Nothing to Blanche At?
Rick Geary has made a career out of doing quirky, nostalgic stories using his own unique drawing style. His Treasury of Victorian Murder series is a gem to behold and provides both entertainment and reference for these celebrated cases. In his own fiction, however, Geary can sometimes be uneven and self-indulgent. For Blanche Goes to Paris, the case is quite debatable.
The story concerns a young woman who travels to Paris around the turn of the century and has several adventures there before escaping on her way to yet other adventures. Blanche is a musician who, after adventures in New York and Los Angeles, is brought over to Paris with the promise of a European tour. This prospect quickly disappears leading her to find another project with composer Eric Satie. But she soon discovers that the production is a cover backed by rich Americans who are conducting a magnetic propulsion experiment to be launched during the show—so that, should anything go wrong, the production will be blamed. So, of course, Blance becomes embroiled in the intrigue, leading to a perilous climax atop the Eiffel Tower.
Geary’s art is its usual wonderful work with plenty of intricate linework and attention to detail. It is perhaps a curse as well that we come to expect this type of excellence from him; it becomes the standard rather than the exception. Unfortunate, because it is so rare that work of this nature is realized and it should be applauded no matter how many times the creator manages to hit that high spot.
Blanche owes much of its genesis to the society novels of the early 1920s, following much of the same formula: girl travels to strange foreign place, has adventures (usually of the bohemian, artistic type) and then escapes to safety or marriage. Now, if the reader is a fan of this type of novel (made popular by E. F. Benson and his interminable Lucia series) then this is definitely a comic for them. If, however, one has no idea what I’m talking about, then he or she probably won’t be attracted to this type of book—which is a shame. Geary gives a fine interpretation of the society novel and hits many of the key elements common to such works. What is missing, however, is much of the social conscience or satire that permeated the best of these books. Blanche is an example of a type of novel that simply does not exist anymore which gives it its nostalgic flavor.
. . . Which is not to say Blanche it is without its (and her) flaws. Geary does not give an indication of where he stands as a creator in this process. He portrays anarchists, bohemians, artists, poets, and scientists all in pretty much the same way. Indeed, it is hard to tell some of them apart, particularly the scientist brothers who look, act, and speak virtually the same. Or, could it be that it is actually this that is the statement? Could all of these different type of people be essentially the same to reveal that, in the end, there is really very little difference between any of them? The anarchist is just as willing to use the mob to his own ends as the wealthy American industrialists. So is he significantly different than the industrialists, with motivations wrapped in political polemic rather than in dollars? And what about Blanche herself? She is a celebrated musician who, one gathers, is an example of the burgeoning feminist bohemian of the 1920’s constantly being manipulated and deceived by the men around her. In the end, the women still make the wrong choices and trust the wrong men but here, they end up in exotic adventures (where no one really gets hurt) rather than ending up in bad marriages or poverty.
It is difficult to feel any connection with the characters and this is primarily due to the structure of the comic. The narration is presented almost completely as excerpts from letters written by Blanche to her parents, tending to keep the reader at a distance. It is hard to become too concerned with the characters and what happens to them because they are so limited. Blanche, in particular, comes across poorly as she gives the appearance of being someone just drifting through her life, having tremendous adventures, and not really being affected by any of them. She is not particularly concerned or passionate about her situations, so how can the reader be? When told of an acquaintance’s death, she reacts with horror, but we do not feel any horror from her. It is almost a shallow reaction because, horrified as she supposedly is, it doesn’t keep her from going about her life or business. Perhaps that is Geary’s point about the shallowness of this woman and her life . . . Then again, maybe not.
All this is not to say that this is not a fine, fine work and deserving of being both read and enjoyed. But it is a work that will have a limited appeal to many. Geary is to be applauded for following his own muse and producing work of such personal nature.