Interview: Jason Aaron & Jason Latour on SOUTHERN BASTARDS

February 13, 2014

This April, Jason Aaron and Jason Latour want to invite you on down to Craw County, Alabama, the setting of their upcoming crime series SOUTHERN BASTARDS. In Craw County, bastards of all stripes reign supreme, and Earl Tubb, an angry old man with a really big stick, is about to knock some heads. Their southern fried crime comic is set to be something else, and the two creators share their inspirations and goals for the series here.

You've worked in crime fiction here and there, and SOUTHERN BASTARDS definitely seems to fit the bill. What's the appeal of crime fiction to you?

Jason Aaron: It's not so much the crimes as it is the characters. I love characters who are deeply flawed and hopelessly lost and irreparably broken. Folks who are as morally ambiguous as they can be. Villains who we can't help but love from time to time. Heroes who are capable of absolutely anything. I love putting those characters in a world where I can do really horrible things to them, over and over again. On second thought, maybe I'm the one who's deeply flawed.

How did you hook up with Jason Latour?

JA: We actually became friends before we ever worked together. Men of the South just sort of gravitate towards one another, I suppose. We can smell the cheap beer and love of football from miles away. Latour and I first worked together on SCALPED and WOLVERINE. And once I had the idea for SOUTHERN BASTARDS, which happened a few years back, he was the first and only artist I thought of. I guess I felt like I needed a real life southern bastard to help bring my own bastards to life.

SOUTHERN BASTARDS is a provocative title in and of itself. Did the title come first, or was it the only title that you felt fit the story?

JA: It was the only title I ever had, but the story definitely came first. Or actually it was the characters and the world. Coach Boss was initially an idea I had for a crime boss in SCALPED, but I never found the right story for him. And then later, when I decided to make up a whole county full of bastards in Alabama, suddenly I had the perfect home for the South's scariest high school football coach. A little bit later, his arch nemesis Earl Tubb came crawling out of the kudzu and made himself known. And then the whole story grew out of that relationship.

Going by the info we have, SOUTHERN BASTARDS seems like a smaller, more personal crime tale than something that sprawls and indulges in clean, shiny excess like Ocean's 11. How are you approaching the storytelling in the comic? Are these cool criminals, dead-eyed thugs, or something else entirely?

JA: Yeah, there's nothing clean or shiny about this thing. This is small town country crime, which is the meanest and grittiest kind. This is more Winter's Bone than Ocean's 11. This is Justified but with real country in its veins. This is Hank Williams and Waylon Jennings and Loretta Lynn, not Travis Tritt or Taylor Swift. As for what sort of criminals we're gonna meet in Craw County, well, there's a whole county to explore, so I expect they'll be all kinds. But things begin with old Earl Tubb and his big knotted stick. And a whole bunch of bastards standing in his way. Pity the bastards.

You're working with Jason Aaron on this book, and the solicit says that you're drawing it and he's writing. What's the collaborative process like for SOUTHERN BASTARDS?

Jason Latour: It’s been pretty organic. I’ve drawn a few of his scripts prior and we’ve written together before, so we do have a working method coming in. We actually talk a lot and kick the story around before he starts, but Jason’s done all the real scripting so far, with the autonomy to do what he feels works at that stage. When it gets to me I take a pass at layouts, with the same autonomy, then we look them over and argue for or against shit, I call him a bunch of names, we make up, talk football or comics and then I go off to finish drawing it. I’d call it pretty hand in glove but I’m terrified of being either of those in our relationship.

You're from North Carolina, and Jason Aaron is from Alabama. What does the South mean to you, for better or for worse? How's that informing your work on the series?

JL: Knowing this culture intimately definitely makes it personal. I really do feel The South is either in your veins or it’s not. Being from here is only a small part of what it takes to relate to the strange, unshakable mix of total love and utter frustration it brings. Another chance to let it out in my work was something I had to take—otherwise I know it would have clawed its way through me some other way.

You're coloring SOUTHERN BASTARDS, too, and the preview is dominated by reds and pale yellows. How are you approaching the colors for the series? Are you shying away from 1:1 realism in favor of more moody, evocative, but less "real" colors?

JL: Well, I feel like the benefit of crafting a story over time is that you can think about most of your choices. If they’re conceived of subconsciously or given a reason in hindsight, that doesn’t matter so much. The idea is that ultimately there’s something governing my instincts. So here, hopefully it feels authentic to some degree—because I really am trying to make those choices by distilling my own experiences and views on the subject matter.

But since this comic is clearly not a realistic method of delivery, I don’t think strict realism benefits it. It’s different than a movie, in which much of the tone of the story is derived from how those very realistic photographs are slightly differentiated by factors like light, composition, focus and sequence. No matter how far you push, the images in a movie are still probably more real than any drawing I could ever do. So generally it’s better to concentrate my focus on tone. Being more graphic, and representative of the feelings or thoughts the color implies hopefully allows it to become 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. In other words, you could say the idea is to use every advantage of this story being a comic.

You've worked in crime here and there previously, too. What's the appeal of crime fiction to you?

JL: Maybe because it’s very easy to project yourself into the situations at hand. Crime stuff is only about a step or two over the boundary from real life—and for better or worse I often find it pretty easy to imagine taking those steps. I’m pretty endlessly intrigued by the thoughts and emotions stirred up in the process and I like sharing those in a way that’s a little healthier than going out and cooking meth or robbing a bank or what other ever dangerous and crazy shit comes to mind. Hopefully that escaped and exercise benefits and entertains other folks too.

SOUTHERN BASTARDS #1 arrives in stores on 4/30, and will be available for $3.50. Pre-order it using Diamond Code FEB140475. Visit the official SOUTHERN BASTARDS tumblr to stay up-to-date on news!