Review: Cow Boy (Graphic Novel)

Joshua Unruh is a writer with the Consortium. He’s also a fan of comics, graphic novels, and tabletop games, and he’s offered to share that experience with our readers in a regular column.

You can read more of Joshua’s work at his site, JoshuaUnruh.com.


Cow Boy is a tremendous read that I’m having a hard time pinning down.

Not my feelings about it, mind you. I loved it. But the book itself is…complex. Yeah, that’s a perfect word. It’s complex, so I can’t boil it down to a one- or two-sentence high concept. That’s probably the main reason I liked it so much.

So the easy stuff first, those so-called “facts” that don’t need to know how I feel about them in order to be important. Cow Boy vol. 1: Justice Ain’t Got No Age is written by Nate Cosby (Pigs, Jim Henson’s The Storyteller) and Eisner and Harvey Award nominee Chris Eliopoulos (Franklin Richards, Pet Avengers). It also will feature several short stories from Roger Langridge, David Gallaher & Steve Ellis, Brian Clevinger & Scott Wegener, Colleen Coover, Paul Tobin, and others. The publisher is Archaia, which means it will be a gorgeous, full color hardcover available in bookstores that know what’s good.

So, that’s done. Here’s why the thing is a complex piece.

It’s an all-ages book. I follow Nate Cosby on Twitter and he’s often talked about his commitment to and belief in the importance of all-ages material. I share this belief, and not just because I have children. I share it because there are children in the world. I’m a prime example of somebody who developed a love for reading, literature, mythology, and high adventure because of (superhero) comics and I lament deeply that this isn’t really something that can happen with (superhero) comics for my kids. Or at least, certainly not in the bulk of them as it did for me.

Enter every other kind of comics. Especially this one.

Cow Boy is a Western. This isn’t just because that’s a good backdrop. It’s a Western in that the patois is decidedly Western, the archetypes Cosby and Eliopoulos are playing with are decidedly Western, and it’s a premise that works within the genre conventions of a Western and may not work in too many other genres. The tale follows 10-year-old Boyd Linney as he rides across the West determined to bounty hunt his entire, worthless, double dealin’, no good, outlaw kin. All of them. And there’s apparently a lot of them. And he starts with his daddy.

That’s pretty heady stuff for an all-ages book. Betrayal, familial neglect, gunplay, tough-talkin’, and bounty huntin’ (not to mention a crushing disappointment for Boyd from a corner you do not expect) are all tough concepts to talk to kids about. But that’s why this complex book works so well. Eliopoulos’s art is very well done and wonderfully cartoony. I’ve enjoyed his work in broad, slapstick books before.  But in Cow Boy, it’s cartoony to show just how angry Boyd can get, to show just how mean bigotted townspeople can get, or to show how dismaying it can be to know you’re utterly alone in the world at the tender age of ten.

There is some violence, but most of it amounts to less than you’d get from a roadrunner and a coyote. There is some tough talk, but nothing you wouldn’t want your elementary schooler repeating. Mostly, you get very difficult, very emotionally charged topics presented in a way that gives you an opportunity to discuss them with your kids and maybe, just maybe get ahead of some of their own emotional development. That’s pretty intense. And it’s also pretty great.

All of that is wrapped up in a tremendously entertaining story with a lot of very clever writing, both in the plot and in Boyd’s own turn of phrase. They’re then bookended with short stories of only a few pages from some of the more colorful, inventive, and funny people in comics. Though quick and not always packing the same punch as Boyd’s tale, these shorts are a welcome addition to the book.

I recommend Cow Boy to parents, to aunts and uncles, to teachers, to Western fans, and to anyone who thinks smart, emotionally charged, all-ages fiction is worthwhile and important. Look for it in April 2012 in fine bookstores everywhere.