No Sophomore Slump : Evan Salazar’s “Rodeo Comics” #2

Back when albums were a thing, many a band or artist struggled with the so-called “difficult second album,” but such a concept applies to other mediums, as well — including, of course, comics. It’s much harder to make an impactful “splash” when people see you coming and when they, to one degree or another, sort of know what to expect. Deliver on that expectation, and you’re accused of playing it safe; deviate from it, and you’re accused of getting too big for your britches too quickly and abandoning whatever it was that made you successful in the first place. You just can’t win.

Evan Salazar, for his part, has chosen the “more of the same” route for Rodeo Comics #2, but not necessarily done in the same way : for one thing, the MICE Mini-Grant he received has gone into upping the production values of his self-published comic considerably, the old mini-comics format giving way this time out for a full-sized comic with heavy cardstock covers and a mini insert mocked up to look like the check-out card of a library book; and for another, he’s chosen to zero in on what worked so well in issue #1 and ride that for all it’s worth — which, as it turns out, is quite a bit. Yes, the excitement of the new is gone here — Salazar isn’t coming at us from out of left field anymore — but he’s certainly not resting on his laurels, either, and that’s precisely what makes for a good second issue.

And so, while she was forced to split time in #1, this book (barring a charming enough but frankly insubstantial two-page backup strip) is essentially the Abigail Knox show all the way, with the precocious college student chasing down a mystery in her family tree that may be a foundational root, or may just be a dead limb. Salazar plays his answers close to the vest — in fact, depending on how and where things go from here, it’s entirely possible there could be a few other twists and turns in store down the road — in “The Smoky Noon,” and while the drama is externalized outside Abigail’s parents’ home in contrast to the internalized one that played out in the debut issue, it’s no less compelling for that fact, and giving our admirably intrepid young Ms. Knox a few more pages allows her story to breathe a bit more and play out at an unforced clip. A lot still happens, that’s for sure, but the pacing here is conducive to the task of imparting just enough information in well-timed snippets to keep the reader’s attention thoroughly fixated upon the proceedings throughout. All of which, I suppose, is an overly-pretentious way of saying that this comic? It’s a real page-turner.

The larger physical dimensions of the book likewise give Salazar’s cartooning a bit more real estate to spread out in, and the results are impressive : it’s not a stylistic quantum leap forward from #1, but there is some refinement on display here is the form of tighter and more defined figure drawings that still evoke a classical “cartoonish” sensibility, a bit more attention paid to well-placed backgrounds, and some nifty shading techniques that even include, if I’m not very much mistaken, a couple of washes here and there. It’s a good-looking comic, with the space to strut its stuff that it needs while still eschewing overt flashiness or forced stylization. Focus on what you do well, and continue to do better at it — that’s the philosophy at work here.

All of which, while complimentary, may nonetheless give the impression that this isn’t a particularly adventurous comic, narratively or aesthetically. The strange thig is, I certainly didn’t get that feeling reading it, and if the proof is in the pudding, then that’s really all the proof I need right there. Salazar is building a long-form story here, and doing so in a manner that entrenches the idea of what sort of comic he likes to make (and, crucially, is damn good at making) without sacrificing the all-important element of surprise. It’s one thing to surpass expectations as a newbie, quite another to manage to still do so an an established talent. Both are challenging enough in and of themselves in different respects, and both are challenges Salazar has passed with flying colors.

If Rodeo #1 served as the announcement of a major new creative force on the comics scene, then Rodeo #2 announces that said major new creative force is in it for the long haul. To warp the comic’s title into a pained metaphor, Salazar roped us by the horns last time out, and now he’s pulling us in.

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Rodeo Comics #2 is available for $6.00 directly from Evan Salazar at https://rodeocomics.storenvy.com/products/31130743-rodeo-2

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