Sunday, 2 August 2015

Trashed by Derf Backderf Review

This book is (all about) garbage - and it’s great! 

Following up his excellent memoir, My Friend Dahmer (a book about actually going to school with cannibal serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer), John “Derf” Backderf takes a look at the American trash industry in Trashed. Part fiction, part memoir (Backderf was briefly a garbageman in 1980) and part non-fiction (the facts presented in this book are meticulously researched), Trashed follows 21 year old JB through the four seasons, learning the trade of trash collecting. 

It’s a juggling act between styles that Backderf manages really well. A book that would just list facts about garbage would be too dry and one just about his experiences as a garbageman, or the misadventures of the fictional JB, would be a bit insubstantial. But merged together, Trashed is a very strong comic. 

Through JB, we see the horrors of being a garbageman: maggots in bins, bin soup, dead cats, headless deer, diaper bombs (when compacted, you get flying shit!), yellow torpedoes (plastic bottles of pee tossed out of car windows), and the worst of the worst, cheap bin bags that break leaving the garbageman to scoop up the trash with his arms. 

Trashed is very informative and the reader will get a brief history of garbage through the ages, how recycling works, the biodegrading of various materials, how trash trucks are designed, how landfills operate, and the landfills’ legacy on the ecological landscape. These facts are seamlessly woven into JB’s story as he encounters them, eg. when he’s picking up dirty diapers, there are facts on how many diapers Americans go through and how long they’ll take to break down. 

It IS a bit depressing in just how much garbage there is and how our culture has become more enamoured with throwing stuff out over the last few decades. In fact, Western economies seem built around the short lifespan of products with everyday devices intended to only last a few years before needing to be replaced. But as gloomy as it may be, it’s still a fascinating read. 

Backderf makes the book palatable through our likeable everyman protagonist JB, a young man disgusted with our society’s garbage culture but who approaches it from a practical and light perspective. Joining him are a colourful cast of characters like his perpetually pissed-off manager, Wile E, his flatmate, the hipster Magee, his colleagues Mike and Bone, and Marv the (far too old) Village Dog Catcher. 

There isn’t too much of a plot as it’s mostly on-the-job anecdotes though these are plenty as these episodes are interesting and bring home the variety of crap we throw out. The fiction ties it all together even if it isn’t a terribly gripping read. 

Trashed is a very American-centric book and, while Backderf briefly mentions the various alternative methods of trash disposal used by Europeans who don’t have the luxury of endless space like America, I would’ve liked to have seen a wider look at the issue. Backderf’s conclusion at the end seems to be bigger landfills in remoter places like Alaska which seems a bit pointless when there are better methods out there than simply burying the problem. Then again, there’s real money behind landfills so I guess Americans are stuck with the crap solution for now. 

A book about garbage doesn’t seem the likeliest choice for a good read but Derf Backderf pulls it off in Trashed! It’s entertaining and a little sad, but very revealing, it’s one of the most memorable comics I’ve read all year. Definitely worth checking out!


1 comment:

  1. I've always wanted to read that Dahmer book, and this one looks very interesting.

    By the way, I just read your post about Sandman Overture and it was great. You seem to be a bit of an expert in Neil Gaiman. Anyway, I also wrote about Sandman Overture in my blog (wich I encourage you to visit):

    I hope you enjoy my review, and please feel free to leave me a comment over there or add yourself as a follower (or both), and I promise I'll reciprocate.