Literary Up: Continuing in Our Recent Theme of Graphic Novel Leftism

The Lives of Sacco & Vanzetti
By Rick Geary (NBM, 2011)
I’ve been a Rick Geary fan for decades, and that means following him in some odd directions—his National Lampoon pages, his spin-off of Bob Burden’s Flaming Carrot… but longform delineations of historic murder trials is what he does best, and it’s a pleasure to see him doing it now with long drawn-out complicated cases, slickly printed between hard covers.
Geary did a compendium of Victorian murder cases some years ago, but I think his style is better suited to post-Industrial America. His people have the roundness of John Held Jr. characters with the pockmarked detail of old black-and-white photography. His new full-length graphic novel series has allowed him to sink his teeth into the Lindbergh kidnapping and now the multi-faceted, heavily politicized travails of Sacco & Vanzetti. Geary really sinks his inky teeth into all the conspiracy theories and contradictory evidence, but lays the initial facts out cleanly and maintains a tricky balance between reality and courthouse conjecture. A lot of what’s he’s illustrating is trials rather than crimes, and you marvel at the variety of tools he’s developed to enrich his storytelling even when there’s little or no action.’
You come away from this slim, packed volume knowing all the basics of the Sacco & Vanzetti case and quite a lot more. You get a sense of how passionate people got about the pair’s guilt or innocence, how differently the men behaved, how constant the biases and tampering with evidence were among those sworn to uphold justice. Above all, Geary’s chosen medium suits the swollen, cartoonish tale he’s telling. He’s at home in the era—no corny ‘20s clichés in his art, just period suits and hairstyles—and in command of his subject: the art of celebrated killings.

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