Monday, March 26, 2007

Graphic Novel Review: "Trashed" by Derf

(Originally written for

"Trashed" is the true story of the year the author spent working on a garbage truck for minimum wage. At the time, Derf was trying to decide where his life was going after he dropped out of art school. His new job came complete with road kill, abusive bosses, white-trash neighbors, attack dogs and maggots, to mention just a few of the highlights.

And you thought you had it bad.

Derf goes into graphic detail about the life of the garbage man, and it’s both eye-opening and flat out disgusting. The heat, the mess, the smell, the slime -- you'll feel dirty just reading this book.

And yet it's funny as hell. It's slapstick, gross-out humor, full of people falling in garbage and garbage falling on people, but the timing of the gags is impeccable, and you can’t help but laugh while you squirm.

Derf's art style (which you may have seen in his syndicated comic strip, "The City") complements the story perfectly. His chaotic line work fills every inch of the frame with garbage. His characters are all extreme caricatures of emotional faces. It’s hyper-cartoonish, making things both more iconic and real to the reader despite its exaggeration.

It's unfair to completely characterize this book as just a gross-out. For one thing, I came away with a real respect for the men carting our waste around for us. This is a tough job, and I vowed never to over-stuff a garbage bag again after reading this book.

For another thing, "Trashed," at its heart, is really a coming of age story. Derf spent a terrible year on the back of a garbage truck, but he looks back at much of it with affection despite the hardships. In the beginning of the book, we meet a young man who sees himself as a loser. But when he’s quitting the job to go back to college at the end of the book, he watches his old garbage truck drive away and feels no shame: "In some perverse way," he says, "I'm indebted to that damn thing. I was such a clueless toad when I first climbed on the back...head firmly lodged up my ass...Trash...I hate to admit...made a man out of me!" He's gained direction in his life, and learned how to handle himself.

Of course, he then goes out and gets drunk, and mutters "No more trash" before throwing up on his shoes and passing out.

One more mess for good measure.

Three and a half stars.

No comments: