Skip to main content

On The Bum

June 2024
1min read

Kings in Disguise

by James Vance and Dan Burr, Kitchen Sink Press, 192 pages

The ragged pair at the heart of this big comic-book novel of hobo life are a thirteenyear-old boy named Freddie, who is searching for the father who deserted him, and his older companion, known as the King of Spain, Freddie’s protector and guide to the freight trains and flophouses and hobo jungles that form the backdrop for a classic coming-of-age tale. Anyone Freddie’s age will enjoy this story as it steeps the young reader in gritty Depression detail. The author, James Vance, has been scrupulous about thirties hobo slang—“jocker,” “yard bull”—and the artist, Dan Burr, gets the period cars, haircuts, magazines, and slouchy hobo clothes dead right. Along his road to early manhood, Freddie rides the rods, learns to read hobo code on houses, sings the “International” with a group of strikers and is tear-gassed with them, and even befriends a convincing old Jesse James impersonator. This is an entertaining primer of hard times.

Enjoy our work? Help us keep going.

Now in its 75th year, American Heritage relies on contributions from readers like you to survive. You can support this magazine of trusted historical writing and the volunteers that sustain it by donating today.

Donate