Thursday, 14 June 2012

Cow Boy: Justice aint got no age

50% of the purpose of this blog is to have an outlet where I can improve my writing. I try and articulate what I mean through big words, convoluted witterings in place of cohesive insight, and many, many clauses. I like to call this style. However, every now and then the need for straight talking arises, which I think is pretty fitting here. This need is heralded by the quiet perfection of Nate Cosby's and Chris Eliopoulus' Cow Boy. On paper, a comic about a 10 year old  boy riding through the wild west to round up errant members of his family doesn't sound like it would work -shouldn't work- let alone be one of the best books of the year, but that's exactly what it is.

Cow Boy opens in time honoured western tradition, with a stranger riding into town on a noble (albeit stolen) steed. He gets off the horse, and walks slowly into the local saloon. He is looking for a man called Dub Linney. He makes the necessary enquiries of the rag-tag few at the bar, who are appropriately un-forthcoming and throw him out. He picks himself up, dusts himself down and does what any self-respecting bounty hunter would do: he gets his gun. A ten year old asking pesky questions is easily ignored, but a ten-year old with a gun has a certain command over the attention. A little sharp shooting elicits the necessary information: Dub Linney is being held in the local jail.




The new young gun in town is Boyd Linney and Dub Linney is his father. Sick of his family's errant ne'er do-well ways, Boyd has taken the law into his own hands  and decided to round them all up one by one and deliver them to the Marshall. Mistreated since he was a baby, Boyd has made exacting justice on his criminal kin his personal mission, one from which he hopes (like all the best western heroes) to gain a form of redemption and a fresh start.

Having been imbued with my dad's love for westerns, it's a real pleasure to see the genre represented in such a sublime manner (and in my favourite medium). There are a fair few silent panels and passages in Cow Boy, and the use of dialogue mirrors the convention of begrudgingly monosyllabic characters in movies of old. It's a brave artistic choice that could have easily gone wrong, but works here to emphasise Boyd's loneliness and the scope of his quest. A lot of the book has a cinematic feel to it, which is by no means a bad thing- just take a look at the last 3 panels in the second page above: tight close up of the villain's narrowed eyes, cut to tight close up of the hero's narrowed eyes, cut to sloshed old guy's tension-dissipating 'hic'. Chris Eliopoulos' art is a lovely fit; cartoony but never descending into caricature and subtly expressive. The little changes he makes in Boyd's face to show the shift  from hard and resolute to young and vulnerable,  are beautifully rendered.
















The best and perhaps most surprising thing about Cow Boy is the depth of emotion it manages to convey. The scene in the stable where Boyd comes across some people bullying a black man, and his visit to his grandfathers at the close of the book are poignant and heart-wrenching without being affected. I always consider it a sign of an excellent book when you immediately want to read more and for me, this is one of the best books of the year: an all-ages comic that's simultaneously smart and sweet and funny and sad and perfect for anyone to read. More, please.

You can buy CowBoy from Archaia or from Amazon if you're in the UK