Fair Trade Comics: Cow BoyA comic review article by: Danny Djeljosevic
Fair Trade Comics is an ongoing series where Comics Bulletin looks at creator-owned comics that you can read without guilt or moral compromise.
Is it possible for an all-ages comic to have an edge? Can you take a typically "adult" genre and craft a kid-friendly story without sacrificing too much of what defines said genre? Seems like Nate Cosby and Chris Eliopoulos come up with an answer both questions through their graphic novel Cow Boy, an all-ages western with surprisingly equal amounts of cute and grit.
Cow Boy follows Boyd Linney, who comes from a family full of criminals and has made it his life's mission to capture every single one of his wrongdoing relatives and bring them to justice. It's a powerful premise for a western, incorporating ideas of family and carrying out a monumentally difficult goal at the risk of everyone around you amidst lots of shooting and rustling. But here's the big twist: Boyd is a ten-year-old boy riding a full-grown horse, and armed with a toy hobby horse that's actually a rifle. In other words, he is super-cute.
Gruff yet totally adorbz, Boyd perfectly embodies Cow Boy as a whole -- this is a comic that is perfectly "safe" to give to a child but takes itself as seriously as Unforgiven. That's the trick to making a good all-ages comic -- don't talk down to your audience and treat the material like it belongs in the genre rather than simply emulating it to create what you think a kid might like. Cosby and Eliopoulos, who have both worked on making kid-friendly comics as well as kid-unfriendly comics, understand this better than most, and thus create a western comic that feels like a western -- not a western comic that feels watered-down due to the caveat of it being "for kids."
Take Chris Eliopoulos' art, for example. His linework is decidedly cute, cartoonish and kid-friendly -- the sort of art that the average reader would look at and immediately pidgeonhole. However, he colors Cow Boy with a pointed seriousness, like the colorist for Scalped decided to take a job working on Little Archie. The colors are moody, heavy on earth tones but doesn't threaten to oppress the art or suck the life out of it. Rather, Eliopoulos' colors give the impression of a serious western, and rightfully so.
That impression is bolstered by Nate Cosby's story, which is surprisingly heavy for how adorable it looks. As a kid who's rounding up his own outlaw family members for their crimes, Boyd carries out his mission with a heavy heart, knowing that he's going against his own blood. But no matter how lovingly they raised him, they have to be brought to justice. It's a powerful statement on the need to do what's right, no matter what the cost and no matter how solemnly you have to walk back out into the prairie after putting one of your loved ones in the slammer. It's easy to understand the need to do the right thing when you read the broadly painted moralities of Superman taking the Evil Bald Man to the authorities, but Cow Boy offers a mature, textured take on that concept by making it a monumentally difficult road to travel. It'd be a tough story to tell if you had to appease a big multimedia corporation that's afraid of risk, but thankfully Cow Boy is a creator-owned comic published through Archaia, which gives the creators an opportunity to tell the story on their terms rather than having to work according to strict content parameters.
Which isn't to say that Cow Boy is all grit. As aware of the need to take the material seriously as they are, Cosby and Eliopoulos aren't without a comedic awareness of what they're creating. They're unafraid to occasionally have people (mistakenly) treat Boyd as a kid, which is both cute and hilarious and, later, after pages upon pages of Boyd pretending to be an adult bounty hunter, seeing him act like a regular child is both hilarious and a relief -- and ultimately in service to more heartbreak. Also breaking up the seriousness are the interstitial stories by Roger Langridge, Brian Clevinger/Scott Wegener/Mitch Gerads, Colleen Coover and Mike Maihack. They're fun shorts that simply take the idea of kid-friendly western antics in more whimsical directions -- not part of the Cow Boy world, but enjoyable intermissions mostly by creators who have done great kid-friendly comics themselves.
In a culture where the overwhelming assumption is that stuff for kids is supposed to be brain-dead, Cow Boy is one of those comics that perfectly makes a case for the power and necessity of all-ages comics. It's the sort of story that could only spring from the minds from its creators, not commissioned by any company.
For more Fair Trade Comics, check out our other features in this series:
- Introducing Fair Trade Comics
- Fair Trade Comics: Atomic Robo
- Fair Trade Comics: Pussey!
- Fair Trade Comics: Our Ever Improving Living Room
- Fair Trade Comics: The Bulletproof Coffin
- Fair Trade Comics: Dracula World Order
- Fair Trade Comics: Local
- Fair Trade Comics: Liz Prince Will Swallow the Key to Your Heart
- Fair Trade Comics: Monsters
- Fair Trade Comics: Cow Boy
Danny Djeljosevic is a comic book creator, award-winning filmmaker (assuming you have absolutely no follow-up questions) and Co-Managing Editor of Comics Bulletin. Follow him on Twitter at @djeljosevic or find him somewhere in San Diego, often wearing a hat. Read his comic with Mike Prezzato, "Sgt. Death and his Metachromatic Men," over at Champion City Comics and check out his other comics at his Tumblr, Sequential Fuckery. His webcomic The Ghost Engine, with artist Eric Zawadzki, updates twice a week.