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THE NEW DEAL By Jonathan Case (graphic novel review)

Review by Clay N Ferno
Written and Illustrated by Jonathan Case
Published by Dark Horse Comics
ISBN: 978-1-61655-731-7
Price: $16.99
Publication Date: 9/23/15
Buy it HERE

While based in 1936, Jonathan Case’s The New Deal is not a hum-drum historical drama based on FDR’s realignment.

No sir, this is a beautifully rendered period heist comedy based the Waldorf Astoria highlighting income disparity from the bellhops and chamber maids kowtowing to the needs of the very rich that choose to make the ritzy hotel their home.

Published under Dark Horse’s seldom used, but high end Dark Horse Originals imprint, The New Deal looks as if it was published at Fantagraphics or Drawn and Quarterly, not necessarily at the home of Barb Wire and Itty Bitty Mask.

Nice production design, classy art deco endpapers and a black and white plus wash look to the pages make for an excellent looking hardcover.

Jonathan Case is best known for his art on 2011’s Green River Killer: A True Detective Story and I have long since been singing his praises for his work on Batman ’66.
 
This original graphic novel based around a bellhop, his girlfriend and their money troubles is a really fun story that is handsome to look at. Fans of Boardwalk Empire, The Aviator, Kay Thompson’s and Hilary Knight’s Eloise and Wes Anderson’s recent Grand Budapest Hotel will have a lot to pour over here.

Case’s natural cartooning, attention to the costume and period detail of the grand hotel gives us such varied gifts as confused and choking little pugs, a snappy rat, gorgeous women and fresh faced young bell hops in full regalia.

When the shorthaired Nina Booth rolls into the Waldorf with her case and birdcage, everything about her makes bellboy Frank O’Malley flustered. He struggles to get her overpacked case across the hall into her room.

O’Malley’s best friend is a black maid named Theresa. At break time she practices her Macbeth lines with Frank. There is a hint of flirting between the service workers but what binds them together is Frank’s gambling woes.

Frank is in deep with whale Jack Helmer, a dashing mustachioed playboy that is more Lamont Cranston than Bruce Wayne. Helmer is owed $400 from the hardworking bellboy for a poker game months back.

What begins to weave, as hotel stories often do, is a tale of how all of these lives start to intertwine with each other. An old lady’s dog collar goes missing, and of course the hag thinks the help took it.
Frank struggles with the idea of paying back his gambling debt and starts to get smart about how he can do so with the help of Theresa.

Meanwhile, Nina is partying with all of the right socialites, but tends to be nicer than the other rich people to the hotel servants. What could she possibly have to gain by being aloof and over-tipping this young couple?

As a self contained story, Case has written a very fun portrait of the era. Clawing our way out of the Great Depression led to many Americans grabbing what they could to get buy—even if it was morally dubious to do so.

I can hardly describe how glorious the art is in the book. Some comparisons can be drawn to Scott McCloud’s The Sculptor for both the similar palette and expressions on characters’ faces.

Also, fans of The Spirit and The Rocketeer may appreciate the costuming and style of the era. If you enjoy Darwyn Cooke’s Parker series of graphic novels, The New Deal will also look very appealing to you.

The inking looks as though it has been done by hand, and it very well could be! Case outlines his favorite tools on his website. Page layouts flow in a pleasing rhythm as you make your way through the pages.

This type of classic cartooning not only appeals to me aesthetically, but it appropriately frames the story and the time period. Coming in at 96 pages, it would get into spoiler territory if I were to say too much more about the story, so I will refrain.

I look forward to more from Case and revisiting some of his previous work, Dear Creature, Green River Killer and The Creep.

The New Deal comes in a long tradition of independent hardcovers with both style and grace that should perform well not only in the comic shops but also the traditional book market.  Dark Horse Originals has delivered another unique story and in this case given Jonathan Case as platform to show what he is really great at and let him tell his original story.

For more details visit jonathancase.net and follow @Jonathan_Case

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