FDR And The New Deal For Beginners

Book by Paul Buhle and Sabrina Jones, Afterword by Harvey Pekar; Danbury, Connecticut, For Beginners LLC, 2010, 160 pp.

Paul Buhle, after writing and/or editing a wealth of texts, has turned his attention to progressive comic art histories. He sees this trend as a powerful means to reach young people—even as an extension of the left’s cultural institutions of days past, particularly those of the activist artists of the 1930s.

Authoring the latest release of the "For Beginners" series, Buhle’s collaboration with underground comic artist Sabrina Jones brings the New Deal’s politics and radicalism to life with the back story to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s rise, his ideological awakening, the incalculable importance of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, and the revolutionary struggles which helped to forge the New Deal. While choice passages are liberally illustrated, the pair mainly worked individually, with Buhle writing extended passages of text and Jones creating other sections.

FDR And The New Deal for Beginners delves into the nuances that allowed the New Deal to shine well beyond its period of success (relatively short) while also focusing on FDR’s personal challenges, peccadilloes, and heroic stature to a decimated nation. Furthering this call to arms are vintage political cartoons, such as those of William Gropper from the pages of the New Masses. Samplings of Bits Hayden’s illustrations and those of Fred Ellis, Jacob Burck, Gus Peck, John Heiker, and others blend with Jones’s own work—like film noir invaded by grainy newsreel footage.


FDR And The New Deal For Beginners lays out the era chronologically in sections, including Roosevelt’s early Hudson Valley life, his initial attempts in the political world, his governorship of New York, his struggle with disability, and his immersion into the fabric of the people. We see how the CCC led into the WPA and the Federal Arts Project.

Buhle and Jones portray working class struggle and wealthy patronage, the AFL and the CIO, the roles of labor and populism, war and peace, racism and internationalism, the social service of Harry Hopkins, the Allies’ fight against fascist domination, the unreachable Second Bill of Rights, the lost promise of Henry Wallace, and the frosty winds of the coming Cold War. Seeing all of this in perspective offers a radiant sense of hope and excitement about what a current New Deal would mean to the contemporary U.S. As Harvey Pekar writes in his Afterword, this book "offers a novel approach…both as history and as a lesson for today’s world."

Agitated by the radical visions of generations past and the urgent needs of right now, FDR And The New Deal For Beginners’ graphic history format is warmly familiar and startlingly relevant.


John Pietaro is a cultural worker from New York City.