Monday, March 22, 2010

The Beast of Chicago

H.H. Holmes is a considered by many America's first serial killer, and his story has been told and retold numerous times since his death in 1896. It was featured in the tabloids of his time, a feature in Harper's Weekly, a number of documentaries, and most famously of late in Erik Larson's Devil in the White City. Born Herman Mudgett, Holmes assumed numerous identities, wives, and avocations. As Holmes he operated a pharmacy on the south side of Chicago that he obtained by murdering the previous owner once her husband died of cancer. Across the street from this site he had a 3-story "Castle" built to house tenants upstairs and businesses, including his pharmacy, on the lower level.

By many accounts a charmer and a lady's man, Holmes lured many people into what was later called his "Murder Castle." The World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 was a celebration of the 400 year anniversary of Columbus's discovery of the New World. It was a huge draw to the city, and put Chicago on the map as a major metropolis and an industrial and cultural mecca. It also drew a great number of travelers to town, people who had no local connections and who needed a place to stay. Holmes was more than happy to accommodate tourists, but some of them were never seen again.

Authorities noticed a high number of missing persons after the Exposition, and many of them were last seen in the south part of Chicago. Facing bankruptcy, Holmes had long left town with his Castle sealed shut. It was not until about a year later when Holmes was arrested and investigated on counts of insurance fraud and suspicion of murder that that the authorities began to piece together his trail and crimes. When they finally got to his Castle and explored what was in it, they were horrified by what they found. Holmes was tried, convicted, and hung. To prevent graverobbers stealing his body he was buried in cement.

Holmes's story is captivating in its gruesome details, and it is told here by Rick Geary as part of his A Treasury of Victorian Murder Series. Geary has been doing illustrated graphic work since 1977, and his work has appeared in numerous publications including works from DC Comics, Heavy Metal, and Fantagraphics. Here, he delves into the historical research necessary to tell this tale with all the touches of the time period. He also provides bibliographic resources and his own maps of the main sites. His crisp black and white art portrays the story boldly and in sharp detail.

Reviews of the book are mostly glowing. Michael Vance says it is "Highly Recommended." Johanna Draper Carlson says it is her favorite volume in the series. On a different note, the reviewer at Top Graphic Novel Reviews says that the storytelling was not appealing, more akin to an illustrated book than a graphic novel. Personally, I felt the story was extremely compelling and well rendered though it did seem more journalistic than novelistic. A wider array of reviews can be found at Goodreads.

A preview is available from publisher NBM.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Dr. Botzakis, your blog is very interesting! I am writing my dissertation about graphic novels for struggling writers in the classroom, and emailed you a short survey about this topic. I would be honored if you could take the time and fill it out. Thank you in advance for your contribution!! Best regards, Dr. Christina Voss, SIU Carbondale, Illinois