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Rick Geary is in San Diego right now, debuting the latest volume in his Treasury of XXth Century Murder series, The Lives of Sacco and Vanzetti. He took a moment on the way to talk to us about the story, his attraction to murders, and the challenges of writing about the past—and he told us what his next book will be.
Robot 6: Why are you so interested in murder, and how has it held your interest through so many books?
Rick Geary: I’ve been a “fan” of crime, both fiction and non-fiction, since the early 1970s. I lived in Wichita, Kansas, and a friend of mine, a former cop, gave me a copy of the complete police file on an unsolved murder in Wichita from the 1960s. It fascinated me, and I used it as the subject of my first published comic story in 1977. Since then, the exploration of the dark side of human behavior has been a continuing obsession.
Robot 6:Would you ever do a book about a modern murder story, or do you prefer to stick to stories set in the past?
Rick: I prefer dealing with cases from the past, because with them the urgency and emotionalism have dissipated, and I’m able to get the proper ironic distance in my treatment. That said, I’d love someday to do the OJ Simpson case or JonBenet Ramsey or even Casey Anthony.
Robot 6: What was there about the Sacco and Vanzetti case that made you want to do a book about it?
Rick: It has all the ingredients I look for in a classic murder case: controversy, mystery and world-wide attention—plus a political dimension that divides people to this day.
Robot 6: There seems to be a lot of ambiguity about this case. How did you research it, and was it difficult to find objective sources?
Rick: The Sacco-Vanzetti case has been studied and written about over the years by both political partisans and objective historians. I searched out all the books available and had no trouble finding sources that dealt with the story even-handedly.
Robot 6: Did your ideas about the case change as you did your research?
Rick: I usually try to pick a case about which I have very few preconceived ideas, so the research phase is one of discovery and education for me. I’m finding out new things through every phase of the book’s production, right up through the final inking, so the piece is in a constant state of flux.
Robot 6: Drawing a comic set in the past has challenges of its own. What do you do to prepare yourself not only to portray it accurately but to avoid anachronism?
Rick: In relating these cases, I try for accuracy and clarity above all, because many of them have acquired, over the decades, layers of mythology and faulty information. I always keep a photo file for the period I’m treating: clothing, interiors, automobiles, carriages, etc. Old catalogs are an especially valuable resource.
Robot 6: You favor a cool voice—the narration in Sacco and Vanzetti almost seems like the narration in a documentary. Do you ever have a strong emotional response to your subjects?
Rick: With any murder case, the horror and grimness and strong feeling are built into the material, so I figure my best approach is one of detachment. Especially with an unsolved case, I like to lay out all the elements and clues in a rational way, so readers can either solve it themselves or realize anew why it remains unsolved.
Robot 6: What are your plans for Comic-Con—and beyond?
Rick: I’ll be at my usual table (F-6) selling my new and older books, as well as postcards. I’m also working on my next book in the murder series: “Lovers’ Lane,” an account of the Hall-Mills double murder of 1922.