NBM X 2
Written and Drawn by Rick Geary and Lewis Trondheim
Published by NBM
Reviewed by Marc Mason
I’ve been asked on many occasions about what it was like to work as the P.R. person for NBM Publishing. I held that job from August 2009 through December 2010, and though that isn’t exactly an eternity, I certainly spent enough time doing the job to see some wonderful highs and some occasional lows- as it is with any type of employment, really, not just working for a comics publisher. But when pressed for my absolute favorite thing about being a part of the NBM family, the answer always comes easy: getting to play a small part in getting books by true comics greats into peoples’ hands. The roster of talent at NBM is extraordinary, and a couple of recent review books arriving in my mailbox only serve to remind me what I love so much about this publisher.
First THE LIVES OF SACCO AND VANZETTI showed up, which just happens to be the latest effort in the TREASURY OF XXTH CENTURY MURDER series by the amazing Rick Geary. This time around he tackles what was, until the O.J. Simpson trial, the most famous murder trial of the century. Sacco and Vanzetti, two Italian immigrants with radical leanings were arrested and tried for robbery and murder in a case that gathered the interest of the entire world. The duo were railroaded by a judge who had it out for them, witnesses who were coerced by the police and district attorney’s office, and early public sentiment that arose because of the fear of communism. Of course, Geary doesn’t specifically lead you to that conclusion- as with all the books he’s done in this series, he does his research, lays out the facts and evidence, and allows you to decide for yourself. That’s not only a hallmark of strong storytelling, but of confidence by the storyteller. He doesn’t need to pull you around by the nose if he has done his job right, and no one does the job right like Rick Geary. This is another incredible effort by a creator who simply seems to never swing and miss.
On the heels of Geary, LITTLE NOTHINGS VOL.4 arrived, and that’s about as happy as I get when it comes to comics. LITTLE NOTHINGS is the collected art blog of Lewis Trondheim, the man I consider to be the greatest living comics creator on the planet right now. In these books we get a glimpse inside the man’s head, and as good as he is when whipping up wonderful tales of fiction, he is just as strong when navigating the reader through the ebb and flow of his life. Can he make the mundane interesting? Absolutely. One of the best pieces in this volume focuses on his mishap in trying to determine which knobs in the shower do what- a universal problem, and one with a hilarious solution for Trondheim. But he can also deliver insightful looks at the extraordinary, as he does in navigating the reader through the many journeys he takes across the world to promote his books or to just find peace and quiet. LITTLE NOTHINGS shows us a phenomenal talent at the peak of his powers. What more could you want?
THE TERRIBLE AXE-MAN OF NEW ORLEANS
Written and Illustrated by Rick Geary
Published by NBM Publishing
Reviewed by Avril Brown
Rick Geary is a well published author and illustrator with decades of work under his belt, and THE TERRIBLE AXE-MAN OF NEW ORLEANS is by no means his first foray into the realm of translating real life murder stories into a graphic novel format. This is, however, my first exposure to Geary’s work and I completely understand why this man continues to be in demand. AXE-MAN is a descriptive pictorial of one of the most brutal, undiscovered killers in American history, and Geary dives into the tale with a clinical yet creative narrative, delivering all of the relevant facts without distorting them.
The year is 1918 and a terrible killer is on the loose in New Orleans, splitting people’s skulls open with an axe before disappearing into the night. There are several common factors amongst the axe-related murders which occurred this and the following year, but the culprit is never firmly identified and for most, the memory of the fearsome Axe-Man of New Orleans faded into the annals of Louisiana history. Geary brings the villain and his unspeakable crimes back to light, presenting the evidence gathered on the murders in such a way as to build appropriate suspense while leaving readers on the edge of their seats, gathering their own conclusions.
Geary’s voice has a tone reminiscent of Guy Noire, Private Eye, but he never immerses himself in a comedic vein, only adding the precise amount of dramatic flair without turning this tale of brutality and horror into a campy yarn of an intangible, one hundred year old boogie man.
The black and white illustrations are full of expression and never depart from the seriousness of this history lesson, yet retaining a cartoon imagery befitting a graphic representation of a murder mystery. The bloody victims seemed to have stepped out of a horror comic from an earlier era, the crisis from the courtroom scenes are tangible and the full page views of a mysterious stranger stalking off into the night are a chilling reminder that this twisted individual existed and was never brought to justice.
AXE-MAN is proof of Geary’s obvious talent for resurrecting cold cases and presenting them in an easy to read package. With each page the reader is absorbed further and further into a tragic scene long gone but never forgotten, giving the entire book the feel of a scary story told around a crackling campfire. AXE-MAN is highly recommended for people who want a true story of an unsolved murder with a heavy dash of Geary’s unique touch.
Written and Drawn by Rick Geary
Published by NBM
There are few things you can truly count on in the world of comics. Rick Geary is one of them.
FAMOUS PLAYERS is the latest entry in his “Murder” series, this one focusing on the death of William Desmond-Taylor, a film director in 1920s Hollywood. Taylor was found lying on his floor one night, the victim of a gunshot wound. But the case turns out to be a tough one: there are multiple suspects (he had “relationships” with many actresses, not to mention a former servant of ill-repute), there are no witnesses, and false leads are cropping up all over the place. And in addition, it turned out that Taylor wasn’t exactly who his peers thought he was… literally. So in short, the murder was an instant Hollywood legend… and remains so to this day.
But as with all of Geary’s murder works, the death itself is the least interesting aspect of the tale. What makes FAMOUS PLAYERS a brilliant read is, first and foremost, Geary’s ability to recreate the milieu in which the crime took place. He uses his research to rebuild Hollywood as it was 90 years ago from both a physical and moral standpoint, immersing the reader in a world you’ve never had the chance to really understand before. He also uses his research to flesh out the lives of not only the victim, but also the friends and suspects, fashioning a rounded portrait of those who were or would be famous during that era. It’s completely captivating.
And it has to be, in many ways. Unlike many books in the murder series, this one was never solved. But that isn’t really the point of Geary’s work. Unlike many creative talents, Geary knows that the journey truly is the best part, not the destination, and the journey he takes you on in FAMOUS PLAYERS is excellent from start to finish. I highly recommend you pick up the book and take the ride.
THE LINDBERGH CHILD
Written and Drawn by Rick Geary
Published by NBM
It was (until 1996) the most famous crime of the 20th century. Aviator Charles Lindbergh, revered the world over for his daring exploits and solo flight over the Atlantic Ocean, had his son kidnapped, setting off a chain of events and oddities that would captivate a nation. False leads, evasive witnesses that really had nothing to hide, a dead body, a broken ladder, and a man whose guilt was decided even though he was obviously railroaded to a certain extent: to this day, no one truly knows the real story, and no one ever confessed to doing the deed. All we know is that it was fascinating stuff… and remains so even now.
And who better to do the research and lay out the facts than Rick Geary? Moving forward from his TREASURY OF VICTORIAN MURDER with this entry in what will hopefully be a series of TREASURY OF 2OTH CENTURY MURDER, he eloquently puts the timeline on display, strips the important accounts down to make a case, and sits back to let the reader decide. It’s glorious- had Geary been alive at the time, he alone could have made the case into a sensation.
It has gotten to the point that the release of a new Geary graphic novel should be heralded as some of the best news of the year. He’s just that good, and if THE BLOODY BENDERS didn’t convince you, then LINDBERGH should. Who could do this better? Who has a better grasp on how to parse the historical record and deliver a presentation that encapsulates the facts, yet also presents things sensationally? No one, I say. No one.
Unlike some of the other treasuries, LINDBERGH doesn’t necessarily deliver a defining answer, but it still satisfies upon its conclusion. This ranks among the year’s best. Buy it.
THE INVISIBLE MAN
Written and Drawn by Rick Geary
Adapted from the Novel by H.G. Wells
Published by NBM/Papercutz
A stranger wrapped in bandages arrives in the countryside of a small town, mystifying the local populace. Curiosity grows as he tries to maintain his privacy. But eventually, the façade cracks and the secret is out: the man is invisible, seen only when he wears garments draped off of his transparent body. His name is Griffin, and his aims, while they once may have been somewhat simple, have grown horrible. Now he has murder and terror on his mind, and it remains to be seen if anyone has the courage or cleverness to stop him.
This is the second in the hardcover series of CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED reprints from the Papercutz line, following on the heels of Geary’s adaptation of GREAT EXPECTATIONS. And while this book is not the equal of Dickens’ treasure novel, that’s no slight on Geary- he’s so good at these that it’s almost scary. It’s remarkable how well he is able to distill the exposition and plot twists of a novel into a tightly plotted and scripted graphic novel. This book only suffers in comparison to GREAT EXPECTATIONS because Wells’ novel is an overrated piffle. The characters in it never come alive and entice the reader past the novelty of its lead character’s special circumstances, and there’s nothing Geary can really do about it.
Along with the paperback series of CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED books that Papercutz has released, this has proven to be an excellent move by the NBM offshoot. When you look at how awful their revival of TALES FROM THE CRYPT has been, this series has been the exact opposite: brilliant in every respect and at every turn. Highly recommended.
Written by Charles Dickens
Adapted and Drawn by Rick Geary
Published by NBM/Papercutz
If you haven’t read GREAT EXPECTATIONS, the odds are that you slept through your freshman year of high school. However, if for some reason you’re a functional illiterate or a literary philistine, here’s the story: a young boy named Pip, raised by his nasty sister and kindly step-brother, is hired to be the playmate of a rich girl named Estella. Estella has been raised by the rich and crazy Mrs. Havisham to be the ultimate heartbreaker, and she has her effect on Pip. However, his life takes a wild turn when a lawyer shows up announcing Pip has come under the financial backing of a mysterious benefactor, with the goal that he becomes a gentleman. Along the way, he’ll learn the truth about his backer and continue trying to thaw out Estella’s heart. It’s one of the greatest works in the history of English literature. Read it, dammit.
Papercutz has acquired the back catalog of CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED with the goal of returning many of those amazing graphic adaptations to print, and GREAT EXPECTATIONS is the first of the series. It’s a wise choice for the honor, for many reasons. First, it’s a timeless, brilliant story. Second, Rick Geary’s work on it is absolutely brilliant. He truly captures the essence of Dickens’ story and characters better than just about anyone working in comics could do today. As he’s shown in his TREASURY OF VICTORIAN MURDER series, he knows the time period, offering up wonderful clothing, tapestries, and architecture in his backgrounds.
He also knows how to squeeze in as much of the full story as possible, using solid storytelling to create shortcuts when needed and expansive moments to emphasize the emotional content when required. The CLASSICS line may not all be as successful as this one, but if they’re all at least half as good, they’ll be worth buying.