Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Adventures of Blanche

The Adventures of Blanche
by Rick Geary
Dark Horse, 2009

Garrett Martin: Rick Geary's obviously big on history, but Adventures of Blanche promised to be a slightly different project for him. Instead of focusing on infamous events or important people, Blanche is supposedly based on letters Geary's grandmother wrote to her family when she was a young woman. It seemed like a more personal work than the J. Edgar Hoover book or the Victorian murder series. I took that set-up at face value, and looked forward to seeing if Geary could turn what I assumed would be a relatively normal life into a comic interesting to anyone other than his fans and early 20th century history geeks. Well, either Geary's grandmother told some tales in her letters, or else Geary fictionalized some or all of her life, as this is pretty obviously not the most factual story in the world. How much of this do you think actually happened?

Hillary Brown: That's a good question to start off with, and one that I'm really not sure of the answer to. Despite Geary's general trend toward focusing on scholarship and research (and not to say that this book doesn't have some of those--he's clearly interested in historical accuracy and in teasing out sociological trends), he's an odd bird. I also recently read his Gumby comic, which is strange and fairly druggy and terrifying for a book that's, um, supposed to be for kids, and it kind of illuminated or prepared the way for this book. I came to it with the same impression as you, an impression Geary takes some trouble to give, and I'm still not sure if we've got a Fargo situation here or something that's much more based in reality to begin with and only later departs into unheard of realms (seems like it's something in between, according to this interview). All that established, I think it's kind of nice for Geary's imagination to have a chance to stretch its wings, and he comes up with some interesting stuff, complete with a weirdly reiterated theme of perilous dangling from elevated objects. My favorite of the three stories is probably the first one, due to the particular turn it takes into occult creature worship and the beautiful panel layout of the space between the walls, but I certainly enjoyed all three, not a little bit because I had no idea where they were going.

GM: Right, it definitely kept me on my toes, rarely going in any of the directions I was expecting it to. I really enjoyed this book, even if it's a little slight and Forrest Gump-ish (or at least would be if Blanche was an obnoxious simpleton). And as far as the "grandma did some crazy shit" school of fiction goes, I'm pretty sure this is the only one to feature DW Griffith in a hot-air balloon. Yeah, Blanche regularly bumps into real-life historical figures, but thankfully Geary mostly avoids some of the more obvious ones from these various eras. Blanche doesn't go on a blind date with a young Adolf Hitler or talk smack about minorities with Woodrow Wilson, or anything like that. It's more thoughtful than that. Also, I don't know if Geary did any touch-ups or editing jobs, outside of the new intro, but this book's surprisingly consistent, considering the three chapters were published individually over the last 18 or so years. You've read far more Geary than me. How does this compare to his other works?

HB: I think it's not quite as good as my favorites in the Treasury of Victorian Murder series (and the one entry in the Twentieth-Century Murder series so far), but it might be on par with the weaker entries. This isn't to say, though, that it's weak Geary. I'm not really sure that exists yet. I'm just complaining that there are fewer maps. And fewer murders. Basically, as you're picking up on, the dude is remarkably consistent, quality-wise. No soaring highs matched with sad little lows here (although I haven't yet read the book about ants that he illustrated and I picked up for a dollar last year at Heroescon), but instead a nice, even keel that's rarely boring. I really like this blind date with Hitler idea, though... Maybe you should email him?

GM: How much of that consistency comes down to him rarely writing new material? No slight on him as an artist whatsoever, and he obviously has a good head for research and picking fascinating events to craft a book around, but it's got to be harder to fail when you're not trying to tell original stories, right?

HB: No, that's a fair point to make, and I guess that trend in his work may come out of his illustration background, but it doesn't bother me. I think he does an excellent job shaping reality to the stories he wants to tell, to some extent, although it may just be that I'm kind of a history nerd. I think his first book, Housebound, is original material, but it's one of the few I don't have. Anyway, yes, he's slightly ghettoized himself, but I don't know if anyone's better at what he does.

GM: I agree.

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