Dec 1 2012Review: Cow Boy: A Boy and his Horse

CowBoy

Cow Boy: A Boy and his Horse (Hard cover)

Writer: Nathan Cosby
Artist: Chris Eliopoulos
Page count: 96

Age level: All Ages

Mark One price: $39.90

Reviewed by Matthew Henderson

Lest there be any ambiguity or confusion let me say loud and clear that I flat out, straight up, totally freakin’ love this book! Love it! I know I’ve said that about other books in other reviews (and if I said it I meant it) but this one really is something special.

You know there are concepts that seem so obvious when you first hear them you think, “ah, of course!” and wonder why no one has ever done it before. Cow boy is one of those. Boyd Linney is 10 years old and he’s a Cowboy (a bounty hunter to be precise) – a cowboy boy, if you will (which admittedly doesn’t have quite the same ring to it). Of course a cool premise does not automatically make for a cool comic book (though its a great start). A casual leaf through the pages would suggest a peanuts/Calvin and Hobbes flavored helping of cute kiddie cowboy cartoons. That quick flick through lies like a snake oil salesman in an old western medicine show!

Take the time for a proper read and you’ll find that Cow Boy has some trick shots up its Smith and Wesson. The story has a real weight and heft to it (and not just because of the typically high quality paper and hard cover that comes with it being an Archaia product) that belies its light and fluffy appearance.

Boyd’s big ol cowboy hat and broadly drawn face may look cute, but his motivations are deep and  powerful, and his mission deadly serious . The Cow Boy’s family have done him (and others) serious wrong, causing him to become a one boy righteous force for justice in his mission to even the score. His journey to round up his criminal clan one by one is filled with action, humor (just cos its got some gravitas doesn’t mean it’s not funny), and heart touching (sometimes breaking) emotion. Yes, the book has traces of Calvin & Hobbes, but only if Calvin & Hobbes was written by Sergio Leone – “The Man with No Name” if he was a 10 year old called Boyd Linney, if you will. Sergio in this instance is a fella ‘goes by the name of Nate Cosby and he is a very talented writer indeed.

Cosby gives the story time to breathe and lets things unfold gradually rather than bogging things down with piles of exposition. That’s not to say that it moves slowly, quite the contrary, but its pacing is unhurried in the same way you find in classic Clint Eastwood westerns or Kurosawa films. The dialogue is sharp and snappy but there are many ‘silent’ moments where it’s left to artist Chris Eliopoulos to show the impact of the words through subtly nuanced facial expressions. It’s a perfect marriage of word and art that showcases the very best of what the comics medium can do.

My only previous exposure to Chris Eliopoulos was the Franklin Richards back up cartoons he did for Marvel. While fun, those strips don’t even begin to show how freakishly talented the Cow Boy artist/colourist/letterer is. With a style is very much grounded in traditional cartooning, his faces are infinitely expressive and his backgrounds full and detailed. The colour palate is as dry and dusty as the desert and fits the story and art perfectly.

Cow Boy has been promoted as an “all ages” title. Does it work for kids? In grand comic book tradition I decided to exercise my parental prerogative and carry out a (not very) scientific experiment on my own offspring – namely my 8 year old son. He read it himself but struggled a bit with the ‘accented’ dialogue, so with some Dad provided (truly awful) Old West American voices we spent a great 20 minutes reading it again together. He loved the idea of a kid who could beat up grown up bad guys and the action, laughed out loud at the “funny bits”, but also totally got what was going on at an emotional level. He said he felt sorry for Boyd because he was all by himself and his Momma must be “really mean”.  So while my (not very) scientific experiment was a total failure when it came to equipping my progeny with super powers, it was a roaring success in proving that Cosby and Eliopoulos’ book “works” for readers young and old.

Books this good remind you why you fell in love with comics in the first place. Not just a ‘genre classic’ (given that funny but serious, kid starring, western cartoons is a fairly limited genre), but a classic example of what a great story telling medium comics really are.

This is where I usually put my “recommended for” list, but Cow Boy is just recommended full stop.

 

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