This post originally appeared at The Panelists on January 13, 2011.
This panel from Blueberry: The Outlaw is certainly a dramatic, dark and moody, well-crafted image. The panel suggests a whole story surrounding it, a previous moment, a next moment. Alone it offers all sorts of possibilities and questions. Who is this figure on horseback? Why is he approaching that run-down gothic house which seems so out of place amongst the empty landscape that surrounds it? Who lives/lived in that house and what will the rider find when he gets there?
A certain strangeness infuses the scene. The odd house evokes a horror setting (not just for the Psycho reference which I never would have noticed if Craig hadn’t mentioned it). Is this the start of a ghost story? Lightning flashes in the background, illuminating the hills in white, a line that cuts across the panel. The style is realistic: proportioned figures (human and equine) and background, shadowing and texture that attempts to replicate some sense of reality. Yet, as we look closer, we can see rain falling on the roof of the building in the foreground and dripping over its edge. The rain doesn’t fall anywhere else. There is no indication of water anywhere else. The rain adds to the dramatic almost clichéd mood, yet it is also at odds with the stylistic realism. The colors too (done by the artist himself, I feel I should note) work both for the mood and against the realism. The monochromatic blue is perfect for a nighttime scene with that single spot of yellow to draw the eye and generate some plot-based tension.
This panel made me want to read the rest of the story, and it provides a lesson in taking the part for the whole. The drama that this panel evokes, the gothic horror, the mystery, begins and ends on one page. It starts with this panel and is deflated with the turn of the page. There is no real mystery, there is no real surprise. I tried to read the story, really, but… I couldn’t get through it. I’ve had this growing interest in westerns over the recent past, mostly films, finding examples that are more than just rote genre exercises. I’ve wondered about western comics, a genre that seems to have mostly disappeared. Many westerns are about individual heroes, and all the western comics I can think of are, from those based on tv/film stars (Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Johnny Mack Brown) to those that seem are more superhero-esque (Blueberry, Jonah Hex, Rawhide Kid).
I realize now that what I like in the westerns I enjoy most is not the wandering gunfighter, the “man with no name” type, but the clash of characters and society, of society forming in a chaotic (if not lawless) setting, and characters fighting with and against their own desires and that of others: Deadwood, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence, Johnny Guitar, Canyon Passage, Stage Coach.
I, for one, am glad Jean Giraud became Moebius, as the latter’s work is, to me, more interesting.
A few comments from the original post at The Panelists: