My once voracious comics reading habit has been decreasing in the last few months, especially in terms of superhero stuff. Now I look for my sequential art fix in non-spandex corners from publishers other than Marvel and DC and really, we are tremendously blessed in that regard. There’s so much diversity out there, such as the delightful new tale from writer/artist Jonathan Case (The Green River Killer, Bandette).
The New Deal is a wonderfully entertaining 96 page OGN from Dark Horse Comics. It’s available now, and you should grab it.
Opens with bustling city streets of New York in 1936 and the setting doesn’t stray too far from the Waldorf Astoria hotel. Despite that lack of variety, Chase creates an intriguing drama filled with rich characters. It almost has the feel of an old-timey radio play or something from the ouvre of Agatha Christie or Alfred Hitchcock, but without the piling up of bodies.
Bellhop Frank O’Malley is the star, but he has some competition from the characters whose lives he orbits. His friendly demenaour soon crumbles when he realises a loan shark who he’s indebted to is now staying at his hotel, and with the arrival of the elegant and oh-so-confident Nina Booth, his world changes. Frank’s burgeoning friendship with Theresa, a new cleaner who moonlights as a theatre actress (for Orson Welles’ Macbeth, no less) is filled with spot on rapport. Chase gives Frank a slightly more exaggerated approach to his facial expressions, which coupled with his harried and hopeful dialogue inform the character as an eager to please, somewhat flighty man who wants more from life than serving ungrateful, rich hotel guests.
Every page here is filled with elegant lines and clean expressions, befitting the classiness of the Waldorf Astoria of the era. Expressions are animated yet realistic, which is difficult to achieve but Case gives Kevin Maguire a run for his money. It’s more than just spot on expressions though, that sell a character and with a complex tale like this one, the story demands more. Case brings all the players in at the right time and the right way to give them a memorable impact to the narrative, as well as making the reader curious as to how they’ll all fit in to the larger story being told.
One flick through the pages or the online preview and you’ll soon realise that The New Deal is a beautiful, beautiful book. It’s obvious Chase has thought about how to fill every space. There’s no blank backgrounds here. Every page has a superb sense of design and space; snowy streetscapes, sunlight pouring through windows. Its black and white setting reminds me of a mix between Frank Miller’s Sin City stark atmospherics but with something akin to Lee Week’s clean approach, but really, it’s in a world of its own, and he uses silent panels and pages to great effect. It’s one of those books that you’ll want to look at more than once just to admire the craftmasnship on display.
It’s rare to see something like this in the world of comics. It’s so…real and refined. Chase could easily have turned this in to a melodramatic and unapproachable period piece, or an obvious jokefest with zany characters and hijinks, but his restraint and minimalism is admirable. The plot involves a Seinfeldesque combination of a missing dog collar, the opening of a new museum exhibit, a mysteriously covered birdcage and the wonderful characters who hold their own surprises. The plot and prettiness work wonderfully in tandem to create a surprisingly enchanting story.