Today’s post is about Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios’ Pretty Deadly! As all good Westerns, warnings for blood, gore, and language. You’ll like this if you’re into Westerns, folklore, and Persephone/Hades retellings.
Plot: A man named Fox attempts to keep a young girl named Sissy safe from Death’s hunters, his backstory and Sissy’s fate be damned.
Initial thoughts: I picked up this series because earlier this year Image announced that after a long hiatus, volume two is set to release in September and because it’s a known fact that DeConnick is absolutely amazing at everything she does. I will warn you that if you’re squeamish, this is not the book for you. There is an abundance of unapologetic blood and gore, which somehow becomes a comfortable setting. If you can get over the violence, it has some amazing artwork that is absolutely crucial to the story being told.
That said, my first impression was pubic hair. Now that might be a weird thing to express joy for, but mainstream media is all about waxing body hair, especially if it is on a woman. It was refreshing to see bodies presented in a way as if they were natural, even if the hair was presented in a way that seems too tidy and hygienic for a historical western. Alas. One small bush for man, one giant step for hirsutekind.
I won’t even lie, there are parts where the narrative is downright weird, but it’s still an enjoyable ride. One of the most fascinating techniques in the story is that through the merging of storytelling and flashbacks, the audience is welcomed to interpret these two separate narratives as intermingling and symbiotic whereas the characters within the narrative are unknowing of the underlying truth. This is executed most beautiful in #3 when Fox reveals the truth of his daughter, Sissy’s appearance, and his backstory through this mixed metaphor-history-fairy tale.
Itty Bitty Research: Pretty Deadly is a fantasy-horror-western, but contemporary liberties in regard to body size and race are abundant. The artist drew a (not so) painted lady with the most realistic curves I have seen in a comic book, and there are many people of color in the book, including the main character and another prominent black woman character.
I decided to do some history on western multiculturalism since I’m not sure what that history is. Washington State University has an impressive site on the multicultural West, which leads to a number of online resources. I found the site Black Cowboys through this portal, and after reading through several of the biographies of black cowboys, I realized that black cowboys and folk have been all around the west in places such as Wyoming, Oklahoma, and Colorado long before the height of western romances. Although escaping to the North, especially Ohio or Canada, is often echoed in slavery narratives, little is said about slaves that fled to the West in order to escape the system altogether. From what I found, there is no clean cut answer to the state of slavery in the USA west due to questions of north and south boundaries from the Missouri Compromise and Mexican practice from the Wilmot Proviso. Unlike the USA East, which divided free and slave states by north and sound boundaries, the USA West was a bit more complicated. Sufficient to say, there were black people in the USA West since their inceptions as USA territories.
DeConnick personally mentions the Harlem Rattlers, so of course I had to look them up. The Harlem Rattlers were the 369th infantry unit of the USA’s army during World War I, and they were completely comprised of African-Americans. Since then the Harlem Rattlers have raked up quite the cultural legacy. Last year, NYU had a lecture on Harlem’s Rattlers and the Great War, and the page of the event gives a brief but thorough understanding of who they were and why they are significant (at least from the authors’ perspectives). There’s actually a graphic novel on the unit called called the Harlem Hellfighters, so perhaps I will have to add it to my summer reading list!
The other thing I wanted to do some preliminary research on is the relationship between the animal world and the human world. The graphic novel adopts a mythological-esque technique of the frame story through Butterfly and Bunny, a talking insect and a living carcass respectively, who are apparently telling the story of Sissy. So we have a story (Bunny’s tale of Sissy) of a story (the Mason’s tale and Sissy) of a story (what actually “happened”). I’m still not sure what the relationship of the animals to the narrative is, although there is a connection between Butterfly and Big Alice, whose form disintegrates into butterflies, but the similarities end there. In one sense, I want to say there is a narrative inversion, whereby the animals tell stories about humans as a metaphor instead of humans telling metaphorical stories through animals (a la Aesop). It’s also well known that many indigenous American tribes tell stories through animals, so perhaps that is another connection.
I decided to go the indigenous mythological route since I am a green but eager fan of mythology. This was actually the most interesting wall I hit, since I had to consider what tribe’s mythology I wanted to research. Pretty Deadly does not give us a real world setting to place it contextually, which also brings up an interesting possibility: perhaps it was simply my ethnocentrism that assumed this was a USA western. The novel has a distinct aesthetic typical of USA westerns, but it’s still an interesting thought. Anyway, I am skeptical of trusting sites that archive indigenous myths, fearing that these are stories not told by the people who tell the stories. This site seems to have stories corroborated on other sites, though I couldn’t find anything that corresponded to Butterfly or Bunny specifically. Perhaps they are more metaphorical creatures that are inspired by indigenous myths, but that is research that will have to wait for another day.
Works Cited: DeConnick, Kelly Sue, writer. Pretty Deadly v1. Art by Emma Rio. Berkley, CA: Image Comics, 2013. Print.