Saturday, November 7, 2009

Gus & His Gang by Christophe Blain

When you think of Westerns, you don’t think of French graphic novels. However, Frenchman Christophe Blain, much better known in France but gradually gaining an audience in the United States, takes the Western and creates a wonderful tale of three bandits that both embraces the Western genre while at the same time playing with all of its tropes. Gus & His Gang follows the trio of Gus, Gratt, and Clem through 13 interconnected stories.

“Natalie”: “Natalie” kicks things off by introducing Gus, a train robber who has absolutely no problems in his robberies, but fails miserably in his attempts with women. A short intro that sets the tone for the rest of the book.

“Gus, Clem, Gratt”: Furthering the characterization of Gus, we see for the first and only time his robbery of a train, and its disastrous conclusion that ends in riches.

“El Dorado”: The longest story in the book follows the three bandits in their search for the town of El Dorado, one Gus has heard about, in which all the women are single. We are introduced to Isabella, Clem’s love interest, along with Clem’s family, and get to know a lot more about the three men who can pull off a heist without thought but are complete bunglers when it comes to the opposite sex. Humerous, if a little too long.

“Linda McCormick”: Gratt tries to disengage from Linda McCormick, the judge’s wife, but his lies keep building up and threatening to make it all fall down around him. A solid character piece for Gratt.

“Isabella”: The trio has a fancy new hideout in “Isabella,” and as Gratt and Gus turn it into a home, Clem is constantly gone with his family. The group seems to be distancing, setting up much of the rest of the plot.

“Peggy”: Gus, who hates robbing banks, is charged to set up the next bank robbery. However, a pretty teller creates a change of plans, and the group begins its separation.

“Adios”: The shortest piece, in which a bittersweet separation of friends works perfectly to take the Western mentality of a lone hero and show the loneliness of being a cowboy without friends.

“Triumph”: Clem takes center stage as he spends time with his lover in El Dorado and finds the freedom he was always searching for, all while grappling with a physical manifestation of his grief. A wonderfully unjudgmental look at one mine trying to figure out his life.

“Inger Lutz”: Clem’s wife, famous novelist of the Inger Lutz series, strikes it big, and does some soul searching of her own, while Clem struggles with his loss of freedom.

“The Famous Outlaws & Gunfighters of the West”: A short, wordless interlude that creates a switch in roles of two characters. The art takes the big role here, with a brief but fun tale.

“Frisco”: Clem remembers old times, and his melancholy fills the art and tale beautifully.

“Bank of California”: A dream achieved, and a man changed for the better.

“Handsome Outlaw”: The reuniting of two members of Gus’ gang, and a return to happiness.

From playing with allusions to pulp fiction and dime novels to overly-cartoony characters discussing the sadness of needing to grow up and take their responsibilities, Gus & His Gang never judges any of the characters, and there and no bad guys, just three men who are very good at nothing important, and who are struggling with their lives, all while keeping the tone in a shift between humor and melancholia. A wonderfully done piece that takes full advantage of what the graphic novel medium has to offer.


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