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Gus [Paperback]

Chris Blain

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Book Description

21 Nov 2008
In Gus, Blain plays on every trope of the classic Western. Perfectly blending caricature and cinematic pacing, humor and high-octane action, he delivers an exuberant graphic novel ode to men and women chasing each other, and to the bonds of friendship that tie together three unforgettable cowboys.

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Review in Publisher’s Weekly

What is it about the French and their interest in the western genre?  Generally, it’s a good mix, and often a great mix.  This book is the latter.  Cowboy Gus and his gang rollick though 13 interconnected stories, serial reels of sorts.  Gus and his two buddies are on the lam, but none can stand to be away from women – any and all women – so they all sneak off to town and find themselves on the run from both the law and their girls.  Blain’s drawing line is expressive and full of life, and the eight-panel structure reins in his loose style to great, calming effect.  This one-two punch of all-out energy and rigid formalism hurtles the reader through the stories, which often veer into romance, as Gus’s entourage takes turn bedding tough frontier women and hiding out from the law.  The most interesting flip comes at the end when one of Gus’s outlaw cohorts, Clem, begins to naviga

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Way more enjoyable than I expected it to be 15 Jan 2009
By GraphicNovelReporter.com - Published on Amazon.com
When you crack open a book about a villainous gang of gunfighters, you usually expect a good deal of gun violence, detailed and circuitous plans to rob trains, and more than a little übermasculine, drinking-from-a-dirty-glass charm. Chris Blain's Gus and His Gang subverts all of these expectations, instead giving us a sex-filled ballad in the visual vein of Krazy Kat's George Herriman. There's hardly a page that goes by in which one of our outlaws isn't obsessing over a femme du jour or making an epic journey in the hopes of getting a little action.

This might sound like the potential for outrageous comedy, but much like the clichés of the Old West, Blain subverts even this potential for zany misadventures and blundered capers, and every robbery is carried out perfectly, leaving the three outlaws just a little bit jaded. Somehow, as the disjointed scenes from the lives of these cowboys progress, it all becomes very absorbing--even when the titular Gus disappears halfway through the book, never to return. Things begin to coalesce into a continuing narrative, and it all starts painting a broader picture. These are not disposable comic characters, even if their exaggerated noses and floppy arms suggest otherwise.

After Gus vanishes, the book takes a decidedly even less amusing turn as it starts to explore the life of outlaw Clem, who is a married man with an adorable daughter (whose rare appearances are a highlight of the book). Unfortunately, Clem also happens to be madly in love with a vibrant and mysterious redhead, and he's racked with a huge, cyclopean monster of guilt that follows him around. The whole thing finishes quietly and without a typical resolution, which leaves me hoping that Blain will scribble out some more casually awesome pages to continue the unfinished sagas of the likeable outlaws.

Blain's art is deceptive. At first glance, it's scribbly and exceedingly loose, and details nervously shift from panel to panel, but it all adds to the very emotive, very kinetic nature of the fast-paced stories--and even when Blain's stories are slow tales of romance, he seems to drop huge swaths of panels to give the reader only the barest amount of information to unite subsequent scenes, effectively speeding up the viewing process to a breakneck pace. The combinations of colors and expert arrangements of characters and landscapes in regular and irregular panels draws you into a completely realized (however bizarre) universe. Every panel creates a deep sense of atmosphere.

It's an adult comic, though, with a few scenes of explicit cartoon sex, profanity, and surprisingly little gun violence. Bank robberies are usually executed between panels, so all of the missing violence is replaced in full with sexual pursuits and actions.

And overall, Gus and His Gang is way more enjoyable than I expected it to be. I came away from it feeling as though I learned to appreciate the art form more, and that's a unique gift.

-- Collin David
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I couldn't stop thinking about this book for days after reading it 12 Sep 2009
By Benjamin White - Published on Amazon.com
Until I was eight, I lived in Arizona and New Mexico, living for most of that time on an Apache reservation. When my family moved to the East Coast, being from the West became an indelible part of my identity. The red-and-ochre palette of that place, its history, the sense of wildness and illimitable space, became larger than life to me.

And so it is with Gus and His Gang. Blain's is no historical account, but one of our collective perception of an era. The fact that he is French seems to in fact help his interpretation of a theme and archetype that is quintessentially American, to put it mildly, perhaps because it can be easier to see and interpret an entire picture from farther away. His landscapes are as much from our imagination of the West as a photo reference book, there are entire bustling desert towns that one must be "in the know" to be aware of, and our protagonists commit enough bank robberies, train heists, and various other felonies to make any real-life historical outlaw look like a pubescent graffiti artist bound for a month's stint in juvie. No place of my childhood really looked like a place in this book, but it all still feels right. This book captures a sort of "ecstatic truth" about the West, the geometry of real places and human actions distilled into how we feel it was, rather than how it actually was.

And yet, as another reviewer notes, genre cliches are turned on their heads at ever turn. The heists and thefts are not bungled, but flawless. On the other hand, as often as not their attempts at barroom romance are as awkward and ham-handed as your or mine, possibly worse. The genuine doubt, insecurity, and self-loathing these characters is palpable and convincing. Even in the brief vignettes that make up this book, even amidst the not-breaking-a-sweat-while-killing-twenty-dudes shootouts, these characters come to be more fleshed-out, more defined by true human motivations and character (with all the greatness and flaws that entails) than in most all given novels you could pick up off the shelf. Giant floppy noses and all. If you're at all interested in dynamic, pitch-perfect art (that I totally want to rip off), well-rendered characters, and the idea of the zeitgeist or collective memory, this book is for you.

And most importantly? It's just a damn fun read.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A major, unique work of art... 18 Nov 2008
By Cap'n Howdy - Published on Amazon.com
A quiet, beautiful book that (judging from the lack of reviews) deserves a bigger audience, though I'm not sure how most Americans will take to this decidedly European interpretation of their western folklore. This work manages to combine Sergio Leone and Ingrid Bergman with a bit of Richard Linklater and Jim Jarmusch. The gorgeous artwork reminds me of Harvey Kurtzman mixed with political cartoonist Pat Oliphant(!). What do you get after combining all these disparate elements? A completely original, haunting piece of art that stays with you. There are panels in this book that could be hung in an art museum, and sequences that every storyboard artist should study.

The story meanders a bit, and one wonders why the book wasn't called "Clem and his Gang" since Gus seems to disappear about halfway through, but there is supposedly a second volume coming, which will hopefully tie together the several loose ends. If you stick with it, you will (hopefully, like me) look forward to reading about these fully-developed characters in the future.

If you are open to new experiences in the ever-expanding world of comic art, I heartily recommend this book.
5.0 out of 5 stars Chris Blain: Genius 14 Sep 2014
By Josue Chaves - Published on Amazon.com
Verified Purchase
Can't wait for a second volume. Gus is a story about adult relationships disgused as a humorous western. Better than most american comics these days, you won't be able to put this book down.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gus, Clem and Gratt 28 Nov 2008
By Tim Lasiuta - Published on Amazon.com
The American west may have been like this: friendship that lasts through years of robbery, romance, and just plain surviving. Conversely, this might have been the west 'experience' for Chris Blain, if he were to have lived in the time period of aggressive expansion.

Whether it is 'realistic', or fantastic, it is one thing. "Gus and His Gang" is an enjoyable, romp from start to finish. Gus, Clem, and Gratt are friends through robbery and lull. Run out of cash, hit a bank, or shop. Repeat as often as necessary. Gus and Gratt are single, and on their time 'off' the run, they spend their time in towns enjoying their pleasures after time on the trail. Clem, though married, finds a woman one night and spends the next years in discreet rendezvous. The three live life to the full, and with humor born out of hours on the trail, experience life on the fly.

The art is charming, and Chris' west is wide open and full of characters you might find in a Tumbleweeds strip. The towns are lively, and their banks full. Blain gives us a visual feast that is only mising a sound track by the Sons of the Pioneers.

If I could have one criticism of the book, it is that it reflects a sexuality that seems out of place. Perhaps I have read one too many books that mirror a Victorian attitude towards sex. Either way, consider "Gus" the next time you curl up on your couch with a hankering for the west.


Tim Lasiuta
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