Small Press Spotlight: Tall Tales From the Badlands
Tall Tales From the Badlands is a three issue anthology of stories that take place in the Old West and published by Black Jack Press. Each issue is comprised of five vignettes drawn in black and white, all by different artists.
Issue #1 starts with “Thicker Than Water,” a story that puts emphasis on family being the most important thing we have, no matter the circumstance. “Abigail” shows us that even the women are tough on the frontier, but that doesn’t mean they all have to sling guns. “The Runt” proves once and for all that dog really is man’s best friend. “A Thousand Deaths” is one man’s meditation on gun fights as he tries to find meaning in killing an endless parade of opponents. Finally, “Easy Livin'” is a survival story that pokes fun at the idea of modern convenience. All five stories play with themes that are common in classic westerns: revenge, betrayal, surviving in a harsh environment, and trying to figure out if the hard choice is the right one. The art is mostly sparse, like an Arizona desert, and rough around the edges like a grizzled cowboy. Nearly all the stories are told in high contrast black and white, emphasizing light and shadow. Lisandro Estherren’s art, especially, makes use of silhouettes and almost feels like a story out of Sin City. The final story in this collection is the one that favors a much heavier use of gray scale and shading to denote time of day, and really stands out from the rest visually.
Issue #2 leads off with “A Nation of Laws” in which a sheriff discovers what happens when he decides to put faith in the judicial system. “The Great Wall” looks at America’s past and how important it was for the country to be joined together as a whole. In “Paw” we find out how far a family member is willing to go for revenge. “The Fastest Way From Here To There” is a silent story that follows a wild horse that is caught and passed from one owner to the next until it is free to roam wild once more. The title of “The Inside Man” is pretty self explanatory when you realize it refers to a train heist. The second issue continues the trend of delving into classic Western themes, this time examining ideas like frontier justice and racial integration. While none of the artists from the first issue return, this issue is visually consistent with the first. The one exception being Carlos Trigo’s art on “Paw”. It is much more stylized than the other artists’ with an almost cartoony feel.
Issue #3 begins with “The Judgement of the People” exemplifies the adage, “Judge not lest ye be judged”. We discover in “Apologies” that sometimes saying you’re sorry isn’t enough, no matter how many times you say it. “Rustlers” gives a unique solution to the problem of thieves that may just work too well. “All Mine” shows the length one man is willing to go to keep his property. The issue comes to and end with “Where the Heart Is” which debates the merits of city living over the hardships of living on the frontier. By this point in the series, the black and white art seems familiar, though this issue in particular seems to have the most varied art styles.
While all of the stories in this anthology are solid, some are better than others. I think my favorites are the ones with the twist endings that actually caught me off guard, and yes, there are some twists but it’s best not to look for them. Just let them happen naturally. The art really seems to fit the stories, though some of it is a little too gritty and less detailed than I tend to like. As a whole, Tall Tales From the Badlands is enjoyable, but will probably be much more enjoyable for die hard Western fans.
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