Cow Boy has an unashamedly silly premise: a young boy named Boyd travels the Old West rounding up his family of criminals to collect the bounties. Despite his young age and small stature, Boyd is tough as nails. In the first storyline, he holds a man at gunpoint, orders him to his knees, rips half the man’s moustache off, and floors him with a sock to the jaw. This wee Clint Eastwood, Boy with No Name thing sounds like it would barely sustain a single strip, let alone a series, but Nate Cosby and Chris Eliopoulos do such a bang-up job on the book that I finished it aching for more.
Cosby takes a preposterous premise and a bunch of absurdly broad characters and plays them absolutely straight. Neither Cosby nor Boyd cracks a smile as the kid stares down gunfighters and beats up three men at once. Without any cutesy winking at the reader, we get the best of both worlds. The humor isn’t undercut by cheap mugging and we’re not so distanced from the action that we can’t buy into the poignancy inherent to the story of a kid fighting against his own family.
Cosby also does nice work with the Western archetype of the tough and implacable man (or boy) on a mysterious crusade. It’s clear from the get-go that Boyd’s on a mission and nothing will turn him from it, but Cosby doles out character history quite sparingly. We get tiny glimpses between chapters, just enough to pique our curiosity.
Eliopoulos matches this juxtaposition of grit and slapstick in his art. Boyd’s got a funny little body and great big head but also an omnipresent scowl and patina of road dust. The human characters are all quite cartoony, built for expressiveness and humor rather than realism. Animals and scenery tend to be more realistic, grounding everything a bit. Also, the whole thing’s subtly antiqued, with panel edges distressed like an old photo and everything covered with a thin wash of dirt. It’s a great touch for setting the mood.
Altogether, it’s a book guaranteed to leave the reader happy and excited, ready to run out into the backyard to play cowboy with finger pistols and a hobbyhorse for a shotgun. Which is not to say it’s for children. The violence isn’t gory, but it is pervasive. This, combined with the plot centered on a child attacking his own family, make Cow Boy a book for teens and adults. Four chapters of the book are available for free online. The collected edition includes some great short stories by various guest artists. Colleen Coover’s gunfighting penguin was particularly memorable.