Tom De Haven, . . Holt/Metropolitan, $25 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-8050-5741-6

The ageless Derby Dugan, comic-strip kid, is back, complete with magic yellow wallet and Fuzzy the talking dog, in this entertaining sequel to Derby Dugan's Depression Funnies. Dugan, passed from artist to artist like a cursed heirloom, has met a hard road in the 1960s, as the hobo adventures that carried him through the Depression and the war years aren't playing to the Kennedy-era nuclear family. Candy Biggs, his current artist (who only received Dugan after being stabbed in the chest with a pencil by his previous creator), drinks his way through Dugan's decline, watching his beloved comic strip vanish from one newspaper after another. Candy's only solace is teaching the Way of the Comic Artist to Roy Looby, a weird, talented neighborhood boy, and his kid brother Nick. In Roy's hand, Dugan morphs into the Imp Eugene, a randy roustabout who epitomizes the late-'60s independent comix craze, smoking dope and gallivanting with chicken-headed busty women. Roy moves to San Francisco and becomes an artist icon, bolstering his fame by disappearing for weeks at a time to produce Eugene's new adventures. Nick, ever the suffering Salieri to Roy's Mozart, is left behind in New Jersey with Roy's abandoned wife and young son. Finally, Nick, who narrates most of the novel, sets off in pursuit of his brother, trying to lay his own claim to Eugene's psychedelic world. This is a nostalgic romp through the funny-book business, as well as a compelling look at the people who struggle to make art out of four-color panels. (Oct.)