JONATHAN CASE'S The New Deal is, improbably enough, a delightful romp through the Great Depression. In the newly published graphic novel, a hapless bellhop, a struggling hotel maid/aspiring actress, and several unsympathetic rich people fall all over themselves to recover a diamond-encrusted dog collar. From there, Case dives into an America beset by poverty and lorded over by clueless aristocrats who collect baubles and complain about FDR.
All of the woes of the 1930s are on display in the rarified environment of New York's Waldorf Astoria hotel, a temple to opulence in a city where regular people can't even afford apples. Issues of race, class, and money hound the main characters on a daily basis, and if there's an antagonist in The New Deal, it's inequality. The bellhop and the maid are just trying to survive in a ravaged New York, and all of their problems can really be reduced down to racism and poverty.
This all sounds heavy, but The New Deal is anything but. The story is light on its feet—words like "breezy" and "caper" come to mind. Case's graphic novel is all about social stratification in one of the worst periods of American history, but it's still a whole lot of fun. Peeling back the façade of the American system to reveal corruption or deceit beneath isn't necessarily new, but what Case reveals in The New Deal is in service to solving a case, finding clues, and revealing whodunit. The moments when we find out that rich people are awful bastards who don't play by the rules aren't preachy or didactic. Instead, they're funny and grin-inducing.
At the end of it all, Case gleefully tells the system to shove it. You won't get ahead working at your dumb bellhop job, cleaning floors as a maid, or even being in Orson Welles' somewhat exploitative all-black version of Macbeth. Nope, the way to get ahead, according to The New Deal, is to break the rules, sneak out, and give the finger to your old job. And do it all with a smile, while whistling a jaunty tune.