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Studs Terkel's Working: A Graphic Adaptation Paperback – April 28, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Pekar (American Splendor; Our Cancer Year) adapts Terkel's masterpiece of oral history in this loving tribute. Working features various artists, including Sharon Rudahl (A Dangerous Woman: the Graphic Biography of Emma Goldman), Terry LaBan (Edge City) and frequent Pekar collaborator Gary Dumm (Students for a Democratic Society: A Graphic History). Though several of Pekar's colleagues have connections with the labor movement or activism, this volume does not push a particular political or social agenda. It simply adds dimension to Terkel's original, illustrating the daily concerns of working men and women. As is typical in collections, some of the pieces are stunning, while others merely adapt the story. Two standouts are Jack Spiegel: Organizer and David Reed Glover: Stockbroker, perfectly illustrated by Peter Gullerud and Pablo G. Callejo, respectively; Gollerud's stark woodcuts recall the art of the labor movement, while Callejo's meticulous detail and use of shading reflect the claustrophobia of a desk job. This collection will capture the interest of Pekar fans and Terkel aficionados alike, particularly in light of Terkel's death last year. (May)
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Studs Terkel’s Working (1974) was one of the first attempts to chronicle the lives and attitudes of America’s workforce. This black-and-white graphic adaptation, faithfully rendered by some of today’s most prominent alternative cartoonists, brings a variety of professions into focus: a farm worker, a hooker, a barber, an organizer, a garbage man, and many others. Everyone interviewed explains the hardships and joys of working (surprisingly, the garbage man seems to derive more pleasure from his job than a successful actor does from his). All these life stories give us new insights and ways to approach the world of work. The artwork supports rather than overpowers the testimonies, and the adapters have tried to remain faithful to Terkel’s oral style. Overseen by scholar Paul Buhle and working-class comics creator Harvey Pekar (American Splendor), this valuable adaptation is both a companion and an introduction to the work of Studs Terkel. --Stephen Weiner
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Harvey Pekar's graphic adaptation of Studs Terkel's "Working" is an ingenious use of the graphic media. For those of you who don't know Studs Terkel, once you've gone into the inner workings of this book you will see the genius of Terkel's journalism. This book was first published in 1972 and it dealt with the working people of America. Terkel was always known as a writer of the people and this work is truly representative of his oeuvre of work. To me Terkel as a writer of the Midwestern ilk, much like Mike Royko, gives us a dose of reality in telling their wonderful stories.
What Pekar has done is to put these stories of the common life working people into graphic form. Each story is done by a different artist¸ so each story has a different texture and a different feel that best represents the job. The purpose of each story is to describe the life and problems of each person describing their slice of the American workplace.
The book is divided in categories as determined by Terkel such as Footwork, In the Spotlight, and Second Chance etc. We have angry people, determined workers, union people, scared people and people who just tolerate their working fates. As you read through each scenario, you will find some graphic depictions with much too much narrative and confusing graphics which are hard to follow. In other stories the graphics set the mood and there's minimal narrative which accurately depicts their job description. Pekar's aim is to create the mood of each and every worker's story. In the majority of stories Pekar's team of artists and writers hit the mark, however there are a few stories in which I end up scratching my head.
Terkel's original book and theme is flawless. Pekar's graphic depiction is good and worth the read, however it is not flawless. This work is good but not great. 4 Stars for a very creative effort.
Terkel's Working, with the apt subtitle People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do, was originally published in 1974. In it, the oral historian provided a wealth of interviews with people from all walks of life--from businessmen to athletes to a prostitute--digging into what makes the professions significant for each of them. The in-depth interviews offer insight into everything from the commonplace details of the jobs to existential ponderings.
Pekar translates these interviews to the graphic medium with help from a wealth of talented artists, while he adapts much of the writing himself. The formatting of the book remains the same. The graphic adaptation is divided into nine-subsections, or categories, with a few interviews comprising each. Every artist converts one or two interviews into several pages of comics, using verbatim interview text as dialogue to let the characters tell their stories.
The art helps the reader visualize these people and the work they do. Readers will likely gravitate to certain styles more than others, as they are all strikingly unique in this collection. For this reader, Peter Gullerud's work on "Jack Spiegel, Organizer" is the highlight of the bunch. More so than any other artist in the collection, Gullerud envisions pages rather than panels when putting together his art. Panels connect in a very special way, giving structure to the work matching the idea of the organizer, who brings together the proverbial cogs to form a stronger unit to stand up for workers rights.
Every artist has a different approach, and it keeps things interesting throughout. It also plays into the idea of Terkel's work. Common themes are evident throughout, but every person and every job is unique. Each person has a different story to tell, important in its own way, and the artists capture these distinctive characters.
Terkel's work has an important place in oral history literature--it is still relevant today--and Pekar's adaptation takes that seminal work and molds it into something both entirely fresh and true to the source material every step of the way. It offers old readers a new way to experience Working and makes it accessible to an entirely new audience. It is everything an adaptation should be.
-- William Jones