Ever wondered about the life of a garbageman? Probably not, but they work hard every day to keep cities from looking like pre-20th Century Europe, where garbage — and chamber pots — were usually just dumped out the window to add to the mountains of decay on the stench-filled streets. Industrialized nations have come a long way since then, yet surprisingly little has changed since we figured out a system of having people pick up our trash and haul it off out of sight and out of mind.
Trashed started out as a shorter autobiographical comic series; Backderf (who gained more mainstream popularity with My Friend Dahmer) was a garbageman in 1979 and 1980. His series had a following, but he shelved it and eventually brought it back as this graphic novel, drawing on actual events to create this mostly fictional but sometimes nonfiction book.
Trashed follows the hijinks of JB, a recent college graduate whose mom is fed up with him lazing around the house. There are no jobs to be found in his small town, and when he responds to an ad in the paper, he’s told to show up for work at the city, where he’s horrified to learn that he’s now a garbageman. He’s paired with an experienced partner, who is amused at “breaking in” the new guy:
It doesn’t take long before he’s a seasoned pro training others. He goes from being an idealist about the situation to resigning himself to reality: people are gross, people are wasteful, and the environment is screwed.
He takes readers along for the ride, knocking down stereotypes about who creates more waste (the wealthier the person, the more waste they create), what cities do to handle the waste, how foreclosures and bad economies contribute to the waste, and what happens when cities decide they don’t want — or can’t sustain — landfills anymore. Interspersed with these doses of reality are the daily garbage runs with his two friends, as well as “interoffice” drama between the garbage crews and road crews where cringey hilarity often ensues.
I loved this book way more than I thought I would. It’s my first Derf Backderf book, and I fell absolutely in love with his art style. The topic fits such a weird little niche, but it will definitely make you think twice about what you throw away.