To judge Mike Maihack’s Cow and Buffalo based solely on its own merits is to analyze a very minimalistic approach to webcomics. While the characters offer more variety than the stick figures of say, xkcd, it still only takes a few brush strokes to create any character on the roster. But take a look at any of Maihack’s other works and you’ll see that he is more than capable of more detailed work, and really anything in between. So why employ this bare-bones technique for two whimsical fellas like Cow and Buffalo? The answer is simply one word: fun. And Adventures in Sandwich Making, a tale of time-travel, pet dinosaurs, and, strangely enough, very little actual sandwich-making, provides just that, and in generous portions.
Collected from September 2005 to August 2006, the titular duo travels back in time to retrieve Cow’s pet dino, Bronto, an afternoon jaunt that ends up taking them all the way back to the creation of the universe, then to the far-flung future and finally back to Prehistoric times, where they adapt to the ways of living after a roaming T-Rex swallows their time machine (which doubles as a bouncy ball, awesome). Throughout their journey, they meet several characters, many of which are made into recurring roles by the time all’s said and done. The most interesting development, however, has nothing to do with the narrative itself, but rather with the character traits both Cow and Buffalo possess.
When the story begins, Cow is Cow and Buffalo is Buffalo. However, if you were to switch the two in a Freaky Friday-esque manner, the change would be nearly impossible to detect. Unlike nearly every odd couple to come before them, Cow and Buffalo don’t fall into the stereotypical roles of snooty, organized, responsible clean-freak and brazen, slovenly, misbehaving slob. Rather, they trade back and forth with these particular guises, never really realizing the potential either can hold.
Take page 12 for instance, the start of the time traveling arc that could have started with Cow creating a time machine, not Buffalo, which contains no consequences for the change.
While this is a welcome break from the normal stereotypes we’re all used to, it also leaves them without distinguishing characteristics of their own, leaving readers to wonder who said what from panel to panel. Maihack’s simplistic designs don’t assist in figuring it out either, with just enough small differences in each to provide that reference in keeping them separate.
Luckily though, the metamorphosis Cow and Buffalo go through isn’t confined to the story being told in the pages of the comic. By the time they find their way home (spoiler!), Cow has slipped more comfortably into his role of the dim-witted fool and Buffalo, arguably the more noble of the two creatures anyways, seems happy to give his friend the guidance, support, and kick-in-the-butt that he obviously needs and deserves.
The end isn’t so unsatisfying though, as one retains just enough hints of the other’s personality to make mixing things up a switch that not difficult to fathom.
So how does the collection stack up? Why should you drop the bones to add it to your collection when you can read all the strips for free on the glorious Interwebs? Well for starters, not all the strips can be found online. You heard right; as any other creator worth their salt, Maihack includes a good bit of bonus content, including an epilogue that never found its way to the web as well and an alternate ending which borrows from another classic story based on time. Not enough? How about a short collection of facts about cows and some top-notch fan art from the likes of Derrick Fish and Sarah Mensinga? Yeah, I thought that package would change your tune…
Overall, if you’ve never read Cow and Buffalo, this is a great jumping on point and one which will unquestionably warm your heart. It’s great for all ages and has some of the sharpest, subtlely witty writing I’ve ever come across. If you already read the strip, then there’s no reason you shouldn’t already own this stellar collection. So hats off to Maihack on an all-round professional first collection and I leave you with my favorite strip from the arc, in which Cow and Buffalo have traveled back to the dawn of time.
Perfect for any reader, I give Cow and Buffalo in Adventures in Sandwich Making nine Golden Fists of Justice out of ten