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Rick Geary is a prominent cartoonist whose illustrations have appeared in the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, as well as National Lampoon and MAD magazines long admired for their comics. In addition to numerous illustrations and comic books, he is also known for his contributions to the graphic novel genre, notably his work for the Treasury of Victorian Murder series. Among Geary’s most widely circulated illustration is his logo for the audiobook publisher Recorded Books.
Works in Biographical and Historical Context
Mad About Art
Geary was born on February 25, 1946, in Kansas City, Missouri, and grew up in Wichita, Kansas. As a child, he was not an avid reader or collector of comics. However, when he discovered MAD Magazine at the age of thirteen, Geary was intrigued by the idea of humorous illustration. Although he grew up wanting to be an artist of some sort, he never particularly planned to draw comics.
In 1968, Geary graduated with a bachelor’s degree in art and film from the University of Kansas in Lawrence, where his first cartoons were published in the University Daily Kansan. After earning his master’s degree in 1971, Geary worked as a staff artist for two weekly papers in Wichita, the Prairie Journal and the Wichita Independent. For both publications, he drew political cartoons, caricatures, illustrations for articles and ads, lettering and headlines, and ad layout. When the Independent went out of business in 1975, Geary moved to San Diego, California.
Geary began his work as a freelance cartoonist and illustrator two years later. Beginning in 1979, he began drawing portraits of famous people—from authors to public figures—for postcards and rubber stamps. After his agent went to New York in 1979 and showed Geary’s work to the new ”Funny Pages” editor of National Lampoon, Geary started to contribute regularly to the publication, a relationship that lasted until the magazine’s last issue in 1992. His work also began appearing on a regular basis in Heavy Metal and Dark Horse Comics. Showcasing his deadpan wit, much of his early comic work has been collected in Housebound with Rick Geary (1991).
Publications Across the Country
In January 1987, Geary married Deborah Lee Chester, a teacher, and the couple lived in New York City from 1988 to 1992. During these years, Geary regularly provided illustrations appeared in MAD, Spy, Rolling Stone, and the Los Angeles Times. Geary then returned to San Diego, where he has done illustration work intermittently for dozens of West Coast publications.
Comics and Graphic Novels
Geary has written and illustrated an assortment of comic books and graphic novels for a number of publishers, including three adaptations for the brief revival of the Classics Illustrated series (19901991). In 1994, Geary received the Book and Magazine Illustration Award from the National Cartoonists Society. He has also written and illustrated two Spider-Man children’s books for Marvel Comics, and his children’s comic ”Society of Horrors” ran in Disney Adventures magazine from 1999 to 2006.
Geary’s most extensive project to date has been the Treasury of Victorian Murder, an ongoing nonfiction graphic novel series that focuses on unsolved nineteenth-century crimes, including those involving Jack the Ripper and Lizzie Borden. In 2007, after living more than thirty years in San Diego, Geary and his wife moved to Carrizozo, New Mexico, where he continues to write graphic novels for the Treasury of Victorian Murder series. Most recently, Geary launched the Treasury of XXth Century Murder series, which debuted The Lindbergh Child: America’s Hero and the Crime of the Century (2008).
Works in Literary Context
In an interview with Susan Magliaro, Geary said that ”there are several cartoonists and illustrators (too numerous to list) whom I’ve admired over the years, though their work may bear little resemblance to my own.” He names his principal overall influence to be illustrator Edward Gorey, whose work is characterized by simple, dense black lines against a white background lacking any kind of shading. Gorey, declares Geary, has ”affected me since I first saw his mini-books in the early seventies.”
Inspired by what he calls Gorey’s ”twisted and playful Victorian-Edwardian sensibility,” Geary often employs literary styles that are typical of popular nineteenth-century works in his Treasury of Victorian Murder books. According to Bradford W. Wright, Geary exhibits ”a true talent for capturing the images, mood and even language of Victorian society. His approach is so effective that this work looks and reads as if it could have been produced in the 1840s.” Jack the Ripper (1995) and The Borden Tragedy (1997), for instance, depend on excerpts from journals for the stories’ narration, while The Fatal Bullet: The Assassination of President James A. Garfield (2001) compares the morality of President James Garfield with that of his assassin. With artwork reflecting what he calls ”a certain deadpan humor,” Geary creates haunting stories that not only document famous murders, but also point out the hypocrisies of Victorian society.
In addition to adding a Victorian literary perspective to his Treasury of Victorian Murder graphic novels, Geary details the murders in the style of a police procedural, a sub-genre of the crime novel which realistically describes the actions and procedures of criminal investigators. In Jack the Ripper, Geary’s characters sift through evidence that includes coroners’ reports, witnesses’ accounts, and actual clues police gathered during their investigations of the infamous murders. The police procedural method is apparent as well in The Borden Tragedy. Here, Geary presents not only the murders of Abby and Andrew Borden, but also the trial and acquittal of their daughter, Lizzy.
Works in Critical Context
Geary’s work is consistently greeted with enthusiasm by both critics and readers. His art and writing are recognized as superlative, and he is widely considered one of the best comic illustrators and writers in the business. As the graphic novel has risen in popularity, Geary’s works have received more and more recognition in the field, with various titles earning awards such as Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2008 and YALSA (Youth Librarians) Great Graphic Novel for Teens (2007 and 2008).
The Treasury of Victorian Murder Series
Reviewers have commended Geary’s meticulous research for his works in the Treasury of Victorian Murder graphic novel series. Geary does not attempt to solve the crime; instead, he presents all the evidence he has collected in his research, introducing a variety of possible suspects and outcomes without sacrificing factual accuracy and clarity. In his interview with Magliaro, Geary commented on his personal theories about the murders he chronicles: ”I’m quite satisfied with the mystery remaining a mystery. In fact, I think that what draws me to these classic unsolved crimes like Jack and Lizzie and Mary Rogers is their essential unknowability.”
Adding to the historical authenticity of the stories are Geary’s intriguing illustrations, which are drawn from unusual points of view that not only provide intricate details, but also enhance the tone of the story. For example, in The Borden Tragedy, ”It’s Geary’s artfully precise reconstruction of turn-of-the-century Fall River that makes this work so haunting, and such a delight, writes reviewer Ray Olson. Olson similarly praises the power of Geary s illustrations in The Fatal Bullet: The Assassination of President James A. Garfield. Remarking that Geary ”surpasses his own bravura with this work, Olson cites the ”subtly expressive facial drawing, and skillful juxtaposition of frames as particular strengths. He continues: ”The comics medium arguably communicates the facts more forcefully and memorably than any of the many other works about the crimes.
Critics have also noted the educational value of Geary’s Victorian Murder works. In reference to The Mystery of Mary Rogers (2001), reviewer Christine C. Menefee concludes that ”with its commendable historical accuracy, [it] would also enliven studies of U.S. history.”
Furthermore, Geary’s Victorian Murder books have been applauded for their enormous appeal to reluctant readers. In 1996, Jack the Ripper was selected for the Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers List by the American Library Association’s Young Adult Services Division.
- Ching, Edith. ”Review of Harry Houdini: Escape Artist.” School Library Journal (December 2002): 124.
- Goldsmith, Francisca. ”Review of The Borden Tragedy.” School Library Journal (March 1998): 249.
- Marantz, Sylvia S. ”Review of Inside the Airport.” School Library Journal (September 1990): 215.
- Menefee, Christine C. ”Review of The Mystery of Mary Rogers.” School Library Journal (August 2001): 213.
- Olson, Ray. ”Review of The Fatal Bullet: A True Account of the Assassination, Lingering Pain, Death, and Burial of James A. Garfield, Twentieth President of the United States: Also Including the Inglorious Life and Career of the Despised Assassin Guiteau. Booklist (July 1999): 1919.
- Olson, Ray. ”Review of The Borden Tragedy.” Publisher’s Weekly (January 19, 1998): 364.
- Hooper, Terry. Rick Geary—The Man Who Draws Gumby. Retrieved October 31,2008, from http://www. comicsbulletin.com/features/115479220239661.htm. Last updated in 2008.
- Lizzie Andrew Borden Virtual Museum and Library. Rick Geary, Artist and Author of The Borden Tragedy. Retrieved November 3, 2008, from http://www.lizzieandrewborden.com/Writers Corner/Interviews/InterviewRickGeary.htm. Last updated in 2008.
- NBM Comics. Rick Geary. Retrieved October 31, 2008, from http://www.nbmpub.com/mystery/geary.html. Last updated in 2008.
- Rick Geary: Cartoonist-Illustrator. Biography. Retrieved October 31, 2008, from http://www.rickgeary. com. Last updated in 2008.
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