A retiring sheriff, a small Texas town, one last case. It’s something out of a dime Western, or if you want to get more literary, a Cormac McCarthy novel. However, these are affectionate comparisons as That Texas Blood #1 is an engaging writing and line art debut for Chris Condon and Jacob Phillips, who previously colored Sean Phillips’ recent work on Criminal. The comic provides a window into 70 year old Sheriff Joe Bob’s world of Ambrose County and the relationships that he has cultivated over the decades while raising the stakes and hooking you for the next installment.
Joe Bob is an incredibly likable protagonist. He’s sweet, has a dry sense of humor, and might be a little afraid of retirement. (And by extension, death.) He reminds me a lot of my late grandfather, who was a sheriff in rural Virginia, mischaracterized as being a Texan in a true crime documentary, and even transported dangerous criminals to California. (The evidence was the throwback California Angels hat he gave me.) The unique character traits that Condon and Phillips give him like talking to his wife on the police radio instead of a cellphone, living off service station beef jerky make him three dimensional not a B-movie archetype. And the cherry on top is how open Phillips draws Joe Bob with the exception of the demented dream sequence, which is all reds and blacks. It’s safe to say that That Texas Blood is a well-colored comic.
With the exception of an extended and slightly fucked up anecdote that adds a darker shade to Joe Bob’s character, Chris Condon doesn’t make the “first published comic book script” mistake and finds a balance with Jacob Phillips’ visuals. His dialogue is natural and captures the mood of each scene from the easy banter of Joe Bob and the gas station clerk to the off-panel domestic conflict between Ruth and Ray with the walls of their house hiding Ray’s abuse, but the beer cans outside revealing his alcoholism. Even though That Texas Blood gets exciting and lives up to its title towards the end, Condon and Phillips are more concerned with creating an atmosphere. This is a slow-paced world where a sheriff can clog up the police walkie talkie with birthday party planning and seamlessly incorporate. However, like that Yankee singer Springsteen one said, “There’s a darkness on the edge of town”, and Phillips handles it masterfully with slightly out of frame shots of newspapers in the opening sequence of the comic before exploding in the flashback and at the end of the comic.
Speaking of the opening scene of That Texas Blood #1, Chris Condon and Jacob Phillips are remarkably economic and using seven panels to set up both their protagonist, Joe Bob, and the setting of Ambrose County. It’s a quiet place with muted colors although the orange sky is a few shades away from blood and could be connected to the “nightmare” that Condon mentions in the narration. The book walks a tight rope between domestic tranquility and unrestrained violence with the plot edging a little bit more towards the tranquility in the early going. They create an emotional connection between the reader and Joe Bob, his town, and good sense of morals. (So far.) However, that could all be coming down.
That Texas Blood #1 is a fantastic debut crime comic from Chris Condon and Jacob Phillips. Phillips’ art and colors are stylish and add extra feeling and tension to Condon’s script. Together, they craft a world and protagonist that I want to know more about, and that’s what you want out of a first issue. And as a cherry on top, they turn the casserole dish, which is ubiquitous in Southern culture, into an amazing MacGuffin.
Story: Chris Condon Art: Jacob Phillips
Story: 8.0 Art: 9.0 Overall: 8.5 Recommendation: Buy
Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review
Purchase: comiXology – Kindle – Zeus Comics