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honky tonk sue 1
excellent writing
exceptional art
historical bonus 2
total score 8
Honkytonk Sue #1
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Only Printing / February, 1979 / 76 pages / Bob Boze Bell
"The Queen of Country Swing" was drawn and written by Bob Boze Bell, who self-published four memorable issues of Honkytonk Sue. The first issue runs 72 pages and the artwork is rather different from most undergrounds, with its painterly style and multiple washes. The skin tones, backgrounds and highlights in some of the panels appear a bit dark, making me wonder if the work was originally painted in color, but the quality of the work remains self-evident. Subsequent issues had cleaner and brighter production work, but the "dirty mood" of the first issue only lends additional charm to the proceedings, in my opinion. Less forgiveable is the layout of the panels and printing of the interior pages, which often cuts off parts of the artwork, but I'm quibbling about a self-published book in the '70s.

Honkytonk Sue
#1 opens inside an isolated honkytonk in the Southwest called the Heatwave Cafe, where a country band is rockin' and Honkytonk Sue is dancin', like she does every night. Bell narrates several pages, 'splaining the nature of honkytonks and the folks who inhabit them. Lotta dusty cowpokes and smoky-voiced women lookin' for romance, but most don't find nothin' but one night of knockin' boots. Course, Sue is quite particular, and even when it seems like Mr. Right has walked into her life, she's the one who's gonna be breakin' hearts.

After we get the lay of the land, Bell takes Sue and her rotund pal Donna Jean to a discotheque to get a gander at this new-fangled disco craze. Sue is unimpressed by the dancing (as well as the men) and ends up kicking John Travolta's ass in a quick competition on the dance floor. Donna Jean and Sue head back to their honkytonk, but when some assholes make fun of Donna Jean's extra weight, Sue has to teach 'em a lesson in a hilarious encounter.

Donna Jean is so embarrassed by the incident, she hides in her trailer for days, but Sue ain't gonna put up with that kind of fussiness. A couple days later, she takes Donna Jean to the Flying A Cafe and has her pick out a man she'd like to be with. Donna Jean's all worried that the guy won't like her, but Sue already has a plan for that. Let's just say Donna Jean ends up having the night of her life.

After 48 pages of Honkytonk Sue, Bell gives us about 20 pages of other comics, mostly featuring "The Doperoper," who appears to be the finest calf roper in the Southwest. Not only does he rope three calves in less than six seconds, but he tops it off by roping seven drug smugglers in a parched desert.

Despite the minor production and layout issues, Honkytonk Sue #1 is a funny and entertaining comic book and sets the stage for even wilder stories in future issues. Not only does Bell draw quite well, but he has a keen ear for dialog too, and pretty soon yer feelin' lak you shud be talkin' lak sum ah them gud ol' boys in th' honkytonks.

Bell wrote a short blog about self-publishing Honkytonk Sue #1 on the True West blog site and it's worth a read. It even gives a couple clues about the production issues; namely, that Bell himself produced the camera-ready artwork with photomechanical transfers (PMTs) he shot himself. I've shot a few thousand of those myself back in the day and though it isn't rocket science, it's not that hard to end up with crap. But Bell's a smart guy, so there may have been other issues he and/or the printers were dealing with. And it's not like the end result is that bad.

It should also be noted that Bell is a very talented and prolific painter and illustrator. Yes, that is evident in the comic books, but the stuff he did in the years that followed is really terrific. And the color illustrations he did for the covers of Honkytonk Sue are pretty good, but not nearly as nice as the artwork he produced later. He talks about his early life and career and his approach to drawing and painting in a funny, self-deprecating TV interview he did in 2011, which is also worth watching to discover what a nice guy he appears to be.
Bob Boze Bell printed approximately 5,000 copies of this comic book. It has not been reprinted.
Bob Boze Bell - 1, 3-71, 76
Sandy Lovejoy - 3 (quote)
Dan Harshberger - 74 (text)