Rick Geary and The American Bystander

« You better watch out, you better not cry, better not pout, I’m telling you why —Santa Claus is coming to town. » — Haven Gillespie

Taking stock, I can’t help feeling that the singular Rick Geary (b. 1946) is a creative force that’s taken for granted. He’s been consistently chugging along at a dizzyingly high level of erudite inspiration and craft since the mid-70s. His work has been recompensed and saluted several times (an Inkpot from the San Diego Comic-Con in 1980; a Magazine and Book Illustration Award in 1994 and a Graphic Novel award in 2017, both from the prestigious National Cartoonists Society…) yet he’s remained kind of a well-kept secret, a cartoonist’s cartoonist. Even as he turned up in countless anthologies, in most cases, it felt as if he didn’t quite belong, didn’t exactly jibe with the respective audiences of, say, Dark Horse Presents or Pulse (on the other hand, High Times wasn’t a bad fit!).

Still, it’s fair to say that his following is one quite discrete from the comics mainstream. The Geary devotee must ever remain vigilant, for one never can anticipate his next move.

Which brings me to The American Bystander, which Newsweek deemed « The last great humor magazine », and to which Geary has been contributing since its second issue… and for once, it feels like home.

The Bystander, according to Wikipedia…

… features contributions from many notable comedy writers, illustrators and cartoonists. The Bystander is designed to provide a classic print humor magazine experience similar to that delivered by National Lampoon, SPY, Harold Hayes-era Esquire and many others in the pre-internet era. Yet according to The New York Times, The American Bystander “does not just belong to the tradition of defunct magazines like The National Lampoon and Spy. Its nostalgic, lightly witty style evokes influences that have been dead even longer, like the raconteur Jean Shepherd and the sophisticated stylist Robert Benchley.”

Mr. Geary’s magnificent cover for The American Bystander no. 9 (Fall, 2018). « Have Gun, Will Travel — Wire Santa, North Pole »

The Bystander‘s editor-publisher, Michael Gerber, exults: « In addition to his civilian fans, Rick Geary is one of those illustrators that other illustrators love, and I am with them all 100%. This drawing, entitled ‘New Mexico Christmas’, appeared in my inbox mere moments after I’d given Rick the assignment — which is why editors love him, too! »

While this ever-industrious auteur has produced graphic novels galore in the glorious Geary fashion, I remain fondest of his short-form pieces. Here’s a choice handful plucked from Bystander issues.

From The American Bystander no. 7 (Winter 2017).
From The American Bystander no. 8 (Summer 2018).
From The American Bystander no. 9 (Fall 2018).
From The American Bystander no. 10 (March 2019).

And while ’tis the Season, I would be remiss in neglecting to mention that TAB’s latest issue no. 18, is hot off the presses. More details here. And should you crave to sample the goods… gratis — that option’s on the table as well!

This is The American Bystander no. 18, boasting this festive cover by Rick Meyerowitz.

That said, Happy Holidays, everyone. Be merry but above all be safe!

-RG

Phew, That Was Close!

« Death smiles at us all, all a man can do is smile back. » — Marcus Aurelius

The other day, I chanced upon a Rick Geary piece about tangos with the Angel of death, which returned my mind to a time, when I was but six years of age, and that my parents had gone holidaying, leaving me in the care of some old friends. At their home, I recall perusing some back issues of that evergreen Reader’s Digest (the French-Canadian edition, called Sélection du Reader’s Digest), wherein I encountered some memorable articles, including one about the miraculous survival of people who tumbled from great heights*, unencumbered with parachutes, and another that grimly recounted the calamitous landslide that one night engulfed a village, Saint-Jean-Vianney, just a few kilometres from my hometown.

Ah, but human memory is notoriously fallible and self-deceiving. So I deemed it prudent to inquire whether the events were truly as recollected. A quick call to my folks confirmed that yes, they did toddle off to Europe for three weeks in November of that year (I think my parents are delighted when I quiz them about such matters). The landslide took place in May, so that fits too.

As the close shave lends itself well to comics, I’ve gathered a potpourri of short pieces on the topic. Tighten your seatbelts, we’re in for a rough ride!

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A presumably factual two-pager from New Heroic Comics no. 70 (Jan. 1952, Famous Funnies), featuring artwork by no less an eminence than the great Harry Peter (according to Ger Apeldoorn, which is good enough for me). The whole ‘salt of the earth’ thing rings pretty hokey, but one has to appreciate that this account of selfless heroism wasn’t whitewashed.

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This post’s springboard, originally published in Dark Horse Presents no. 82 (Feb. 1994, Dark Horse). From Heavy Metal to National Lampoon, with High Times and The American Bystander in between,  I’ve yet to encounter a publication wherein Mr. Geary’s work failed to rise to the very top with its patented palette of fanciful perspective, sunny understatement and psychological verisimilitude. 

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An airborne entry from Gordon Johnston‘s Ripley’s Believe It or Not-style syndicated strip ‘It Happened in Canada‘ (1967-81). However, the Wikipedia listing of historical tornadoes in Canada fails to turn up one such whirlwind in 1823. Perhaps it happened in Kansas instead.

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Pesty baby brother saves the day! Another entry from New Heroic Comics no. 70 (Jan. 1952, Famous Funnies), artist unknown. Astoundingly, a little research (I wouldn’t want to pry further) indicates that a Donald P. Kiselyk, now 73, still resides in New Jersey. Doing the math, he would have been born in 1947, which fits perfectly). I wonder whether he recollects his hour of four-colour glory…

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Another It Happened in Canada entry. Looks legit, too, though it seems Johnston didn’t nail the spelling: the resilient gent’s moniker is Myllyla. According to Wikipedia, « At 9:57 in the morning, an avalanche of snow buried the Leduc Camp in British Columbia, killing 27 copper miners working for the Newmont Mining Corporation workers and destroying several buildings. Another 42 of the 68 people buried were rescued on the same day, while a carpenter, Einar Myllyla, was saved three days later from the ruins of a collapsed building. “To their everlasting credit”, author Jay Robert Nash would write later, “rescuers refused to abandon their search until every man in the camp had been accounted for. »

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Obviously, I couldn’t leave out this Gary Larson classic.

Keep your arms and legs in the vehicle, don’t tease the wild animals, wear your life jacket, look to both sides before crossing the road, and don’t forget to floss. Oh, and call your mother more often; she misses you.

-RG

*the fellow whose tale stayed with me was most likely Lt. I.M. Chisov, « … a Russian airman whose Ilyushin IL-4 bomber was attacked by German fighters in January of 1942. Falling nearly 22,000 feet, he hit the edge of a snow-covered ravine and rolled to the bottom. He was badly hurt but survived. »

Once More Around the Sun, Rick Geary!

« Hey — if you’re looking for that curly machine, I saw some beasts run off with it. »

Missouri native Rick Geary, born 72 years ago today, on February 25, 1946 (in Kansas City, which isn’t in Kansas, despite its name) is in a classe à part: a true iconoclast, he’s quietly, steadfastly carved out for himself (and his fans) a varied and consistently strong œuvre, seemingly free from petty compromise.

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A 1985 self-portrait.

He first gained notice in the mid-70s through his fanciful contributions to National Lampoon and Heavy Metal, and just kept up the pace from there. These days, he mostly concentrates on his true crime graphic novels series, published by NBM. One gets a sense of a man who works in comics because he’s passionate about the possibilities the form offers. A 1994 recipient of the National Cartoonist Society’s Magazine and Book Illustration Award, he certainly doesn’t need to work in the comics industry.

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This charming one-pager saw print in the anthology Animal Confidential (May 1992, Dark Horse.)

He’s collaborated with fellow oddball genius Bob Burden, of Flaming Carrot fame, a dream pairing that manages to surpass the lofty expectations it implies. Their take on Art Clokey‘s legendary claymation characters Gumby and Pokey manages to be true to its source and to espouse both Burden and Geary’s respective slants.

Here’s a sequence from Gumby no. 1 (July 2006, Wildcard Ink.) Story by Burden, art by Geary, and let’s not forget the contribution of hue ace Steve Oliff. When it comes to Gumby comics, however, mind your step: don’t settle for anything less than Burden (whether with Arthur Adams or Rick Geary). A recent revival fumbles the childlike mood of infinite possibility and mires itself in mere childishness instead.

GearyGumby1AGearyGumby2AThe Exploits of the Junior Carrot Patrol (2 issues, 1989-1990) was a solo Geary endeavour, but  « based upon characters and concepts created by Bob Burden ». Pictured here is #2. From left to right: Dusty, Ethel and Chuck.

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Perhaps the ultimate bonafide as a Geary-head: I am the proud possessor of a rubber stamp designed by the great man himself. Furthermore, I have it on good authority that one of our regular readers proudly wields a genuine Geary rubber stamp of his own, albeit a different one. For this particular print, I took advantage of the vegetable world’s finest provider of ink: a slice of beet.

Happy birthday, dear Mr. Geary!

– RG

It’s Got a Beat and You Can Read to It

« They never roll the sidewalks up, no siree! »

Rail-Bangin’ Rick Geary gives us a not-entirely-literal, yet oddly fitting visual representation of Brian Wilson and Jan Berry’s timeless classic, a number one hit for Jan & Dean in the Spring of 1963. Wilson’s original working title for the tune was “Goody Connie Won’t You Come Back Home“, perhaps a tad less catchy appellation.

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Surf City, the strip, appeared on the back cover of the lone issue of Bop, “America’s First & Only Music Comix Magazine (1982, Kitchen Sink Press.) Edited by Catherine Yronwode.

– RG