On the Ropes: A Novel

Overview

In this long-awaited sequel to the legendary graphic novel Kings in Disguise, a young circus hand gets involved in dangerous underground activity.Kings in Disguise was praised by the likes of Art Spiegelman, Neil Gaiman, and Alan Moore. It won two Eisner Awards and has been hailed as one of the ten best graphic novels of all time (Guardian). This highly anticipated sequel tells the story of a young man’s coming of age in a world where the capacity to dream may be a fatal flaw. Set in 1937, On the Ropes continues ...
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Overview

In this long-awaited sequel to the legendary graphic novel Kings in Disguise, a young circus hand gets involved in dangerous underground activity.Kings in Disguise was praised by the likes of Art Spiegelman, Neil Gaiman, and Alan Moore. It won two Eisner Awards and has been hailed as one of the ten best graphic novels of all time (Guardian). This highly anticipated sequel tells the story of a young man’s coming of age in a world where the capacity to dream may be a fatal flaw. Set in 1937, On the Ropes continues the story of Fred Bloch, now apprenticed to escape artist Gordon Corey, a star attraction in a traveling WPA circus. Though damaged by the Depression and haunted by past mistakes, each man holds the key to the other’s salvation—but each also harbors a secret that could lead to their mutual destruction. Enacted against a backdrop of violent labor unrest and a nation’s faltering recovery, On the Ropes is a breathtaking visual achievement that delivers a powerful, timeless story.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The subtitle on the cover of this sequel to the Eisner-winning Kings in Disguise reads, “A Novel.” The telling absence of the word “graphic,” paired with the quality of the storytelling herein, indicate that Vance and Burr’s ambition is to craft a Depression-era story as layered and encompassing as the classics of Steinbeck or James M. Cain—and they are successful. In 1930s, teenager Fred Bloch works as an assistant to circus escape artist Gordon Corey. Bloch’s checkered past and Corey’s unstable reputation make them mismatched partners who are nevertheless mutually dependent. Blooming romance and labor unrest provide the external dramas against which Bloch struggles to understand himself and his era as he moves toward adulthood. Meticulous research is reflected on every page: the economics and social dynamics of the era, the challenges faced by organized labor, the psychology of alcoholism, and the politics of the Works Progress Administration, among other topics, are clearly outlined by both writer Vance and artist Burr. The black-and-white art stylistically reflects the clean outlines and emphasis on faces found in classic EC comics. This informative, melodramatic story paints a vivid picture of a tumultuous era that fostered a political divisiveness that will be all too familiar to contemporary readers. (Mar.)
Alan Moore
“More than twenty years in its construction and worth every moment of the wait, James Vance and Dan Burr’s On the Ropes is that most rare of animals, a sequel that’s as powerful, as vital and as necessary as the work which it continues. A quietly epic human tale that beautifully and expertly employs the comic medium in its telling, On the Ropes is very possibly the most affecting graphic narrative that you will read in the next couple of decades.”
Josh Neufeld
“Vance’s complex, heartfelt writing and Burr’s earnest, detailed drawings humanize the plight of all those caught in the ravages of the Great Depression. On The Ropes is a refreshing take on the turmoil and politics of the era—and a gripping, dramatic, and frightening tale.”
Dave Gibbons
“Every bit as visceral and hypnotic as its award-winning predecessor, On the Ropes is a tour-de-force of fluid, yet detailed storytelling.”
Kirkus Reviews
An oft-praised graphic novel of the Depression era belatedly spawns a sequel. Following the picaresque hobo's fable of Kings in Disguise (1990), writer Vance and illustrator Burr follow their latter-day Huck Finn, as recast by Steinbeck, into young adulthood. Freddie Bloch is now Fred (except when he isn't), and he has left the life of riding the rails and living in hobo jungles for employment in a WPA circus. In a setup that is heavily fraught with symbolism and adds resonance to the title, Fred now serves as an assistant to an escape artist who nightly feigns his own execution by hanging. Enmeshed within the plot are a female writer (now also employed by the WPA), some union-busting thugs and a lot of characters from various back stories that both enhance the narrative and confuse it. For the workers, it's the same old story: "The same demand for dignity and survival. The same answer from those who hold the power. The same lesson learned." Yet, Fred's role in this struggle between the powers that be and those who would challenge that power remains murky, even to him, as double crosses lead to the possibility of triple crosses. Relationships reveal various twists as they leap back and forth chronologically, as Fred learns at 18 what he hadn't known at 13, when he first hit the road: "I'd had no idea how large the world was, nor how fragile the lives it contained." As he attempts to put what he has learned into writing, to tell the story within this story, he learns another lesson: "Most of us don't want a better world, kiddo. We just want the old one back." The old world isn't coming back, but at least one more volume of this series appears inevitable.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393062205
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 3/11/2013
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 992,685
  • Product dimensions: 8.60 (w) x 11.00 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

James Vance has written scripts for The Crow, The Spirit, and other popular comics. He lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Dan E. Burr has been an illustrator for DC Comics’s Big Book Series. He lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

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