Dee Hews’ Permanent Temp

The dream job. A job that is not only a means of survival, but also a means of sustenance. A job that is fulfilling, rewarding, a joy to go to each morning and perhaps even a disappointment to leave each evening. Everyone has an idea of their dream job, but only the lucky, lucky few have managed to land (or create) it.

Jim Side is one of those unlucky billions, seemingly destined to an unending series of temporary positions performing work that, while it may be important for the continued solvency of whatever mega-corporation he’s contracted with, is mind-numbing and soul-crushing. Thus does Permanent Temp, created by Dee Hews, reveal its main focus.

Jim is a university graduate, (and so presumably not a total dolt), who can’t break the iron grip that Forever Tempz and its sadistic placement manager have on him. Nor can he convince them he’s qualified for anything but data entry. The most glamorous job he lands is working on a new treatment of Hamlet, and even then his pay is peanuts. Unfortunately, whenever he tries to strike out on his own, results are even worse.

Hews gives the definite impression that he himself has traveled, or is still traveling, the temp-job route. While exaggerated, Jim’s situation feels all too real in this New Economy, and the fruitless search he endures even as those around him luck out sounds uncomfortably plausible. The themes in Permanent Temp are common to many workplace comics. There is drudgery, there is incompetence, and there is pointless cruelty. There is a room filled with an infinite number of monkeys.

The writing is polished, raising rueful smiles as the reader identifies and empathizes with many of Jim’s situations. Placement manager Brad Pike is, surprisingly, one of the more powerful characters, despite being mostly a caricature. His motives are 100% transparent and he doesn’t give a tinker’s cuss whether anyone knows it or not, which gives him an unrepentantly carnivorous edge that he uses to his full advantage against Jim and the other applicants. Besides Jim, who has gotten the lion’s share of face time so far, the other cast members are only beginning to be fleshed out. Cat is a golden girl, catching break after break. Jez is a slacker. Maria is a Russian immigrant making her way in London. The slow, progressive "filling out" of these other characters shows potential for the strip to move beyond Jim’s data-entry bondage, which has occupied a significant chunk of the archives to date.

Permanent Temp‘s art is about typical of webcomics: simple and amateurish… which is not the same as being bad. The style is spare and uncomplicated, although Hews has given his characters only two fingers and a thumb, which gives them a creepy lobster-man look. Backgrounds are pretty much nonexistent, except when absolutely necessary. Hews does use some interesting and amusing effects on occasion, though. About halfway through the series so far, Hews switched from grayscale shading to full color, and this has allowed him to add more variety to the backgrounds, even if they remain abstract.

As simplistic as it is, however, the art has improved over the course of the strip, becoming more refined, and comfortable. Moreover, the coloring has relieved Hews of the tendency to rely on black and gray backgrounds, which gave some strips an ultra-oppressive feel.

Permanent Temp hardly breaks new ground, but it also does not dishonor the genre. While not everyone suffers from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune in as unpleasant a manner as does Jim, many a wage slave and salaryman will grind his teeth in acknowledgement of a kindred soul. This is a strip for them us.