By Rich Barrett
Deadwood’s Calamity Jane, Westworld’s Dolores, Godless’ Alice Fletcher: these recent pop culture icons of the Wild West don't have anything on Perdy. With her cartoonishly buxom figure and gap-toothed sneer, this unusual outlaw looms larger than life, full of vinegar and spit. When readers first meet her in the opening pages of her eponymous graphic novel, written and drawn by cartoonist Kickliy, the former outlaw is departing the Yuma Territorial Prison amidst a clamor of weeping prisoners and guards alike. Perdy is not only indifferent but indignant to their whining, as she’s already fixing to reclaim her old life the minute she walks out that front gate.
The Western genre has ebbed and flowed in popularity in American culture, and largely disappeared from comics after the 1960s until a modest resurgence during the turn of the millennium introduced genre-mashup titles including The Sixth Gun and East of West. In Europe, however, that popularity has remained constant and boasts a wonderful variety, ranging from the intoxicating adventure of Jean "Moebius" Giraud’s Blueberry to the cartoony humor of Maurice “Morris” De Bevere’s Lucky Luke. The cartoonist known as Kickliy leans more towards history’s playful, exaggerated extremes and can draw a sight gag like no one’s business. That said, Perdy isn't soley reliant on slapstick comedy. “I’m striving to make a real human comedy in the Greek sense,” Kickliy explains. “Greek comedies are where our form of storytelling originates. They can be satires, tragedies, or whatever you choose. Perdy will be many things, but it will have heart, I assure you that.”
As Perdy steals and bullies her way to a little town called Petiteville, her tough, straightforward demeanor makes her a hit with some folks, like the girls at the local brothel who admire her sexual aggression. Others, mostly the men, are terrified of her. “I know that women don’t tend to like Westerns,” Kickliy says, “because most Westerns are male fantasies, so I really wanted to make an action adventure that had a female character that was strong, smart, and didn’t take shit from anyone or anything.”
With the steely, scheming eyes of The Outlaw Josey Wales’ Clint Eastwood and the lusty agency of The Outlaw’s Jane Russell, Perdy is a full-figured, gruff, older woman, but her foul-mouthed, straight-shooting personality is just as likely to endear as to aggravate. She’s a bigger woman who is comfortable with her body, often parading around half-naked. Like a plotting femme fatale, she uses sex to get what she wants, but she also wants and enjoys it herself in a very sex-positive way.
Kickliy’s previous comics output consists of the four-volume, all-ages graphic novel series Musnet, which follows a mouse who becomes inspired to paint while living in impressionist artist Claude Monet’s garden. It was nominated for the Prix Angoulême in 2017 and falls far from Perdy in tone and subject, yet retains Kickliy’s charming drawing style. Perdy will release in English and French simultaneously, which is appropriate for an author who splits his time between Paris, France and Minneapolis, Minnesota.
In 2013, the creator experienced a devastating car accident that would change his life in more ways than one. “It took me about a year to recover physically, and more time to recover mentally, due to post-traumatic stress,” he recalls. “It was quite the ordeal. I went to Paris to start over. I took on the name ‘Kickliy’ when I began to work again and left my past artistic life behind. It was a difficult decision to make. I didn’t tell anyone what I was doing, but I had to do it in order to completely heal mentally.”
“Kickliy” is a family name he uncovered only recently. “My great-grandfather and great-grandmother came from Austria. Great-grandpa died in a mining accident in Kansas, and great-grandma remarried. She then died the next year from surgery because they left the scissors inside of her. So my grandfather was raised as an orphan in northern Minnesota.”
His family name had been changed, and their story had been hidden to protect his grandfather’s heritage during WWII. Learning about his true last name made the artist soon to be known as Kickliy feel like he had been previously living a lie. “Knowing that my last name wasn’t really my last name messed with me internally,” he says. After the accident, he was also compelled to change his identity. “Since I ended my artistic life, I thought that it would be proper to take back this name and live as a ghost.”
For months, while recovering from the accident, Kickliy was unable to move, suspended in bed, thinking and examining his life. “It was a very dark time for me, but now looking back on it, I am happy to have gone through it because it gave me a better perspective on life. It made me a better person and a better creator.“
After his recovery, he began to restudy art and started to pitch ideas to comic publishers in France. In one such meeting, he suddenly came up with an idea for a Western, describing the character that would become Perdy as he crafted her personality on the spot in front of a couple of editors. Kickliy wasn’t quite ready to make this book yet, though. “I wasn’t 100 percent, so I put Perdy aside after I did a few drafts to begin work on Musnet.”
That series would end up being the work he rehabilitated himself with. “Not many know this fact, but I drew the whole first book of Musnet with my opposite hand because my back couldn’t handle the weight on my right side. It wasn’t until after book two of Musnet that I could start reusing my right hand. I think you can tell the difference in how I drew the characters from book to book, but maybe that’s just me.”
For this period in his life, as Kickliy tried to find his way as an artist again, Musnet and the life story of Monet inspired his recovery. “I felt connections through similar struggles that he went through,” Kickliy says of of the French painter. “It gave me hope and perspective on being an artist.”
That contemplative recovery, paralleled through Kickliy’s tale of a mouse discovering his own inner solace and artistry, allowed the creator a new degree of orientation and confidence, a renewed energy perfect for the boisterous tale of an outlaw raising hell. Or, as Kickliy summarizes, “Perdy is more about letting go and having fun.”
Frustrated by the constraining 46-page format of the Musnet books, the cartoonist has opted for more breathing room with 160-page volumes on Perdy. The first volume will be the debut entry of Perdy’s first act, which Kickliy expects to encompass six to eight books. “I love Westerns. It is my favorite genre,” he says, adding, “I wanted to make something that was new and fresh.”
Perdy Vol. 1 releases in comic stores on September 5, 2018 and in book stores on September 11, 2018.