The western may not feel like the most modern of genres, but it’s one that is getting a bit of a renaissance on the indie and small press scene thanks to some imaginative ideas and a few slightly more old fashioned ones too. We look at some of the best indie western books including: High Noon Rising by James Mulholland, Reddin from Dead Canary Comics and West: Justice from Angry Candy comics.
High Noon Rising #1 (James Mulholland)
Our rating: [star rating=”3.5″]
Writer: James Mulholland Artist: Rowel Roque (Art) Ryan Burt (Colour) Price: £2 from Gumroad
Although we love a post modern look at a well established genre like the western, there’s something really satisfying about seeing a good old fashioned take on such a seasoned subject. High Noon Rising is a great case in point. There are no fancy art styles like The Last Sheriff or supernatural elements like Reddin (see below), instead it’s just a good old fashioned cowboy tale about a retired bounty hunter dragged back into doing one more job by the son of his old boss. Writer James Mullholland hasn’t gone for anything fancy or overly clever here, just a good old fashioned revenge tale that mixes action and exposition perfectly. And he is helped on this journey by the artistic skills of Rowel Roque and Ryan Burt. Rowel’s line work helps that classic feel and it looks like it could have been drawn at any point in the last 40 years. He has a really great eye for composition and isn’t afraid of a long shot in a small panel or a simple head shot, which stops it feeling too contemporary and jarring with the classic feel. Add to that Burt’s use of muted warm colours which makes the whole thing have a faded, vintage quality to it that only if you look closely do you see any digital shading. If we were being ultra critical we would say it is perhaps a bit too safe at times and so lacks a bit of edge, (and the cover is a bit weak compared to the strong panel work inside), however it leaves us on a great cliffhanger and we’re eager to see how things develop once high noon has risen.
Reddin (Dead Canary Comics)
Our rating: [star rating=”4″]
Writer: Matt Fitch Artist: Conor Boyle Price: £5.99 from ComiXology
Part of what makes the western such a versatile genre is the way it can be merged with others to create interesting hybrids. Step forward Dead Canary’s Reddin which takes a simple revenge plot involving a pair of bounty hunters who get into a spot of bother in a mine and injects it with a dark supernatural undercurrent. When Dean Driver leaves his partner Karl Kirkwood for dead in an underground land slide, he didn’t expect him to get possessed by the sinister spirit known as Reddin who fuels his epic journey of revenge. Although a relatively simple premise from writer Matt Fitch and C S Baker, the Reddin idea is a really strong concept that drives the story along and makes for a really compelling read (not to mention being an idea that could be used in a host of other genres and stories too, not just westerns!). Art is provided by Disconnected Press’ Conor Boyle, whose rendering of Reddin itself is absolutely astounding, with an almost Bill Sienkiwiecz style mixed media approach. The rest of the book is a bit of a mixed bag visually though, with some solid work from Conor overall whose very detailed style reminded us a bit of Valiant artist Trevor Hairsine, and is a great fit for the story – albeit with a few rough facial expressions and gun barrel perspectives – but this is definitely not enough to take you away from this brilliantly dark and sinister tale. Each chapter is interspersed with long form short stories written by Paul Clark Fosse and illustrated by Scott Cooper that are made to look like classic old dime store western stories which gives the whole package another unique selling point and makes for another really strong entry in the Dead Canary cannon.
West: Justice (angry Candy)
Our rating: [star rating=”3.5″]
Writer: Andrew Cheverton Artist: Tim Keable Price: £10 from Angry Candy Store
Like all great western heroes, Jerusalem West is a retired lawman and bounty hunter but most of all a defender of morality in a lawless country. Battle scarred and with an unknown past this collection of 5 stories (previously released as individual issues) reads almost like a set of campfire tales told down the ages than a long form arc. On first impressions they don’t seem to have a coherent narrative from one to the next, but rather than this be a problem, instead they are intended to embellish and develop the legend of this hero in new and interesting ways, without getting bogged down in continuity. The first story sees him arrested for murder after returning a body to a small town, while subsequent stories see him solve the mystery of a woman who is allegedly kidnapped by Cherokees, take on a group of bandits in New Mexico and track down a wannabe outlaw looking for information. But that’s not all there is to West, there’s also a hint of the supernatural too (although not as much as in Reddin), with the a ghostly vision in chapter one giving way to an entire story about native American werewolves by the midway point! Although you could be forgiven for expecting this to be a distraction, it doesn’t take away from the more traditional ass kicking, gun toting action. Writer Cheverton gives each story enough depth to make it interesting but without forgetting the action, while artist Kemble has a simple and unfussy style that at first looks a bit amateur, but actually gives each story a really stylish low-fi feel that works rather well for this genre and proves you don’t need to pack every page with detail and digital colours if you can tell a good story. Although not cheap at £10 for a collected paperback, West: Justice is quick on the draw and deserves a place on any western fan’s wanted list!