White Collar: A Novel in Linocuts by Giacomo Patri is a striking work of art. This is a great example of an early graphic novel. Patri originally self-published the book in true DIY style in the late 1930s. The novel depicts the trials of an advertising illustrator and his family in the years following the Great Depression.
The story begins in 1929 when the illustrator is gainfully employed. He seems to look down on or at least ignore the struggling blue collar workers he passes on his commute. He is the proverbial company man. Then the stock market crashes. He loses his job, and we see his family’s journey on the downward spiral. White collar is obviously socialist labor movement propaganda; however, the simple truths it embodies are profound.
Like a silent movie, the novel has no dialogue or traditional narration panels. Patri sparingly uses words on books, bills, and signs to give clues of the action taking place. He captures a remarkable amount of emotion in the stark black and white of the linocuts. The interactions between the illustrator and his wife are particularly painful. As a graphic novel, this is a early example of illustration being used to deliver a long-form story with serious content meant for adults.
The original copies hand made by Patri are difficult to find and very expensive. Luckily, Dover Graphic Novels has recently published affordable versions in hardcover and paperback. It’s a very nice piece of graphic novel history.