Anybody who has read any amount of my writing, either here and elsewhere, will probably know who my favourite comics writer is*. But I also have a favourite comics artist, whose work is a constant delight to me, and by whom I have pretty much everything I can get my hands on. It’s Rick Geary. He mostly works in black & white, has almost never done any work for The Big Two, and you could just about be forgiven for not having heard of him, but he’s been making his living as a cartoonist and comics artist for nearly forty years now, and is, for me, the comics artist whose work I cherish the most.
He worked on all sorts of things for Dark Horse Comics, and many others, over a number of years, much of which has been collected, and on a shelf right beside me, as I write. In 1987 he started work on a series called A Treasury of Victorian Murder for NBM Publishing, which now stands at eight volumes of true murder tales, which has since been joined by A Treasury of XXth Century Murder, which is up to six volumes, both of which feel like his true life’s work. I’ve always been a fan of true crime stories anyway, and to have them drawn in Geary’s gorgeous black line work is wonderful. If you want to try one – and you should – they’re all available on his Author Page at NBM. It’s not for nothing that Our Glorious Leader, Ms H. MacDonald, said ‘No season would be complete without the latest in Rick Geary’s ongoing series of 20th-century murders: with elegant, unsettling penwork, Madison Square Tragedy: The Murder of Stanford White tells the notorious story of architect Stanford White, who was murdered by a jealous husband in a theater atop the original Madison Square Garden.’
As well as his ongoing work with NBM, Rick Geary has recently taken to selling books through a series of Kickstarter campaigns, with the most recent, for The True Death of Billy the Kid, still running, until Monday the 11th of August, a week from today. It’s going to be a 60-page black-and-white hardcover graphic novel, and I can pretty much guarantee it’ll turn up right on time, too, because I’ve backed his other two projects, and they did – which is more than can be said for other fundraisers I’ve ante-ed up for, but that is something I’ll wait to address here another day, in the not too distant future.
Anyway, without further ado, here’s a quick interview with Rick Geary, which I was thrilled to be given the chance to do…
Pádraig Ó Méalóid: This is your third Kickstarter campaign, at this stage. First of all, what made you decide to try out fundraising like this as a way to get your work out there?
[Link to The True Death of Billy the Kid Kickstarter.]
Rick Geary: The first time I tried fundraising on Kickstarter was about a year ago, simply out of curiosity as to how it works and to see how well I would do. I thought I should start out with the kind of true crime graphic novel I’m known for. This was The Elwell Enigma, and it succeeded beyond my wildest imagination. After that, I thought I’d try something different. A is for Anti-Christ: Obama’s Conspiracy Alphabet, a kind of satirical children’s book, was a bit of a harder and slower process, but it finally came through. At last, I thought I’d use Kickstarter to fund the kind of historical and non-fiction subjects that fascinate me but which aren’t precisely murder cases. The True Death of Billy the Kid comes out of my life here in Lincoln County, and has now exceeded my funding goal with several more weeks to go. So I have to say I’m very happy with my Kickstarter experience. I also must say that the experience has been made as smooth as possible by my friend and agent and production genius Mark Rosenbohm, who has managed all three campaigns.
RG: I suppose he could be technically called my publisher, although I like to think of these books as self-published. They all have come out under my little imprint, Home Town Press.
PÓM: What led you to want to try out an internet fundraiser like this in the first place, and why did you choose Kickstarter to do it on?
RG: There are certain projects in my mind that I know would never be taken on by a mainstream publisher. The Obama Alphabet was certainly one of them. I began my career publishing my own work and I’ve always believed in it. Why Kickstarter? At the time, it seemed to be the only one out there.
PÓM: Are there any drawbacks to using Kickstarter, do you find?
RG: The hardest part of a Kickstarter campaign, though I’d hate to call it a drawback, is the work that comes on the back end. I try to be very conscientious about packaging the books and other premiums and sending them out in a timely manner. Almost 200 mailings for my first project. It’s all well worth it, though.
PÓM: Are you still producing work through more conventional means, like with NBM, for instance? I know they published your Madison Square Tragedy – The Murder of Stanford White around December 2013, so is there anything more scheduled from them?
RG: Yes, I’m still producing murder stories for NBM. I’m currently in the midst of a project that’s a bit of a departure from the true-life cases. Louise Brooks: Detective is a fictional mystery featuring the actress Louise Brooks solving a murder in 1940’s Kansas. After that I plan to return to non-fiction with the story of the Black Dahlia murder.
PÓM: Am I right in thinking you’re somehow related to Louise Brooks?
RG: She was my mother’s second cousin. Though they never met, they grew up in the same area of southeastern Kansas. Brooks was my mother’s maiden name (and my middle name). My mother was born and grew up in the tiny town of Burden, Kansas, as did both of Louise’s parents. The graphic novel I’m working on, Louise Brooks: Detective, takes place during the brief time (1940-42) that she returned to Kansas after her Hollywood career collapsed. The action unfolds in Wichita and Burden.
PÓM: What is it that draws you towards these murder stories, do you think?
RG: It’s become kind of a cliché, but for as long as I can remember, I’ve been attracted to the dark side of human nature. Perhaps because I have such a light and sunny nature myself. Stories of anti-social behavior have the most drama and excitement. And the unsolved cases are the best of all, for the mystery they embody and the speculation they engender. I’m a big proponent of the essential unknowability of things.
PÓM: With the unsolved cases, do you have opinions of your own on who might have done them, or does that not matter to you? With things like Jack the Ripper, for instance, which has virtually mutated into fiction, do you have any ‘favourite’ suspects?
RG: In most cases my goal is to keep a journalistic detachment and not express opinions of my own. Some of the unsolved murders have, as you say, mutated into fiction, but I try to give equal weight to all the theories out there, no matter how ludicrous. Jack the Ripper is the perfect example. The endless speculation linking him to the royal family or other well-known people is pretty flimsy, though entertaining. My belief is that the Ripper had to be some faceless, anonymous East End resident, someone you wouldn’t even notice on the street.
PÓM: What is it about Billy the Kid, that made you want to do this particular book?
RG: Upon moving to Lincoln County, New Mexico, seven years ago, I found that the Kid is a very big deal here. The town of Lincoln, where he spent much of his brief life, is a perfectly preserved little western settlement, and the local historical society is very protective of his story. Accuracy is the top priority. I noticed that no graphic novel has been published that told his true story, and it seemed a natural for my next project on Kickstarter.
PÓM: How much research goes into doing one of these books?
RG: I do as much as I can and still fit within the deadline. I start by reading as many books with as many different points of view on the subject as I can find, and take copious notes. I fill this out with online sources, but what I find there is usually not as detailed as the information contained in books. Then I condense all the material into what I hope is a clear and compelling narrative structure. As for picture reference for period costumes, interiors etc, I usually rely on my extensive personal library. But I can also find pretty much anything I want online.
PÓM: Have you any plans to do more ‘Wild West’ based stories, or is Billy the Kid a one-off?
RG: Nothing specific on the horizon, but I wouldn’t rule anything out.
PÓM: What’s your feeling about fundraisers like Kickstarter, now that you’ve been through it three times? Is it the future of comics publishing, or just an interesting sideline, for you?
RG: I can’t speak for others, but my own experience with Kickstarter has been nothing but positive thus far. I don’t know if it’s the future of comics publishing, but it’s certainly my future. I plan to use it, perhaps once a year, for graphic novel projects that treat broader historical subjects and wouldn’t overlap with the murder stories I do for NBM.
PÓM: Will this, and your previous Kickstarter projects, be available for the general public to buy later on, or is this the only way to get hold of them?
RG: All of my Kickstarter books are, for the moment, sold personally by me at the SD Comic-Con and at APE, or else are available via the “RG Store” on my Website. I’ve also been selling them, on consignment, through a retail outlet in my tiny burg of Carrizozo. Whether they will eventually gain a wider distribution remains to be seen.
PÓM: Thanks very much for taking the time to do this interview, Rick.
RG: Entirely my pleasure, Pádraig. Thanks for everything.
[*It’s Alan Moore, in case there was any doubt.]