Aug 08

Comics: A Beginner’s Guide: Westerns

The Brown Wedge9 comments • 556 views

I can’t say this is a genre that I think has seen many of comics’ great peaks – some of the best comes in bits and pieces here and there: old stories in comics by various publishers by Alex Toth and Jack Kirby and the like. Frankly, even then the stories are mostly inconsequential, and they aren’t terribly easy to find.

I’m not a big fan of Moebius’s SF, but I do like his art on the Lieutenant Blueberry series (pictured). It’s written by Jean-Michel Charlier, and drawn under Moebius’s real name, Jean Giraud, and the feel is more like a classy late Clint Eastwood than any earlier US or European westerns. The angle is interesting: our protagonist is a Southerner who fought for the North in the Civil War due to his conversion to anti-racist beliefs, and the stories focus on this. They are compelling and muscular, and Giraud’s art matches this – none of the flash of his SF, just superb comics art. There are lots of volumes in English – the series names are varied (Lieutenant, Marshall, Young…), but the word Blueberry is your clue.

When DC started its Showcase reprint series, I was kind of surprised that Jonah Hex was one of the first they announced, and I almost didn’t buy it. That would have been a mistake, as it’s among the most consistently excellent collections. The character is a deformed and angry wanderer, not that long on morality, but still ending up on the heroic side. The art, mostly by Tony DeZuniga, is suitably grainy, particularly well drawn in a realistic style.

I’m also quite fond of occasional Hex artist and co-creator of Jonny Quest Doug Wildey‘s western work. He was in his ’60s when he did a few volumes of a western character called Rio in the 1980s. The drawing is lovely, the storytelling fluent, and it has some of the best use of zipatone I’ve ever seen. The style is a little more dated than the other two series I’ve mentioned, but it’s classy work by a veteran craftsman.

Showcase Presents Jonah Hex should be pretty easy to find, but I’m less sure about the Blueberry and Rio books. Having checked Amazon, Blueberry books are pricey, Rio volumes are cheap. You’ll be lucky to find any of these in libraries, but you never know.


  1. 1
    Martin Skidmore on 25 Aug 2008 #

    For regular readers, if there are any: only three more pieces planned after this, so it should be finished in about two weeks. Unless anyone wants to cite anything that I’ve missed that you’d like to see covered – the last three will be humour comics, adventure comics and early superheroes.

  2. 2
    chap on 25 Aug 2008 #

    Nice to see Blueberry getting some props. The confederate gold/Grant assassination plot saga is just superb.

  3. 3
    logged out Tracer Hand on 3 Sep 2008 #

    having never really read comics, and thus a real beginner, i find these articles fascinating and will be sad when they cease. at the beginning, i imagined there would be, like, four or five episodes in all – i had no idea!

  4. 4
    logged out Tracer Hand on 3 Sep 2008 #

    btw i was in france recently and as you surely know, martin, comics are serious business there – old and new alike in brand-new slender printings, nestling their hard covers against each other on overflowing bookshop tables

  5. 5
    Martin Skidmore on 3 Sep 2008 #

    Oh yes. I was at the Angouleme Festival one year, 1990 or so. 250,000 people attend that, and it was opened live on national TV by Minister of Culture, Jack Lang (I assumed it was Jacques, but wikipedia tells me otherwise). A very different event from the biggest US one, at San Diego, which is much smaller, more localised to the convention centre (the Angouleme one took over the town), and far less classy.

    Then again, the Japanese con for self-published comics only attracts 600,000 people…

    Re the duration: two to come. Someone said it might be the first Freaky Trigger series to actually be completed (next week, I think), but I don’t know if that is true.

  6. 6
    pete on 3 Sep 2008 #

    Top 100 films was finished. Top 25 Scary Things also was finished as did Top 25 Animals (with the correct assessment that the best animal is MAN).

    Tracer, when Martin finishes this, maybe go out and read some comics!

  7. 7
    Tom on 4 Sep 2008 #

    And of course the daddy of them all, my Top 100 Singles of the 90s, was finished. While the 90s were STILL GOING ON no less, a feat of punctuality unrivalled by me since. I am gearing up for next year’s sequel with a certain nervousness.

  8. 8
    Tom on 4 Sep 2008 #

    Jack Lang! The NME did an interview with him and excitably announced that he was the Minister For Rock. I think this is before we had a Culture Secretary so it was a thrilling appointment, the 60s dream realised at long last.

  9. 9
    Martin Skidmore on 4 Sep 2008 #

    I should have remembered about the films in particular – I wrote up the #1 at the end of it!

    By the way, Tracer, I could of course very easily write ten times as much about this subject*, but obviously I wanted to go for a scale, of individual article and overall series, that a) I could be reasonably confident of finishing and b) stood a chance of not losing every reader with only a quarter of it done.

    * This tempts me towards trying to pitch a book. I was asked to write a history of comics a long time ago by a major publisher and declined, but something that is more a set of recommendations and pointers for beginners appeals to me more, and I can imagine that it might find a modest market, if nicely produced and if the right contents were expanded and highlighted sensibly – e.g. lots more about manga and put some of that on the cover, not so much more on westerns. (Actually this idea is really more trouble than I want to go to, so it won’t happen.)

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