IMAGE COMICS: What does this cover say about SOUTHERN BASTARDS?
JASON LATOUR: Y'know—I once heard a musician say that you should make sure you like the songs you write, because if they're hits you're going to perform them forever.
And this cover—honestly? I don't think it was ever the version I liked until we re-used it on the trade. Some of that is just because by that point I'd started to refine how to present a nearly unified front of red across the series.
The real reason we went this direction to start was because Jason Aaron felt we should really emphasize Earl's stick on the first cover, which I agreed with. But initially, none of my ideas felt as simple and strong as the cover to #2 featuring Coach Boss.
But in working on it, some things did come to the surface which maybe do speak louder and clearer about the core of the series. The big one being, that as tough as they look, the people Earl is facing here could be anyone in Craw County. He's facing down an entire culture. While also very purposefully, almost paradoxically, standing on the goal line—protecting his home turf.
IC: This is the page that felt the most like an "establishing shot" for the tone of the series. You color SOUTHERN BASTARDS, too. Can you talk about how that affects your storytelling?
JL: I think you could say it is an "establishing shot." It's a bit of a personal page, kind of set in the memory of grandmother's farm house. I mean, that's the damn screen door that accidentally split my head open as a kid. So yeah—I mean, a lot of what the book is about is examining how large things seem in your memory and how they can dominate your entire life. I'd say Jason and I were both channelling some of that here.
As for color...Well, okay—Sorry, David, but you brought this on yourself:
Look—I feel like the obvious benefit of crafting a story over time is that you can think about most of your choices. And those choices can be subconscious, given a reason in hindsight, or really premeditated—none of that really matters so much. All that's important is to recognize that there is something governing your instincts. Unfortunately, I think color is a choice a lot of people sort of gloss over and treat like it's just putting a little whip cream on top of the dessert.
A lot of that is because there's still a bit of an assembly line mentality to crafting comics, and that's very logical because it splits up the work load and it provides a sense of checks and balances. But what's often lost in that is the idea that color can communicate parts of the story in a way that's unique to drawing in ink or a line of dialog. And if you can incorporate that as the person translating the script into visuals—you can give it a turn on stage that's not always relegated to being complimentary.
There are lots of great colorists who can do that at the end of a process, and lots of artists who don't color but do plan very well for it. But still, it's not really as prevalent as you'd think it should be in an age where things like drawing on tablets has kind of made the order of the steps of the process a little more flexible and negotiable, and the final pages are so much easier to edit.
So, for example, my approach to color is not exactly realistic. I try to concentrate my focus on tone. Being more graphic, and representative of the feelings or thoughts the color implies. So working with that in mind from the start is a big deal, in that it turns color into another choice I have when I sit down to create a shot. It's no longer just a drawing I hand off to a colorist and hope they will shine it up for me. Color becomes another way to control the flow of information. Just like dialog or panel arrangement or insane cross-hatching or whatever your weapon of choice is.
IC: Here we've got three of the ugliest mugs in Craw County. What makes for a good character design to you? What do you have to have to make a character "work"?
JL: An inner life. Which is again something I think a comic can actually succeed at in a unique way just because it's not exactly strictly mimicking reality. I mean, when you watch TV and there's a story set in a rural or economically depressed area, there's usually a lot of effort that goes into taking the sheen and gloss off of the actors. Which I think a lot of times feels false, maybe because it's at odds with the pressure Hollywood puts on actors to look and act perfectly. It's not something they can just toss aside easily. So sometimes there's a sort of interference there—between the life the actor has or hasn't lived and the one the character has.
But in a comic, you can cast anyone, any type, just some jerk off of the street if you want. And they're as good or bad an actor as you are an artist. That widens your net a little. So, aside from just trying to capture interesting shapes when I'm drawing, that's something I think about. I used to joke with Jason A that this would be the ugliest TV show on television, but it might end up a really interesting-looking comic.
IC: The deep red tones and rugged lettering says a lot on this page. How do you approach drawing the sports aspect of this series? Is it the same as the violence?
JL: Yeah man, it's definitely controlled violence. Controlled is kind of a key word there too.
There's this really interesting idea in sports that a player is supposed to be this domineering physical force but is also bound by a set of rules and strategies and disciplines. I think a lot of artists only approach that kind of action with one or the other in mind—either just the pure physicality or the technical accuracy.
When I've been successful has been when the knowledge and accuracy I'm working to represent kind of runs head-on into my desire to break the rules of reality. I try to remember that at the end of the day it's still a drawing. And that's important because a drawing is not really ever going to compete with photography or film, because it's not really capturing motion and sound. But what a drawing can do is be a lot more selective in what it presents. It can be composed or edited or framed exactly how you need it. So if something is presented as accurate or realistic—only to bend or break from those constraints, well, I just think a lot of time that juxtaposition does a lot of the job for you.
IC: These backgrounds are almost just gestures, but you get the point immediately and in a crystal-clear way. How much does a sense of place matter to your storytelling?
JL: The setting is everything. In all the stories I work on. Hell, in a book like SOUTHERN BASTARDS it's almost the main character.
Again, a lot of what I said about color or action applies. There's a lot of shots with things like trees where I just pull them right out of my head, and other times I really research it. It just depends on what it means to the page in the moment, and what the tone of and focus story is. But hell, sometimes it does just claw its way out of you. Sometimes things will go gestural just because I'm dog-ass tired, or it's just what I feel like doing. Or maybe a memory will take hold like with that page on the porch above. I think that's kind of the benefit of knowing the material so intimately and being so connected to it. But still, the idea holds that once you've set up that juxtaposition and interplay, you've just got a lot more freedom to your choices.
And really that's what this book is, soup-to-nuts. It's this idea that two states of mind kind of create a third. At the end of the day, it's gritty, murderery realism presented as a bunch of goofy squiggly lines. Which about says it all, if you ask me.
SOUTHERN BASTARDS is available in a deluxe hardcover, two collected editions (Volume 1: HERE WAS A MAN and Volume 2: GRIDIRON) and ongoing single issues. SOUTHERN BASTARDS #13 arrives 1/27.