The main character in the book is a Lithuanian man called Jurgis Rudkus, an immigrant to the United States trying to make ends meet. The book begins describing the wedding feast beginning at four o'clock after the marriage in Chicago of Jurgis to a fifteen year old Lithuanian girl named Ona Lukoszaite whom he had known from his Lithuanian days. The second chapter goes back to when Jurgis and Ona were in Lithuania before they married and Jurgis's courtship of her, the death of her father, and their decision to start dating and eventually immigrate to the United States along with her stepmother Teta Elzbieta, and their extended family after hearing how their relative Jokubas Szedvilas is making money there. In the second and third chapters Jurgis and Ona settle in Chicago's infamous Packingtown district, where from the start, Jurgis takes a job at Brown's slaughterhouse.
Originally published in 1991 as part of a short-lived revival of the Classics Illustrated line, this adaptation of Sinclair's muckraking socialist novel succeeds because of its powerful images. When Kuper initially drew it, he was already a well-known left-wing comics artist. His unenviable task is condensing a 400-page novel into a mere 48 pages, and, inevitably, much of the narrative drama is lost. Kuper replaces it, however, with unmatched pictorial drama. The story follows Lithuanian immigrant Jurgis Rudkis and his family as they are eaten up and spit out by capitalism (represented by Chicago's packing houses). Kuper uses an innovative full-color stencil technique with the immediacy of graffiti to give Sinclair's story new life. When Jurgis is jailed for beating the rich rapist Connor, a series of panels suffused with a dull, red glow draw readers closer and closer to Jurgis's face, until they see that the glint in his eye is fire. Jurgis, briefly prosperous as a strong-arm man for the Democratic machine, smokes a cigar; the smoke forms an image of his dead son and evicted family. Perhaps most visually dazzling is the cubist riot as strikers battle police amid escaping cattle. Kuper infuses this 1906 novel with the energy of 1980s-era street art and with his own profoundly original graphic innovation, making it a classic in its own right.