by Sarah Herman
Here’s a strange one. What exactly is it that marks some proposal out for publication at one of those “proper” book publishers and not others? I ask this not to cast aspersions on I Like My Job but just to try to illustrate some of the thoughts that passed through my head as I was reading it. Because essentially I Like My Job is a beautifully packaged work that reminds me very much of various bits of small press comics I’ve read over the past couple of years. Not in it’s plot, not necessarily in it’s art but in it’s tone, it’s subject and it’s style. I could probably name at least half a dozen small press comics that I think are more worthy of the treatment Jonathan Cape have given to Sarah Herman’s graphic novel, but that’s really not the point of the review, just an interesting aside. However, I can see the sort of path Jonathan Cape are following with this, as the style is very similar to Simone Lia’s lovely Fluffy graphic novel they published a couple of years ago (see the review here as part of my personal best of 2007 list).
I Like My Job is a collection of seven stories of office life, analysing the everyday boredom and monotony, the paranoia, the strange relationships, the complicated politics and the unexpected events of life in a situation many folks deal with on a day to day basis. Except I never have. My background is in comics retail and in education; two areas where the day to day grind of office life just had no impact at all. And I’ve often thought that that is the reason why I never found The Office that funny (well, that and a deep hatred of Ricky Gervais perhaps). And it may well be the reason I can’t really identify too much with the events in I Like My Job either. But if I can’t identify with the finer details of the Office life herein I can look at it on a relationship level, the interactions between workers, the inner thoughts of the central character and on this level it’s really pretty good.
(Drowning in a workload of post-it notes and the omnipresent know-it-all cat fairy. From I Like My Job by Sarah Herman.)
Artistically I Like My Job works remarkably well. The near stick figure visuals actually have a real warmth and emotion to them and Herman very cleverly and skillfully manages to get great expression and body language out of her simple forms – it’s all in the angle of a head, the tilt of a mouth, the raising of an eyebrow. It’s well done, but the sheer simplicity of the page does mean it’s a very quick read. Almost too quick.
Our narrator is coming to terms with the fact that she’s stuck in a big rut at work. She likes her job, but doesn’t love it, feels completely unfulfilled but also guilty that she’s been coasting for quite some time. It’s something we can all empathise with and Herman manages to just (but only just) steer herself the right side of annoyingly twee for the first few chapters. There’s a bit on the irritation that is the performance review, there’s a chapter on the joy of commanding a room for a presentation (and the guilt and self-loathing that comes from having to use Powerpoint to do it), there’s the look at the fallout from that email sent in anger and swiftly regretted. All nicely done, but just a little too light and cutesy for my liking. It’s gentle observational comedy and not much more.
(Oh that dreaded Powerpoint presentation. And that know-it-all cat fairy again. From I Like My Job by Sarah Herman.)
But after that cutesy first third of the book it all starts to get a little darker and considerably better. From this point we get stories dealing with the suicide of a co-worker, a chapter on leaving-do fatigue in a company that’s churning workers too fast and has no idea why and finally, best of the lot, the last 90 pages careers into that desperately unhappy place that is the promotion we just didn’t want and a growing feeling that we’re in way over our heads. Herman does a particularly good job in the final two chapters of the unwanted promotion and eventual resignation and the deeply uncomfortable feelings and crippling terror of feeling we’re in way over our heads and it’s only a matter of time before everyone else realises we’re just as awful and rubbish at the job as we’ve known we are all along.
(Promoted beyond our comfort zone, terrified of being found out. And that cat-fairy again. From I Like My Job by Sarah Herman.)
And looking over those last two paragraphs in my description of the book I can see that I’ve perfectly summarised the good and the bad of the book. First paragraph, not involved – talking about the too twee and cute first half using “the protagonist” and talking in very general terms. But with the second paragraph and the descent into far darker and more interesting places and suddenly I’m using “we” and “we’re” all over the place. That’s my total involvement. Far more enjoyable in the darkness than the cuteness. If only the whole thing could have been the same. Then I’d have really liked it.
Richard Bruton expects a fatwah to be issued on his head by the Ricky Gervaise Fan Club any day now.