Hello, Do YOU Work Here?


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Hello, Do YOU Work Here?


  • Words: Various Writers, Peter Simeti (Editor)
  • Art: Various Artists
  • Publisher: Alterna Comics
  • Price: $7.99
  • Release Date: Aug 25, 2010

Wal-Mart was a major player in my life during college. Academia offered one brand of knowledge, while working in the trenches of Sam Walton’s retail battlefield offered quite another. To this day, I’m still unsure which education was more valuable; I learned a lot about human nature while donning the now-defunct blue-and-white vest that shouted the question, “How may I help you?” (The vest has since been replaced by a simple blue polo and khaki pants.)

Because of my own experience languishing in the service industry, I found it easy to relate to Alterna Comics’ new graphic novel, Hello, Do YOU Work Here?, a collection of stories that documents the monotonies and oddities that are bound to crop up when dealing with everyday people in everyday situations.

But the format of this collection is a bit different than what’s traditionally expected: the short stories contained within are prose narratives, submitted to Alterna by (as far as I know) random people who had a yarn they needed to get off their chests. Each story is then accompanied by a single image that pulls the entire experience together. It’s an excellent demonstration of a picture truly being worth a thousand words.

Alterna’s publisher, Peter Simeti, compiled all of the stories together and constructed the book. There is a total of 28 true-life tales included, and the overall roster of contributors is too long to list here, but the scope of experiences fully fleshes out what it’s like to work behind a counter somewhere, both in the service of America’s bumpkin citizenry as well as trying to get along with coworkers around the proverbial water cooler.

One of the best stories in the book is “Drive-Thru Oddity,” written by May Syeda and illustrated by Michael Nelson. We’ve all driven past a fast-food restaurant’s first and second window before, but who knows what the workers of these establishments see, customer after customer, car after car? Well, writer Syeda gives us a little glimpse as she recounts her experiences with some random overweight guy who stands as the new definition of sleazy. While her experience isn’t as traumatizing as the recent Chicken McNugget attack, it’s disturbing just how socially inept and utterly self-unaware people can be. It’s all topped off by artist Nelson’s humorous image of Syeda’s worst nightmare.

Another story that struck a chord with me was "The Old Couple” by James, no last name included. He makes an important observation that old folks can be the most vicious of customers. It’s ironic: service-industry jobs pay the lowest aside from the under-the-counter slave wages doled out to illegal immigrants, and a nice chuck of that money is removed for Social Security, which said old folks collect on. Fate is cruelly ironic sometimes.

I’m generalizing, of course. It’s hard not to: writer James’ story gave me my own flashbacks of dealing with the obnoxious and rude elderly. His encounter was at a copy center in which he not only had to deal with a demanding old lady, but her surly and decaying husband as well. The whimsical rendition of the story by artist J. Rozen is more accurate than fantastical—I promise.

The only problem with Hello, Do YOU Work Here? is that a handful of the stories are in desperate need of editing; not nuts-and-bolts grammatical issues so much, but rather style and content troubles. This is the problem when you compile stories from people who are not writers or practiced storytellers; they don’t always understand the finer qualities that are involved in creating a smooth and consistent narrative.

An example: the story “I Quit!” has good content, but I was tripped up more than once by writer Giovanni Medina’s tedious asides. He’d make comments like “Well, let me hold off on that part of the story. I know you’re just dying to hear just how I quit my job…” That kind of editorializing is tedious and repetitive; it hinders the fluidity of good storytelling. This is a flaw in other stories too; more than once I felt like I was reading a rambling blog entry rather than a solid essay deserving to belong in a graphic novel.

But I admire Hello, Do YOU Work Here? overall, as it takes chances that traditional publishing never would. There are quite a few books on the market that document these types of experiences, and I own a lot of them. The drudgery of the low-paid working class is an important topic to pay attention to in America, though it’s often ignored in favor of empty political rhetoric. But Alterna’s book captures important nuances. Yes, sometimes they’re just funny and at other times inane, but then, I’m sure a lot of people feel that way about their jobs—jobs that don’t end the way a comic book does.

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