Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Genius of Rick Geary.

Yesterday I had a chance to stop by my favorite local comics store in the area (Copacetic- in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood). My main reason for visiting was to pick up the new issue of Mome, a Fantagraphics seasonal anthology of comics that features some of the best young cartoonists working today- including Jonathan Bennett, Martin Cendreda, Gabrielle Bell, David Heatley, Sophie Crumb, and Anders Nilsen. Of course I got tempted by some other fine products as well. I picked up a back issue of The Ganzfeld, a Wild at Heart DVD, and Rick Geary's J. Edgar Hoover. It just so happened that my trip to the store coincided with the arrival of a shipment which included that last book.

As far as I'm concerned, the discovery of a new graphic novel by Geary is always an occasion for celebration. His series of little books, chronicling some of the most famous Victorian-era crimes, demonstrates the high level of artistry, style and professionalism that Geary is known for. Had I not initially discovered them at my local library (which has an outstanding selection of graphic novels), I'd likely own everything he has ever put out. As it is, titles focused on the Lizzie Borden murders, the Garfield Assassination, and the Beast of Chicago (H.H. Holmes) have lingered in my mind long after I've finished reading them. The amount of research he invests in order to capture the historical accuracy of the events, and the period details of the settings, is absolutely striking.

I'll admit that Geary was a bit of an acquired taste. I wasn't initially attracted to his drawing style. A Geary character is unmistakable- with its pinched face, flat expression, and meticulous cross-hatching. The look of his page is extraordinarily clean, and can be superficially mistaken for being almost uptight. The all-capital lettering of his copious narration boxes are almost mechanical in appearance. His approach is straight-forward and informative. But the more I looked at his work, the more I began to appreciate his attention to craft. It is nearly impossible to spot an incongruous or sloppy portrayal. His writing style avoids melodrama and flashiness, and begins to carry you away into the depths of his story. Rick Geary definitely has a way of creeping up on you.

It's gotten to the point that I will immediately buy anything new that he releases. It doesn't even matter if I think it's a good deal or if I'm particularly interested in the subject matter. I have complete confidence that, by the end of the book, I will have been transported fully to another time and place, and in the meantime- I'll have actually learned something. These are educational comics that are extremely entertaining. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend them to a teenager or a senior citizen. Geary's J. Edgar Hoover biography is no exception. He presents an unbiased survey of the controversial man's life and times. I can't say that I've ever been exceptionally interested in studying the career of the man that defined the FBI for the first several decades of its existence... but still I made my way through this 100-page volume effortlessly.

Unlike the other examples of Geary comics in my collection, the J. Edgar Hoover book is a hardback edition. It's published under the Hill and Wang division of Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. The production values are impressive... just as I would expect from any Geary work. His output demands that special care be invested in its presentation. I wouldn't be surprised if the cartoonist is called on to illustrate more historical figures. I can't think of an artist with better skills for that purpose than Geary.

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