The New Deal
Writing and art by: Jonathan Case
It's New York, 1936. FDR's New Deal program is starting to lift the nation out of the Great Depression, but things are still hard. Getting ahead means hard work. It means luck. It means moxie. Theresa Harris and Frank O'Malley are both looking to get ahead.
Being at the Waldorf Astoria puts them at the center New York high society, but being a maid and a bell hop they're not even on the bottom rung. Theresa is an aspiring actress and has been cast in a production of Macbeth directed by Orson Welles. As a black woman she's poised to break new ground, but it's the 30s and her position, even at the hotel, is anything but sure. Frank works hard. He's helping his uncle, promoting Theresa's play, and getting way over his head in debt playing cards. The story opens with a man he owes a lot of money to, Jack Helmer, returning to the hotel. Also arriving is a wild card named Nina Booth. She's a big tipper and takes an interest in both Frank and Theresa. The story doesn't really take off, however, until a jewelled necklace is stolen and the owner points the finger at the hotel's only black employee.
While race and social tensions underscore a lot of the conflict in the story, Case nevertheless moves things in a lighter, comic direction. Indeed, Nina adds an element of screwball comedy to the mix. Here Case is playing to his strengths. IDW and Fantagraphics have been republishing a lot of old newspaper strips, including many that center on crime and adventure stories, and I was immediately reminded of them when starting the story, but Case is more influenced by Preston Sturges than Alex Raymond. As a writer and an artist, Case brings a quick and energetic pace to his story. And he also brought a lot of attention to the details of the period—the costumes, the furnishings, the bric-a-brac—the only anachronism that I noticed was the use of the word 'Ms,' which wouldn't come around for another ten or fifteen years. Even the smallest characters are wonderfully fleshed out.
The New Deal is a fun and good-humoured caper. I just wish Case was doing more of his own original work.