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Thursday, January 14, 2016

Three Graphic Novels (Two of which would be great for a high school history class)

Geary, Rick (1997) The Borden Tragedy.  New York: Nantier, Beall, and Minoustchine.

Opening lines:  "The grim and seething summer of 1892 will never depart my memory... Nor, I daresay, will it be ever forgot by the good citizens of Fall River."

My knowledge of the Lizzy Borden tragedy, admittedly, did not extend beyond the sing-song nursery rhyme that begins “Lizzy Borden took an axe…”  In fact, however, the case was considerably more complicated than the rhyme makes it out to be.  In the summer of 1892, in the small town of Fall River, Massachusetts, Andrew and Abby Borden were murdered in their own home apparently by repeated blows from a hatchet.  In this nicely presented graphic novel, Rick Geary draws primarily from an account of the time that came to light in a 1990 estate sale, though he confirms the facts with a comprehensive bibliography.  Geary uses the voice of the anonymous account to guide the narrative, and uses his detailed line drawings to provide details about the layout of the house and the relative reported locations of the suspects. He also includes reprints of the articles from that time period in the back of the book (which would be interesting for students to read due to the amount of editorializing and moralizing in journalism at that time
            The upshot is, this is a well done graphic novel that will be of high interest to many readers, but also could be useful in a history class for the attention that Geary gives to the importance of sourcing and corroborating his sources.  He also provides contest to the Victorian time period in which the murder occurred through illustrations of the architecture, fashion and sensibilities of the time. 

            Though a double murder of a married couple is itself rather horrific, Geary doesn’t play up the gore.  Illustrations of the discovery of the bodies are handled sensitively.  The result is a graphic novel that will grab the attention of students while at the same time being unlikely to be challenged.  I am not usually a fan of true-life murder mysteries, but I have to admit, Geary is a master at it. 

Geary, Rick (2008) J Edgar Hoover: a Graphic Biography.  New York:  Hill and Wang.

Opening lines:  For 55 years, J Edgar hoover served the people of the United States , much of that time as a national icon."

            J.Edgar Hoover’s career in the FBI spanned over 5 decadess.  During that time he was seen as a bureaucrat, a leader, a hero, a moral crusader, a commie-buster, and a paranoid and vindictive man.  In this graphic novel, Rick Geary manages to present all of these aspects of the famous G-man in a relatively balanced way.  In Geary’s narrative, Hoover begins his career as an erstwhile and dedicated young lawyer working for the Attorney General during World War Two.  Hoover’s intelligence and organization allow him to advance rapidly in the organization and his careful political awareness allow him to work for such diverse chief executives as Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Richard Nixon.  Geary lauds Hoover’s early work, but doesn’t shy away from addressing Hoover’s descent into paranoia. 
            This graphic novel would be useful to high school students, but is clearly written for a more adult audience.  Gary acknowledges the frequent allegations of Hoover’s alleged homosexuality and possible mis-allocation of funds—but he neither dwells on it nor depicts it in a sensational way.

Pope, Paul (2008)  Heavy Liquid. New York: Vertigo.

Opening lines:  "Parade outside.  I've got nothing to celebrate."

S has stolen a bunch of a new drug called heavy liquid from the dealers who he acts as a courier for.  Now they are hunting him.  S is looking for a chance to go into hiding.  So when a fantastically wealthy art collector wants to hire him to find a missing sculptor, S agrees, even though the missing artist is his ex. 
            The art in this graphic novel is strong.  Although it is mostly black and white with spot color, the gritty shadowy style which is typical of Pope is interesting to look at  (though it may be a bit inaccessible for new graphic novel readers.

            This book is pretty much a noir action story which will grab edgy graphic novel aficionados. .  There isn’t a whole lot going on here thematically, but some high school readers will like the story and the art.  There is some vulgar language, drug use, and smoking in this story (though no nudity or sex).  Non-graphic novel readers and those younger than high school might have trouble following the story. 

1 comment:

  1. I have never read Heavy Liquid, but everything Rick Geary does is pretty much excellent. His artwork is meticulous and his research thorough. Thanks for the reviews!