Q&A: ‘The Adventures of Unemployed Man’ Author Erich Origen

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If you ever wanted to make sense of the bubble-riding, downsizing, outsourcing, debt-inducing, credit-crazy, middle-class-destroying era we’ve all just lived through—and in many ways, which we all continue to live in—a comic book will do the job as good as any. Hilarious, clever, very relevant, and remarkably insightful and thought-provoking, “The Adventures of Unemployed Man” features a cast of superheroes and arch villains made for the Great Recession. In addition to the main hero, Unemployed Man, who looks for jobs while fighting the bad guys, there’s Plan B, an aging Robin-like sidekick who can’t retire because he was swindled out of his 401(k), and villains such as an evil corporate lawyer called Loophole, a stretchy credit card creature known as Plaztik, and a psychopathic Wall Street clown named The Broker.

Unemployed Man’s superhero friends include Wonder Mother, who was fired for refusing to breastfeed in a closet and who fights crime with her infant secured in a Baby Bjorn-type contraption on her chest. There’s also Master of Degrees, a brilliant, overly educated perpetual grad student who can explain anything but who refuses to work for the bad guys so he can’t get a decent enough job to pay off his student loans. Then there’s David Tanner, who was once a meek corporate employee who worked a dead-end job in a cubicle straight out of “Office Space.” After receiving an accidental overdose of Fox News rays, however, he turned into White Rage, a muscle-bound Hulk-like creature (in a ripped “I Love Glenn Beck” T-shirt) who can’t control his anger and who sometimes tries to destroy even the things people need, like unemployment insurance and public transit.

Erich Origen, who wrote “The Adventures of Unemployed Man” with Gan Golan (the two previously paired up on the best-selling parody Goodnight Bush), answers my questions below.

So what, exactly, are Unemployed Man’s powers, and why did you decide that these powers best suited this character?
Erich Origen: Unemployed Man starts out as a hero called The Ultimatum—a millionaire playboy not unlike Bruce Wayne, who has a lot of gadgets but no actual superpowers.

He’s known around town as The Dark Knight of Self-Help, a motivational vigilante who sees poverty as a symptom of poor mental hygiene. He drives through the ghetto, reading his positive-thinking books over a loudspeaker: “In America, if anything is possible, why have you chosen to fail?” He gives people an ultimatum: Think positive, or get punched in the face. When he loses his job as the Ultimatum, the U on his suit takes on a very different meaning. After being defeated by the forces of the Invisible Hand and suffering a Fantastic Foreclosure, he winds up living in the cave under his former mansion (Rock Bottom). He soon teams up with a new sidekick, Plan B. Together, they fight larger and larger economic villains, joining forces with a host of other down-but-not-out heroes including Wonder Mother, Fellowman, Ducto, Zilch, Fantasma, and Good Grief.

Our heroes’ powers are never more than exaggerations of the powers of real people—we wanted to show how heroic everyday people are. Undertaking an epic search for work (like Unemployed Man) is heroic. Fighting economic villains while raising your children (like Wonder Mother) is heroic. Working into your old age because the Broker made a joke of your 401K and you can’t afford to retire (like Plan B) is heroic. Each of our characters represent a specific kind of everyday heroism.

The cast of characters seems hilarious. I especially get a kick out of some of the minor characters, like Master of Degrees and White Rage. Which are your personal favorites, and why?
EO: Anyone weighed down by the ball and chain of student loan debt can probably relate to Master of Degrees. As a former teacher, I also relate to Good Grief. Wonder Mother and Fantasma are two of our more popular characters on Facebook. When we started developing the characters, White Rage was on the villain team, but we realized it was much more interesting to have him be with the heroes, slowly realizing the root causes of his anger and beginning to direct it at the proper target, rather than at illegal immigrants and the other things he’s been told to hate. So he becomes, like the Hulk, a much more sympathetic and tragic figure, searching for the cure to the raging spirit that lies within him.

You seem to have had a lot of fun creating all these stories and characters. Were there any characters left on the cutting room floor? Any wacky story lines that you had to ditch for one reason or another?
EO: We did have a lot of fun developing this! It was also a huge challenge to tell a story as big as we wanted to tell in such a small space. We have a list of over 100 characters. We did have to leave some out, but they’ll return in sequels. We managed to condense a lot of story moments into the fake ads. For instance, we had a sequence where the villains were brainstorming sinister plots, but we didn’t have room for it, so we made it into a one-page ad for the business book Shake The Invisible Hand. We also wanted to show more everyday trials and tribulations for Unemployed Man, but chose to condense those into things like the Inaction Comics covers, so we could include more big-picture stuff in the storyline.

Did you have anyone specific in mind when you drew The Broker, the psychopathic trader? To me, he looks a little like Bernie Madoff.
EO: No, but many real people appear in the book, including Greenspan, Rubin, Summers, Geithner, Robert Reich, Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Friedman, Reagan, Ayn Rand, and Obama.

It seems like The Thumb is the head of all the villains. What’s his back story? What does he want?
EO: The Thumb is the leader of the Just Us League and a true believer in the power of the mystical force known as The Invisible Hand—so much so that’s it’s transformed him. When provoked, he can actually become The Invisible Hand incarnate, and crush his enemies faster than a run on a bank. We are all under his thumb.

I love the catch phrase from Nickel & Dime — after they rip a victim off with, say, ATM fees, the victim gets walloped on the head with a bag of nickels and dimes, and they say, “You just got Nickel ‘n’ Dimed, biyotch!” Can you share some more catch phrases, and tell us which are your favorites?

Plaztik: “I’m not evil, I’m necessary evil.” and “Sorry, I can’t stretch any further.”

Cobra: “I’ve got you covered!”

Free Marketeers: “All for the few! The rest for you!”

Anyone: “The Nerve!” The Nerve: “Precisely.”

The Thumb: “Feeling under The Thumb?” and “Here’s a Rule of Thumb…”

Plan B: “Let’s keep our feet on the ground.”

Wonder Mother: “Great labor pains!”

Ducto: “Keep it together!”

Great labor pains! Good one. What adventures are next for Unemployed Man? Where does the story go from here? Could he possibly get a job down the line?
EO: Near the end of the book, you’ll see a set of comic book covers under the banner JUST GREAT SOCIETY. That’s actually the team name that we have in mind for this group of heroes, which will expand to cover a broad range of issues.