‘Southern Bastards': Jason Latour, Jason Aaron plot crime in Dixie

May 01, 2014 | 6:11 p.m.

“Working in comics is always a little bit like trying to find a date for prom,” said Jason Aaron, writer of the new Image ongoing series “Southern Bastards” with artist Jason Latour. “You meet some amazing artist and think, ‘Oh man, I really wanna work with this person.’ Thus begins the wooing.”

That wooing has materialized into one of the most exciting creative partnerships in comics. This week, Image releases the first issue of “Southern Bastards,” a hard-boiled, deep-fried tale about one man’s return to his hometown, which is now run by a local crime kingpin who also happens to be the coach of the state champion high school football team.

After meeting through common acquaintances, Aaron and Latour felt an immediate kinship thanks to their shared Southern heritage. “There aren’t many Southerners in comics, so I think those who are gravitate toward one another,” said Aaron.

“People always told me, ‘Hey, you should talk to Jason Aaron, I think you’d get along,’” Latour adds. “At some convention we finally did and the next thing I know he’s suffering through my one-man show about ‘Apocalypse Now’ on the hotel balcony at 4 a.m.”

They began working together four years ago when Latour joined Aaron to draw an issue of the writer’s creator-owned Vertigo series “Scalped,” and they would later collaborate on various Wolverine projects for Marvel, sharing writing duties on last summer’s “Wolverine: Japan’s Most Wanted” digital Infinite Comic. Latour is the only person Aaron approached about working on “Southern Bastards,” and their passion for collaboration shows on every page.

Hero Complex readers can check out the first six lettered pages of “Southern Bastards” No. 1 in the gallery above or in larger versions via the links below.

Southern Bastards: Cover | Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3Page 4Page 5Page 6

In a recent email interview, Aaron and Latour discussed their inspirations for “Southern Bastards,” the importance of trusting collaborators and their goals for the series.

Hero Complex: What were some of the initial ideas you threw around when creating the concept for “Southern Bastards”?

The cover of "Southern Bastards" No. 1. (Image)

The cover of “Southern Bastards” No. 1. (Image)

Jason Aaron: It started with the idea of a corrupt high school football coach. From there, we just populated a county around that guy. We talked a lot about Faulkner, and his fictional Yoknapatawpha County, as well as Hazzard County, of course. And the Coen brothers. And where we both grew up. Earl Tubb, our main character, steps right out of the 1970s, when they still did action movies with wrinkled old men in the lead.

Jason Latour: Yeah, we kept coming back to doing something about the Dixie Mafia and Dad movies, but we couldn’t quite nail it down. Then something pretty funny happened to me, which inspired the whole thing with Earl’s dad’s tree. As soon as I told Jason, it was like it all clicked and we were off to the races. I should probably tell that story after the first arc is over.

HC: What do you appreciate about each other as collaborators?

JA: As with any fruitful collaboration, I think we get to a place together that we wouldn’t necessarily get to alone. This series has both our fingerprints all over it. To go with another weird metaphor, we’re making a baby together here. And that kid is gonna have both our traits — God help him — or it certainly should, at least. Otherwise it wasn’t really much of a collaboration, was it? I have a tremendous amount of respect for Latour, as both an artist and a writer. And I’m really proud of this weird little buck-toothed child we’ve both just fathered.

JL: We’ve got a real buddy cop way of working, which I think is rare in comics these days. A lot of people become so tied to the fact that they have to be their own little entity that they forget the influence their peers have on them. For whatever reason people either don’t want their vision or their credit diluted. But when you find a collaboration that works you realize that it’s one of the most re-affirming things an artist or writer can find. Jason’s absolutely one of the smartest and most talented people I know. Having him around to challenge my assertions can only make me better, and I’m really lucky he’s so open to sharing the stage with me.

HC: What are some of the influences for this series, both in terms of story and artwork?

JA: As with most stuff I write, there’s some James Ellroy in there, some Cormac McCarthy, the aforementioned Coen brothers — though I think more “Fargo” than “No Country for Old Men,” if that makes any sense. Faulkner. Frank Miller. Elmore Leonard. “Walking Tall.” The entire redneck cinema genre of the ’70s. Bear Bryant. The Drive-By Truckers. More than anything though, I would guess the biggest influence for both of us has been our own personal experience. There’s certainly a lot of my own upbringing in this, my own hometown and my own thoughts and feelings about the deep South.

JL: Art-wise, it’s a bit of a crockpot. Mostly whatever’s coming out on these pages is stuff that’s been slow cooking for a long time. I’m a big fan of all the things Jason mentioned as well, but it’s also important to me that I don’t deny influences outside of things you’d normally associate with this kind of subject matter. I mean at the end of the day we live in a modern, pre-fabricated kind of world whether these characters want to or not. For better or worse, I’m not sure that anyone can be a Southerner with a big “S” at all anymore. So some of that seeps into it. For me it’s more about looking for what’s authentic and not so much about being authentic. I think the former is a really valid pursuit even if the latter is impossible.

HC: Have you learned any lessons from your time working on superhero comics that you’re applying to this title?

JA: Hopefully I’m learning a lesson from every new thing I write, whether it features guys in spandex or not. The first big long-form work I did in comics was “Scalped” for Vertigo, which ran for 60 issues. “Scalped” No. 1 was only the third comic script I’d ever written. I really learned a lot about writing on the fly with that series. So now here I am again, diving into another ongoing crime series, but I feel worlds removed from 2006 when I was first starting out. I’m still just as excited as I was back then though, and just as eager to get better and better as a writer.

JL: It’s pretty invaluable to me creatively to have both gears. All the peacock strutting Mick Jagger stuff I try to do on superheroes is a ton of fun, but “Bastards” is like getting to step back and play at being redneck Keith Richards.

HC: What are the major things that you associate with Southern culture?

JA: BBQ. Football. Religion. Reconstruction. Racism. Football. Fellowship. Fear. Fried pies. Football.

HC: After the atmosphere, what sticks out in this first issue is the depth of the relationship between Earl and his father, which is almost entirely shown through visuals rather than dialogue. There’s a lot of trust that the artist can convey what the writer intends without needing text.

JA: You gotta trust your artist. I love writing pages without dialogue, which seems weird, I guess. But few things are as powerful in comics as a really strong silent page.

JL: For me, subtext is king. In comics, people are trained to read the words and move on, and silence really forces you to think about what you’re reading. It’s pretty rare to have the time or the level of communication required to pull that kind of stuff off. But those are the kinds of moments I love the most.

Page 1 of "Southern Bastards" No. 1. (Image)

Page 1 of “Southern Bastards” No. 1. (Image)

HC: That opening sequence of a dog defecating on the city limits, what does that say about the tone of the general series?

JA: Everything. I actually wrote that as just a panel, and it was Latour who turned it into a double page splash. Which maybe tells you something about him as well.

JL: That shot actually was a real pain. In part because you have no idea how many damn times it took me to get the tone right. Just picture me sitting at the center of a landfill full of drawings of [defecating] dogs. All that was missing were padded walls and a straitjacket. But I knew it was right because it wasn’t just a shock and awe kind of thing.  It was important to me that we make the reader aware of the terms of the contract. You keep reading after that and you have no one to blame but yourself.

HC: How big is this book’s cast? Is it an ensemble drama or more of a story about one man’s struggle?

JA: The cast will grow as we go along. We meet Coach Boss for the first time in issue No. 2., along with the sheriff, both of whom will be big-time recurring characters. But there are other characters we won’t meet until the second arc or the third.

HC: The colors in this first issue are incredibly evocative. What is the color philosophy for this book?

JL: Even though this is a very real-world story, it’s the type of thing I think would be hindered by strict realism, largely because for me the book is as much about how the story and “The South” feel as anything. So generally I concentrate my focus on tone and emotion, being more graphic and representative of the feelings or thoughts I want the colors to imply. Hopefully that also becomes another way to control the flow of information, just like dialogue or panel arrangement or insane cross hatching or whatever your weapon of choice is. The idea is to use every advantage of this story being a comic book.

HC: What can readers expect over the course of this first arc and further down the line for this series?

JA: As this first arc rolls along, expect the tension to build and build. Expect things to get more and more heated. Expect someone at some point to get hit really hard with a really big stick. After that … well, we’ve got a whole county to explore. And a lot more bastards to introduce you to.

HC: What are your personal goals for this series? Are you trying to push yourselves out of your comfort zones in any ways?

JA: My goal is the same as always, just to tell a good story, just to make the kind of book that I myself would like to read. At the end of the day, that’s all we can really control.

JL: Yeah, all of that plus it would be nice to make it out of the series without dying at the hands of an angry redneck mob. But we’ll take a few of those bastards with us if we have to.

– Oliver Sava | @LATHeroComplex

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