RICK GEARY and the GENTLEMAN'S ART OF MURDER
Updated: Feb 16
I knew Rick Geary back in the day, late 1980s. Both of us were grinding out weekly
illustrations for the pulps, the San Diego Reader and ComputorEdge and were much amused by it for many years. When that market went South, Rick moved to New Mexico and on to bigger, better things.
I ended up teaching at a Community college, adjunct faculty, one of the great American job ghettos for an unemployed artist, and my honorable means of career suicide as an illustrator.
I lost touch with Rick for a few years but recently acquired some of later-day graphic novels. After 30 odd years he had lost nothing. It got me thinking about just what it is that makes his work so unique and memorable.
This is the short list.
1. Rick is a stylistic genius. He owes very little to any outside influence. He is certainly much
aware of the heavy hitters in graphic art, Booth, Crumb, Möbeus, Mignola, Drucker, but he was never absorbed into any of them. He rejects all the most current fads and mannerisms in graphic art, manga, Hanna-Barbera knock-offs and that anti-style crap that looks like 50 year old clip art ( the subject of another salty blog), as if they never mattered, which of course they don't. Rick’s drawing can be identified from across the street or pulled out of a stack. This is given too few. Most of the great autograph draftsmen are spontaneous on some level. Ricks published drawing always seems deliberate as a chess move, and yet his uniqueness, classicism almost, is only enhanced by that.
2. Rick’s graphic novels are marvelously understated. After Jack Kirby, comics had to explode off the page, turn a double back flip, and land on the moon. Nobody’s feet were less than 2 yards apart when a punch was thrown. Foreshortening warped figures into something out of an acid trip. I like all that actually, and I’m not above copping a few of Jack’s tricks for my own ends, but in the world of over-the-top graphic special effects, Rick has the courage of quiet restraint. His graphics are marvelously anti-heroic, and leavened with his own curious, ironic, sideways wit.
3. Rick knows that context and setting are a big deal and nobody does it better. Context and setting build a graphic world.One of Rick’s older books “Jack the Ripper” is a masterwork in that regard. Rick literally re-builds late 19th century London brick by brick, though he never fails to do something like that in any of his books.
Rick Geary - A page from "Jack the Ripper" 1995
4. Few graphic novelists should write their own stuff. The reason is simple, most good artists are crappy writers just like most good writers are crappy artists. As in so many other things, Rick is the exception. It is easy to underestimate Rick’s narrative skill. It isn’t hip or flashy or overstuffed with purple passages. It’s simplicity and pith is Hemingwayesque but without the tiresome machismo. His is a gentle, objective, self-effacing voice that wears very well. Rick stands behind his considerable craft as a writer, and never stands in front.
It’s the same way with his art.
5. His research is impeccable. All of Rick’s books, that I’m familiar with, are fact-based graphic documentaries as it were. Rick always gets the facts right but he knows that research isn’t a story. He knows what to leave in and what to leave out. He knows how to cobble facts into a narrative. His pacing is measured and deliberate. Rick gives you time to think about the content. At the same time he’s always going someplace with it.
6. Words and graphics are a somewhat awkward fit. Incompatible symbolic operating systemsI’d say. All the same, Rick knows what a picture does best and what a narrative does best, and Rick makes each of them convey an aspect of the story that the other could not. This is not so easy as it sounds. It demands that one think critically about how these two, very different media, can be hammered into a partnership.
Nobody does this better than Rick.
One last thing I should mention about Rick. He is quiet and likable. He is no
Polly-Anna, god knows, his work is obsessed with murder and foul play, but his graphic art is
seldom morbid or overtly violent. His art addresses grim subject matter with restraint, humanity and even a bit quiet humor.
And he hardly ever murdered anybody..... Far as I know. JDA