Note: This review was originally published on December 6, 2011.
Cow Boy: A Boy and His Horse
Written by Nate Cosby
Art, Color, and Letters by Chris Eliopoulos
90 pages / Color
When you pick up Cow Boy, you think you know what you’re getting; one of Archaia’s great all-ages comics drawn in Chris Eliopoulos’ signature cartoon style, the little cowboy on the cover even has a toy stick horse. You think it’s going to be a bright, adorable tale full of whimsy.
Boyd Linney, with his round face and over-sized cowboy hat, completely disarms you with his adorableness. The cover lulls you into a warm sense of security, only to have the comic punch you in the gut with a lonely, grizzled lead character. You’re thinking Woody the Cowboy, but you’re given Jonah Hex. Boyd will break your heart with his cold determination and righteousness. Nate Cosby and Chris Eliopoulos have created a comic that brilliantly goes against your all expectations to deliver a rich and heartbreaking story.
Boyd Linney is a straight shootin’ bounty hunter. He may only be 10 years old, but that doesn’t stop him from getting the job done. Like Mattie Ross of True Grit, Boyd is a very serious child who is very serious about his mission. His whole family has done wrong, and he intends to make sure each one of them pays for their crimes.
Nate Cosby does a fantastic job establishing Boyd’s character. He’s a fiercely independent boy with a steadfast moral code. He can be a bit too fond of tusslin’ which makes for some fun action scenes and snappy one-liners. But he’s also a terribly lonely child with very little real family. And as such, Cow Boy is rife with strained relationships and heartache, culminating in a final chapter that had me reaching for the tissue box.
Cow Boy is an all-ages comic in the truest sense of the word. Cosby doesn’t talk down to the younger members of his audience. He doesn’t get cutesy or use juvenile humor to keep their attention. Instead he tells his story straight and exceptionally well. Yes, there are some well-timed humor and sight gags, but the comic feels more like a classic John Wayne Western than a Disney kids adventure.
There are a lot of things to love about Cow Boy. And a lot of them are because of Chris Eliopoulos’ expert craftsmanship. He penciled, inked, colored and lettered the book. And he’s done a magnificent job with all of it. The colors give this comic the warmth and texture of a worn, stained book, no small feat for something being read digitally. They pull you in to the dusty, rough-and-tumble world Boyd lives in. It should come as no surprise to those familiar with Eliopoulos’ work that he also hand-lettered all five chapters of the comic.
The artwork is understated and subtle. With something as simple as a furrowed brow, a pointed glance, or an exasperated sigh, Eliopolous can break your heart. There are a lot of silent panels in this book. A lot of pent-up aggression and strong emotions brimming under the surface of things. And Eliopoulos just nails it every time. He also creates some fantastic action sequences and well-timed bits of visual humor. Like Bill Watterson, Eliopoulos’ masterful cartooning brings the exact emotion necessary for each scene.
In addition to Boyd’s story, Cow Boy includes short Western-themed “back-ups” by Roger Langridge, Mike Maihack, Colleen Coover, Brian Clevinger, Scott Wegener and Mitch Gerads, between each chapter of the main narrative. All of them will put a smile on your face (although I think Maihack’s is my favorite).
Cow Boy is a book full of heart and soul. Both Cosby and Eliopoulos have put their all into this labor of love. And it shines through on every single page. The comic is a joy to read, even when it makes you sad. Cow Boy is so wonderfully different from all the comics I’ve read, and I can’t wait to share it with people.
The first seven pages are available on the Cow Boy blog. Chapters 1 through 5 will be officially released as a webcomic starting in January. And a hardcover collected edition will be published by Archaia in April 2012.
Story: 4 / Art: 5 / Overall: 4.5
(Out of 5 Stars)