Graphic Novel Review: Trashed by Derf Backderf

If you’ve ever wanted to learn about garbage, this is the book for you. Backderf’s semi-autobiographical account of being a garbageman effectively shows how graphic novels can be used to tell a huge variety of different stories, although it is lacking a little in the narrative department. Spoilers below.

One man’s trash is another man’s anecdote; author Derf Backderf makes this abundantly clear with a nonstop barrage of tales from the curb. Trashed is a collection of gross-out stories tied together with facts about the waste management industry. It’s surprisingly informative, educating readers not only about what happens behind the scenes of their weekly pickup, but about the history of garbage, disposal trends, even the mechanics of the truck. There are also exploding poop bags.

The main plot itself is barely there. Protagonist JB drops out of college and gets a job as a garbageman, hijinks ensue. And then keep ensuing until the end. There’s some side stories about city politics and the various weirdos of the village, but the novel is primarily focused on all the nasty things JB and pals have to dispose of on their route.

There are a lot of one-off stories that seem like they might evolve into a subplot, or at least a running gag, but never come up again. No word on what happens with Beth Hodl from the beginning of the novel, or if there are any repercussions for the many, many predicaments the crew get themselves into. Supervisor Wile E does pop up everywhere which is fairly funny, but the two main characters never really face the consequences for the extensive trouble they cause in the neighbourhood. The minor subplots that do develop (JB’s mysterious roommate Magee, dog catcher Marv) are just barely touched upon. It’s all just the tiniest of glimpses into suburbia.

The overarching plot doesn’t really have much importance either. There are some instances of “upper management” appearing here and there and the department gradually switches hands towards the end of the book. JB’s arc concludes with him getting a full-time job as a driver….which I’m not sure if I should take as a happy ending?

What the book is really good at is visuals; the style is reminiscent of some 90s cartoon for older audiences that would only play after 10:00pm. It’s the amount of detail that’s gone into depicting trash that’s astounding though, and Backderf really should have let his expressive work speak more for itself, as he has a tendency to throw in a little too much exposition. Close friends will say lines like:

“Oh look a parking space. Usually we have to park behind the mulch shed out back. This is a rare crack in the caste system of municipal employees.”

It’s not natural! Neither is the fact that everyone is constantly coming up with witty retorts to each other. Or the fact that there’s a lot of emboldened text with the emphasis on the wrong words. So the previous line is formatted like so:

“Oh look a parking space. Usually we have to park behind the mulch shed out back. This is a rare crack in the caste system of municipal employees.”

It’s not too distracting, and after a few pages you get used to it. When you’re reading about diaper bombs you tend to look over minor things like that. And there’s a lot of diaper bombs in here.

Final Grade: B+