PLAINVILLE — Norm Feuti, creator of the nationally syndicated comic strip "Retail," is used to making fun of stuffy store managers, wisecracking clerks and inconsiderate customers.
But starting next week, he'll be depending on them. Feuti is publishing his first book based on the strip, "Pretending You Care: The Retail Employee Handbook." Released by the major publishing house Hyperion, the book hits the shelves in major bookstores across the nation Tuesday.
Drawn from Feuti's experiences as a retail store worker and manager, "Retail" was launched in 2005 and appears in more than 60 newspapers. The strip has thousands of fans among long-suffering store workers as well as frustrated retail customers.
"I hope the store workers leave enough copies for the customers," joked Feuti, who held retail jobs ranging from a mall shoe store to a Pizza Hut before launching his cartooning career with King Features Syndicate.
"Retail," which appears daily on the entertainment page in The Sun Chronicle, is centered around a fictional mall department store called Grumbel's and a cast of jaded store workers: assistant manager Stuart, idealistic associate Marla, prankster Cooper and the overqualified Val, who seems constantly out of place in the mind-numbing world of markdowns and returns.
Feuti knows the drill.
"Retail is sort of the job that a lot of people had before they moved on to something else," says Feuti, whose retail career ended after an unsuccessful attempt at leasing his own mall kiosk. "There's a tremendous amount of turnover."
Although "Pretending You Care" includes dozens of memorable "Retail" strips, Feuti's book is unlike most cartoonist opuses in that the content isn't confined to artwork. Instead, Feuti offers plenty of humor-laden advice to those who choose, or have no other alternative to, retail employment.
For example Feuti explodes retail myths, such as that retail jobs come with big employee discounts, and that working with the public will be "fun." There are also tips on how to deal (or avoid dealing) with problem customers, children and other pests, not to mention fellow employees.
Becoming a full-time cartoonist has not meant an end to long hours for the stay-at-home dad who cares for his children, ages 2 and 7, while wife Jen is at her daytime job.
"Writing the book was fun, but while I was doing it I had so much going on that I had to work late at night to accomplish everything," he said. "I was pretty much right up to deadline all the time."
Feuti, who lived with his family in a rented apartment in Attleboro when he started the strip, moved to a comfortable, single family home on East Bacon Street last year. The cartoonist works in a sunlit studio on the first floor.
For all his trouble, becoming a nationally syndicated cartoonist and author hasn't bought him much celebrity at home.
"My daughter wasn't all that impressed when I proudly showed her a copy of my book," said Feuti. The first grader presented her father a book she made, complete with crayon illustrations. "She didn't see a lot of difference."
One of Feuti's major themes both in the strip and the book is having compassion for harried and often undervalued employees.
While he can understand consumers' irritation with having to wait in line at the register or being badgered to sign up for a store loyalty card, Feuti says worker laziness or disrespect is seldom the reason.
"If you've worked in retail, you realize that a lot of policies are being dictated from the top," he says. "Store workers get cut hours or they're told they have to do certain things. Most of these things the employees have no control over."
Cartoon fans can get an inside view of Norm Feuti's world by logging on to his web site, www.normfeuti.com.
RICK FOSTER can be reached at 508-236-0360 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.