The most surprising thing about writer Nate Cosby and artist Chris Eliopoulos’ new webcomic/graphic novel Cow Boy isn’t that it’s funny, or well written, or extremely well drawn. Nope, it’s how durn sad the whole thing is.
The set up – which you can get pretty easily from the title and any shot of the main, ten year old hero Boyd Linney – is that he’s like a Clint Eastwood style gunslinger, but really little and young. Could this be played for laughs? Sure, and it sometimes is, like when you get a look at what his gun can really do, or he tries to sit in a rocking chair all by himself. But Cosby instead mines Boyd for the heartache and pathos of being a kid.
In particular, without getting too much into spoilers here, Cosby nails that moment in every kid’s lives when they start to realize their Dad isn’t the strongest man alive, their brother won’t always be there for them, and their Mom sometimes thinks more about herself than she does about you, her child. There’s a freedom that comes with that feeling, of course – hey, I can be an adult someday, too! – but there’s also a loneliness that settles in to any child’s life as they start to feel themselves moving from childhood to early adulthood.
There’s also a great deal of anger and hurt, and that’s what sets Boyd on a quest to find – and perhaps punish – certain members of his family who have done wrong, in the Western parlance. Credit goes to Cosby, but also to Eliopoulos, who ekes emotion and dynamic action out of every single pen stroke and line. It’s a tour de force for an artist who is often underestimated in the industry… And hopefully, like Boyd, people will start taking the creator far more seriously after reading Cow Boy.
Let’s touch on the action, though, because I’m starting to make this book sound like its nothing but heart-wrenching anguish. Its not! There you go.
In fact, the book is – when not pausing for a lesson in why things aren’t as simple as black and white literally – nearly wall to wall awesome, cleverly staged action that feels like it jumped out of the world’s coolest Western. Cosby writes the heck out of these scenes, and Eliopoulos balances the cartooniness of his work with actual, gut-punching action to reach something that’s halfway between Looney Tunes and Unforgiven.
Side-note about this: Cow Boy is being released monthly in digital format for free, before being collected in April by Archaia. I’m sure Archaia will put together a gorgeous collection of the work, but I think you’ll be better served reading it online first. Cosby has structured the book in chapter format, with the first three chapters working as one story, with the next two almost as stand-alones. I mean, go and buy the book and support indie creators and whatnot… But as a reading experience, having read the first five chapters in one chunk, I’m looking forward to revisiting them spaced out, at length.
One other side item of note: each chapter has a bonus two page Western story unrelated to the main Cow Boy tales both in content and tone by some great creators… And they’re all great. I’d be stoked to see Cosby and Eliopoulos eventually release a one-shot with “Cow Boy Tales” or something like that, as I would read the heck out of it.
Back to the main book, though, this is yet another great All Ages read which Archaia is thankfully giving a chance to shine on bookshelves… We need more books like Cow Boy in comics, those that don’t shy away from the hard themes and ideas, and treat kids like people rather than receptors for mindless brain candy who need to be protected from everything bad. And of course, that ties into the main themes of Cow Boy itself, doesn’t it?
Point being: this is a smart, beautifully drawn book, and with a brand-new Cow Boy tale turning up in Archaia’s Free Comic Day Book as well, a world we can’t wait to see more from.
Cow Boy starts being serialized online in January, with the first five chapters released in trade from Archaia in April, 2012.