Sunday, June 14, 2015

Graphic Novels: The True Death of Billy the Kid and Louise Brooks: Detective by Rick Geary

I do love crime fiction, history and comic books. No one combines them better than writer/artist/auteur Rick Geary. Geary has a mountain of important work behind him; mostly multiple volumes of the 19th Century Treasury of Murder and 20th Century Treasury of Murder. These two recent books are a departure from his usual subject material, but still tangentially related. 

The True Death of Billy the Kid is nonfiction, and the first Kickstarter campaign to which I contributed. The results are well worth it. The graphic novel is subtitled, “Being an authentic narrative of the final days in his brief and turbulent life.” An accurate description. This beautifully designed hardcover is typical Geary, explaining who his subject was, the major players in the drama, and the setting in which the action takes place. Geary weaves through the legends, the tall tales and the claims Billy actually lived after his supposed death, and strips them to verifiable facts and likely outcomes. 

Billy, whose real name was Henry McCarty, was born in 1859 in the Irish slums of New York. Moving West for new opportunities, his stepfather abandoned Billy and his siblings the instant their mother died. What follows is a sad life of criminal behavior and constant brushes with jail and the law. The book is mainly concerned with the events of 1881, in which Billy is captured and sentenced to hang. He escaped the jail and the gallows, killing deputies Bob Olinger and James Bell along the way. There is particular poison between the Kid and Olinger, whom he guns down and murders out of spite. 

Fleeing into the southwest, Billy winds up hiding with a Spanish couple who are longtime friends. Feeling safe but paranoid, he carries his six-shooter everywhere. Lawman Pat Garret has sworn to take Billy in to hang, and tracks him to his hideout with two deputies. After a middle of the night shootout (there are several versions to the story, probably leading to all the claims of a live Billy later), Billy lies dead on a cabin porch, with Garrett blowing smoke from his gun barrel. Being a folk hero in town, Billy’s admirers don’t take his death well. You can visit Billy’s grave today, in Fort Sumner, New Mexico. 

Geary’s art is a clean, expressive style perfect for history-based stories. He lays out the facts in a clear informative design that exudes drama and excitement when it needs to. An outstanding and enlightening work. 

Rating: ***** out of 5 stars 

Louise Brooks: Detective is a true departure for Geary, a mystery graphic novel featuring historical characters. Louise Brooks was a real actress in early Hollywood who dated Charlie Chaplin and popularized bangs. Her work has a following among early film buffs. 

Art from Louise Brooks: Detective
In this story, when Louise’s career begins to fade (as it did in real life) she retreats to her hometown of Wichita, Kansas to move back in with her parents. Relations with her parents are strained, and she struggles with her business, a dance studio she opens with a partner. When she discovers a reclusive playwright she admires lives in the nearby city of Burden, she makes plans to visit him. When she does, a body is discovered on his property, a man who just happens to be the fiancée of Louise’s friend Helen. What was the connection? Does it have anything to do with the hitchhiker Helen and her fiancée Walden picked up that day? 

Geary proves to be as adept at fiction as he is with nonfiction, the man is a born storyteller. He unravels the mystery slowly and leads to a logical and satisfying ending. Another great story from Rick Geary. 

Rating: **** out of 5 stars

No comments:

Post a Comment