Story by James Vance
Art by Dan E. Burr
Published by W. W. Norton & Company


Once in a while, a sophisticated graphic novel comes along to show us the depth of storytelling you can achieve in this medium if you're skilled enough. MAUS was one example; STUCK RUBBER BABY was another.

ON THE ROPES isn't quite on that level, but it's a really good one.

Set in 1937 at the height of the Great Depression, young and socialist Fred Bloch is traveling around Illinois with a Works Progress Administration circus. Fred is apprenticed to the show's star attraction, a drunken and haunted escape artist named Gordon Corey.

In part through flashbacks, we slowly learn about the hard roads that Fred and Gordon have traveled until now and the secrets they've kept. Their revelations come against a backdrop of labor unrest, poverty and violence.

Evidently, this is a sequel to an earlier graphic novel from 20 years ago by the same creators called KINGS IN DISGUISE. I've not heard of that book, which tells about Fred's earlier life, but I'll be looking for it.