Thursday, January 11, 2024

45 Days Of CCS, #42: Issy Manley, Anna Sellheim

Issy Manley's No One Wants To Work Anymore is a series of comics essays addressing labor and one's role in global capitalism from a personal perspective. Their tone widely varies, given the venues these stories originally appeared. Manley is at her best when she's able to truly craft a narrative that focuses on character over information. For example, "To All The Bosses I've Begged For A Job" and "Not Working" cover a lot of the same territory, but the former is funny and biting while the latter feels didactic and is way too text-heavy. 

The opening story, "How Things Are Done," smoothly highlights Manley's skill as a cartoonist and smartly employs her experience of losing her job as a server at the start of COVID. Starting with the personal and then applying it to a wider swath of society is a clever way of helping a reader understand a complex issue, especially if it's one where they might have preconceived notions. Like many who work or worked in the service industry, the exploitative nature of the business, especially in the US, was something that was understood as just the way things functioned as a natural part of the system. The willingness to put such workers at high risk with no additional reward during the pandemic was a splash of cold water that massively put the lie not only to exploitation by big chain restaurants but also (and often especially) locally-owned businesses. Manley's clear line and thoughtful use of spot color help lead the eye around the page and emphasize important details.

"To All The Bosses..." is the real standout of the collection, in large part due to its structure and sardonic sense of humor. Manley confronts head-on the demeaning quality of looking for a job that's looking for you to want to do it for any other reason than making money. The more dehumanizing the actual job or business (like anything in baking, consulting, or investment), the more they play up their "values" and demand that employees play along. Manley uses an array of clever visual tricks to keep the reader engaged with both her own narrative (badly needing a job) and the critique of what jobs are. The only slightly dissonant tone was the digression into imagining a job that's just and fulfilling in a corporate structure. I understand the yearning and even admire her hoping this is possible, but critiques that introduce fantasy utopian scenarios without a bridge to how they might be possible tend to fall flat. 

Much better in that regard is the titular essay, "No One Wants To Work Anymore." It's another COVID-era essay that this time turns the narratives of others she interviewed into anecdotes, where each person is drawn as an anthropomorphic flower. The story addresses the heart of the labor conflict in the US: the clash between the so-called "Protestant Work Ethic" with the concept of a life devoted to something other than just labor. This was brought into sharp relief during the pandemic when the government provided small amounts of money to every citizen, suspended student loan repayments, and forestalled rent. For low-income workers, this offered up a level of freedom that was unprecedented for them, and the narratives showed how much happiness this brought. While some stayed inside and read for pleasure, others took the time to volunteer or otherwise stay active. Moreover, when the quarantines ended and businesses started to open up, it led to many not wanting the same old shitty jobs anymore. Manley hits on this collective wake-up call for one part of the population and a gross sense of entitlement for those who expected the others to simply fall back in line. Here, Manley's digression into anti-work fantasies and a different world makes a lot more sense. Manley definitely has that Dan Nott style of using a gentle visual style to approach difficult problems, and I'd be curious to see her really sink her teeth into something long-form.

Anna Sellheim didn't have a traditional comics entry this year. Instead, she presented a couple of zines she made for the Refugee Youth Project After School & Summer School Programming from Baltimore City Community College. Sellheim's Promo Zine is exactly what it sounds like: a comic describing her experience as an art/comics teacher for young refugees from a variety of countries. Sellheim's anecdotes are funny, blunt, and optimistic without overstating things. Her own past dealing with not just trauma, but somatic trauma responses deeply informs how she interacts with the students, even if their trauma experiences are completely different. Sellheim also gets into how the cultural shock for refugees coming to the US is much deeper than it might seem at first while also providing the basics of how the program works. It's an ideal promotional tool for the RYP as it's from an insider who genuinely believes in the beneficial qualities of the program. RYP Zine consists mostly of art from Sellheim's students, as well as poetry and other writing. Sellheim lets the contributors' work speak for itself while adding some highly supportive notes in the bio section. This is applied cartooning at its best, as it encourages each student to develop and express their own voice as they work to adjust to American culture. 

No comments:

Post a Comment