Gus & His Gang (:01 First Second)

gus-header.jpgChris Blain offers a post modern take on the classic western with his tale of cowpokes who go gaga over every pretty little lady they come across.

 

 

176 pgs.,  color; $16.95

(W & A: Chris Blain)

The principal characters of Gus & His Gang—Gus, Clem and Gratt—are three of the most pussy-whipped cowboys you are ever likely to meet. If that colloquialism is too strong for you, you’ll be happier passing up the comic as well, because it definitely has its X-rated moments: I guess some people got pretty creative with their lovemaking back in frontier days, just like they do today.

Gus and company spend some of their time behaving like traditional western outlaws: they rob banks, hold up stagecoaches, and hijack trains, while for relaxation they play poker, hang out in saloons, and spin tall tales. But these tough guys turn to mush at the sight of a well-turned ankle (or even the hope of seeing a well-turned ankle), which is part of Blain’s postmodern take on the conventions of the classic western. He includes specific references to well-known films as well, including the bicycling scene from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

The cover to Gus and His Gang. Click for a larger image.Gus & His Gang includes 13 stories, some as short as one page. The title is not entirely descriptive of the contents: only the first seven stories concern Gus and the gang, while the last six are exclusively about Clem, his adventures with his fiery mistress Isabella, and his more mundane life at home with his wife and daughter. I found the "Gang" stories a bit dull, in part because it’s hard to maintain interest in a perpetual sad sack, and that’s a pretty fair description of Gus when it comes to the ladies. The Clem stories are more interesting because Blain has more time to develop his character, who is constantly haunted by his conscience (embodied in a giant, cyclopean version of himself) while being unfaithful to his wife.

The best recommendation for Gus & His Gang is the art rather than the stories: Blain has a distinctive visual approach (he also created Isaac the Pirate and The Speed Abater, both as Christophe Blain) which suits his arch take on the western.  In this volume he favors  expressive use of color and shifts among several styles depending on context (a morphine dream sequence is not to be missed), and  every frame is well-composed: in fact, his method of storytelling is so heavily influenced by the classic "invisible" Hollywood tradition that the frames often seem to have  been sampled out of a completed film. He’s not afraid to have a succession of frames with no dialogue, either: just as in the silent movies, the visuals are sufficient to carry the plot.

Interestingly, the three primary male characters (Gus, Clem and Gratt) are more cartoonish than the female characters: Gus has a nose as long as Pinocchio after he’s told a few whoppers, Gratt has a tremendously elongated chin, and Clem looks like a Dick Tracy character with two tufts of red hair sprouting out of his head at 90-degree angles. But the women characters, although clearly differentiated, look pretty much like normal females, and quite attractive females at that, with one exception for comic relief (a version of the old Seinfeld joke in which his date looks very attractive one minute and hideous the next, depending on the light).

Further information about Gus & His Gang,  including a preview, is available from http://us.macmillan.com/gushisgang . | Sarah Boslaugh

 

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