COMIC REVIEW: Cow Boy (Archaia-ology #2)

CowBoyWelcome back to Archaia-ology, our new regular feature dedicated to digging through Archaia’s back catalogue and sharing their treasures with the world.

Recent weeks have seen the high quality indie publisher ‘acquired’ as a new imprint of Boom! Studios. Happily the team remains pretty much intact and signs are good that the brand will be strengthened, rather than swallowed up in this merger. We’ll keep an eye out and let you know if any worrying developments do occur, but until then we still have a ton of books to work our way through. This month we look at Cow Boy: A Boy And His Horse, by Nate Cosby and Chris Eliopoulos – a work of pure comic genius. In Boyd Linney, they’ve created the coolest, toughest, smartest (and shortest) little hombre since baby Clint stuck his head through a hole in his Mexican blankie and demanded his milk… nice and easy. He may be only 10 years old but Boyd is one kid you don’t want to cross. He stalks the West with a grudge, a gun and a mission, and Heaven help anyone who gets in his way. It’s a compulsive read, packed with tension, tenacity and twists; it’s also gut-grabbingly funny, sweet and just a little wistful. If you want to get an idea of the tone, picture the following cocktail – Start with a shot of Calvin and Hobbes and add a couple of splashes of sarsaparilla. Take a slice of Lonewolf and Cub, squeezing as much moral rage and tainted innocence out into the drink as you can. Pour over ice and decorate the rim with trail-dust. Serve with Peanuts and a small stick of dynamite. Stand well back.

‘Justice ain’t got no age.’

CowBoypic

Creating something that is genuinely all-ages seems to a tough job to pull off. I’ve read so many comics, seen so many films that purport to be for the whole family but end up pleasing just the children, or else falling between two stools and satisfying no-one. Cosby has done a phenomenal job with his li’l cowboy though, blending comedy and a gentle kind of tragedy together in a simple tale that anyone can engage in. I’ll leave the nature of Boyd’s quest for you to discover as you read, because the revelation is such a wonderfully twisted moment. Suffice it to say that Boyd is a fascinating little monster who you’ll absolutely adore (but would never want to actually meet.) When I read this comic to my little girl she cracked up over the Cow Boy’s exploits. She didn’t say it in so many words but she really enjoyed how the script kept surprising her, and how inventive and determined he is. Boyd’s power as a character stems from his single minded determination and the way folk continually underestimate it. Much of the humour comes from people’s reactions to him when he shows them the error of their assumptions – either in their beautifully controlled expressions or simple slack-jawed disbelief. In some ways it reminds me of the indignities Mattie Ross faced in True Grit – that same iron will trapped in a child’s body. The adults look normal but Boyd’s character design cruelly give him the kind of proportions you’re more used to seeing on Charlie Brown, making it very hard to take him seriously, whilst his ‘hobby-horse’ infantilises him further. Until the shooting starts, of course…

This is one of those creative teams where the script and the artwork complement each other so perfectly, it’s hard to imagine it in anybody else’s hands. The line-work is confident, simple and cartoonish but it’s got saddlebags of style. The panels boast a knowledge and love of classic Westerns, in everything from pacing to perspectives, and the attention paid to facial expressions during stand-offs. There’s nothing fussy about the architecture or the external scenes, showing us only what we need to see to get the atmosphere and general layout, but what there is is drawn with skill and an eye for rustic detail. I found the colours bold enough to bring life to the world without ever coming across as anachronistically bright or tasteless. It just felt right, and added an extra level of depth to the work. Factor in the dialogue – tough as boiled leather and as spare as pity in a poker game – and you’ve got yourself the real Western deal here. Once again, I only had the digital copy to work with, for review purposes, but the images I’ve seen on the web show a beautifully produced book with an age-effect cover, featuring the most iconic image in the book. It also looks like the cover boasts writing in gold leaf, lending it a classic feel. Deservedly.

I wish I could leave things here on a 5/5 but I was a little disappointed with the way the book ended. Each section of the story is complete on it’s own, gradually building up a larger picture of what makes Boyd tick as we go. Unfortunately, the episodic nature of the story-telling means that things end a little abruptly, with little in the way of foreshadowing what’s to come next. What we do get, is a handful of other Western strips, written and drawn by a variety of different people. They differ so much from Cow Boy (and each other) in tone and style that they muddy things up by their very presence. Instead of putting the book down with a clear final image of sadness and renewed determination, we’re left with a mish-mash of images that read like unwelcome elevator pitches. Frankly if there were that many extra pages to fill in this book, I’d have really preferred them to illuminate us further with design sketches, portraits and interviews with the creators. Hell, if all else fails, give us a preview of the next volume. I definitely want to read more.

Rating: 4.5/5

Reviewer: Dion Winton-Polak

Cow Boy,Vol 2: Unconquerable is due out in autumn 2013.

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