Review: The Shaolin Cowboy: Shemp Buffet
“The Shaolin Cowboy: Shemp Buffet is an example of a storyteller at the height of his craft. Geof Darrow experiments with the versatility of the comic book format and, damn, does he have the skills to back it up.”
The Shaolin Cowboy: Shemp Buffet
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Writer and artist: Geof Darrow
Release Date: Wed, April 8, 2015
Comic books are, at their core, a marriage of pictures and words to tell a story. I won’t argue that there are a bevy examples of comics that use few to no pieces of exposition or dialogue to convey their tales, but those are few and far between. Even rarer is a comic that’s light on words and is entertaining. And, pushing out even further, even fewer creators would have the narrative acumen to pull off a largely dialogue-free comic book tale about a former monk mowing through zombie hordes, making the tale both engaging and downright sublime.
Of course, most creators aren’t Geof Darrow.
Mr. Darrow, well-deservedly, has made a name for himself in the comic book world as a creator who is as adept at building insanely-detailed worlds as he is crafting a complete narrative both cinematic and human in scope. Known for his beautiful work on such projects as Big Guy and Rusty, the Boy Robot, Doc Frankenstein, and the Matrix films, his four-issue miniseries The Shaolin Cowboy: Shemp Buffet has just been collected by Dark Horse Comics in an oversized hardcover properly benefitting the scale and scope of his art. Following the continued adventures of an unnamed Shaolin monk cast out of his monastery, the Shaolin Cowboy in Shemp Buffet spends the bulk of the tale slaughtering his way through zombies with only his fists, feet, and a double-headed chainsaw staff. Yes, you read all that correctly.
So much has been made of the sheer amount of line work that Darrow inserts into his art, and all of those accolades are well-deserved. As mentioned, the story is very easy to follow, giving readers the time to fully appreciate the gorgeous desert vistas that serve as a backdrop to the carnage taking place. And while so many of the zombies Darrow has produced seem so distinct—a feat considering the literally hundreds of those undead fellars in Shemp Buffet—I can’t rave enough about the continuity of the art and how it embellishes the storytelling. Victims of the Shaolin Cowboy are shown to have fallen where they would have from panel to panel. Darrow actually kept track of the carnage from panel to panel. When I realized that during a second reading of the book, I couldn’t wrap my head around it. The man is a genius and a craftsman.
One benefit of the minimal use of words in Shemp Buffet is that readers can more fully engage in the art, true. However, the action is so seemingly straightforward that readers do not have to worry about needless exposition, as Darrow seems to know when those words are necessary and when they just get in the way of the experience. Further, as the Shaolin Cowboy himself only says “Praise be to Buddha” throughout the course of the story, I was able to insert myself into what he might be thinking, even if my assumptions were completely off-base. In a world of zombies and a man such as the Cowboy, Darrow makes the tale at times feel strangely down-to-earth and somewhat human.
The Shaolin Cowboy: Shemp Buffet is an example of a storyteller at the height of his craft. Geof Darrow experiments with the versatility of the comic book format and, damn, does he have the skills to back it up.