Friday, May 10, 2013

365 Comics...129: Bikini Cowboy (2012)

Originally published last year by a Californian art house boutique press (and a price that reflects it) and simultaneously published to iTunes in four parts, Bikini Cowboy recently came available through Comixology at a very reasonable $5.99 (for a 377 page book).

It's an anachronistic western with a jubilant yet badass protagonist (like an old-west nonviolent Tank Girl) who roams the desert in a bikini with a surfboard under her arm and a whip wrapped around her waist.  The bikini thing seems like a gimmick in promise but story wise it has relevance (really..its a choice the character has made, partly the byproduct of having trained with a Hawaiian sorcerer).  It also not just an abstract element of the book but quite frequently addressed by the characters around her.  The crux of the story finds Whiskey Jill taking a tween-ish orphan boy into her care as he's pursued by his nasty guardian and she's pursued by The Marshall, a violent man of God who really doesn't cotton to Jill's liberal ways.

The book makes a strong, confident protagonist out of Jill and doesn't sexualize her to any overt degree. It's partly that creator Luke Weber's cartooning style doesn't lend itself to sexiness and because I don't think it's his intent to sexualize her any more than any woman comfortably wearing a swimsuit in hot weather should appear (one scene excepted, which is young Rod's POV as he wakes to find Jill bathing in the pond before him... his first awareness of sexuality).  At the same time the men of the 1800's can't help but sexualize Jill for her not-of-the-era attire, tossing all manner of derogatory slurs her way.  Too many in fact.

Given Weber's virtually puerile illustrations it's a stark juxtaposition against the crassness of the language.  Imagine if Rango's dialogue were supplanted by Deadwood's.  It's not the only uncomfortable element to Bikini Cowboy, as Jill frequently plays into Rod's boyhood crush on her, feeling uncomfortably close to pedophilia rather than playful as I think was intended.  It's a precarious line which Jill toes too often.

Weber's an amazing draughtsman , and his pages look great. The western environment is wonderfully and richly detailed without overpowering the simplicity of his characters.  There's a bisqueness to the pacing of the book and the abundant reference to religion seem to recall Doug Ten Napel's work but Weber puts more care into his pages (TenNapel frequently works freehand and steam-of-consciousness) and Weber's view is more an indictment of religion (the worst people in this book are the Bible thumpers), instead celebrating spirituality.

It's not a perfect read but it's not devoid of charm.  Its certainly worth its modest digital price.

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