Cowboy Wally Show

Written by Kyle Baker
Illustrated by Kyle Baker
Marlowe and Co

Kyle Baker has his semi-realistic art thing going on again in this one, which is apparently something of a cult classic. It's the story of an entertainer that is really quite bad but somehow keeps getting a chance to do job after job, bouncing around just about every media gig there is. From a start on a ribald children's show (acquired by blackmail), he quickly moves to prime time variety, quiz shows, specials, his own network, the movies, and late night talk. Along the way, he seems to ruin just about everyone he comes into contact with as it all comes to a head on a very special late night episode.

Baker, a writer for TV (I was unaware of this), manages to skewer just about everything having to do with the genre, from the seemingly endless TV specials with vapid hosts to the game show regulars (Charles Nelson Riley and Jamie Farr get tweaked on the nose) to how washed up stars get new life on a talk show (Ellen, anyone, though this predates her?). His drawing style here is to focus on the headshot, probably because drawing the full girth of Wally would have bankrupted him in ink costs alone. The characters lean in, sway, swear, and weave their way through the panels with just about as much action as if they were fully drawn. It's a neat trick, actually.

There's a lot of good parody in this if you've ever paid even casual attention to the world of celebrity downfalls and rebirth. When Wally remakes Hamlet from a prison cell--he's trying to take it away from the snobs--you'll die laughing at his colloquial revision of Shakespeare's sometimes overblown play. (Hell, I think it was better than Brannaugh's!) A jump into action films and their quirks is similarly entertaining.

I think what most impressed me is Baker's comic timing. I can't say I'm a big fan of his Plastic Man, but after reading this, I can see why he got the gig. Wally and his foils banter endlessly and Wally's apparent inability to know that he's a soulless man who's shallower than the national bank reserves is written spot-on. I was a big fan of "Why I Hate Saturn" but I think this is Baker's best work I've read so far. Definitely worth grabbing.