cover image On the Ropes

On the Ropes

James Vance and Dan E. Burr. Norton, $24.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-393-06220-5

The subtitle on the cover of this sequel to the Eisner-winning Kings in Disguise reads, “A Novel.” The telling absence of the word “graphic,” paired with the quality of the storytelling herein, indicate that Vance and Burr’s ambition is to craft a Depression-era story as layered and encompassing as the classics of Steinbeck or James M. Cain—and they are successful. In 1930s, teenager Fred Bloch works as an assistant to circus escape artist Gordon Corey. Bloch’s checkered past and Corey’s unstable reputation make them mismatched partners who are nevertheless mutually dependent. Blooming romance and labor unrest provide the external dramas against which Bloch struggles to understand himself and his era as he moves toward adulthood. Meticulous research is reflected on every page: the economics and social dynamics of the era, the challenges faced by organized labor, the psychology of alcoholism, and the politics of the Works Progress Administration, among other topics, are clearly outlined by both writer Vance and artist Burr. The black-and-white art stylistically reflects the clean outlines and emphasis on faces found in classic EC comics. This informative, melodramatic story paints a vivid picture of a tumultuous era that fostered a political divisiveness that will be all too familiar to contemporary readers. (Mar.)