Ty Burr
June 21, 1996 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Derby Dugan's Depression Funnies

Current Status
In Season
Tom De Haven

We gave it a B+

Nothing much happens in Tom De Haven’s third novel: merely an era observed, celebrated, and mourned in its passing. Or so it seems at first. Like Time and Again or The Alienist, Derby Dugan’s Depression Funnies deposits the reader in a splendidly detailed old New York. Walter Geebus, the creator of the hugely popular and covertly right-wing comic strip Derby Dugan (think Little Orphan Annie with a sex change), is on his last legs, and so is his medium; around the corner lurk the comic books that will kill off the first generation of funny-paper men. Walter’s decline is seen through the eyes of his ghostwriter, Al Bready, a wisecracking hack who can’t figure out why he loves Walter so much when he hates the guy’s guts. De Haven (a regular EW contributor) writes with such hilarious Tenderloin immediacy that toward the end you may wonder where the plot has disappeared to. Then you realize that Derby Dugan’s Depression Funnies has become a far more personal — and infinitely moving — tale about family, forgiveness, and other things too large to fit into a word balloon. B+

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