Thursday, July 10, 2014

Talking Westerns with Beau Smith

A few weeks ago, I hosted a roundtable interview here about writing Westerns. Well, the master of them, Beau Smith, was unable to take part, but he did shoot me some words of wisdom about the genre, and I figured I'd share those with you hombres now. So, listen up, ya hear?

What is it about the Western genre that drew you to it as a creative person?

The western genre has been ingrained in me since childhood.  When I was very young, westerns were THE genre on TV as well as film.  It was the Go-To place for a male audience no matter what the age. Like comic books, I was drawn to westerns by powers I couldn’t control.  I studied the history of the old west from childhood on to the present. A part of what has always appealed to me was the mythological old west had a true code, almost black and white. Like the bible, it was true good vs true evil. At least that’s the way the mythological west that we’ve created has been.  The true historical west was a little more complicated, like today, with politics, alliances, and a gray area that had people jumping from the law & order side of the fence to that of the outlaw and back on a regular basis. I’ve always been drawn to do my best to combine the myth and the fact to make the genre even more entertaining.  I love doing research and this way I can have the best of both worlds when it comes to creating a western.

What are the key
elements of an
effective Western story?

Likable characters.  Even the bad guys have to have some sort of likability or you can’t get riled up enough to really hate them, if that makes sense.  It’s not so much a character is bad , but they have made bad choices and are good with doing so.  THAT makes them a bad guy.  A good guy wants and is driven to do what’s right.  He may have to bend the moral rules a bit, but he knows where to back off and not break them completely.  A bad guy will do this and know that he is doing it. You also must have a compelling situation to put these characters in so that the reader’s emotional investment in the characters wlll be sustained and paid off to the end of the conflict.

Is there really any hope at making the Western story popular again, or has the world moved on?

I can’t really say that the western will ever see the same kind of popularity it did when I was growing up, at least not in my lifetime.  I’d love to be surprised, but the chances are slim. I think there will always be westerns because they are our country’s mythology.  The western theme that I mentioned above will always show up in other stories and genres, be they sci-fi, horror, crime and even straight drama.  So in a way, the western will always be with us.  That’s better than not having it at all.  With my 200 PEOPLE TO KILL that I’m doing at Dark Horse Comics, I hope to give the readers their needed fix of a western from what I think is a most interesting time in the west, 1917.  You have all the change to modern technology, airplanes, gas bombs, machine guns and changing politics conflicting with the old ways of the west.  I can’t think of a more interesting story telling landscape.

For more info about Beau and his work go to: