The Man in the McIntosh Suit
The Man in the McIntosh Suit by Rina Ayuyang, published by Drawn & Quarterly, is one of the finest modern works of noir, calling back to the midcentury dawn of the genre. Ayuyang sets the tale in 1929, following Bobot, a migrant from the Philippines now living in a bunkhouse as he works the harvest. When he learns that one of his bunkmates has been hiding their mail, including a letter about Bobot’s estranged wife, Bobot steals a suit and embarks on an adventure to find the truth, no matter where it leads him.
The Man in the McIntosh Suit hits all of the classic noir tropes. Most obvious of all is the style of the noir era, especially with its glamorous clothes. Style and conduct are strong roots throughout the story, showing how people posture themselves in a troubled world.
Bobot sinks into obsession trying to find his wife, even following a woman who may or may not be she as he debates whether it’s a case of mistaken identity or an even grander secret. Surprising relationships are revealed between some characters while others develop trying to find a bit of happiness in a life of struggle.
While The Man in the McIntosh Suit is as “noir” as Chinatown, it, like Chinatown, stands on its own feet with a fresh look at the genre. The story unfolds against the backdrop of 1929 California, already feeling the tension of the coming Great Depression.
Some businesses struggle and others boom, and anyone making money is under suspicion, even those trying to eke out an honest living. Everyone is willing to lie, cheat, steal, or worse to get what they need to survive. Survival is seen through the views of Filipino immigration, where good people want to work hard and get by while others thrive through corruption.
The tone of this world is set well by Ayuyang through a prelude quoting the 1928 secretary of the California State Federation of Labor calling to “exclude the Filipinos!” Bobot must navigate travel where he is not welcome at certain hotels and must prove his connections to get deeper into the world of Manilatown, where Filipino Americans have settled and created their own neighborhood.
Just as the story in The Man in the McIntosh Suit is pure noir, Ayuyang’s art carries the feeling of nobility in the face of nihilism through its use of color. The colors are bold blues interrupted by shocks of red and yellow in the scenes of shady nightclubs and a stroke of calm green during the moment of false peace Bobot creates for himself.
The painted style shows deep shadows in its heavy shading. Corners of nearly all the panels are so dark they seem like they could be hiding anything. Elsewhere the color is splashed along the lines of inking, sometimes leaving gaps of paper or spilling over. It all lends to the motif that lines are crossed so frequently they might not even exist as far as the characters are concerned.