Thursday, October 24, 2013

Going West! Top 5 Western Comics

*thick cowboy accent* Welcome to the SketchLog, y'all! I'm SlugLady28 and today, I'm looking at one of my favorite genre's, the oooooolllld weeeeest! So Saddle up and Yeepee ki yaa—cough! Hack! Cough! *end of terrible accent*
Ugh, note to self. Do not try that again.
Gunslingers, Saloons, and lassos! Black Hats vs White hats! showdowns at sundown & train robberies! Lone Rangers, Men with No Names! I flippen love westerns! (Even if some of the stuff in them are complete embellishments created by western shows, dime novels and popular movies... What?)
So here's my question...
Why aren't westerns more popular?
Oh, sure, I've heard the typical reasons: The spaceman went up and the cowboy died. And the only people who like westerns these days are old people.
Ya, I don't buy it. People still like westerns. You can see it in modern television. Anyone that grew up with north American TV knows cowboy stories. Whether it was an homage, reference, parody or inspiration, just about every American cartoon has at least one old west episode.

 Most notably in those famous stand offs between the hero and the villain. Westerns are something we've all grown up with, even if we may not have realized it.

Beast Wars: Coming of the Fuzor's Part 2
Maybe Hollywood just hasn't figured out the right formula for a modern day western. Or maybe it's just not time yet. At this moment there are really aren't a lot of good modern day Westerns. And thanks to the absolute critical and financial failure of the Lone Ranger, it would take something AMAZING to start a Western fad right now.
Luckily, my area is comics and even if they aren't many movies, I've still have plenty of awesome Old West comics to feed my addiction. I've already talked and talked about All Star Western, the horror-themed-buddy-cop-Western with Jonah Hex and Amadeus Arkham, from DC comics, but what else is out there? Well today, I'm going to talk about my top five western comics!... Besides the one I just mentioned.

Warning: Some of these books are filled with gore and nudity, so NOT FOR KIDS!!

First up, honorable mention goes too:

Daisy Kutter and the Last Train.
By Kazu Kibuishi
“Old Habits die hard, don't they?”
Daisy Kutter, a retired bandit, is forced to take on one more job to save her skin. What's the worst that could happen? Short answer, everything. Nothing is ever easy for a train robber. Especially when you add robots to the mix. I remember reading this over and over again as a teen. It was one of my favorite books. And the comic was created by Kazu Kibuishi, the same guy behind the popular Amulet series. Even has a few of the same artistic and steam punk inspired quirks.
So why is it only an Honorable mention? Well, uh, cause... ahem.
I... haven't... actually... read the book since my teens.
The book is incredibly hard to find these days, so I can only go on Wikipedia notes, random scans on Google, and my own nostalgic memories. Luckily, the book was just successfully kick started for a second printing and the book can bepurchased through the creators website. So when I manage to get a hold of a printing, you can be sure I’ll have a full review ready for you.
Number 5:

Cow Boy: A boy and His Horse
by Nate Cosby and Chris Eliopoulos

"I'm Boyd. I'm ten years old. This ain't my horse."

Boyd is a 10 year old bounty hunter, on a mission to bring his no good, chicken-livered family to justice. They did him wrong as a babe, and grew up to keep doing wrong to others. And now Boyd's coming to collect the bounty on each of their heads.
At first glance, the book has a Calvin and Hobbes feeling to the story. Not just the artwork, but the lighthearted humor, and how a lot said in quiet pauses, then words.

But as I was reading, it was obvious that this was much more then a simple story about a young boy and his horse. Such as when Boyd tries to save a black man from a gang of older kids. The scene hints to a more darker and complicated side of the story. And that Boyd tends to let his anger get the better of him. Don't worry, it doesn't get too dark. This is a kids book after all.

You can read the majority of the first volume of the book on the main website. But I got a hold of the hard cover and it is BEAUTIFUL. All the beginning and end credits of the book is written like a dime novel or old western signs. And between each chapter is a different Western themed 2 page story by contributing creators.
If your looking for a good comic for younger kids, you can' t go wrong with the adventures of Boyd Linney the Cow Boy.
Number 4

Sixth Gun: Cold Dead Fingers
By Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt
This is not the old west as we know it.
This is the story of Six special guns. Six guns with supernatural power, that can do unbelievable things, and Becky Montcrief has just become permanently bound to one of them. Unfortunately for her, there’s an army of bloodthirsty gunslingers, Pinkertons, and undead enslaved mud men after that gun too. And the only way to get it is to pry is from Becky's cold dead fingers. Literally. Enter Drake Sinclair, a not too nice gunslinger who swings in to rescue poor Becky, with help of his associate, Billjohn O'Henry. Or so it seems. This is a book about double crosses, fallen heroes, damned souls and the darkest of magic.

The artwork is very reminiscent to old western comics, but with a few modern touches. Simplified in all the right places, thick shadows and lots of beautiful crosshatching. Especially in flash backs and Premonitions.

One of the reasons I love this book so much is the characters. Most summaries make Sinclair seem like the main protagonist, and granted, in many cases, he is. Despite how mysterious he is, Sinclair is with us from the beginning of the story, and seems to have a pretty personal stake in this fight.
But even if Becky isn't the true protagonist of the book, then she's at least an equal to Sinclair. Becky starts off as a simple country girl, pulled into a war she wants no part of. Sure, she's a heck of a shot, but she's rather have nothing to do with that hellish gun or being a gunslinger period. Becky starts as the eyes for the audience. Because of her, we get the exposition we need to understand what's going on. We relate to her and discover this strange world of magic with her. And by the end, she more then proves her worth and becomes a great, well developed female character. But I'll let you read about that on your own.
The book is still ongoing, now well beyond the first volume, so what are you waiting for?
Number 3

Plume: Issues 1-5
by K. Lynn Smith
My Father use to say revenge is like a Plume of Black smoke
It seems tangible, but when you reach for it,
you’re grasping nothing but air.

So is the theme of our story in Plume,a western Webcomic that you can read here! It follows the tale of Vesper Grey and her protector, Corrick, as they hunt down artifacts of the mystical persuasion.

After a short introduction, the rest of the first volume goes into the back story of our odd couple. Vesper, the daughter of an archeologist, is living a peaceful, boring life, as her aunt attempts at turning her into a "proper lady". And then there's Corrick, an old soul permanently bound to a magic necklace. Basically a guy who was at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Oh, and he can do this.

And now the two find themselves almost literally attached at the hip. And “knee deep in shit”. And it isn't long before we learn how these two became vengeance seeking artifact hunters.
The artwork can only be described as quirky and colorful. And story has the workings of a western styled Indiana Jones, as the two discover the abilities of each artifact they find. Even the humor feels very Indiana at times.

Fairwarning, the story is a heart-string-yanker. There's a lot of humor to help balance it out, but you're gonna need some of them tissues for this one. Unlike Boyd, this book is more pg13, tottering on 14a.
Oh. And there's a character named TEGAN!! *girly squeal*
*Ahem* Not.... that... that should affect my view on the book... heh.

The book was just successfully kick-started (twice in a row!) and is available to purchase the first5 individual issues on

Oh! And as a little bonus, here's the link to the kickstarter page for the first chapter, which includes a neat little video for the series!
Number 2

East of West
by Jonathan Hickman, Nick Dragotta and Frank Martin
"Now don't call my name unless you really mean to call for me
'cause you call, I surely will come"

In the 1800s, there was a message. A message dictating the end of the world. Death doesn't really seem to care. All he wants is to find that which was stolen from him and give those that's done him wrong what's coming to them.
This book I literally found out about a month ago. I was in the comic book story, looking for some new western books for the list. And siting on the new release shelf was East of West. When I asked the teller about it, he basically summed it up as “alternate scifi future, where Death and two Native American “witches” fights against the Confederacy, the Union, the Republic of China's Dragon warriors, and the rest of the Four horseman of the apocalypse. Oh, and Death is a gunslinger.”

I read it in one sitting.
This book is gritty, gore and apocalyptic done right. Where Death goes, buckets of blood follow, as he tracks down everyone on his kill list.

I've always been fascinated with Death as a character. And this Death is terrifying as he is compelling. He only says two simple lines and you know someone's about to get killed.

Despite Death being our main character, the book switches perspective to the rest of our large cast: The two witches that follow Death--- Crow and Wolf. The, now, three horsemen of the Apocalypse, currently trapped in adolescent forms--- Conquest, War and Famine, as well as their feelings regarding having to face their old partner. The council, consisting of a representative of each nation, that is loyal to the three horsemen and the message. And what the message is, and it's importance to the story, is slowly revealed to us over time.

The style is a blend of realism and surreal, allowing for stylistic expressions and poses in more intense moments. Gore and action are done with almost explosive energy. And the style makes the supernatural and scifi elements makes sense for this universe, but still surprise the audience enough when they appear. A lot of details are done with more focus colors instead of inking, making a unique style I don't see that often these days.

The story is still ongoing. I picked up the latest issue right after grabbing the book and I can tell ya, it's still worth every penny and more. The universe still expanding and the more players being introduced in our story of Death's vengeance.
Number 1

American Vampire: Volume 1
By Scott Snyder, Rafail Alburquerque and co written by Stephen King
A... Vampire? Like Them?”
Oh, no Dolly... Your a vampire like me. And believe me, there's a big difference.”

Am I cheating with this one? Probably. But it's my list so you can go suck it. And speaking of sucking...
Here's a book that takes place half in the old west, and half in the roaring twenties. A story about Vampires. Not ones that sparkle, or searching for redemption. “This is about making Vampires scary again” says King. And boy, is he right.

This story is grim, gorey, bloody and about as mature as you can get with comics. So. NO KIDS ALLOWED.
Our main story centers around Pearl Jones, a hard working woman in 1928, looking to make it big as an actress but has suddenly hit a bump in her career. She died.

Or at least she would have died. A mysterious man, named Skinner Sweets, gives her a second chance. He turns her into a vampire. But him and Pearl aren't your typical vampires. They can hide their vampiric appearance whenever they want, and share none of the same weaknesses of the vamps we're use to. Pearl and Skinner are something new. They're American Vampires. And Pearl decides to test her new found abilities on those that killed her.

In the other half of the book, we go to the near-end of the old west. The viscous bandit, Skinner Sweets, has finally been caught by his old nemesis, Jim Book, and is heading off to be hang. Of course, we know that's not what happens. And slowly, we find out how Sweets became one of the undead, and how he came back to bring hell on earth to any innocent or villain he comes across.

Pearl is the main character, someone both sweet & hardworking, with a bit of an evil streak, thanks to her new found unlife and brilliantly shown in the way she hunts down each of her prey. As for Skinner Sweets, well...Sweets is one of the most evil, dangerous and charismatic creatures on the planet. This might be Pearl's story, but Sweets steals the show every time. The kind of villain you love to hate.

As for the artwork, we jump between solid, clean art with thick shadows for the modern times, & very sketchy, painterly flashbacks. The overall pallet is much more colorful then I’m use to seeing in horror stories. But the colors get contrasted with scenes with dark shadows and pale colors now and again, which makes the gore and darker scenes even more scary.
I. Love. This. Series.
American vampires has multiple volumes out and I love ever one of them. Though I think only the first volume can really be considered a western (The other books do as well, but to a lesser extent )
Sweet's scenes should go unsaid, what with him being a modern day cowboy. But during Pearl's scenes, there are a lot of “western” moments. Pearl goes after her victims like an old west bounty hunter, gunslinging (or is it “stake-slinging”? ) her way through her own personal kill list. This makes the two stories blend well together, despite taking place in two completely different eras.
There's one scene in particular that stands out in my mind. Pearl is going after a gang of vampires driving down the street. She runs then off the road, and then goes toe to toe with one of the vamps. The fight feels reminiscent of a "Mexican Standoff" before Pearl kills the vamp in one of the most brutal ways she can. Replace the 1920s with the old west, the cars with horses, the movies with stage shows, and in many cases, the story could almost be the same.
And that's probably why it's my number one choice. And something that people tend to forget about Westerns.
Being a Westerns does not mean it has to take place in the old west, with cowboy hats and lassos. Firefly, and Cowboy Bebop, for instance, are both considered westerns or, at least, western inspired by their fans. Heck! Most of the books on this list have other elements like noir, scifi, and steampunk!

See, the point isn't to make something look like a western, but feel like a western.

From Justice League episode: Once and Future thing: Part 1

The danger of fighting a bandit with all your grit and guts. Standoffs with gunslingers that want the bounty on your heads. Living off a lawless land that is constantly trying to kill you. And a good heaping of revenge doesn't hurt neither.
It's about the tropes, not the clichés. Elements that are easily recognizable, but do not seem copy and pasted from previous works. A western isn't going to work if every cowboy was the Clint Eastwood version.

Allowing ourselves to experiment and play with those tropes are what keeps a genre from stagnation. This is also partly why western parodies and homages work so well. And why so many modern Western films don't. So many directors are so focused on trying to make the west look cool to a modern audience, that they completely miss the point of why people enjoy Westerns. They only touch on the surface elements of what is considered a "Western" and then tack on extra things that don't need to be there.

But if your Western doesn't feel like a Western, you’ve basically dressed up all your characters in Halloween costumes.

Terrible. Terrible. Halloween costumes.
And maybe that's why it's so hard to get a popular western movie to take off.

Now if you excuse me, I just found out about another new comic out this week with a western twist.

Seeya for Halloween!
 Tegan Dumpleton aka SlugLady28

Egad! When I said this would be out "this week", I didn't mean 7 or 8 days after! Apologies abound, as usual, sigh. Unfortunately, due to delays, I have to rethink my Halloween plans. You'll know what they are in a few days.

No comments:

Post a Comment