The Adventures of Unemployed Man
written by Erich Origen and Gan Golan
illustrated by Ramona Fradon, Rick Veitch and Michael Netzer
Erich Origen and Gan Golan first made a splash with Goodnight Bush, a parody of the children's book Goodnight Moon that looked like a children’s book and featured biting social and political commentary. Late last year, the pair returned to the scene with the best graphic novel of the year: The Adventures of Unemployed Man, which perfectly breaks down the roots of the recession and the resulting societal woes.
Before we get to the specifics of this hilarious and true-to-life tale, attention must be given to the artwork. Every page is sort of a throwback to DC and Marvel comics of years past, giving each of the book’s heroes classic comic-book good looks and killer costumes. A trio of well-respected comics artists contributed pencils to the story, including Rick Veitch, Michael Netzer, and Ramona Fradon, now well into her 80s. (Inks are provided by some well-known comics pros as well: Terry Beatty and Joe Rubinstein.)
The story begins with Ultimatum, the Dark Knight of Self-Help, Bruce Plaine’s alter ego. An unlikeable sort with a firm belief in the American Dream, Ultimatum drives through the city’s poorest neighborhoods and, using an intercom system, reads self-help books to low-income citizens, with chapter titles like “Poverty: Another Symptom of Poor Mental Hygiene.” He also spurts off clichés like “If you can believe it, you can achieve it!” Essentially, his belief is that in America, anything is possible, so those who find themselves down and out have “chosen to fail.” Later, once he’s let go from his position as Ultimatum, he turns into the mighty Unemployed Man, coming to the realization that this sort of self-help/positive-thinking rhetoric leads to people beating up themselves instead of questioning the power of the system. Or, as Unemployed Man so eloquently puts it, “Do you ever think that maybe positive thinking doesn’t mean being happy while you’re getting screwed by the system—maybe it means being positive about your ability to change it.”
Unemployed Man covers just about everything that has plagued the good ol’ U.S. of A in the past four years, from mass layoffs and the use of cheap labor to the evils of big business, Wall Street, and the massive “toxic debt blob” that all of us find ourselves swimming in. On a personal note, there were several storylines in the book that were laugh-out-loud funny because of how closely they mirrored my own life. For example, there was reference to Cobra Insurance’s “affordable” $2,000-a-month healthcare and the increased participation in the Lotto by many Americans, each ticket purchased with the false hope of winning and freeing themselves of debt. As I read that portion of the book, I looked over at my desk and saw my two Lotto tickets purchased earlier that day.
Along with Wonder Mother and Unemployed Man, we’re introduced to Plan B, Unemployed Man’s sidekick, a senior citizen seeking work because his 401(k) was depleted and he can’t afford retirement. There’s also Fellowman, a former cop and leader of Cape Town, a sort of shanty town created by Americans who’ve lost their jobs and have nowhere else to go. We also can’t forget Master of Degrees, an educated twenty-something who finds himself badly in debt because of his education, but unable to find a job because he’s deemed “too qualified”; Good Grief, a former humanities teacher who saw her school’s budget get slashed beyond repair; White Rage, a Hulk-like downtrodden worker who becomes enraged by the talking heads on Fox, breaking the things he needed just so they wouldn’t be shared with those he was told to hate; and finally, Fantasma, the often unheard voice from the immigration debate. Left unable to compete with American corn prices after NAFTA, Fantasma and her family crossed the border and lived in fear while performing the menial jobs Americans are unwilling to take.
Though a funny graphic novel, I see so many of my family and friends reflected in these characters and in the plots played out. Needless to say, Origen and Golan have one hell of a story on their hands, and it couldn’t have been told better by anyone else.