(Originally published on my old LiveJournal.)
Howdy, pardners. Hunker down by the campfire, I got a serious question for y’all:
Cowboys and zombies. What gives?
I was reading this book, see, Zeppelins West, by the hyper-prolific Joe Lansdale. Nothing to write home about, just your basic weird western alternate history with cowboys and zombies. Well, it does feature gay sex between Frankenstein’s Monster and the Tin Man of Oz, and Buffalo Bill Cody’s disembodied head floating in a jar. One of my basic rules of life is, you damn well better read or watch anything that features a living disembodied head floating in a jar. Not sure where my basic rules of life come down on hot tin-man-on-reanimated-monster action.
Anyway, cowboys and zombies. Zombies and cowboys. Within the circled wagons of geek culture, it’s a recognized trope, right? Even a cliché? Jonah Hex, Tex Arcana, Deadlands…. Apparently the Dust Devils RPG took Gen Con by storm last year in part because it was “a western without zombies,” and people found that so refreshing.
Lisa asked me what I was reading, and I told her, “just your basic weird western alternate history, with cowboys and zombies.” And Lisa says, “Anon?” Which is old western talk for “What the hell you talking about, Mabel?” (See the novels of James Fenimore Cooper if you don’t believe me.) Never mind what Entertainment Weekly tells you, la culture de la mainstream and la culture du geek are not yet interchangeable.
But all this leaves me cogitating. Where did this mini-genre of weird westerns—and specifically, of cowboys and zombies—come from in the first place? How far back does it go? Tex Arcana was in Heavy Metal in the 1980s. Jonah Hex was a DC comic character in the 1970s, but I think back then he was pretty much just a Clint Eastwood Man With No Name pastiche. No zombies that I know of.
Is there a really obvious work I’m missing? The fact that it’s always zombies and cowboys—never vampires and Indian braves, or werewolves and grizzled prospectors, or flying polyps and saloon girls with hearts of gold—suggests to me that all these works might have one single pop cultural ancestor among them. The African Eve of cowboy zombies, if you will. Or of zombie cowboys. Whatever.
How about it, geek culture polymaths? ? ? Anyone have any ideas?