RCC Honors History Project

Working: the graphic novel

Posted by chad612 on May 4, 2009

In todays’ LA Times I saw this piece on the op ed page about a new graphic novel version of Studs Terkel’s Working, which was adapted to the new media by noted underground comic writer Harvey Pekar (played by Paul Giametti in the docudrama “American Splendor”).  How serendipitous that something like this should come out this May Day, just as we are reading the book. Below the article I have included a link to a sample page, and the product description from the Amazon web site.

I haven’t seen the book yet, but am curious how well it will serve the source material. Will edited the word text remove some of the richness of the stories? Will having pictures make us relate more or less to the original storytellers than if we visualize them ourselves? I am even more curious about the Broadway musical Ebert mentions below; what kind of song and dance numbers could be attached? I am a big fan of the Maysle brother’s documentary Grey Gardens, and thought the Broadway musical was amusing. I am intrigued by the HBO adaptation, but haven’t seen it yet either. The trip from documentary to musical to drama is fascinating; does the increased entertainment add some sort of meaning to compensate for what is lost from the original work? Harvey Pekar may have some unique insight into this, having his autobiographical comic book turned into the movie I mentioned before.

Studs Terkel’s ‘Working’ reimagined

A new book takes the famous book and puts it in graphic form.
May 1, 2009

Studs Terkel’s oral history book, “Working,” came out more than 35 years ago. In Terkel’s introduction, he explained that the book, “being about work, is, by its very nature, about violence — to the spirit as well as to the body. … It is about a search, too, for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash. … To be remembered was the wish, spoken and unspoken, of the heroes and heroines of the book. … I was constantly astonished by the extraordinary dreams of ordinary people. … Perhaps it is time the ‘work ethic’ was redefined and its ideas reclaimed from the banal men who invoke it.”

During today’s difficult economic times, Terkel’s words and those of his “workers” still resonate.

Harvey Pekar has adapted and Paul Buhle edited text from that work for “Studs Terkel’s Working: a Graphic Adaptation.” Buhle writes in the introduction to the new book: “Terkel’s interviewing has found a counterpart, for the last thirty years or so, in the comics scripted by Harvey Pekar. The two are joined here, adapted by a dozen talented artists, in … a fresh approach to the lives and labor of ordinary Americans.”

The illustrations here by Peter Kuper are based on Terkel’s interview with Bill Talcott, an organizer who, as he put it, “came into consciousness during the ’50s” and worked with black communities in San Francisco and mine workers in Appalachia, among others.


Amazon Product Description
Working has been a book, a radio drama, a Broadway musical, and now a gripping graphic novel. I can’t speak for Studs, but I suspect he would have been tickled to see it adapted by a former government file clerk and wage slave, who knows all about working.” –Roger Ebert

In the thirty-five years since Pulitzer Prize-winner Studs Terkel’s Working was first published, it has captivated millions of readers with lyrical and heartbreaking accounts of how their fellow citizens earn a living. Widely regarded as a masterpiece of words, it is now adapted into comic book form by comics legend Harvey Pekar, the blue-collar antihero of his American Book Award-winning comics series American Splendor.

In Studs Terkel’s Working, Pekar offers a brilliant visual adaptation of Terkel’s verbatim interviews, collaborating with both established comics veterans and some of the comic underground’s brightest new talent. Here are riveting accounts of the lives of ordinary Americans–farmers, miners, barbers, hookers, box boys, stockbrokers–depicted with unsurpassed dignity and frankness. A visual treat with a visceral impact, Studs Terkel’s Working will delight Terkel fans everywhere, and introduce his most powerful work to a new generation.


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