Threadbare is a nonfiction graphic novel that follows work in the apparel industry at all stages, from production of garments to modeling and consumption, and tries to bring light to the ways in which injustices reign freely in this industry. The apparel industry is drawn parallel to the sex work industry, as these two industries are two of the largest employers of women across the world. Additionally, garment work on a smaller scale as overseen by an NGO (non-governmental organization) is often seen as the primary savior of sex trafficking victims. Moore argues that many actions from anti-trafficking NGOs may enforce rather than subvert poor working conditions and practices for the women they seek to serve.
Anne Elizabeth Moore is the writer of the book, and acts as editor to a series of distinct stories by six artists: Julia Gfrörer, Delia Jean, Melissa Mendes, Simon Häussle, Ellen Lindner, and Leela Corman. Several others are acknowledged in Moore’s introduction as being involved in the creation of this book, such as members of The Ladydrawers Comics Collective. The book has four chapters, each beginning with a textual introduction by Moore and followed by half a dozen separate stories in comic format. Moore’s introductions equally prime the reader as well as praise the artists.
The book is propelled by Moore’s interviews with folks from various parts of the industry and most of the dialogue in the comics is taken directly from these interviews. While this is useful for understanding the situations at hand, each comic feels like a concise summary of that interaction without much dramatization to flesh out the interviewee’s words. As a result, the flow of each chapter is somewhat disjointed within and across strips. A handful of comics feel cut short at only two or three pages long. This is frustrating as a reader, but effective if the creators’ desired result is, “I want to learn more.”
Each comic in the book uses only a single color in addition to black, with shades ranging from mustard yellow and blood orange to deep cranberry. Color thus acts to distinguish stories or tie them together. Three stories by Melissa Mendes opt to not use black ink at all, relying instead on varying shades of the focal color. The contrast in these segments becomes difficult to read—details become easily muddied and indistinguishable.
Most of the lettering appears to be done by hand, so it fits well with the art portrayed. Even the typeset lettering has the feeling of careful hand lettering. In some of the comics, the font is a bit small and strains the eyes. It appears that these segments could have benefitted from a larger scale of printing—the book is physically rather small at 8 by 6 inches.
Of the six artists, I was particularly taken with Lindner’s and Corman’s styles. With Lindner’s expert use of shade, you quickly forget about the limited color palette. Corman’s style is striking with strong lines and heavy use of black ink; her art ends the book, and is powerful in the delivery of the final lines.
The content of Threadbare was more palatable than I expected it to be, which surprised me. Perhaps my shock at the digestibility of this book was due to expecting a shock and fear motivated campaign as traditionally employed by some of the anti-trafficking NGOs Moore mentions. Moore demonstrates this to be generally ineffective at improving labor conditions or policy. Rather than acting as savior or seeking to educate in a condescending way, Moore creates an opportunity for conversation, making it clear that these are pervasive, global problems with global impact. Moore refuses to sensationalize the subjects, firmly choosing to approach them with journalistic integrity and respect.
The book ends with concrete suggestions for what readers can do: avoid fast fashion and mall shopping, advocate for garment workers’ right to a living wage and healthy working conditions, run for political office to make a direct impact on policy. Moore demonstrates that the threads of apparel work and sex work are woven so closely together that you cannot unravel one without being prepared to act on the other.
While the publication appears to be aimed at adult readers, Threadbare is appropriate for teens, perhaps most useful in order to encourage critical consumption of both political narratives and clothing. Librarians wishing to add this book to their collection may benefit from the following content notes: sexual harassment, drug use, and sex trafficking are discussed and briefly portrayed; an interview excerpt is uncensored in its use of a few swear words; realities of sex work are frankly and critically discussed. Difficult topics are addressed and discussed in this book in an accessible and respectful manner.
Threadbare: Clothes, Sex & Trafficking
by Anne Elizabeth Moore
Art by The Ladydrawers
Microcosm Publishing, 2016