Review of Wage Slaves (2016)

Daria Bogdanska (writer-artist).

Read in 2020.

Bogdanska’s first year in Sweden, as a semi-legal migrant struggling with the Swedish Migration Agency, her employer at an Indian restaurant, and the complications of love and language in Bohemian Malmö. A workers’ union (SAC) helps her get organized.

Bogdanska’s nominal reason for being in Sweden is to learn how to make comics in a multi-year educational programme. Her own life (“based on real events”) as a 25-year-old member of the international precariat is a good subject, but as her own narrative clearly shows, she wasn’t paying much attention to her training. There are a couple of common tricks with the medium but nothing that shows an artistic bent. The most eyecatching visual feature is the use of real locations in Malmö, complete with logos and advertisements everywhere, but this is so consistent that not even the love scenes provide a visual escape from monotony. They only replace the storefronts with a bed.

Perhaps the lack of visual interest is intentional. It certainly matches Bogdanska’s honesty about her own flaws: Getting drunk at parties, taking up smoking for a stupid reason, and juggling two indifferent boyfriends while lying and cheating to get to Sweden and work there. Even her depiction of SAC, where she would later hold a prominent position, is admirably nuanced and credible, which helps the message. Alas, this realism seems to be a byproduct of sheer volume and indiscriminate disposition; she really could have used a letterer and an editor. The author’s handwriting expands to fill every speech balloon, sometimes saying nothing.

Smålands mörker (2012) at least had intelligent composition, dramaturgy and a little poetry. Bogdanska’s subject is similarly important, and I am glad she doesn’t glamourize it. Like better “alternative comics”, Wage Slaves is an effective vehicle for an autobiography and it does provide some novel insight into the problems of contemporary migrant youth, but there must be better ways to reach them.

non-fiction sequential art