Joe R. Lansdale has quite the list of credits: 47 novels, two articles, 26 stories, 29 collections, 10 pamphlets, 79 comics, one script, one interview, 15 books edited, and more. His work ranges from western to horror to mystery to sci-fi and onward. A lot of features in his writing include ironic and just plain odd situations that make for really interesting reads. He has won numerous awards for his writing, and is hands down one of my favorite writers, if only for his versatility.
Red Range was initially published back in 1999 through Mojo Press. Its disturbing imagery, blatant racism, and sheer violence represented post-Civil War America, and do the same for the 21st century. Lansdale published stories like these in a multitude of mediums and genres. This revamped western graphic novel takes concepts that seem outdated and reminds us that they never left, but were just placed on the backburner for a while.
The themes present in the almost 20-year-old graphic novel are just as relevant today as they were back when it was released. Non-Christians, minorities, women, the LGBTQIAPD community, and so many more are just as ostracized today as they were those 20 years ago. As unfortunate as it is to say, it’s the truth.
None of the original story or art has been changed, but content and color have been added to the book to make it more modern. An introduction by Richard Klaw and an afterword by Stephen R. Bissette present a lot of background information about the author and artist, so as to give us any information we may need about the time period when Red Range first came out. We also get a small back story that was featured in Wild West Show (1996).
The story in this graphic novel is one that leaves a haunting impression on the reader(s). Centered on the extremism of white supremacy and the concept of racism overall, the Red Mask and a boy he saved from the KKK, Turon, partner up. Batiste, head of the white supremacists, leads a group of men to chase after them. The graphic novel tells of the chase and their experiences therein, varying from native clans to dinosaurs.
The language in this book makes it clear that it isn’t meant for kids. If you’re easily offended, it’s probably best not to read this book. But if you can handle reading some horribly stereotypical and insulting language, this book presents a blunt look into racism in the western genre that is both eye-opening and rewarding to the reader(s).
I might go as far as to say that there is an overuse of a certain racist word, but I think that’s the point—to show how normal it was to throw these words around all willy nilly. This goes hand-in-hand with the abundance of violence in the book, from shooting to burning to hanging to crucifixion. This is some of the most disturbing material I’ve read in a while, and it certainly gets the point across.
It isn’t hard to see where the western genre comes into play. With “Black Westerns” on screens from the early 1920s (The Crimson Skull, The Bull-Dogger), it was a hot commodity. The idea of dinosaurs in the American west, too, takes us back to the “Wild West era.” Cowboys and dinos were thrown together in tons of comics in the Golden Age. The dinosaurs stand out, yeah, but they fit comfortably into the pacing and overall absurdity of a hyperbolized storyline like this one.
Glanzman’s work goes back to the Golden Age. He is probably best known for Hercules (Charlton Comics) and his biographical stories about his time spent on the U.S.S. Stevens. He has worked for Marvel, DC, Charlton, and more. After his time in the military during World War II, he got back to art around 1950.
The illustrations in this graphic novel are detailed enough to include small nuances like facial hair and wrinkled clothing, but animated enough to not overwhelm us with the realism that is present in the writing. Still, he graphically gives us some unsettling panels of torture and violence—enough to turn anyone’s stomach even in the least bit. His characters are very emotive, and show movement clearly and swiftly. This contributes a lot to the overall pacing of the book.
The realistic colors that have been added to this revamped version of Red Range make it look all the more relatable. Yeah, we’re in the old west, but the characters are lifelike enough that we can make connections between them and our current modern society. With Trump’s administration, the Black Lives Matter Movement, Pride Month, and more, this graphic novel has never been so appropriate.
This is a harrowing commentary on inequality and a stern examination of 2017 American humanity, which says a lot, seeing as it was published almost two decades ago. Lansdale and Glanzman take a close look at sociocultural America and bring it to a medium that emphasizes its flaws and issues. Red Range isn’t something you want to miss out on.
Written by: Joe R. Lansdale
Illustrated by: Sam J. Glanzman