Let me state my bias upfront. I absolutely love Minimum Wage by Bob Fingerman. Minimum Wage is probably one of the best comic book series I have ever read. I have nothing but praise for it. That being said, I picked up Connective Tissue out of morbid curiosity. I believe it was one of Fingerman's first attempts at a prose story, so I thought it might be fun to check out (plus the book was cheap on Amazon). Minimum Wage was a honest and heartfelt story, about flawed people trying to navigate in the world around them. Connective Tissue, on the other hand, not so much.
First, lets talk about the good.
It's an illustrated novel, which is very cool, and makes me want to do my own illustrated novel.
The artwork is great. Fingerman has a sort of grotesque comic book art style, with people having sort of a "beautiful ugliness" about them. Plus, he seems to really like short, stocky girls with big breasts (and who doesn't like that).
And the premise is very good, very good, but I'll talk about that a little more in a minute.
Sadly, though, the bad far outweighs the good.
If I could narrow down one singular criticism I have about this book, it would be this: The first person narrative.
Now, first person narratives can be used to great effect.
Examples were it works would be: most creepypastas, the Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes Stories, and especially when you want to have an unreliable narrator (like Poe's Tell Tale Heart).
But, there is a downside, specifically when the main character is just a mouth piece for the author to show off how clever and witty they are.
And, that, honestly, is the problem with this book.
The main character, Darla Vogel, is really sort of a non character. She has no discernible flaws. She's never shown to be vulnerable, or afraid. She never takes anything seriously, thereby diminishing any sort of danger she's in. And the pop culture references, dear god, the endless pop culture references. Again, Fingerman (I guess) wants to show us how clever and witty Darla is, and by extension himself. But really Darla just comes across as a little pretentious and annoying, which frankly makes her hard to sympathize with or connect to.
There is a scene in the book, towards the end where Darla is trapped in an office building, as gummy like creatures swarm in around her. Instead of letting the scene play out, letting the tension build, Darla starts making jokes about how dusty the tops of the cubicles are, and how the cleaning staff is getting away with murder. What?
And, the book is filled with moments like that.
Which is a shame, because as I said the premise is good, very good:
A young woman, is transported to another dimension, where the people run naked, clothing is obscene, the building are organic, and Lovecraftian monsters roam the streets.
Great! Sounds like the premise of a very schlocky 1970s drive-in movie served with a big helping of sleaze. I'm on board for that.
But, both the schlock and horror are muted, due in large part to Darla's narration.
The story would have been served much better, if Fingerman had take a page from Silent Hill. There you have tragic/broken protagonists, who go to a hellish place, and the monsters are their inner demons made manifest.
Something like that would have worked wonders here.
As clichéd as it might be now, if you had establish that Darla had some hidden trauma--like seeing being molested by someone close to her--then that would have given the character some depth. On top of that, she’s transported to a hellish place, where all the monsters are constantly trying to grope her. But, in order to survive, she has to overcome that trauma, and thereby grow as a person. There you go, you now have all the ingredients for a great story.
And, the thing of it is, there are hints (vague as they might be) in the book that Darla might has had that kind of trauma in her life. She wears very revealing clothing, but has a sort no touch policy towards sex. She tells a story of how, when she was five, she watched a porno tape that had accidentally been left in the VCR. She tells another story about how her cousin grabbed her breasts at a concert, when she was in her early teens. But, again, both of those stories just come across as some big joke, because Darla doesn't take them serious.
Ultimately, Connective Tissue is just a big tease that never delivers, and no one is having a good time, except for maybe Bob Fingerman, himself.
Skip this, and go read Minimum Wage instead.