I don't remember exactly how I came across Chad Cavanaugh's comics and graphic novels on Instagram, but after following his career for some time I finally ordered my first Grunt 1B graphic novel- The Map, part one. Grunt 1B is his own publishing house and primarily distributes his various comic issues and graphic novels on Etsy.com. Chad Cavanaugh, a fellow Army veteran and former Tomb of the Unknown Sentinel, writes and draws each book on his own with little outside help. As a result he's able to produce stories that are uniquely his own. It's one reason I'm drawn to independent creators like Cavanaugh. These are talented people who might have gone overlooked if not for the accessibility that today's technology has afforded us. But that's an entirely different topic for another blog at another time.
There are things I enjoy a great deal and then there are things that seem to mesh into the core of my identity. I spend nights reading about them or watching videos. I'll drunkenly bring it up and rant about how great this thing is. And you better believe I'll start quoting it and using it as a reference in my jokes. Brian Herbert's Dune, Turok (the games and comics, old and new), the Metro series by Dmitry Glukhovsky, Warhammer 40,000, and others are just some such material that I've absorbed into my very being. These things are just as much a part of me as what I create.
Since reading The Map, Cavanaugh's comics have steadily eased their way into my identity. The Map kickstarted my affection for his work and Radgod certainly raised it. Dead Oro Live put the proverbial nail in that coffin. I am a huge Cavanaugh fan. While I plan to come back and review The Map and Radgod I really wanted to kick this off with the one that cemented My adoration for the worlds Cavanaugh builds. Sometimes I wonder if he has a direct line to my imagination. Every genre he's explored thus far are right up my alley. Viking era? Post apocalyptic? Western? I'm in dude. I'm definitely in. *fingers crossed he writes something with dinosaurs and chupacabras*
Dead Oro Live, a play on words, is not a typical Western. While it's been obviously inspired by spaghetti Westerns, Cavanaugh does what Stephen King did with The Gunslinger and makes a hard right into stranger frontiers. In issue 1, we're introduced to the hard salt flats of Dead Oro Live's setting with complementary hungry vultures and a cursed dying man that might foreshadow the fate of the protagonist. Our protagonist, Clebourne Scruggs, inherits an enchanted map leading to a treasure. The treasure is not what one expects but for a moment it seems like it's the solution to his problems. Its here, on the fifth page, that Cavanaugh shoves his readers into something new. Too many times I've seen writers take their love for a genre and instead of creating something I've yet to see they simply regurgitate the same old story. Not that it's bad thing. I like my standard Westerns. This however is not the case. Cavanaugh is painting a massive new style of Western in the same way Robert Rodriguez, Quintin Tarantino, and Robert Kurtzman changed their gritty crime thriller by introducing Aztec vampires in From Dusk Till Dawn.
This is hands down an tried and true origin story. Scruggs quickly becomes a force to reckon with thanks to some newfound powers. Just when he starts to really flex his abilities he's brought into check by agents working for a mysterious Mr. Gallows, who's own story is linked to the powers Scruggs discovered in the mountains. The issue ends with another dive into the bizarre as we're taken from the harsh desert to a steampunk laboratory hidden away on a ranch. Is Cavanaugh planting the seeds of a battle between science and magic? Or will he subvert expectations as he does repeatedly does in this issue.
In fact that's my biggest takeaway from reading Cavanaugh's work. You never know what you're going to get. At the start it all seems typical- the desert, the western town with its saloon, the grit, the dialogue darn tootin', and our lone antihero accompanied only by his horse. Cavanaugh knows what works. He takes you in with the familiar, makes you comfortable, and then offers up a style that is purely his own. Each inch of it, from the dialogue to the art, is inspired by something but shifted and offered up to a reader in a new way. There's also a touch of the classics in his art and panels. The way he composes a few scenes took me back to older comics (particularly the scene in which Scruggs is given his powers) and feels like a homage to Spawn and Ghost Rider comics while still managing to feel fresh.
I have no idea where Cavanaugh plans to go with Dead Oro Live. I hope the next issue follows the same formula by introducing familiar tropes and archetypes then subverting our expectations of them, while still managing to show how much this genre has influenced him in the same why things like Dune and Metro have done for me. Executed together and you get something that is wholly and purely Chad Cavanaugh. There's no filter of editors and supporting writers. This is all him. His words and his visuals. That's what makes skilled indie creators like him stand out.
Order your own copy of Dead Oro Live at https://www.etsy.com/shop/Grunt1BComics
Follow Chad Cavanaugh @: https://www.instagram.com/grunt1bcomics