Life can be pretty tough when you’re in that place between the formation of your dreams and their hoped-for fulfillment; tougher still when that place is wholly held afloat by a minimum wage job that doesn’t pay nearly enough for all the stress involved and buttressed by parents who don’t understand what you want from life or by friends or bosses who aren’t nearly as supportive as they could be.
Cellies, by Joe Flood and Davis Steward II, knows how hellacious that kind of existence can be, how you keep looking for the light at the end of the tunnel only to find out someone has switched on their smartphone torch by mistake.
In the world of Jog Mobile, no one is really happy.
America’s fourth best cellular carrier is effectively a dead-end prison, holding Devin, who dreams of creating a blockbuster online game but hasn’t quite managed it yet, 16-year-old who wants more from life than her parents are willing to allow, Parker who’s the heiress to the Jog fortune, retired journalist Jerry who is mourning and Elena, holder of an MBA who isn’t even close to landing the job of her dreams.
Perhaps the crush of uncaring, demanding, tech-obsessed customers might be a little easier to handle if the store’s manager was a competent take charge kind of guy, but alas, Christian is more interested in getting tanned and taking Instagram worthy selfies than inspiring the troops.
So when it’s midnight and all the customers are in line for the launch of the Sanstar 6 which turns out to be full of freezing green goop that is leaking all over the storeroom and it’s clear that no one is going home with the latest bright and shiny tech tonight, Christian kind of takes one for team but almost accidentally.
He might look pretty but he is not the one to lead them out of the trenches of minimum wage retail despair and everyone knows it.
It’s up to Devin, Elena, Rey, Jerry and Parker, all of whom have their own personal issues to deal with, to handle customers irate over nothing, people who believe they have a divine right to the latest model phone come what may, and to deal with the fact that they are all stuck in this mess together.
What makes Cellies such a huge amount of fun to read is that, for the most part, it’s content just to have a lot of fun.
It’s brightly illustrated, sometimes comically surreal pages might be all about the black humour of stunted dreams, delayed hopes (hopefully not permanently) and the selfishness of modern consumers who validate their lives by how recent their tech is but this is no heavily message diatribe against the evils of the world.
Rather Flood is content to let the observations sit archly in the midst of the hilarious humour that exists in a workplace where everyone knows they’re kind of doomed but actually admit it, to themselves or each other.
Interspersed with brief “retail nightmare” stories, which illustrate how intensely self-obsessed some people can be with no regard for the hell they are putting others through, Cellies glories in the small moments of triumph over a difficult customer, impossible sales goals or obstacle-thick situations and in the imperfect camaraderie that develops between people caught in the same version of here-on-earth hell.
Often sweet and charming in amongst the sage snarky quips and exasperated outbursts, Cellies never pretends that life is perfect or even hald-decent much of the time, and that often the best you can do is find your happiness where you can and hope that the people around you have kind of, sort of got your back.
And in their own imperfect ways the crew of Cellies do look after each other, maybe not as well as they’d like but they do their best in a world where hopes and dreams might give you an inspiring warm inner glow but they don’t pay the bills and often the best you can do is grin and bear it and hope that somewhere down the track lies your personal nirvana, hopefully without a single retail outlet or customer to be seen.