cover image Derby Dugan's Depression Funnies

Derby Dugan's Depression Funnies

Tom De Haven. Henry Holt & Company, $23 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-8050-4445-4

Beneath the raffish surface charm of De Haven's comic-strip-like novel is a potent meditation on death, violence, broken hearts, friendships betrayed and life's other inconveniences. This sequel to Funny Papers is kinetically illustrated by Art Spiegelman (Maus), whose cover painting and comic-strip running heads mesh perfectly with a wickedly amusing romp that marvelously captures Depression-era Manhattan's tempo, lingo and places, from Harlem jazz clubs to chop-suey joints. It's 1936. Walter Geebus, the grouchy, five-times-married creator of the syndicated comic strip ""Derby Dugan,"" mysteriously collapses and is hospitalized. His constantly feuding collaborator, prolific hack writer Al Bready, suspects that a disgruntled former partner, who went to jail for poisoning Walter in 1934, may somehow be involved. Through the cheerfully cynical voice of the smart-mouthed Al, De Haven conjures a world that has more moxie than ours. While evoking the romance of a bygone era, the story, filled with wry observations, depicts the birth pangs of the cutthroat, exploitive comic-strip industry with historical fidelity. Far from being two-dimensional, De Haven's off-kilter characters-an ex-bootlegger who's now a comic-book mogul; a flirtatious schoolteacher who is the swooning Al's confidante; her jealous husband, a lunchroom owner who always smells of chlorine from swimming twice a day at the Y-leap off the page into your face. 25,000 first printing; $30,000 ad/promo; author tour. (June)