Explaining the Uniform: Justin Gray on Jonah Hex

Justin Gray on Jonah Hex

With this week’s issue of Jonah Hex, co-writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray addressed a key question of the character – why, years after the Civil War ended, does Hex still wear a Confederate Army uniform?

The answer, as they are with every question asked about Jonah Hex, is complicated.

We spoke with Gray about the issue as well as the upcoming multi-part storyline to come.

Newsarama: The controversial nature of Jonah Hex is the main theme for this issue…

Justin Gray: Yes, the idea was to address why, or at least pose some reasons as to why Jonah continued to wear a confederate uniform after the Civil War ended.

NRAMA: Naturally the Confederate gray, just like the rebel flag, is viewed as a racist symbol.

JG: It is and understandably so. Both symbolize a terrible time for this country, not only in race relations but it contradicts the basic ideals set forth in the constitution. There’s no getting around history in this case, but as we see in Jonah Hex #36 the rationale for wearing the uniform is multifaceted. This is probably one of the most layered, psychological and complex stories we’ve done. There’s a subtlety and a dynamic at work that tries to examine the morality and self-loathing that clouds Jonah Hex.

NRAMA: So why does Hex still wear the uniform?

JG: That’s an open-ended discussion. We offer a number of reasons, but at the core of this is a fictional character with a strange and mysterious life that has to remain intact. One of the storytelling elements Jimmy and I try to maintain in this book is that the reader can interpret many questions raised by the series differently. I prefer stories that make you think about them after they’ve ended. Hopefully that is the case here. The real trick was to present the racist side of this argument within historical context of what white southern males were facing after the war ended. It is easy to manufacture a caricature of hatred like we saw with the Cohen Brothers’ Oh Brother Where Art Thou, but we wanted a moment that was more claustrophobic and frightening.

NRAMA: What motivated you guys to write this kind of story? I don’t know that it has been covered before.

JG: We strive to work with the conventions of a western in as many different ways as possible. You’ve always got horses, bullets and morality, but because there is no other character like Hex it is important to keep pushing that difference. What separates Hex from other comic book westerns is the variety of stories that can be told. This is a story that ties directly into his moral fabric and illustrates the complexities of Hex as a man.

NRAMA: Heady stuff.

JG: Yea, that probably explains the sales figures.

NRAMA: But the trades do well correct?

JG: They do, but we’re always thinking of the individual issues. It is hard to believe we’ve produced five trades and with the exception of two storylines the book has been single-issue tales. You would think that kind of old school approach to storytelling, particularly when the average reader has to make a financial investment in storylines that are spread across dozens of issues would have more of an impact. Obviously we’re going to test the six issue waters in a big storyline.

NRAMA: Can you tell us about this bigger story?

JG: I don’t want to talk too much about it yet. The importance is there, the size and scope and number of guest stars makes it worth doing. It is amazing to me that after three years of compressed stories that there’s a real challenge to breaking out of that mold into a larger format. The villains and I dislike the concept of using villains in Hex because we strive to make it a book that stands apart from the superhero formula, but they are important to the tale.

NRAMA: Let’s talk about the art in this issue. Rafa Garres returns and we remember him from the cover to the Russ Heath issue and then he illustrated the Return to Devil’s Paw issue that is part of the new trade collection.

JG: Yes, Luck Runs Out is the new trade that will be out October 21st. I urge people to check it out because it features the widest array of storylines to date. As for Rafa Garres, the man is a brilliant artist with a style that is so vibrant, dynamic and organic that I’m stunned each time I see it. His art is visceral. It is insane the way he structures the panels, his figures are tortured and look like they’re trying to rip through the paper. That’s what made him perfect for this story; it is such an emotional hot button topic in terms of racism, the KKK and sickening hatred that people are capable of. There’s also a dream-like quality to the work that adds to the historical significance. The coloring he employs is dirty, earthen and muddy without losing focus.

NRAMA: I take it we can expect to see more of his work on Jonah Hex in the future?

JG: I think that is a safe bet.

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