« With such precautions the courtiers might bid defiance to contagion. The external world could take care of itself. » — Edgar Allan Poe, The Masque of the Red Death
And now, a piece from — gasp — 2022! It’s at once most timely and a link to the dim past, with WOT? favourite Rick Geary drawing nimble parallels* to Mr. Poe’s famous tale of arrogant (and happy and dauntless and sagacious) Prince Prospero’s well-earned comeuppance. This other great plague, however, isn’t greeted with hubris by our everyman protagonists. While Poe provides the spirit and the starting point, Geary wends his own way, bless his soul.
Ahoy Comics‘ series of Poe-themed anthologies are of course uneven — such is their nature — but their peaks are joltingly, exceptionally good, and they make the whole enterprise quite worthwhile.
A Tale of The Great Plague appeared in Edgar Allan Poe’s Snifter of Death no. 4 (Jan. 2022, Ahoy Comics).
*and also, you might say, to The Fall of the House of Usher and perhaps even The Tell-tale Heart. Clever chap, this Geary.
« You better watch out, you better not cry, better not pout, I’m telling you why —Santa Claus is coming to town. » — Haven Gillespie
Taking stock, I can’t help feeling that the singular Rick Geary (b. 1946) is a creative force that’s taken for granted. He’s been consistently chugging along at a dizzyingly high level of erudite inspiration and craft since the mid-70s. His work has been recompensed and saluted several times (an Inkpot from the San Diego Comic-Con in 1980; a Magazine and Book Illustration Award in 1994 and a Graphic Novel award in 2017, both from the prestigious National Cartoonists Society…) yet he’s remained kind of a well-kept secret, a cartoonist’s cartoonist. Even as he turned up in countless anthologies, in most cases, it felt as if he didn’t quite belong, didn’t exactly jibe with the respective audiences of, say, Dark Horse Presents or Pulse (on the other hand, High Times wasn’t a bad fit!).
Still, it’s fair to say that his following is one quite discrete from the comics mainstream. The Geary devotee must ever remain vigilant, for one never can anticipate his next move.
Which brings me to The American Bystander, which Newsweek deemed « The last great humor magazine », and to which Geary has been contributing since its second issue… and for once, it feels like home.
The Bystander, according to Wikipedia…
… features contributions from many notable comedy writers, illustrators and cartoonists. The Bystander is designed to provide a classic print humor magazine experience similar to that delivered by National Lampoon, SPY, Harold Hayes-era Esquire and many others in the pre-internet era. Yet according to The New York Times, The American Bystander “does not just belong to the tradition of defunct magazines like The National Lampoon and Spy. Its nostalgic, lightly witty style evokes influences that have been dead even longer, like the raconteur Jean Shepherd and the sophisticated stylist Robert Benchley.”
The Bystander‘s editor-publisher, Michael Gerber, exults: « In addition to his civilian fans, Rick Geary is one of those illustrators that other illustrators love, and I am with them all 100%. This drawing, entitled ‘New Mexico Christmas’, appeared in my inbox mere moments after I’d given Rick the assignment — which is why editors love him, too! »
While this ever-industrious auteur has produced graphic novels galore in the glorious Geary fashion, I remain fondest of his short-form pieces. Here’s a choice handful plucked from Bystander issues.
And while ’tis the Season, I would be remiss in neglecting to mention that TAB’s latest issue no. 18, is hot off the presses. More details here. And should you crave to sample the goods… gratis — that option’s on the table as well!
That said, Happy Holidays, everyone. Be merry but above all be safe!
« Death smiles at us all, all a man can do is smile back. » — Marcus Aurelius
The other day, I chanced upon a Rick Geary piece about tangos with the Angel of death, which returned my mind to a time, when I was but six years of age, and that my parents had gone holidaying, leaving me in the care of some old friends. At their home, I recall perusing some back issues of that evergreen Reader’s Digest (the French-Canadian edition, called Sélection du Reader’s Digest), wherein I encountered some memorable articles, including one about the miraculous survival of people who tumbled from great heights*, unencumbered with parachutes, and another that grimly recounted the calamitous landslide that one night engulfed a village, Saint-Jean-Vianney, just a few kilometres from my hometown.
Ah, but human memory is notoriously fallible and self-deceiving. So I deemed it prudent to inquire whether the events were truly as recollected. A quick call to my folks confirmed that yes, they did toddle off to Europe for three weeks in November of that year (I think my parents are delighted when I quiz them about such matters). The landslide took place in May, so that fits too.
As the close shave lends itself well to comics, I’ve gathered a potpourri of short pieces on the topic. Tighten your seatbelts, we’re in for a rough ride!
Keep your arms and legs in the vehicle, don’t tease the wild animals, wear your life jacket, look to both sides before crossing the road, and don’t forget to floss. Oh, and call your mother more often; she misses you.
*the fellow whose tale stayed with me was most likely Lt. I.M. Chisov, « … a Russian airman whose Ilyushin IL-4 bomber was attacked by German fighters in January of 1942. Falling nearly 22,000 feet, he hit the edge of a snow-covered ravine and rolled to the bottom. He was badly hurt but survived. »
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« Hey — if you’re looking for that curly machine, I saw some beasts run off with it. »
Missouri native Rick Geary, born 72 years ago today, on February 25, 1946 (in Kansas City, which isn’t in Kansas, despite its name) is in a classe à part: a true iconoclast, he’s quietly, steadfastly carved out for himself (and his fans) a varied and consistently strong œuvre, seemingly free from petty compromise.
He first gained notice in the mid-70s through his fanciful contributions to National Lampoon and Heavy Metal, and just kept up the pace from there. These days, he mostly concentrates on his true crime graphic novels series, published by NBM. One gets a sense of a man who works in comics because he’s passionate about the possibilities the form offers. A 1994 recipient of the National Cartoonist Society’s Magazine and Book Illustration Award, he certainly doesn’t need to work in the comics industry.
He’s collaborated with fellow oddball genius Bob Burden, of Flaming Carrot fame, a dream pairing that manages to surpass the lofty expectations it implies. Their take on Art Clokey‘s legendary claymation characters Gumby and Pokey manages to be true to its source and to espouse both Burden and Geary’s respective slants.
Here’s a sequence from Gumby no. 1 (July 2006, Wildcard Ink.) Story by Burden, art by Geary, and let’s not forget the contribution of hue ace Steve Oliff. When it comes to Gumby comics, however, mind your step: don’t settle for anything less than Burden (whether with Arthur Adams or Rick Geary). A recent revival fumbles the childlike mood of infinite possibility and mires itself in mere childishness instead.
The Exploits of the Junior Carrot Patrol (2 issues, 1989-1990) was a solo Geary endeavour, but « based upon characters and concepts created by Bob Burden ». Pictured here is #2. From left to right: Dusty, Ethel and Chuck.
Rail-Bangin’ Rick Geary gives us a not-entirely-literal, yet oddly fitting visual representation of Brian Wilson and Jan Berry’s timeless classic, a number one hit for Jan & Dean in the Spring of 1963. Wilson’s original working title for the tune was “Goody Connie Won’t You Come Back Home“, perhaps a tad less catchy appellation.