Trashed by Derf Backderf

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Trashed by Derf Backderf

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Category: Graphic Novels
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A fine graphic novel, that is both great fun and deadly serious – even if it might have been a lot more of the latter.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: November 2015
Publisher: Harry N. Abrams, Inc.
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781419714542

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For those people who think graphic novels are rubbish, this is the epitome of that baseless argument. Its subject is junk, it's trash, it's landfill, and garbage. That's not a verdict on its qualities, which are great and fine ones, but its very topic. Straight from school, our author was actually a bin man for a few seasons – riding on the back of something like Betty, the garbage van featured here. It's a job nobody wants in all honesty, of course – but the book is fine enough to actually make the subject something most people should read about.

Especially as the adventures of these fictionalised bin men are peppered with quotes and statistics regarding junk. If anything it's a failing of this book that it doesn't slam down on the green side, but states landfill stats (when the USA actually manages to figure some out, with many of them being woefully incorrect and dated) and recycling percentages. Sure, it does boil down to a demand for us all to consume less and less, but that's a given, surely? The figures here are that recycling is up and up, but the average person sends as much to the landfill tip as they always used to do – and there are a lot more average people to so do.

Still, there is a lot more to this book than just polemical ideas and ideals. The drama is great – the rookie bin man facing his first maggot-infested bins and the demands that everything gets picked up off the curb and compacted in the back of Betty. The artwork (superb throughout) features things wafting through the frame on the air every season – flies and bugs for summer, snow, autumn leaves, spring rains – right up to condoms and shopping bags. But like I say, there is so much here to actually appeal to the person doubting the worth of such a book. There are small-town office politics, with the blue collar workers grousing about the roundabout of power the white collar workers arrange for themselves. (This might be the only aspect of the book to not fully travel to the UK, our councils being bureaucratic landfill sites of their own.) There is the very character of the job, which comes to the fore in fine detail (and is only partly mirrored by the hilarious clip the book's French publishers put in their promo video, right>). There are even the characters of the workers, affected in their own way by not only their labours but everything they have to pick up – from the lunkiest car engine parts to the smallest pack of family photos dumped in a foreclosure.

The humour is of the greasy, oily, grotty kind – and always works, and the black and white imagery probably actually saves us from the worst. Th-the blade just smeared it into a giant dog poop pancake!! I'll n-never unsee this… gag!... horror! Koff! Choke! And what a stench! Some of the text, and a lot of the artwork, comes across as something like R Crumb would manage, had he ever been able to remove himself from his wonderful fantasy world and show us the chink of light in the dark reality of something like a young bin man. No, once again, it seems that our author and artist is the man to go to for the surprising and inventive narratives in reality-based graphic novels. They take several years in the making each time, but on the evidence of the pair I've read they're worth the wait.

The very different volume of his I'd read before now was My Friend Dahmer, regarding the serial killer's burgeoning adulthood.

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