REVIEW: Harlem – Part 1 (2022)

A Graphic Novel by Mikaël

You know I always say I love a good period noir-styled book from Europe Comics, and today is no exception. Rather than the “tried and true” setting of either Manhattan or Chicago for tales of the pre-war urban underworld, Mikaël has opted for a refreshing story set in Harlem. With the Great Depression running strong and racial tensions at their peak, the city is a hotbed for crime. When most try to trample black voices in the city, one woman steps up to make sure they are heard – Stephanie St. Claire or “Queenie”. For those that do not know, Queenie was actually a VERY real person that lived up until 1969 and is known by many as the woman that stared down the mafia and largely won.

“Harlem, 1931. Prohibition is still in effect, the Great Depression is getting worse by the day, and people are desperate for hope. For a decade, Stephanie St. Clair, a.k.a. Queenie, an immigrant from the French Antilles, has been running a lottery in Harlem that has provided just that: a chance for a way out. But with the end of Prohibition looming, bootlegger Dutch Schultz is looking to diversify his business before the booze industry dries up. And he sees Harlem as ripe for the picking, especially with the police and politicians for sale to the highest bidder—at least if you’re white. It may be wintertime in New York, but things are heating up in Harlem.”

This is the first of two volumes of Harlem, and it sets the tone for the meteoric rise of Queenie as one of the most famous black business women of the time. Due to racist policies, it was hard for many black people to make a living, much less to invest said money like their white counterparts. If they somehow did, white fury usually had something to say about it like in Tulsa in 1921. This brought people like Queenie into the underground, where popular institutions like policy banking were the norm. Policy Banking was a mixture of investing, gambling, and playing the lottery that was technically not legal, but ignored like many prohibition-era “crimes” due to corruption. Bronx-based mob boss Dutch Schultz tried to move in on her territory and she fought back with the fury that he could never imagine.

This was an interesting comic about a chapter in history I was largely unaware of until I read this book and did further research. As with many aspects of Black History, a lot of this is never really taught in school, but with me living in the middle of the United States and the fact that school doesn’t concentrate on talking about crime bosses going to war with each other, I’ll give it a slide. This was a great comic, and I will be eagerly anticipating the second volume.

For more information on this book, click HERE

For additional titles by the same publisher, Click HERE

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