Sunday, October 28, 2012

Read It: Portlandtown by Rob DeBorde

As a fan of Oni Press's genre mash-up comic book The Sixth Gun, the thought of discovering new and interesting supernatural Westerns to continue exploring in novel form is a very appealing one. Portlandtown: A Tale of the Oregon Wyldes by Rob DeBorde, and published by St. Martin's Griffin, it is difficult to not to think that perhaps author DeBorde had thought. Rather than searching out such novels, that DeBorde decided to write one himself.

The similarities between the two works, while perhaps unintentional, is palpable throughout: from the chief baddie who is himself a zombified version of one of the protagonists' former allies turned adversary, down to the supernatural (and suggestive) power of a certain mystic handgun. Though my own lack of reading depth and breadth of this recently discovered Western sub-genre limits my ability to expertly imply that these are simply common tropes, there is clearly some shared "connective tissue" between the two.

Just like movies and television shows though, the fact that there are similarities should not necessarily impact negatively the potential entertainment value of both the comic book and Portlandtown. Author DeBorde's previous work (which to be a source of pride as it is heralded in almost every mention) is a cooking book, but the more influential past writing experience is that of screenwriter. For better or worse, Portlandtown reads like a significantly less gritty and realistic unproduced all-ages ABC Family series script. The Western elements of the setting and historical context are less fleshed out than I would have liked (and then hardcore neo-Western readers would demand.

One weakness of the novel is that it's setting never really seems necessary: as written, this story could have very easily taken place in a different time period with little change. While there are nuances (for example, a character who is a weatherman at the very beginnings of forecasting and a traveling circus of freaks) which suggest an older time, these touches are not comprehensive enough to give me, as the reader, a sense that this is a Western, in even the cloudiest sense of the term I have seen enough television to pick out some obvious stock characters such as the forgetful grandfather with a secret; the inquisitive youngsters who see things more experienced adults do not, the pretty, wife who is her rough and tumble husband's equal, the vainglorious mayor whose political drive leads to trouble, and so on.

Midway through the book I had the sense that the story being told might NOT end when the pages ran out, and SPOILER the story really isn’t satisfactorily resolved at the conclusion. As the subtitle A Tale of the Oregon Wyldes clearly implies, this is a series starter rather than a cohesive story told from exposition through resolution.

Portlandtown: A Tale of the Oregon Wyldes by Rob DeBorde IS a moderately entertaining, if slightly forgettable script spec populated with standard characters and plot points that most experienced readers (or seasoned television viewers) will see coming pages in advance. What Portlandtown is NOT, unfortunatey, is the supernatural Western that begs for rereading or characters that warrant revisiting. Hopefully my own purchase of this novel (and the pennies put forth by others) will warrant a publisher giving another writer (or even this one) a shot at a better product. The recent entertainment news that The Sixth Gun is being developed as a television show keeps my hope alive that this mash-up style narrative will eventually grow in new and interesting directions—especially if that show gets to air and somehow duplicates the monster success of that other little independent press genre comic book, The Walking Dead.

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