Kings in Disguise takes place in 1932, at the height of the Depression. It’s the story of the Bloch family, young Frankie in particular. Mr. Bloch has plunged into alcoholic despair and can’t find work anywhere. He’s lost nearly all hope. Albert, the older brother, has lost all respect for his father, while Frankie just gets lost at the movies. Gangster movies are his favorites and he carefully saves bottles so that he can get his dime to see a new movie every week.
It all comes to a head when Albert and Mr. Bloch get into a terrible fight and in the morning, Mr. Bloch has disappeared, supposedly looking for work in a new town. Albert and 12-year old Frankie are left on their own. Albert tries to rob someone in order to buy food and is injured, and possibly arrested and thrown in jail. Frankie is left on his own and tries to make it to Detroit to find his father and uncle. Frankie runs into a group of hobos with bad intentions but is saved by another hobo calling himself the King of Spain.
The King of Spain is more than a little crazy, and sick to boot, but he’s a kindly soul and protects Frankie. The two set off riding the rails for Detroit and they encounter just about every kind of lost soul there is. They also find small kindnesses and worthy people which help keep the hope alive. It’s an incredible story told with humor, pathos and gut wrenching reality.
The black and white illustrations by Burr add not only depth to the story but manage to convey deep emotion. This story of a child forced into being a man is touching and painfully beautiful. The Great Depression is depicted by this amazing graphic novel in a very realistic and human way.