Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Cow Boy, Volume 1: A Boy and His Horse Review (Nate Crosby, Chris Eliopoulos)

Cow Boy Archaia Cover

Justice ain’t got no age…

Set in frontier times, Boyd is a ten year old kid who sets out with his horses - his custom popgun with a horse-head handle and his steed, Cee Cee – to take down the thievin’, no-good Linney family and put them behind bars where they belong. Only - the Linney family is his kin! In this first volume, Boyd aims for his paw Dub Linney, his scumbag brother Zeke, and his kindly but greedy grandpa. And they ain’t comin’ quiet!

I really liked this one. I can’t improve on Kurt Busiek’s blurb that this is a cross between Frank Miller and Charles Schulz because that is bang on what this comic is. I will say though that it’s 80s/early 90s Miller (the good years) and not late 90s/present day Miller (the crazy years). Other comparisons that spring to mind are Calvin & Hobbes (though Calvin imagined stuff like being cowboys and this isn’t fantasy to Boyd) and True Grit (though there’s no Rooster Cogburn; Boyd’s on his lonesome). 

Though Frank Miller is a fine comparison, this is an all-ages comic that’s totally appropriate and, while Boyd is a tough cookie, he’s definitely not a hyper-violent lunatic like many of Miller’s protagonists! There are gunfights galore but no blood or any real suffering. A whorehouse is one of the settings but isn’t acknowledged as such and a young reader wouldn’t guess what it was from its bare depiction. There’s no cussin’ and slavery is mentioned once but in a smart way that’s informative. 

Nate Crosby’s script is terrific. It’s convincing and feels genuinely of its time as well as being engaging for older readers like myself while importantly being accessible for a younger audience too. It certainly doesn’t talk down to the reader and aims for straight drama rather than pandering with Disney-esque side characters. 

It’s also really fun to read aloud. I’d read a page and usually come across a line that tickled me and I’d repeat it to one of my dogs (who both stopped looking up from their sleep after a while – philistines!). I love Boyd’s character too. He’s a pint-size Judge Dredd who’s resourceful and unstoppable but also has moments of vulnerability that show his age. 

I particularly liked the scene where Boyd saves a black man from a group of young men hurling rocks at him in a stable. The man explains his situation and how Boyd actually didn’t help him because he’s now lost his bedding for the night. It’s clever because it highlights the slavery issue of the time in an articulate way while underlining violence as not the answer to situations, but not in a preachy tone. And the scene ends with Boyd crying silently to himself against Cee Cee, his limitations of understanding as a child and that he IS a child devastatingly highlighted. It’s such a beautifully written/presented sequence – moments like these are why I read comics.

Chris Eliopoulos’ art is fitting for an all-ages book. It does have that Peanuts look to it as well as a touch of Bill Watterson and the characters’ faces are especially expressive. Eliopoulos and Crosby work well together with Crosby knowing when to let the art tell the story by not jamming up the action panels with words. Eliopoulos also adopts the traditional grid panel look to emphasise story over style, though he’s still able everything he needs to with the space he has. 

I would say that while I liked the art, it wasn’t too eye-catching or unique and some pages were a bit too soft a touch that didn’t leave much of an impression. That and the boring backups written by various writers and artists included at the end were the only flaws with this book. 

Otherwise, saddle up for a terrific all-ages wild west adventure with Boyd and Cee Cee! Crosby/Eliopoulos have created a fantastic character in Boyd and this first Cow Boy book is one hell of a start from them. Whether you’re a kid or a grown up, this is one “arresting” comic (yuk yuk)!

Cow Boy, Volume 1: A Boy and His Horse

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