Readers familiar with my fondness for graphic novels will know that when I recommend the graphic novelization of Studs Terkel’s Working, it’s no snub.  In the original book, first published in 1972, Terkel interviewed people in a wide variety of occupations about their jobs.  The 2009 graphic novelization edits and illustrates the original interviews – and brings a dated work of oral history back to life.

Admittedly, the original author’s pro-union and left-wing bias is pretty clear.  Malcontent workers are vastly overrepresented in the interviews.  But their life stories are still interesting to hear.  Elderly workers interviewed in 1972 could easily have started their careers in the 1910s.  Though few of the interviewees have any idea about why workers’ lives improved so much during the 20th century, the poverty they remember was all-too-real.

Also striking: While some workers think their whole lives were out of their control, plenty of Terkel’s subjects independently discovered compensating differentials.  You can do the work you love… if you take a big pay cut.  Don’t miss the interview with the bohemian jazz musician.

The main lesson I took away, however, is that the worst thing about “bad jobs” isn’t the jobs themselves.  It’s your fellow workers.  When they’re resentful and lazy, they don’t just make your life harder; they also make managers choose between looking weak or being mean.