From the stack: MAINTENANCE #1

I wonder why there aren’t more workplace comedies in comics. Television sitcoms have certainly mined the genre with great success, and some of my favorite movies have been built on workplace dynamics. But as far as graphic novels go, I can only think of a few.

Digital Manga Publishing has Antique Bakery and Café Kichijouji de, and I suppose you could count Iron Wok Jan (DrMaster) and Yakitate!! Japan (Viz). (I’m noticing a trend towards the food service industry here.)

Maybe it’s because comics creators tend to work in isolation? That the ideal working state of the cartoonist doesn’t involve time sheets, endless meetings and productivity memos? Whatever the reason, I would like to see more comics that explore that particular territory.

So I was glad to find a preview of Jim Massey and Robbi Rodriguez’s new ongoing series Maintenance (Oni Press) in the mail the other day. It takes the frustrations of everyday employment to an appealingly absurd place.

Doug and Manny are janitors who work for TerroMax, Inc., a research and development firm that provides new breakthroughs in evil science for despots who just don’t have the time to cook up their own man-sharks. It’s a dirty job, and mad scientists aren’t the most appreciative of co-workers. But hey, it’s a paycheck.

Massey and Rodriguez have happily avoided the choice to make their protagonists idiots. Doug and Manny are just average guys who happen to work in an extraordinarily weird setting. They’re a little grumpy, but who wouldn’t be when their job description includes cleaning up after toxic spill monsters?

Despite the absurdity, Maintenance is a very easygoing book. The first issue sets up the premise by following Doug and Manny through an average day, introducing the TerroMax setting, surly superiors and out-of-whack experiments. The pace is leisurely, but the thirty-two pages are packed with a nice mix of situational and character-driven comedy.

Sometimes the jokes can be a little labored. (There are a few more references to Porky’s 2 than are strictly necessary.) But the gags are generally good-natured and successful. There are plenty of chuckles here.

Maintenance doesn’t really have a whole lot on its mind, and that’s fine. Massey and Rodriguez have created a nice mix of the everyday and the weird, generating plenty of appealing comedy in the process.

(This review is based on a preview copy provided by the publisher. Maintenance arrives in comic shops in December. There’s an interview with the creators over at Comic Book Resources.)

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