Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Kings in Disguise - James Vance

I’ve always been interested in fiction about the Great Depression, maybe because I used to hear my parents tell stories about it. Both of them were born in 1916, so they were old enough to have vivid memories of that era.

James Vance’s graphic novel KINGS IN DISGUISE is set in 1932 and tells the story of twelve-year-old Freddie Bloch. Freddie’s mother is dead, his father abandons the family to go look for work in Detroit, and his older brother gets in trouble with the law. Left on his own, Freddie takes to the rails and becomes a hobo, criss-crossing the country, meeting all sorts of colorful characters, and winding up in dangerous situations on several occasions. For the most part, he travels with a man dying of tuberculosis who claims to be the King of Spain, touring the United States in disguise, and this fellow dubs Freddie the King of France, giving the book its title.

Vance’s script is very good, and so is Dan Burr’s art. The story sort of meanders along, and I don’t agree with the politics espoused in it at all (actually I don’t agree with much of a political nature, so don’t take that comment to mean anything), but I couldn’t help getting caught up in the characters’ lives. It’s a cliché to say that you hate to see a book end, of course, but it’s true here. I really wanted to read more about these characters. For that reason, and for the nice little historical touches scattered throughout (at one point Freddie is shown reading an issue of WILD WEST WEEKLY, one of my favorite Western pulps, and other pulps show up, too), I recommend KINGS IN DISGUISE.


Frank Loose said...

Sounds interesting, James. I've not read a graphic novel, but i may look into this one. Sounds like the story would make a terrific book, too. This is off-topic a bit, but when you first mentioned the Depression Era, i was reminded of a wonderful series of books about an ex-con, sign painter, and reluctant sleuth who travels the small towns of South Dakota getting into trouble and romance while solving murders. The author is Harold Adams, and he wrote a dozen or so books about Carl Wilcox. I found Carl's company addictive and i was sorry to see the series end several years ago.

Fred Blosser said...

My Dad (born 1905) and Mom (born 1914) used to talk about the old days. I now wish I had recorded their stories. Hitchhiking from home in Morgantown, W.Va., to college in High Point, N.C., in the early '20s, Dad once thumbed a ride from two guys in a pickup truck, one black and one white. The ride took a long time because the guys kept to the back roads and stopped at every town. Dad soon realized that they were bootleggers on a delivery run.

Frank Loose said...

Fred ... That is too funny. I know what you mean about recording our elders' stories. We think they will be around for years to come, and then one day they're gone, and with them go many of their stories, save the ones we remember well. Think about hundreds and thousands of years ago, how "telling tales" was the only way to preserve heritage and history. Bet folks were better listeners then.

James Reasoner said...


I've read several of those novels by Harold Adams and enjoyed them very much. I need to get back to that series and read the rest of them.