One of Terkel’s best-known books takes on new life in graphic form courtesy of the team of dyspeptic artist Pekar and editor Buhle (Students for a Democratic Society: A Graphic History, 2009, etc.), along with a crew of illustrators.
Terkel (1912–2008) was a fabulous storyteller of unadorned style, which may make some readers wonder why Working (1974) merits Classics Illustrated treatment. But the world is full of such small mysteries, as well as a larger one that Terkel pegged early on: Why is it that people work when work, in so many of its guises, is just a series of “daily humiliations?” “To survive the day,” Terkel writes, “is triumph enough for the walking wounded among the great many of us.” Pekar and company cherry-pick, but go for low-hanging fruit, too, in selecting stories from Terkel’s sometimes angry, sometimes sorrowful, rarely triumphant oral histories. Toward the heart of the book is a longish tale with all three qualities—that of Dolores Dante, an Italian American waitress who makes barely decent money combining the skills of a boxer, dispatcher, hauler, psychologist and accountant, and has to contend with not only the occasional skinflint customer but also jealous colleagues and scummy bosses. A proofreader at a printing plant in the heady days of antiwar radicalism describes the pleasure he takes when putting one such boss in his place, while Rip Torn, the actor, recounts the trouble he encountered in Hollywood by not kowtowing to producers and studio suits. Assembly-line workers have it no better, while one pro-baseball player recounts being on the assembly line of autographing baseballs for the front office “six dozen a day! Eighty one days! That’s a lot of baseballs!” And so on, with only a couple of bright notes, and those from lucky souls who hit it rich.
A fitting homage that reinforces the old saw: If work were any good, they wouldn’t have to pay us to do it.