The New Deal
I have never before seen a graphic novel that so beautifully captures what I enjoy about watching 1940s movies. The New Deal is a rich-vs-poor caper set in 1936 at the New York Waldorf Astoria Hotel. Jonathan Case (Green River Killer, Dear Creature, Batman ’66) isn’t doing a purely retro piece, though, since he also incorporates class and racial distinctions that we’re much more aware of now.
The time period allows Case to draw gorgeous settings and time-period fashion, but it’s also significant as the depths of the Depression. Which leads people to make questionable choices, and that’s another significant way this differs from the original stories it evokes. There’s not an externally imposed moral structure that has to be adhered to, which gives Case more freedom in his portrait of a heist, in a pre-Code style.
Frank is a bellhop at the hotel when he’s not promoting his friend Theresa’s play. Unfortunately, Frank is also deep in debt to a well-off world traveler, who happens to be staying at the hotel, and he’s taken aback by a stunning new arrival, a high society dame. Theresa also works there as a maid.
Frank skates close to the edge frequently, because his whiteness gives him a flexibility Theresa doesn’t have. She’s the one that automatically gets blamed when a rich woman’s fancy dog collar goes missing, and he doesn’t stand up for her. Yet she’s also the one with brains, the one people who get to know her trust (rightly or wrongly, since she’s an actress).
The book is toned in a grayish blue, which gives it a past flavor while shading for greater readability, making the strong blacks all the more prominent. Case’s figures are astounding, with movement and emotion. This is a smooth read, which allows the reader to get lost in the twists and turns. The ending and attitudes remind me of some of Ernst Lubitsch’s films.
There are preview pages at the publisher’s website. (The publisher provided a digital review copy.)