cover image Queenie: Godmother of Harlem

Queenie: Godmother of Harlem

Elizabeth Colomba and Aurélie Lévy. Megascope, $24.99 (160p) ISBN 978-1-4197-5774-7

Artist Colomba and documentary filmmaker Lévy team up for a rollicking retelling of the incredible life of Stephanie St. Clair, a Depression-era Harlem racketeer who outmaneuvered such mobsters as Dutch Schultz and Lucky Luciano while frustrating the police at every turn. With her enforcer “Bumpy” Johnson at her side, Queenie applies her genius for math to running numbers and uses her wealth to fight for civil rights and against police corruption. “Hope comes at a loan shark’s rate,” though, she warns. As she grows more powerful, she becomes a target for both law enforcement and underworld rivals. Colomba’s clean, crisp art brings the era to life, displaying impeccable research on historical details in clothing and jewelry while plunging the characters into lavish period settings: sophisticated Harlem parties, shows at the Cotton Club, neighborhood shops selling everything from dry goods to voodoo supplies, and flashbacks to Queenie’s childhood in Martinique. Levy peppers the fast-paced story with snappy dialogue (“I was so poor, I couldn’t jump over a nickel to save a dime”), diagrams explaining the logistics of organized crime, and quotations from the philosophy and poetry of the Harlem Renaissance. This smart, sure-footed biography belongs on every history aficionado’s shelf. Agent: Emilie Védis, Mediatoon. (Jan.)