Spaghetti Western

[21 December 2005]

By Stefan Robak

In the introduction to this book, Scott Morse talks of a friend’s theory that the western is a sub-genre of comedy, and that the spaghetti western is a form of screwball comedy. I’m not sure I entirely agree, but said genre can certainly be rife with both over-the-top absurdity and intensity. They take a time famous for depravity, suffering, murder and cruelty and turn it into an inviting fantasy of cool, unflappable gunslingers thriving in a landscape that would bring most men to their knees. Like the characters in this book, I’ve always preferred the spaghetti westerns to the good guy filled John Wayne flicks. I love the direction, the moral ambiguity and the characters you root for despite the fact that they were only slightly better than the bad guys. As il Vecchio says at the end of the story, “I like ‘em cause they always get the money in the end.”

Spaghetti Western begins in Small Town, USA where two men dressed as cowboys ride into town on horseback. They enter a bank and the people inside think it’s a gag. It isn’t. Soon the men (and old man called il Vecchio and a gritty Eastwood-like man named il Quattrocentista) begin to hold up the place, but soon things get out of control and il Quattrocentista has a new partner-in-crime forced upon him. Will they get the money in the end? Will everyone get out alive? And who are these mysterious bandits?

There are a lot of great and not-so-great thrillers about bank robberies gone terribly wrong, but Spaghetti Western isn’t just another “robbery gone wrong” story. It’s basically a short story that takes a page out of Sergio Leone’s book in terms of style and story telling while creating a suspenseful, tight little tale of making a fantasy come alive. The structure of the tale is a little more similar to a storyboard than a traditional comic in that it features only on panel per page, making every single page powerful and tense. The book itself also has a rectangular shape that is similar in shape to various comic strip collections. Though the shape of the book might not seem terribly important, Scott Morse cleverly uses it to enhance the “widescreen” cinematic feel of his story (which is amplified by the use of the letter box on each page).

Scott Morse’s love for the spaghetti western shines clearly in this book, and although the genre is typically a place of badass heartless killers and low lives, there is a lot of heart to be found in this book without spoiling the stories’ suspense. It’s about two men getting a last chance to be the men they’ve always fantasized about being and facing the reality of their situation, all in the form of a super-stylized western. Though the story is quite short (a lot of the pages are dedicated to simply setting the mood much in the way the Sergio Leone films did with some shots), the two cowboys are made to be very likable and intriguing despite the fact that the back story they’re given is actually quite short.

As I mentioned before, this is a rather short story both in the time it takes to read and in terms of content it is a light and simple story. But it is satisfying and clever enough that it you won’t notice (or you won’t care) that it only took about seven minutes to read. Most people know Scott Morse’s from the occasional mainstream works such as fill-in issues for Plastic Man as well as some of his promotional art. Like most, I really liked it and I heard he wrote some truly great stories, but I never really realized what Scott Morse was capable of until I read this book. Spaghetti Western is one of those great comics that comes along every once in a while that marries some great stylistic art with a compelling narrative to create something very special. It’s more than just a love letter or homage to the great westerns of yesteryear but it’s a tale that mixes action and heart (never an easy combo) gives the readers a short but very rewarding read.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/spaghetti-western/