Originally published as a serialized black and white comic in the 1990s, Bob Fingerman’s Minimum Wage, the semi-autobiographical story of Sylvia and Rob and their life scuffling to get ahead in an ultra-realistic New York City, has become something of a comics publishing legend. Now the book has been repackaged along with the material from a number of previous revisions and republished, in all of its crass and hilariously demented glory, in an oversized edition called Maximum Minimum Wage, just released from Image Comics.
Minimum Wage takes the reader on an excursion through the streets, dingy bars, subway cars and even dingier offices of pornography publishers of greater New York City. In many ways, its admirers—among them Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman—believe it to be one of the most vivid and honest portrayals of New York City they’ve ever encountered. Indeed, Kirkman has written the forward to this edition. And in an exclusive to PW, Image Comics has provided a Q&A between Kirkman and Fingerman about the creation (and recreation) of Minimum Wage and its newest incarnation, Maximum Minimum Wage.
Robert Kirkman: Minimum Wage, tell us what it is as if we've never heard of it.
Bob Fingerman: It’s a roman à clef about my early twenties, run through a filter that mixes and matches bits from other parts of my life, so chronologically speaking it’s a bit of a mash-up. I based some characters on people I didn’t know back then. So, though it’s true to life, it’s not really autobiographical in the strict sense. I cut other people out who’d be there if it was a true representation of that part of my life, and serious omission like that pops it straight into the realm of fiction.
Which is better for me, because even though it’s plenty personal, I’m a pretty private person, so I have my cake and share it, too. It takes place mostly in Brooklyn and Manhattan in the mid-‘90s. Mike Mignola [creator of Hellboy] said my depiction of New York was so real you could smell it. I think that was a compliment. I used to say it was Friends for people who hate Friends. But that reference is a little dated, so let’s go with it’s like Girls only with less Girls. Or like Louie, with about the same amount of masturbation. It has many cringe-worthy moments.
Kirkman: "Louie on paper" is actually how I would describe it to someone. And I've got to say, your depiction of New York is actually one of the reasons I try not to take the subway when I'm there. Among other things, I'm worried someone will just randomly start punching people in the subway car with them. Did that event ACTUALLY happen?
Fingerman: Yeah, it did, though I wasn’t privileged enough to witness it, myself, firsthand. Most of Minimum Wage is my own experiences, but some are things friends told me that happened to them that I asked if I could use. That was one of them, but the friend it happened to assures me I captured it perfectly. How could I not use that?
Kirkman: I've always understood the book to be somewhat autobiographical, so where does Rob Hoffman end and Bob Fingerman begin? How autobiographical is it really?
Fingerman: As I said, there’s a reason he’s Rob, not Bob. He’s the less mature version of me – more reactionary, too—but also he might be a paper-thin disguise, but I can always say, “that isn’t me; it’s a character” and not be totally full of shit. Just partly full of shit. But to say he’s not me at all would be 100% full of shit.
Kirkman: As I recall, off the top of my head. Minimum Wage was a 72-page graphic novel, followed by a monthly series that ran for 11 or so issues. Then the story was wrapped up in Beg The Question, which edited all of that materiel, into one shorter story, with a new ending. So... what's THIS book? What have you done here?
Fingerman: I have basically opened that vault and poured out all of its contents into this mega-volume. It’s got the 72-page what I call “pilot episode,” the art to which remains almost 100% unmolested. Then there’s what became Beg the Question, which was issues 2 through 10 of the serial run, which also featured, at the time, about forty pages of new material bookending the story. This new edition, once again I couldn’t keep my peapickin’ paws off it and went in and redrew, rejiggered, redialogued a bunch of it. I’m like George Lucas. I can’t leave it alone. Each new edition is different than the previous. Only I flatter myself that unlike Mr. Lucas I’m not making it worse. Rob still shoots first. And I kept the CGI Dewbacks to a bare minimum. There’s also the first serial issue and the script to the never drawn 11thissue. And a guest gallery that’s pretty awesome and sketches, cover gallery and more. Sales pitch over.
Kirkman: Aside from the comedy and slice of life stuff, I've always looked at the book as a tremendously honest and heartfelt romance. The relationship between Rob and Sylvia is so well established throughout the series. Without getting too personal, how does that aspect of the series line up with your relationship with your wife? Were you drawing a lot of that stuff from real life (I think this is an interesting line of questioning, possibly, but if you don't want to get into it, I understand).
Fingerman: This is very personal, so I’ll answer only to put one thing to bed: Minimum Wage is not based on my life with Michele. It’s based on my first serious relationship, which was a long time ago, hence the youth of the characters. My wife, Michele, who I’ve been with for over twenty years, is depicted in From the Ashes, my post-apocalyptic “speculative memoir,” and is depicted as herself, as am I. I did that, in a way, because the characters in Minimum Wage are based on people. In From the Ashes I just made them actually look like and named as us. Michele’s very understanding. I suppose that answer has long-term spoilers. That said, creative liberties were taken portraying the relationship between Rob and Sylvia, but it still quite realistically captures that part of my life.
Kirkman: As a fan, I have to ask: any chance for more Minimum Wage after this? Or is this it, moving onto new things?
Fingerman: Once upon a time I’d have said no way, but putting together this edition got my juices flowing again, so we’ll see. I have a lot more I’d like to do with these characters. More abuse to heap on Rob. More shame to heap on Jack. So who knows? If this time it actually sells well, I’d say the chances are pretty good I’ll be putting the gang back together.