A realtor from Florida collects stories from his clients and it inspires Cocaine Cowboys, a book that’s part 80s drug-running tale and part coming-of-age. A lot of it might be real, too. As the book begins, writer T. Thomas Saunders states it plainly: “This is a work of fiction. That being said, there is a hell of a lot of truth in it if you know where to look.” And the reality is that Saunders specialized in selling ranches in the Lakeland area of Central Florida. So he met a lot of ranch owners who knew previous owners who knew owners before them. And stories survived the years in a truncated form of folklore. Saunders took what he knew and turned into something new. But it’s also something old. A gritty first step into life in the Sunshine State during the decade of decadence.
Written by T. Thomas Saunders
Art by William R. Liberto
Colors by Hank Jones
Letters by Micah Myers
Edits by Jessica Rossana
Consultant by Marco Lopez
Cover Art by Aaron Conley
Cocaine Cowboys is a solid first story from someone who doesn’t write comic books for a living. There’s great patience in the story as it builds and reveals. And Saunders pulls no punches when it comes to the violence of the era.
Saunders said about the book “The Cocaine Cowboys story ends in death and chaos, and I chose to write it that way because the real-life story ended and everyone is either dead or in jail.” The first book indeed ends with a head-spinning twist full of carnage and broken realities.
If there is one weak point to the story, it does include the ending which feels a bit rushed. The twist works but feels a bit easy. The character and his decision feel a bit too contrived and less conveyed through a story arc. However, the big twist is brilliantly done by both the writing and artwork, exemplifying the right touch of both. All it needs is a little more setup earlier on to drive it home.
Overall, the writing has a gritty vibe that carries readers from one page to the next. Saunders’ quote at the start about there being truth if you know where to look adds a sense of intrigue to the story as well. Truth is indeed stranger than fiction.
Liberto delivers the pencils and inks here. The style of the book suites the gritty nature of the story and Saunders’ writing. The artwork is consistent throughout, reminiscent of Byron Vaughns (Batman and Elmer Fudd) or Robert Hack (Chilling Adventures of Sabrina). However, there’s a lack of “directorial” vision here. Almost every panel is a medium shot. In rare cases does Liberto pull back or push in or offer varying angles which makes the art feel a bit monotonous. However, the colors by Hank Jones enhance the visuals. Jones gives the book an 80s look and feel that is spot on. Jones also goes noir-ish at just the right moments with stark contrasts like old Hellboy comics.
Cocaine Cowboys is a solid book that provides all the drug-dealing violence and intrigue that you could want in a single comic book. The pros vastly outweigh the cons and the work done by the creators leaves readers wanting more. If this is just the beginning, and the first of many stories, then Cocaine Cowboys is gearing up to be one wild ride.