Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A Treasury of Victorian Murder: Vol. 4: The Fatal Bullet by Rick Geary

This is the one about Charles Guiteau, President Garfield's assassin (played by Denis O'Hare in the Broadway production of Assassins). I'm not sure if all of the installments are as good as this one is, but I wouldn't be surprised if they are: (1) Geary is a great comics-maker and (2) this is a great project.

On (1), here's just one example of Rick Geary's subtle mastery:

During a sequence that focuses on Guiteau's growing anti-social behavior, Geary avoids drawing Guiteau's face: it is turned away from the reader or framed outside of the panel. I hadn't noticed this choice at first: I had to stop reading and go back a few pages in order to convince myself that it was a choice. It sneaks up on you, but it perfectly gets at Guiteau's inability to connect with the people around him.

Another example:

There's a two page spread showing a map of Washington, D.C., with text, arrows, and inserts detailing Guiteau and the President's movements in the days leading up to the shooting. Perhaps the most striking thing about the map is that you can see that the store where Guiteau bought the pistol he would use is two block away from the White House. Geary doesn't play this up at all - there's no caption pointing out the irony in this or making a Big Statement about American culture - it's just a detail that he leaves for us to pick out.

On (2), though the focus is on an infamous murder, the murder is almost just an excuse to look at (in this case) late 19th C., post-Civil War American culture in general. Or rather, the murder gives Geary a center to work around: an organizing principle for his historical observations and (subtle) commentary. The little bits - on Republican Party infighting, on religious communes, on advances (or lack thereof) of medical science - all add up to create something that is more than just a "true crime" story.

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