paper. I like real texture, not synthetic, emulated, texture. I like the tactility of paper.
You mention doing some tweaks (a la George Lucas retconning some things in the Star Wars movies). What specifically did you want to change? And were there things you wanted to change in this reissue but stopped yourself from altering?
No, I changed what I wanted to change. To broaden its appeal I toned down some of the sex and nudity. Although some of that wasn’t just toning down as drawing better. Getting rid of some awkward anatomy. And some was just doing better drawing that had nothing to do with R-rated content. I’m a tinkerer, at least when it comes to my art. But I’m trying not to be as I go forward.
One of the many amazing things about Minimum Wage is how remarkably well it holds up after all these years. Are you surprised by how un-dated it feels?
Aside from some things, not really. It’s pretty universal with respect to its core, which is about human relationships. Tech changes, people don’t. Not much, anyway.
What’s your favorite segment of this book?
There are a few parts. The longest sustained part would be the Comic-Con chapter. That was just fun. Some of the scenes in the [strip club] are also favorites. They’re just grubby and amusing. The scene of Sylvia and Rob walking along by the water. The panel where she’s pondering getting her navel pierced. That drawing holds up. Didn’t need to retouch it.
Is Sylvia based on a single real person? And if so, do you keep in touch, and how does/did she feel about the stories?
She is and I don’t. Don’t know. Don’t want to know.
What does your wife, Michele, think of the series?
She loves it. I wouldn’t have done it without her approval. She’s the best in every way. That’s why I did From the Ashes. It’s a fun, silly, satirical book, but its core is how much I love my wife. But I had to set it against the apocalypse because as subject matter happiness and contentment are as boring as a damp sponge. Viva the apocalypse.
You have an exhibit at MoCCA/The Society of Illustrators. Tell us a little bit about what visitors will find there. 
They’ll find art from Minimum Wage onward. From the Ashes originals, Connective Tissue and Recess Pieces, mostly. But the biggest achievement is getting a couple of pages of my first comic, Skinny Man, up on the walls. My 10-year-old self would have been thrilled and stupefied to have that art on the wall of the prestigious Society of Illustrators. 

-- John Hogan