February 11, 2011

The Adventures of Unemployed Man

Received a copy of The Adventures of Unemployed Man recently to review from the perspective of a community college librarian.

At first, when I got through the first third of the comic, I was a little concerned that the material could be too advanced for some community college students, especially in highly disadvantaged areas with poor school systems. But, after reading through it and taking in the story more, it really would be a great jumping off point for discussion on how the economic crash happened, who is responsible, and where we're at now.

Unemployed Man (first known as Ultimatum) starts off the comic trying to "help" the unemployed and destitute by forcibly making them think positively and giving them his book to learn about/accept responsibility for their supposed failures. In one frame, he tells a dumpster-diving woman, "In America, we don't beg and steal. We get a job." I found this very funny.

Eventually, Ultimatum gets fired, hence, the titular hero name. The Just Us League gives him the axe because he begins questioning the League's corporation and its exploitation of workers. Through the hero's journey of learning the grim realities of his former victims/charges, the reader of course gets a glimpse into how and why the economic crash happened through witticisms, satire, and very nice illustrations.

What I had been concerned about being too advanced for some students was that to understand much of the culture jamming and social commentary in the comic, one would need some background knowledge of the economy and politics (as well as knowledge of comic formulas). For example, understanding golden parachutes and the scandals with AIG and Goldman Sachs (some Adbusters-style jokes are invoked by having these companies appear in a skyline frame). Another example refers to a glowing, green alien: Alien Greenspan. There are also a number of references to comics past.

Again though, I think if jokes are missed, or preferably, questioned, it could open a good dialogue about the recent and current economic climate. It can be easier to talk about a comic than a cold, likely boring textbook. I love that humor is a big part of the comic as well, because I truly believe humor aids a great deal in learning.

The Adventures of Unemployed Man looks at the crash from a variety of viewpoints that I think a highly diverse campus would appreciate. There is something for everyone. It's exciting to see a subversive, social justice-driven comic that could have very good potential for education.

It gives some hope to the reader as the story progresses. I enjoyed it and think students would as well.