Marie Martin inherited a farm, but her husband Roscoe is no farmer. He’s an electrician, and a good one at what’s still a relatively new trade in 1920s Alabama, and he has the foresight to realise electricity is going to be the future of farming. The only snag is that the nearby pylons don’t connect with the farm, but Roscoe’s skilled enough to circumvent that.

Anyone who’s read Virginia Reeves’ original novel about social conditions in depression era USA may be able to quibble about what’s been omitted to transfer it to a graphic novel. The important aspect, however, is that Alex W. Inker’s adaptation reads as a complete drama about struggle and redemption with Roscoe a sympathetic leading character determined to make the most of the talents along the way. Much of Work Like Any Other is set in jail, during which prevailing bigotry and persecution are highlighted, expressing the thin line separating those running the facility from the people imprisoned in it. A neat sadistic touch is the warden practising for prisoner escapes by letting prisoners loose, then running them down with his horse and a pack of dogs.

Inker is an expressive artist with a distinct talent for character design, but sometimes too expressive with facial reactions, especially during an otherwise charming opening chapter when in places it’s uncertain whether Work Like Any Other is intended as comedy. It isn’t. Inker is better when showing grim circumstances, filling the panels with boring repetition of the same surroundings, and emphasising the routines by presenting them all in a dark orange reflecting the prison duds.

A choice is made to tell Roscoe’s story sequentially, when the novel alternated his time in jail with chapters explaining how he ended up there. That enabled a greater exploration of his family life, but the graphic novel supplies enough of that at the start to understand what follows. Roscoe is a study in persistence and hope, if never able to keep his mouth shut when he should, yet there’s a constant foreboding generated that his hopes of becoming a better person are never going to match reality. Eventually the story becomes one of tension concerning whether self-interest in desperate circumstances will provide the only chance of redemption.

Will Roscoe find his redemption? Well, the final chapter changes the location and becomes a form of reckoning. It’s powerful, tragic and inevitable, a logical progression musing on cost and harsh reality. It’s not comforting, but Work Like Any Other is one of those graphic novels likely to resonate long after reading.