It took some time, but the South is rising again. From the backwoods of Justified to the swamp horrors of True Detective, there is surely a dixie-noir wave on the surge. Fueled by football, ribs and rage — lots and lots of rage — Southern Bastards is a violent odyssey through rural Alabama.
The comic takes a gritty look at a region known as much for its venom as its beauty. That central duality can’t help but be cathartic for its Southern-born creators, Jason Aaron and Jason Latour, as they lionize and condemn all they love and hate about it. When, after 40 years, Earl Tubb returns home to Craw County to find it corrupted by the local crime boss/football coach, he curls up his brawny fists and defends the home he renounced with a very big stick.
With issue #6 hitting stands today after a shattering confrontation between Tubb and Coach Boss, artist and colorist Jason Latour took some time to chat about Southern Bastards, its roots and dealing with our conception of the South.
All preview pages are from Southern Bastards #6
Paste: So, Jason, why so angry?
Jason Latour: [Laughs] I wish I knew! If I know why I was angry then I wouldn’t be doing the book. Jason and I certainly have a lot of anger over the South but we also love it. I hope both of those things are evident. So far I think there’s been a little less love for it but people have responded to Earl. He’s not a perfect character, he’s not a noble guy, but he tries to do something that means something. In Earl there’s something about what we love about the South. You see, I’m getting misty eyed about it. So yeah, it’s kind of angry, but you get the maddest at the things you love the most.
Paste: What’s your love/hate like then?
Latour: Well, I don’t know. It’s like anybody’s relationship to where they’re from, or their own family. You love things because that’s who molded you. Most of us, I would hope, have some sort of warmth in their upbringing — things that make them feel comfortable, things they’re nostalgic for. Then as you get older, sometimes you come into conflict with those things. For me, all the Southern-themed stuff I do is as much about trying to reconcile as it is to confront it.
Paste: This first arc wasn’t exactly uplifting, where do you go from there?
Latour: I think there’s a silver lining at the end, in the sense it seems like there’s a reckoning coming. And there will be eventually. There’s going to be a slow build. Jason and I aren’t trying to rush that. We need to establish and get to know Coach Boss a little bit, so arc two is sort of the origin, life and times of Coach Boss. We’re going to take time to flesh characters out but we’re always going to be building toward a larger narrative.
Paste: So, how did you and Jason Aaron come up with all this?
Latour: We both loved crime fiction and we felt like, if we’re going to do a crime book, we should do one set in the South. So we circled this idea of a dixie mafia book. Jason had this idea of a football coach crime boss, but we couldn’t find a through-line. At one point I told him this story that had happened in my real life: my neighbor had this giant dog that she would let shit in my yard and I came out one day and there was literally a twig growing out of this mound of crap. This had gone on for months and in a moment of anger I thought, ‘I should start watering that twig and let it grow into a tree, then I’ll snap off a branch and give that dog what it deserves!’ I liked the idea of a tree that had grown out of somebody’s grave that someone else uses for revenge, sort of like you creating your own doom.
Paste: This is a pretty familiar trope, returning home to fix the broken place, so how are you trying to do it differently?
Latour: That is a trope in both genre and literature, so I guess we’re sort of trying to combine the two. In literary stuff, that can be so overbearing, there’s no sense of entertainment to it. Then, things like the Buford Pusser story. That’s become such a myth that I don’t think anyone really knows who Buford Pusser really was.
Latour: Yeah, Walking Tall. He certainly couldn’t have been this guy with a white hat. Earl was never really intended to be Buford Pusser, but use the Buford Pusser myth as a jumping off point. Jason and I felt like we needed something to go head on at your conceptions of what the South is.
Paste: Speaking of which, were there Southern stereotypes you embraced or avoided?
Latour: If you’re aware of what the stereotype is, then you can use it to get to something deeper. The confederate flag has been a loaded one so far. We’ve had some discussions about how often or when to use that. I don’t want to dodge that — I don’t want to dodge race, I don’t want to dodge the ugly history of this thing — but I feel like you have to treat it how it is in real life. In real life it’s present but it’s not necessarily always screaming at you. The banality of it is what makes it so offensive.
Paste: Tell us about setting the visual tone?
Latour: I’m just sort of disseminating my emotions and memories. With this you’re trying to ground it in the real world, but to me it’s also very important that it be a drawing. So the tone of the story could become overbearing and almost too serious if we didn’t embrace the cartoony aspects of making a comic book. I’m most flattered when people tell me it feels real because to me I draw pretty weird cartoony people. On some level I think the approach to putting the pages together tonally is serious but then when I draw the pages I can’t take it too seriously because, at the end of the day, all the profound things we have to say are coming out of the mouths of squiggle faces.
Paste: Having grown up in the South, are these characters modeled after people you know?
Latour: There’s nobody specific. My dad’s not a big burly man like Earl, but people who know my dad have said, ‘Is that your dad?’ No, it was never intended to be, but there are a few times where I draw Earl and it does kind of look like my dad. I guess when we get into the football stuff, because I played high school football. The coaching shorts that Coach Boss wears, I had a coach that wore shorts like that.
Paste: Has there been any blowback from Southerners?
Latour: My answer to that is always that anybody back home that’s gonna get mad about this book will never know about it because they don’t read!