In Derby Dugan's Depression Funnies
, Al Bready ghostwrites a popular comic strip and struggles to get along with his boss and mentor, Walter Geebus. Set in 1930s New York, the novel is populated with characters who seem to have stepped straight out of a Damon Runyon story. While Mysterious Jones roams the city in a black mask, Marty Planet runs the Mafia, and an ambitious young cartoonist's assistant named Frank Sweeney rots in jail for lacing his boss's coffee with arsenic. He was trying to poison his way to a promotion, but it didn't work. Al Bready caught him, and although Walter Geebus survived the arsenic poisoning, he was never the same. This novel charts Geebus's decline and Bready's efforts to come to terms with the loss of the comic strip he clung to throughout his difficult childhood. Bready is a man of many routines who generally keeps to himself. He ghostwrites five or six comic strips and pumps out a pulp novel every month, but when he tries to write something personal, he feels stymied. He knows the story begins, "Derby's in a rowboat, it's night," but he can't fill in the rest. Bready yearns for the days of his youth, when reading the funnies aloud to his kid sister made everything seem all right. His story is not terribly moving, but it is quite funny, and he makes good company for a few hundred pages. This novel is a nostalgic, witty look back at the glory days of comic strips. --Jill Marquis
From Publishers Weekly
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.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.