It often fills us with trepidation when a small press creator says they are going to revisit their black and white book and colourise it. After all there is a certain charm to black and white indie books – just ask Dave Sim or Stan Sakai!! Fortunately when Dave West at Accent UK sent us the updated version of their fantastic WESTERNoir series, our fears weren’t justified and they have turned an excellent book into one of the best in the west!
Publisher: Aceent UK
Writer: Dave West
Artist: Gary Crutchely, Matt Soffe
Price: Back it now on Kickstarter
For those who are initiated, WESTERNoir follows enigmatic cowboy Josiah Black. He’s your classic ex-lawman loner with a troubled past who gets asked for help by a glamorous damsel in a saloon. But he gets more than he planned for when he rides to her aid. Now, we cannot avoid spoilers at this point as it is integral to the plot, so here we go!! The man he is hired to kill turns out to be a supernatural investigator in the employ of the enigmatic Mr Cagliary and so Black finds himself in his debt and must continue his victim’s singular pursuit. What then follows is a mix of western, crime procedural but a generous dose of the supernatural and it makes for a really fun and over the top read as these seemingly disparate genres meld brilliantly in the hands of West and artist Gary Crutchely. If we had to go for as cover worthy pull quote, we’d says it’s ”the X-Files meets Bonanza via Brubaker and Philips”, but there are also hints of Cullen Bunn’s The Sixth Gunn in there as well, but with a very classic British comics sensibility too. (i.e. it feels like it could have been plucked from the pages of Warrior or Action)
This new collected volume is the perfect jumping on point for new fans of the series, as it focuses on the origins of Black as an investigator, but also gives us plenty of ‘freak of the week’ stories as he investigates lizard men in swamps, sirens on river boats and more besides. The Wild West setting allows these familiar concepts to have a really unique angle, and West and Crutchely manage to blend the two worlds seamlessly to create some really fun and over the top scenarios. With some extra short stories included to fill out this first volume, this feels like the perfect start to this fantastic series, and to be honest, we would quite happily read ten more volumes like this as it is a formula that just works so well on so many levels.
While we loved Crutchely’s sublime line work in black and white, in colour it is brought to life even more so. He has that classic British style of a PJ Holden, in that he can seemingly draw anything with the same level of quality and care. His character designs for Black are fantastic, and they have created a really exciting hero, while the supporting characters balance the realism of the Wild West, along with the fantastical monsters perfectly. (The riverboat scenes are especially gorgeous!)
And how could we get this far with mentioning the superb work of colourist Matt Soffe as well. As we said in our intro, colour does not always make a series – especially when working in a genre as well established as westerns – but he does a superb job here. The colours are muted and grungey, rather than bright and showy (like in the Last Sheriff for example) that perfectly match the sunset hues and gimy corners of this take on the Wild West. There are no unnecessary effects or textures just to make him earn his place on the team, and when reading the book now it feels like it is how it should always have been, rather than an attempt to put lipstick on a pig. With some superb design work throughout from Andy Bloor, this could easily be a Titan Comics or Rebellion book, it feels that polished.
With these updates and relaunch WESTERNoir has evolved from being a great book into something truly fantastic. If you love genre comics and are after something that feels timeless yet not out of date, then this is it and we hope is the start of an awesome new dawn for this fantastic series.