Image Comics: The SOUTHERN BASTARDS hardback has a classic design. Why'd you choose to go with something like this instead of the usual approach to comics covers?
Jason Latour: Honestly—I’ve just always liked the idea of presenting this comic in such a way that it had some kind of visual link to pulp novels and the roots of it’s literary inspirations. So somewhere along the line I mentioned to Jason that in a sea of intricate illustrations, something graphic, that resembled the charm of an old library book might be impactful and give off the vibe of what we’re trying to do overall. Jason agreed, and then our letterer Jared Fletcher really did a nice job of taking my early designs and helping us translate that to the final package.
IC: One thing that's nice about SOUTHERN BASTARDS is that you could make a pretty decent case for it being a sports comic. Can you talk a little about the importance of football and community, whether in the book or in the south?
JL: Well, I played high school football and though I don’t really worship it the way I used to, I do remain a pretty big fan. Love of football’s something that’s brought Jason Aaron and I closer as friends. My parents and my brother and I still regularly attend games together. There is a lot about it that is communal, and you often find that when you’re talking to someone who understands and loves the sport you’re often just using it to talk about all sorts of other things outside of sports. At it’s best that community and shared love for the game can kind of cross lines of race and gender and politics and even cross the aisle to fans of other teams.
But it’s also has as ugly or as dark a side as any other kind of tribal indoctrination. A lot of times football becomes a way people declare war on their neighbors or a place they channel resentment and feelings of inadequacy. Winning a game sometimes gives whole communities a sense of pride and an excuse to ignore things they should probably address. That’s one of one of the things Jason and I wanted to explore. When you’re from a place like Craw County, where the outlook is often times very bleak, it’s sometimes much easier to justify whatever it takes to feel proud, or good or to have something to be hopeful for.
And yeah, it is kind of a sports comic on some level. Maybe I’m naive, but I just haven’t seen a lot of stories that service both comics and the sport. This is our attempt to do both.In a medium that does action so well, I think the physicality of football really has just been sitting there waiting to be taken advantage of, especially from a visual storytelling standpoint. There’s really a little mini drama unfolding with every player on the field on every play. It’s tough to translate, but it’s also a lot of fun and I hope it’s something that makes the book unique.
Jason Aaron: I suppose this is a sports comic, but only in the way that it's also a barbecue comic and a deer hunting comic and a church-going comic and a mangy dog shitting comic. It's a comic about the South and everything that entails, so yeah, football is always going to be a big part of the narrative because it's such a huge part of the culture down South. I grew up in Alabama, and I can remember crying on January 26, 1983, when Bear Bryant died. Hell, I almost cried the other day, when the Tide lost to Ole Miss. Hopefully, as you read SOUTHERN BASTARDS, it doesn't matter if you're a football fan or not. Though even if you don't know a safety from a linebacker, hopefully you can still appreciate the passion and power of the sport as it relates to our story. Latour and I have talked about maybe doing some kind of football primer at some point. Coach Boss's Guide to Football for Ignant Yankees or some such.
IC: A lot of times, southern dialogue in comics is done in a kitschy way. Not so in SOUTHERN BASTARDS. What is your approach to dialogue? What does a proper southern accent sound like to you?
JA: It sounds like my family, I suppose. It sounds like what I grew up with. I don't usually have much of an accent myself. Though it does creep up every now and then. There are words I've learned to avoid at the comic store on Wednesday nights here in Kansas City, lest I get ridiculed mercilessly. I mean, "pill" and "peel," those are totally the same word, right? Might as well be to me. So I don't know, I think I've always kind of leaned in that direction, in terms of dialogue. I think my Wolverine always sounded a bit Southern. It's more something I've had to work to avoid than work to create, you know. I think the voices in my head already speak with a Southern accent. But really for me the main thing with dialogue is just to try and write something that sounds like what someone would actually say, as opposed to going out of the way to throw in as many colorful colloquialisms as possible.
IC: You've got a good eye for clothes, particularly shoes. What do Zubaz, Jordans, and sleeveless shirts mean to you? Do you and Aaron go back and forth over the character designs and clothing choices before you put pencil to paper?
JL: Oh man, Thanks for noticing that. I do put a lot of thought into the costume choices. Jason gives me a lot of freedom with that stuff. There’s been a time or two that he’s had a note, but because we develop a lot of this story together before he writes the scripts— and because he’s just such a talented communicator within those scripts— there’s rarely many times where we’re not on the same page.
I really just view it as a way to root the characters in a place that feels lived in. My work is very cartoony, but a story like this requires some effort to keep a foot in the world that people recognize and identify with. When it works it’s a nice way to short hand things, and to play with the audiences expectations. And it’s just a fun way to show that for all the build up about this book and this world being such a heightened reality — it’s really still people living in the modern world. Outliers sure, but they’d probably watch a lot of the same TV and shop at the same places as many of us. Part of the point of the clothes is to say— hey, these people could exist in your back yard too.
IC: What do you like most about working with Aaron?
JL: You want to know a secret? Jason doesn’t do a whole lot of work. But that squirrel living in his beard? Beard squirrel never sleeps.
Nah. Seriously, he’s one of the best and closest collaborators I’ve ever been lucky enough to work with. I feel like a lot of times in comics— people are so wrapped up in it being a singular vision, that they deride the idea of collaboration a little. I’m a very prideful person, and I think once upon a time it might have been hard for me to say this— but I think this book is far better working with him than anything I could have done without him.
When Jason and I came into this project— he had no real reason to ever allow me that full creative partnership. He’s one of the biggest names in modern comics and I'm still really just starting in earnest. But from the beginning he’s been a full partner, he’s allowed me to help him craft and tell this story. And there’s not a single time that we’ve talked about it or making comics that I haven’t learned something from him. On top of that he’s just got a depth and agility to his thinking that is rare for someone with his confidence and vision. The fact that he’s allowed me to share the stage with him gives me a tremendous amount of confidence as a storyteller, and really fuels my desire to make this a book worth putting his name on too.
IC: What do you like most about working with Latour?
JA: I think his ability to surprise me. Even though we're friends and even though we've worked together many times before, he still surprises me creatively on a routine basis. We often times can look at the same thing and see it differently, which might sound bad on the surface, but actually works great in practice. Because even when we disagree, it still always feels like we're pulling in the same direction, you know. We're parents, in a sense, and we're raising this baby together, through the good times and the bad. So I think the book is stronger because of that. It's very much ours, with equal parts of both our DNA. Latour is just a terrific creative partner. His work really lives and breathes. He's never just going through the motions. He brings this world and these characters to life in a way that I don't think anyone else could. You can tell he really feels the world by the way he casts the book and nails all the little details. And you can tell he knows the characters, because he's always coming up with fresh ideas for where we can take them. I'm really proud of what we've done together on this series so far, but I also feel like we're just getting started, and I'm excited for readers to see where we take them next.