Showing posts with label Weird Western. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Weird Western. Show all posts

Monday, 2 July 2012

On "El Bigote" by Matthew McLaughlin & El Chivo, And The Dilemmas Of Reviewing Comics By Friends

     

In which the blogger wrestles with the problems of reviewing a friend's self-published comic;

I've not been dreading the arrival of writer Matthew McLaughlin and artist El Chivo's El Bigote. "Dread" wouldn't be the right word at all. I've certainly been curious to see what Matthew's come up with, and I've always had every faith that his latest project would end up being at the very least interesting. But then, interesting is one of those shameful, get-out-of-jail catch-alls that the conflict-averse, report-writing teacher quickly becomes dependent upon. If you want to avoid obscuring a measure of promise with a reference to a genuine shortfall in achievement, then interesting rather than could-do-better is the word to grasp for.

And I don't want to be damning anybody's work with the likes of interesting.


For the crux of the problem is that I both like Matthew and owe him a debt of gratitude, which makes the prospect of reading his work one which leaves me feeling distinctly uneasy. In my very earliest days of blogging, when I'd succeeded in putting my well-meaning and hell-pointing feet into a mine-field of reader-alienating fusses, Matthew, along with the estimable Brigonos and the splendid Emperor, refused to hold my inept attempts at criticism against me. The kindness of strangers is never something that ought to be taken lightly, as I'm sure you'd agree, but the fraternal warmth which that inspires sits badly with the obligation to review as honestly as possible. Favouritism is as slimy a business as ingratitude.

So, yes, there was an element of dread involved in the reading of the "0" issue of El Bigote that Matthew sent to me. Thankfully, recommending it to you is as easy as suggesting that there's a great noise of a garage band worth catching on a Friday night in the back room of a local pub. It's loud, it's fast, it's fearsomely energetic and it has a clear sense of purpose which leaves a great deal of far more technically adept work seeming flaccid and irrelevant. None of which is to say that it doesn't have a tendency to hit the comic-book equivalent of sharp notes and inadvertent lurches in tempo, but in many ways, that's part of the C-Movie tumult of it all. In short, El Bigote delivers a charge of unpretentiously good fun. As such, and I say this with the conviction of a bloke who'd have just quietly not reviewed the book if he'd thought otherwise, I recommend its sinful, enthusiastically imperfect soul to you.

      
McLaughlin's (*1) set his absurd weird-western in a mashup of a 19th century afterworld in which the bad-guys and worse-guys of the spaghetti western collide with whatever playfully ridiculous parody of pulp-Mexican culture he cares to devise. It's a world well-caught in the very first panel of A Tequila-Drenched Reckoning, in which El Bigote rides into a desert village at night upon his trusty giant ostrich. Cacti to the right of him, church before him, graveyard to the left, a skull-shaped congregation of clouds looking down; it's a statement of intent which sums up exactly what the comic is and what it intends to do. There will be showdowns between undead factions in bar-rooms, there will be fearsome threats and laughably faux-appalling tortures, there will be tiny end-of-the-line desert towns infested with impossibly evil reprobates, and there will be a fascination for as much out-there violence and farcically straight-faced machismo as the page will bear.

Or, if El Bigote were a property to be marketed to film production houses, then its high concept tagline might well be whittled down to The Goon crossed with Jonah Hex.

*1:- "Matthew's" my mate. "McLaughlin’s" this other bloke who wrote a self-published comic book. Same person, different aspects.

         

But the script quite deliberately shifts a huge degree of responsibility onto the shoulders of artistic collaborator, El Chivo. McLaughlin's work has always tended towards the sparse and action-centric, and in El Bigote, there's little of the likes of character or emotion or sub-text to flesh out the work. It's an essentially one-note, smart-minded rush that's no less and no more than an imaginative and hyper-violent farce. El Chivo's artwork undoubtedly brings both kineticism and atmosphere to the page, and his character designs in particular are clear, amusing and memorable. But he doesn't as yet have the chops to carry El Bigote even into the periphery of comicbook's prime time, and indeed his pages seem to suffer in quality as the tale continues. For all that the work's wholehearted and entertaining, it lacks the clarity that a greater control of anatomy and perspective would bring. The pages are incontestably fun, but McLaughlin's already left the reader with the challenge of an entirely unfamiliar setting, a cast that's new to the page, and a mass of read-it-through-again cod-Spanish dialogue. Because of that, the pages of El Bigote really would have benefited from a greater measure of clarity to ground all that invention and enthusiasm on the part of both creators. Without that, all the unexplained set-up and by-necessity barely-sketched-in backstory starts to distract when it should be easily skirted over with the momentum of it all..

The splendid Shaky Kane cover for El Bigote's next issue.

Yet I can't help but think that if John Peel had received the 7-inch equivalent of El Bigote, then he'd not have hesitated to play it on the air. It might not be the finished item, and it may be a measure of a hop and skip and a jump away from being so, but its virtues aren't cancelled out by its limitations. It's imaginative, vigorous and, quite frankly, a real good laugh. The premise is idiosyncratic, the world-building is intriguing, and El Bigote himself has the air of an anti-hero who could carry a title for years once the development hell of it all is ironed out. Let me put it this way; there's an undead gunfighter with a super-powered 'tache who rides on a giant ostrich while hunting supernatural killers. It's a Cramps lyric brought to life, and I suspect that it's an idea with some serious legs too. It's certainly easy to see why Shaky Kane, of Bulletproof Coffin fame, has provided a cover for El Bigote's next issue. There are good things happening here.

You should consider getting in on the ground floor.

Those curious about El Brigote, and I do hope there'll be a couple of you, can find out more here and here, or e-mail Matthew at elbigotequillpower@gmail.com. You might even want to catch him for a moment at San Diego in just a breath or two's time. Why not?

Tomorrow there'll be a post on Timothy Truman's Hawkworld, and there'll be another self-published comic discussed here in the next seven days or so.

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