History is a surprisingly good topic for a graphic novel, especially when there’s a compelling story to tell. And The Saga of the Bloody Benders is certainly crammed with murder and intrigue. This family of Kansas settlers appears to have spent much of the early 1870s murdering wealthy travellers under the guise of running a humble inn.
The Saga of the Bloody Benders is one in a series of Victorian murder books that Geary has written and illustrated in this graphic format. Unlike the majority of graphic novels we see, this one features no dialogue, making it more like a heavily illustrated text book, with a picture to illustrate every sentence or two. The writing fits this mould too, taking a dry but authoritative tone, which leaves it feeling like a decent dissemination of the known information on this mysterious, murdering family. The art lightens the piece though, with an economical, almost draughtsman-like style.
Perhaps the biggest issue is that, at least from the perspective of this British reviewer, the book offers little mention of why the crimes of the Benders deserve such intricate retelling. We could probably surmise that its reporting in the burgeoning press of the day had a big part to play in it capturing the public imagination of the time, but the actions of these early serial killers pale into insignificance next to what we know the government did to the indigenous population.
Still, anyone interested in unsolved murders in 19th Century Kansas may find this an entertaining and innovative route into this particularly murderous family, though its interest for the rest of the world remains limited.