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Beg The Question
posted December 31, 2003

Creator: Bob Fingerman
Publishing Info: Fantagraphics, $24.95, 240 pages, 2002
Ordering Numbers: 1560975024 (ISBN)

The release of Beg the Question is great news for fans of Bob Fingerman's comics. It feels like a special-edition goodbye from the cartoonist, a tidying up on the way out for an artist now working almost exclusively as a writer. For the general fan of alternative comics bracing for a rush of bookstore-friendly re-packagings of '80s and '90s series, the handsomely packaged trade may provide greater reason to celebrate. Reading the story of young New York couple Rob and Sylvia presented in a single volume underscores how poorly a semi-regular alternative comic book served the material the first time around. Left to bear the burden of justifying individual publishing events, the non-stop chat, tortured ruminations, and regular fucking seemed like mandatory constructions from a raunchy series bible. But under a single cover, the talk comes across as an evocation of a time, place and state of mind; the character reflection seems more naturally paced; and the sex scenes exist as a necessary, ongoing explanation for the deepening of the main characters' relationship against all reason.

In other words, this is a book transformed by change in format into a sum greater than its individual parts or the total of its previous re-workings. It helps that Fingerman made sure the graphic style remains constant throughout by re-drawing a significant portion of the early chapters. Added pages also work well, with one possible exception a funny by-itself but ultimately distracting cameo from Dean Haspiel, Ivan Brunetti and the author. But the big lesson here is that Fingerman’s story simply works better as a novel divided into chapters rather than a series straining for cohesion. Piecing together the story from memories of serialization, the chapter about Sylvia’s abortion looms much, much larger than it does reading in the novel. Here the traumatic event is removed from the rush of specific events that end in Rob and Sylvia's marriage, which throws greater emphasis on other aspects of the couple's life together. Supporting characters gain more comedic momentum of their own when seen hours rather than months later, a change which particularly benefits Rob's friend Jack. Not everyone who disliked Minimum Wage will enjoy Beg the Question. It's still the same work. But this is by far the best presentation this material will enjoy. It should cause more than a few readers to scratch their heads and wonder why it was mostly ignored the first time around. If other comics improve this much through re-formatting, then by all means, break out the backlists.

Originally published in The Comics Journal #251