FUNNY PAPERS by Tom De Haven
Kirkus Star


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As the title declares, De Haven's new novel is about the funnies, about newspaper comics in their most read, best paid, and most competitive heyday: New York in the 1890s--when Pulitzer and Hearst used the funnies as circulation devices, spending lavishly and promoting maniacally. Georgie Wreckage (originally Reckage) gets his start at the World, Pulitzer's paper, doing crime sketches--the gorier the better, with sordid and unrespectable material preferred. Then, while covering the denizens of Filch Hall, downtown's den of thieves (with its up-and-coming young czar, Clarky, who sends his boy-brigands out disguised as bootblacks), Georgie observes--and sketches--a melee involving a street urchin named Pinhead and his wounded dog Fuzzy. (Fuzzy is not really all that pathetic and hapless: this dog can talk.) These drawings touch a public nerve; the World, eager to exploit the popular interest, gets Georgie to expand the drawings into an ongoing strip, the adventures of Pinhead and Fuzzy. So Georgie grows quickly rich on tie-ins and copyrights. But soon this idyll starts to wobble--as a young apprentice, Walter Geebus, sets out to steal Georgie's wife Joette and Georgie's very style: when Georgie moves for more money to the Hearst paper, the World hires Geebus to continue Pinhead and Fuzzy. . . and thus there are two of the same strip (but under different names) appearing each week. De Haven coaxes real pathos out of Georgie's artistic dissatisfaction, the ultimate uncrowning. Moreover, he displays a genuine talent for capturing the raucous, sub-rosa, semi-fantastic energies of the era--gangsters, eccentric inventors, condom sellers, brothel owners, all mixed up and separated out with less feyness than in Mark Helprin's somewhat similar Winter's Tale. And though De Haven's taste for grotesques and Tom-Robbins-ish whimsy (Freaks' Amour, Jersey Luck) surfaces occasionally here, his historical precision and half-serious tone keep everything under control. Enjoyable sparkle: a nicely scaled, syncopated mix of high-button-shoe fancy and three-ring-circus storytelling.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1984
Publisher: Viking