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Redneck: What’s Thicker Than Blood? [Interview]

feature by Henry Barajas

REDNECK is not your typical vampire tragedy. The vampires in this comic don't live in a castle in the Carpathian Mountains. They aren't attractive and wealthy. They don't wear long black cloaks and hang from the ceiling. These nightwalkers are decked out in custom-made cowboy boots, watch NASCAR, chew tobacco, and smoke ribs for the hell of it. REDNECK is on the way from Donny Cates, Lisandro Estherren, Dee Cunniffe, and Joe Caramagna, published by Skybound Entertainment.

The Bowmans are a family of ancient vampires from a strange part of East Texas. They have been in the Lone Star State since before it declared its independence, when it was still spelled it with a "J." Hell, they even defended the Alamo, but they were too drunk on blood to remember it. The hillbilly vampires spend their long nights raising cows to sell to the local butcher and mixing blood with paint thinner to make immortality bearable, resulting in a craft-beer-concoction called Bloodweiser. Uncle Bartlett and Grandpa J.V. do their best to protect their boys and the very inquisitive Perry from the townsfolk who fear and hate them. Barlett is like Sam Elliot, but looks like present-day Burt Reynolds. He doesn't want any trouble in his old age, but he's ready to fight if you put enough alcoholic cow blood in his system. 

Leave it to Cates to make Texas the perfect place for a horror story. If you love GOD COUNTRY, then you will want to jump into REDNECK. Cates is hot like a vampire standing in the sun, and this new Skybound series shows no hint of slowing down.

The introductory banter between Uncle Bartlett and Percy is intelligent and perfectly showcases the creative team's strengths. Cates' uncanny ability to write an authentic Texan pairs well with Estherren's art like a backwoods boy strumming his banjo. His characters aren't pretty to look at, but they resemble the best and worst Texas has to offer. The art feels fresh and street like Jim Mahfood, but blended with the terrifying visuals Sam Kieth can deliver. Dee Cunniffe's colors give the story a bone-chilling and perfect mood. It's hard to ignore how seamlessly Cunniffe depicts the humid Texas sunset fading into the bloodcurdling night. Trust me, you will catch it after the second read. The first four pages are a perfect example as to why Joe Caramagna is one of the most sought-after letterers in comics. Caramagna nails the darkly comedic interplay between Bartlett and Percy well.

Every panel and every word in this comic matters. Cates and Estherren ask more questions than they answer, and end on one hell of a cliffhanger.

 

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HENRY BARAJAS: I'm surprised no one has come up with this idea sooner. Texas is known for a lot of things, but not vampires. I don't think Texas is a place where vampires want to spend their eternity. How did the idea for REDNECK originate? 

DONNY CATES: It kind of came together very organically. I was writing about family in GOD COUNTRY and started thinking about the dark side of that idea. GOD COUNTRY is so much about love and caring, about passing something beautiful down through your bloodline. But I started thinking about my own bloodline and how....dark it is in places.

I'm not going to get to specific about it here for privacy reasons, but there's an entire branch of my family tree that was very abusive and violent. That branch was cut off by my father as he tried to raise my brother and myself in a climate of love and acceptance. He broke a long pattern of violence when he started his family, and that rotten branch isn't spoken about in my family to this day.

But that blood is still there...that evil is still in there somewhere. I wanted to write about that. About the idea of bad blood. Of a family trying desperately to free themselves from a violent past...

Making the family immortal seemed like an interesting way to go. The idea that we get to jump back in time and actually watch the sins of the past being committed, and then flash to the present and watch as they come back to haunt the people who inflicted them in the first place...that idea was very attractive to me. 

And yeah, anyone who knows me knows I'm a nut for vampire stories. So that part just fit in nicely with this topic I wanted to explore.

BARAJAS: Does Texas have a history of vampires?

CATES: Hell yeah! All the way back to the classics in fact. Let's not forget that Dracula was killed (in part) by a Texan! Way back in 1897, Bram Stoker had (certified Texan) Quincey Morris stab ol' Vlad in the chest with a Bowie knife. And while I'm on this topic...Bram Stoker's Dracula turns 120 this year, and Image turns 25. So what better way to celebrate both than with a brand new Image/Skybound vampire book! Written by a Texan!

BARAJAS: REDNECK is a clever title. Was it difficult to land on this usually derogatory term?

CATES: Well, besides being a nice little pun, the name is such a perfect distillation of what the book is about. The word "redneck" is so evocative of a kind of...simple backwood country folk. And that is exactly what you are going to find here. 

It only stands to reason, right? I mean getting bit by a vampire doesn't turn everyone into a sexy, charming Brad Pitt/Angel type, right? I mean, surely there are a bunch of them who were simple country folks before they got bit and who are now just simple country folks with sharp teeth and more birthdays.

They're a little different of course, they have a kind of old wisdom to them that's very charming. They've been hunted. They've killed. They've been through wars and revolutions and any and every other thing you can think of. And now, when the book opens, they just want some peace and quiet on their land and cattle farm. Hell, they don't even eat people anymore...they live off the blood of the cattle they raise for the BBQ joint their familiars run in town.

In that way, and in many other ways, these are vampires like you have NEVER seen them before. They aren't pretty or charming or sexy or scheming. They aren't even particularly smart! These are just some regular folks trying to live out their very long lives in peace. 

BARAJAS: First GOD COUNTRY, now REDNECK. Donny, how much fun do you have writing the worst possible scenarios set in your surroundings?

CATES: I know, right? I'm starting to get a reputation around here, huh? The thing is, Texas inspires me. The way Maine, through Stephen King's eyes, is full of terror and hidden things...that's Texas for me. It's such a wild place, a place full of dark corners and unexplored landscapes. A place built on hard work and violence and revolution and blood. 

It's a haunted and wonderful land, Texas. And I've only scratched the surface. This book is set in East Texas, which is as different from the sprawling plains of the West, where GOD COUNTRY is set, as night and day. They might as well be different continents, never mind existing in the same state. 

West Texas is open and wide. Full of mysteries and wonder like a buried treasure chest. Old like a temple. 

East Texas is closed off, narrow, rusted shut. Full of mysteries like a hole full of snakes. Old like a dying dog. 

It's rough country. It's mean. And the Bowman family in REDNECK is no different. That's the other thing people will come to learn about our vampires in REDNECK...they aren't what you'd call...subtle.

They mostly don't bother folks. But if they are fucked with...they will remind you very quickly that they are, in fact, cold-blooded, brutal monsters. 

It's really a lot of fun.

BARAJAS: You're no stranger to the horror and western genres, so what convinced you to draw a story about hillbilly bloodsuckers in Texas? 

LISANDRO ESTHERREN: Well, I guess what I like most is that this isn't your regular vampire story. It's a story with substance. Of course, there are lots of great vampire moments and outstanding characters, but what I loved about REDNECK is that it's also a story about family ties and the strength needed to face the world as an outsider.  

CATES: Just to follow up on that outsider theme Lisandro spoke about, that's the other thing about the book readers are going to see. The idea of REDNECK being a kind of the inverse of say, THE WALKING DEAD. THE WALKING DEAD is about surviving in a world full of monsters, getting by and trying to live in that dangerous world. REDNECK is a mirror to that, and it tackles a group of monsters trying to live their lives in a world filled with us. Which makes it equally dangerous, if not more so in places. 

BARAJAS: I know you're a John Carpenter fan. Are you watching vampire films or spaghetti westerns to inspire your art?

ESTHERREN: Kind of. I've been listening to a lot of music for this project. I set the right mood for the daily work with Carpenter's Lost Themes II, Clutch, Luna Sol, anything from John García, and a lot of other stuff.

REDNECK #1 is available for pre-order now and debuts 4/19.

Originally from the Old Pueblo, Henry Barajas works for Top Cow Productions and sells doughnuts in Hollywood. He writes comics, about comics, and collects comics.