The Shaolin Cowboy, no. 1
By Geof Darrow with Dave Stewart
Dark Horse Comics
To the best of my recollection, I’ve never read a Geof Darrow comic book. I’ve seen his art a thousand times, I’ve read comics where he had contributed a single illustration (cover, pinup) but I’m not certain if I have ever seen Darrow’s pages. Until the Year of Our Lord, 2013, mid-October.
Anybody who has seen Darrow’s illustrations knows that the fellow has skills. He also exhibits a love/lust for detail that merrily leaps into a phobia of open spaces. In art this is called “horror vaccui.” Some people look at that like it is some kind of fault. And at times it is the result of an obsessive-compulsive mark-making tendency. But with Mr. Darrow, it is apparent that this high concentration of extreme detail is something different. It is a love of junk.
I have a lot of junk in my life. Gonna get personal here. My home is a junkyard. Comic books and graphic novels piled high as your knee, art supplies buried under bills, only one-third of my belongings approach anything like the concept of “organization.” I am stressed and depressed about it. But in Darrow’s world, junk is interesting, it’s dirty and clean at the same time. There are small stories inside of the drawings. Darrow makes clutter and chaos into something coherent. And beautiful.
The desert that Darrow depicts in The Shaolin Cowboy is deserted but not devoid of life. It’s littered, literally. Covered in the empty and crushed aluminum cans and graffiti that one would expect to find in a place where young people may have gone for years to drink and to play without repercussions. When the dead rise from the desert ground, they look not only rotten and disgusting but also particular. When the titular Cowboy destroys the zombies, they come to pieces in meticulously-arranged arcs of unbuilding.
Building and unbuilding.
Of course I fully expected this level of detail and craft of arrangement before I picked up this comic book. Such carefully-considered chaos has been a staple of Mr. Darrow’s illustrations and covers. The element that probably makes Darrow even more interesting than his love of precision and detail is his love of motion.
There’s a thing about people who are great cover illustrators. A lot of them aren’t great cartoonists. I’m saying a lot of the best cover artists aren’t good at drawing sequential narrative. If anything, Darrow outshines himself when it comes to that. It’s like people always talk about the beautiful details that he crams into his pictures and rarely talk about the way he puts figures into motion.
The characters gesture. They make funny faces. Darrow contorts characters as the story needs them to bend as opposed to many comic narrative artists who prefer to render characters as unaffected as possible. Darrow’s characters are very affected. And not always flattered. Which is good because we all know how far flattery will get you.