Working: The Work of the Artist in Pekar’s Edition

Harvey Pekar’s version of Working by Studs Terkel is quite an interesting shift from the narrative of the original. Since I ordered the original (and had to reorder this one for class) I read the introduction and sifted through the chapters anyway. I realized there are more parts and occupations in the original, as Terkel was the one performing the study and “interviewing” people, formal or informal. However, Pekar really brought his work to life simply by adding the visual standpoint.

I appreciate that each story has a different artist, and we can make a clear distinction when we’re shifting narrative perspectives. What stands out to me is the faces in each particular story. The artists of each panel seem to give life to these people by drawing their faces and the speaking bubbles emerging from their mouth, showing that language is theirs to articulate. For people of the lower classes, who has worked in fields all their lives with minimal education, visually depicting them speaking is super important. The attention paid to giving these people voices is, probably, exactly what Terkel envisioned.

Roberta Victor’s story seemed most interesting to me, as gender becomes meshed into this cloud of working class people and what they would do for money. She says things like “All I did was act out the reality of American womanhood,” (49). Her choice of becoming a call girl just to make a few bucks turned into a whirl of addiction and abuse, which, she compares to working on an assembly line. One panel shows her naked body along factory bolts like the insides of a machine at the factory. The correspondent artistic work here reflects that the body is separate from the self, especially in expectations of “womanhood”.

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