"Cow Boy" is an original graphic novel by Nate Cosby and Chris Eliopoulos debuting in the spring from Archaia Comics. It is a surprising read, and I mean that in all the good ways. What at first looks like a quirky western parody starring a little kid as a cross between "Lone Wolf and Cub" and "The Man With No Name" quickly twists into something stronger. Behind all the funniness and seriously absurd one-liners, the book has a heart to it that you won't see coming, but that hits hard. The review copy that's being passed around isn't complete, but represents the first three very strong chapters in a book that I'm excited to read the rest of.
Cosby writes ten year old Boyd as a focused and gritty bounty hunter, riding into town on his horse, brandishing his weapon and causing all sorts of havoc at the town bar and sheriff's office/jail. The opening gambit is played completely straight. You could picture the dialogue coming out the mouths of an all-adult cast, with the appropriately dusty backdrops and period costuming. There's a lot of humor drawn simply by the fact that it's a little kid spouting these bits of tough guy dialogue, delivered in a short staccato pattern like a Frank Miller comic. Eliopoulos' art stages the story to feel like a real movie western and not some goofy caricature of one. Playing it completely straight like this is what gives the book its strength.
I don't want to give the twist at the end of the first chapter away, but it does turn things on its head, while not forgetting the sense of humor. (It's not a big secret. I've seen is discussed openly by the creators in interviews. I prefer to let you go into this cold.) There are dozens of panels in this book I'd like to excerpt to show you alongside this review, but I don't want to spoil too many jokes out of context. Boyd makes do with what he has, which gives Cosby and Eliopoulos a chance to be creative and absurd all at the same time.
The last we saw of Chris Eliopoulos' four-color sequential art was in the pages of Marvel's "Franklin Richards" series. The work in "Cow Boy" shows a remarkable artistic growth. For starters, the art gets to breathe a little more. Pages look to be drawn for either a smaller printed page or straight-up for digital screens, whether that's your laptop screen or an iPad. The lettering is a little bigger, the panels are larger and fewer in number per page. Reading this preview PDF is very comfortable, and when guest artists draw short stories between the chapters, their tighter pages show a difference. They're still perfectly readable, but look cramped by comparison.
The real revelation is the coloring. Eliopoulos does it himself, mostly using earth tones, but with a variety of textures that add depth and dimension to the page. The dirty old west feels dirtier, because often the pages look like they were drawn on crumpled up old yellow parchment. I hope that when the book sees print, the pages can hold the color as well as the screen does. Keeping things backlit on a monitor sure helps everything pop properly. When the series makes it digital debut in January, be sure to read it on-line first. The hardcover later in the spring will be your keepsake to remember how much fun you had reading it, but I can't vouch for the printing on it yet.
As a bit of a throwback, Eliopoulos does the lettering by hand, and it's enough to make me yearn to see a return to those days in every comic. I had just about given up that ghost after ten years of complaining, but seeing the imperfections and the organic nature of hand-drawn lettering was great.
Between each chapter are short stories by various comic luminaries. The review copy includes segments from Mike Maihack, Colleen Coover, and Roger Langridge, each of whom does a funny piece set presumably in the universe, but with different characters. My favorite came from Maihack for the absurdist cowgirl and penguin team-up, though all are good reads.
I'll remind you when the webcomic starts in 2012, but "Cow Boy" is definitely something to look forward to.
FIVE WEDNESDAYS FOR DC'S FOUR WEEK SCHEDULE
It's the first five Wednesday month since DC's relaunch. That means a spartan showing from the new #1 publisher this week. On the bright side, they're not coming up with ridiculous filler to stuff newsstands with products. On the negative side, it's a possible momentum killer for some. When you're the #1 publisher, you don't want to lose that edge because you forgot to plan for a "dead" week. But, hey, a new issue of "Batman Odyssey" by Neal Adams isn't half bad for a skip week, now is it?
DC's new release list doesn't seem so short, until you remove the new printings ("Absolute Batman Hush"), toy lines (Green Lantern Series 4) and trade paperbacks. After that, you get the holdout from the pre-New 52 line in "T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents" #1, starting a new six parter by Marvel-exclusive Nick Spencer.
Marvel only has an additional title or two over that total, but there's a healthier assortment of sales-friendly and popular titles in here, including "FF," the ridiculously-titled "Ultimate Comics The Ultimates," "Thunderbolts," and "Uncanny X-Men."
Still, it doesn't look good for DC when Image Comics puts out as many 32 page comics as they do in a given week. In fact, pound for pound, Image has the most exciting set of releases this week, including Jay Faerber's "Near Death," Erik Larsen's "Savage Dragon," Joe Casey's first issue of "Haunt," Ron Marz's "Shinku" and the long-thought-lost conclusion to the "Infinite Horizon" miniseries, drawn by Phil Noto.
Maybe this is a good week to pick up that comic you held off on all month? Or maybe it's a good week to pick up a collected edition?
THINKING OUT LOUD: MY CRAZY DIGITAL ANOLOGY FOR TODAY
Comic books are the new Segway scooter. Or, perhaps, the Segway is the high-tech comic book.
The Segway, when it was first hyped, was going to change the world. But its $5000 price tag all but guaranteed it would be limited to a niche market, mostly for mall cops and guided tours through cities. (They quickly dropped the price down to $3000, but even that's far too much.) The makers of the Segway tried branching out and offering different versions for customers even more niche -- there's even a Segway golf cart -- but the chances of the Segway ever gaining mass acceptance were done the second the price tag was announced. There are more than enough logistical blocks inherent the product to keep a potential consumer from sampling it without making them also pay an amount far above what they'd want to pay for the experience.
And so we have digital comics, which we're told are priced at the ridiculous $2.99 and $3.99 price points because that's the best that can be done. We can't expect high quality comics to come out at a lower price point. The infrastructure isn't there. The pipeline (no pun intended) isn't there. We're going to have to suck it up and accept the price point equality between print and digital. Comics are destined to be sold to a niche market with fragmented markets even more niche
And so, too, are comics doomed to be a niche market for people who think Segways are a pretty neat idea.
That's the theory that popped into mind this week. Yes, there are holes in it, but I like the concept of a niche market that caters exclusively to its own because nobody new will ever pay that price to enter the market. On the other hand, many would point to Apple as being that kind of company, too, not so long ago. They made great computers that cost twice as much as PCs, and so their market share was two or three percent, doomed to stagnate into oblivion. The thing that "saved" Apple was the iPod and its halo effect. People bought the iPod because it was much more affordable, served a need, and did so better than any of the competitors, which could only compete on price. But as people bought iPods, they started to buy into the computers. And when the iPhone hit, things went nuts. The iPad brought it to another level, now to the point where Apple is competing on price. Nobody can make a true iPad competitor for the same price point. Where once the experience was enough to overcome the price point, now the price point is worth it for the experience and the barriers to entry have been removed.
What's the comic world's iPod? Is it the movies? I'm not so sure that we've seen a halo effect from there, though. Is digital distribution the key? Will simply getting cheaper comics in front of a larger population be enough to bring enough people in to justify lower price points and the economies of scale?
I wish I had the answers.
I have been asked a couple of times in recent weeks about exclusives in the world of digital comics. Does it make sense for DC to only put its big collected editions on an Amazon device, for example? I've said that it doesn't bother me that much. It feels like the kind of silly move publishers make to get their names in an extra press release in conjunction with a larger company before the inevitable happens and they spread out across all the platforms.
The best way to work around this, of course, is by removing the DRM. If there was one common format for all downloadable comics that could be read by all the comic readers, then it wouldn't matter where you bought it. It would only matter where you read it, which would be in any comic reader app. Follow the money: There's money to be made in such exclusives, and every digital storefront wants to have the biggest names and top sellers so that they get their cut of the profifts. The reader is the afterthought to that, only there to view the files you paid for. By protecting the files against being read by anyone else, your reader becomes necessary. I bet there's at least one digital storefront who'd be happy to give up their reader, take those development costs off its books, and charge slightly less for comics, getting more marketshare. But they'd need the content suppliers (comic publishers) to release comic DRM-free.
Perhaps then a new class of applications would pop up -- comic readers by comic fans. Open sourced. No connection to a specific library.
I like my little dream worlds.
- Are you eagerly awaiting the "R.I.P.D." movie, based on the Dark Horse comic that you forgot they published a few years back? I recently found a copy of the book on a bookshelf in my parents' house. I had forgotten I even had it.
In any case, the screenwriter for the movie is featured in an interview at John August's blog talking about how he writers, what his set-up is, and other writing geekery. He also mentions writing a script based on the Garth Ennis-penned series, "The Boys."
- Jim Shooter talks a bit on his blog about the creation of the Direct Market. The parallels between it and today's nascent digital market are interesting. The Direct Market did not cannibalize sales at the newsstand. If anything, sales rose. The larger distribution in the newsstands brought in new readers, while the Direct Market catered to the core audience in a way no newsstand ever could. The problem became when the newsstand was eliminated in favor of the short term goals of a Direct Market-only strategy.
Now we live in a time when we're trying to recreate the spinner rack on iTunes and the Web, and trying to suss out if it will cannibalize sales from the Direct Market, or feed into it once again. So far, judging from DC's recent success, digital comics are not cannibalizing sales from the Direct Market. It's not exactly a fair test, given the enormous handicap digital day-and-date comics face with their cover prices, but it's a start.
- Peter David has drafted a Fan/Pro Bill of Rights that is worth reading for those severely lacking in common sense. Sadly, those are the people least likely to realize how much common sense they lack. And so the circle continues.