Saturday, March 24, 2012

Comic Book Finds: Shaolin Cowboy (2004)

One and two panle splash pages were not uncommon in Shaolin Cowboy (above from issue #2).
Remember waaaay back when the Matrix movies were thought of as being groundbreaking? It was just following the perceived failure of the original film's sequels that the creators, the Wachowski Brothers, decide to dip their collective toes, along with some excellent established comic book creators, into the publishing game with the creation of their own company, Burlyman Entertainment.

During its short erratic history, Burlyman published a number of unique "hits", among them Shaolin Cowboy, a collaboration with artist Geoff Darrow, who himself was receiving some mainstream success with the animated version of his small press comic Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot. Darrow had also worked with the Wachowaski on both the Matrix Trilogy and, later, the underappreciated Speed Racer (2008).

Shoalin Cowboy was a simple story told primarily through intricate visuals provided by Darrow. While the Wachowskis wrote each issue's framing narrative that included more dialogue--provided by a talking donkey--than words from the rest of the pages combined, this was clearly a showcase for Darrow's Moebius-esuqe illustrations. (The two, Darrow and Moebius, did eventually collaborate.) The story, in as much as there was a cohesive narrative, followed the adventures of a hunted former Shaolin monk and his talking mule as they make there way across a desolate and hostile land. Thought he actual setting is unspecified, mutated infants and crustaceans would lead the reader to believe something very bad (and nuclear) led to this world's current state.

Like many independently published books, Shaolin Cowboy (like much of Burlyman's small roster of publications) suffered from wildly inconsistent release dates (issue #7 came out almost a year after #6), and as a result was relatively short-lived. While individual issues may be difficult, not to mention expensive, to come by (the original cover price of $3.50 was at the time pricey) they are available in three  equally rare collections.

If you enjoy exquisitely crafted mash-ups, postapocolytpic meditations or beautifully detailed visual storytelling, I would strongly recommend checking your local comic shops longboxes for back issues of Shaolin Cowboy. In the spirit of long breaks bewteen issues, at the 2011 Toronto, San Diego, and New York Comic Cons, Dark Horse Comics announced that they would be publishing three new Shaolin Cowboy comics, starting with a new Number One issue in 2012.

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