A few weeks ago, I read a very unusual and offbeat graphic Western novel entitled "Bad Moon," by an author who calls himself King Uke. I was quite impressed by its offbeat tone and style, so when I found out that King Uke had written another such novel, "The Black Pirate," whose cover, at least, appeared to be similarly styled, and was offering it for free, I quickly added it to my Kindle list. I've now had the opportunity to read it and find that it's got the same style and appeal as its predecessor.
"Black Pirate" is a sequel to "Bad Moon," although it holds up on its own reasonably well for those who haven't read the original. Both novels are set in Mexico sometime in the 1800s and revolve around a pair of bandit brothers, Pancho and the unnamed narrator, who were separated for much of the first novel but are now reunited. The brothers are now on a quest to find the narrator's true love, Mexicali Rose, who was abducted by other bandits. The titular "Black Pirate" is Mexicali Rose herself, who, the brothers are told, has taken up a life of banditry. Along the way to find Mexicali Rose, the brothers encounter a new character, Mr. Paris, yet another bandit (Mexico was apparently full of them during this time frame). Paris used to be a hardworking farmer, but after running into financial problems following some poor harvests, the banks foreclosed. Paris then found a new line of work, robbing the same banks that took his livelihood. His exact relation to the brothers isn't made clear until the very end of "Black Pirate." By the way, that ending has a natural hook to yet another sequel, one which the author is apparently already working on.
There's very little plot to "Black Pirate" on the pages of the book itself (I could probably sum up everything that happens in about three paragraphs). However, King Uke relies upon readers' familiarity with Western conventions to fill in the details and supply the depth that a novel requires. A good example is my description of Mr. Paris in the last paragraph. Knowing about farmers and foreclosing bankers from countless other books and movies, readers can fill in the details without pages filler description. There's also more to the character of Paris than what I described here, as readers will find out as the story progresses.
The real strength of "Black Pirate" is its style and rhythm. Almost all the artwork is fairly crudely drawn black and white, with only a few bits of color thrown in for effect. It's suggestive of the sometimes harsh, sometimes mystical environment in which the book takes place. Although the artwork seems crude, it's often quite intricate with strange patterns and snippets of text and titles, sometimes in foreign languages. The overall effect is quite mystical, although, to be frank, the author overdoes it in a couple of places, resulting in panels that are real head scratchers to try to fit into the rest of the book. However, these panels are isolated, and "Black Pirate" quickly picks up its rhythm again.
Although there isn't much text in the book, King Uke (I just love saying this guy's name) lays it out slowly and deliberately. A reader could probably finish the book in five minutes, but the reader's natural tendency is to go much slower to savor the rhythm. If you'll notice, I've used the word "rhythm" several times in this review, because the book has a musical feel to it (some of the text could easily be song lyrics), and readers may well feel they are watching a deliberately timed music video of a typically sad epic ballad of the Old West. Those with good imaginations will hear a guitar playing in the background as they read the book.
In all honesty, "The Black Pirate," like "Bad Moon" before it, is not for everyone's tastes, nor even for every graphic novel lover's taste. However, the book's cover, which is prominently featured on its Amazon page, should provide readers with a good litmus test as to whether they are likely to enjoy the book. If, like me, a reader is intrigued by this style of artwork and the general storyline of the book, then the at times dark stylings of "The Black Pirate" will likely be an enlightening experience.