In Praise of Rick Geary


The person I admire is someone you probably have never heard of. He is an American writer and artist by the name of Rick Geary.

Technically, Geary should be described as a comic book artist and writer, but that is to do him an injustice, as his work is so far away from the orthodoxies of telling stories in a sequence of pictures as to be almost unrecognisable. Geary is unique and inimitable. The picture I’ve brought is a perfect example of his style and imagination.

His career can be broken down into two broad phases, represented by the two books I’ve brought along today.

For the first fifteen years of his career, up to about 1990, Geary wrote and drew and published surreal and strange short stories. None of these were longer than five pages. They might only occupy a page, a half page, but to read any of them is to walk through a mirror, into a rounded, cartoon shaped world, usually not contemporary, oddly midwestern, and looking absolutely normal.

People would go about their business, completely unselfconcious, but then something completely unbelievable would happen, and they’d take it as normal. Things would be done and the story-tellers would talk as if it was humdrum. One young man, wishing to be an artist but pressed by his parents to get a job, marry the girl next door, reports as if it were the most normal thing in the world, “So one nite I decoyed her into the garage and brained her with a shovel.”

Other stories would feature nothing unusual at all, except that the very normal people are looking at things at something of an odd angle to you. Reading a Geary story was like wandering through a dream, after which you come out looking at things a bit strangely.

And his art, both colourful, cartoonish, but full of expression and weirdly real, was a joy to look at. There’s a one page piece in this book called “Presidents of the USA” which goes from Washington to Reagan, except that every president is a different animal, bird or insect, all in the clothing of their time. Each creature is bizarre, expressive, striking, and there are hours of fascination in pondering the significance of the choices.

The latter phase of Geary’s career has seen him tackle longer, more conventional stories, with a dark undercurrent, in his series ‘A Treasury of Victorian Murder’. Some are famous victims, such as Abraham Lincoln, in this book, or Lizzie Borden, or Jack the Ripper, some are unknown cases. All are thoroughly researched, scrupulous in presenting the evidence, put the case in it’s context, and    deal with all the oddities surrounding the crime. Geary’s interest is in the psychology of the people involved, killer, victim and onlookers alike, but his approach to each story is to set out what happened.

I have a taste for American history, so I have read about Lincoln’s assassination several times, but I have learned far more from Geary’s book about the planning of the assassination, the actual event, and the tracking down of the plotters than I have from every other book put together.

What I admire about Rick Geary, as an aspiring writer myself, is not just his talent, but the fact that someone so individual, in fact so contrary to the established methods of art, story-telling, subject, someone like that has led a successful career for over thirty years without once compromising what he wants to do.

I don’t just admire him, I envy him.


(Originally prepared as course work for a presentation, hence the reference to books being to hand: October 2010)

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