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Derby Dugan's Depression Funnies: A Novel Hardcover – June, 1996

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 290 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt & Co; 1st edition (June 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805044450
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805044454
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,121,553 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

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.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 22, 1997
Format: Paperback
Imagine a very depressed Damon Runyan. De Haven's story works best as an Oedipal love-hate story between narrator Al Br[e]ady, funny-page ghostwriter par excellence, and cartoonist Walter Geebus, a misanthrope who has long since run out of ideas but whose drawings remain one of the few things in Bready's world to believe in. Less engaging is Bready's unrequited--well, unconsummated anyway--love for Jewel, who is married to a real-life cartoon dimwit. That relationship is bittersweet, as is the narrator's love for his damaged sister, the unwilling keeper of the family secret that Bready can't admit. But it's Geebus who breathes life into the novel and into Bready--Geebus: selfish, manipulative, but capable of a sweet belated response to a young letter writer who idolized him as a boy but has since accreted layer upon layer of cynicism.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By M. Woinoski on August 7, 2005
Format: Paperback
The complex relationship between the two main characters, with its friendship, love, jealousy, and competitiveness, is beautifully constructed, but the story never get tedious or maudlin. The novel has many comic moments and a few heartbreaking moments. Mr. De Haven's ending ties up all the threads in the story so deftly that it left my head spinning. A very impressive book.
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By R. Windham on June 23, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I discovered Derby Dugan's Depression Funnies in my local library over a decade ago. I've been a fan of old comic strips since I can remember, and have also always enjoyed reading about the cartoonists and writers who worked on such strips, so I was eager to read Tom De Haven's novel.

I didn't expect that I'd fall in love with the book. It wasn't because the subject matter and historic time period and settings were appealing, but because the story and characters are so compelling. The story takes many unpredictable turns, some very funny and others genuinely heartbreaking. Subsequently, I read De Haven's Funny Papers and Dugan Under Ground, which are also terrific reads.

A few years after my first reading of Derby Dugan's Depression Funnies, I read Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, a novel that also features fictional comic book artists and writers. While I found Chabon's story compelling, I had a hard time with the author's "voice," the omniscient narrator who evidenced a better vocabulary than any of his characters (i.e., Chabon had me reaching for a dictionary every several pages, but not because of any words found in dialogue). I don't mean that as a slight to Chabon, just noting that reading his novel made me realize I appreciated De Haven's writing more.

I've read Derby Dugan's Depression Funnies four times, and bought several copies as gifts for for friends. I just picked it up again, got drawn right into it, and decided I was long overdue to write a review for my favorite novel.
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