Vertigo's new horror series The Dark & Bloody might feature war, moonshine and monsters, but according to writer Shawn Aldridge, the story explores what people do for family when they are backed into a corner.
Featuring art by Scott Godlewski, the six-issue series focuses on Iris Gentry, a veteran who returned from Iraq to his hometown in Kentucky to find jobs scarce and his family in need. Because he lives in a "dry" county, Iris ends up running moonshine for his former commanding officer.
But there's a supernatural element to the story, as the deeds committed by Iris's regiment in Iraq end up following them, as an otherworldly creature has come looking for vengeance.
Newsarama talked to Aldridge and Godlewski to find out more about the project, their approach to both Iraq and Kentucky, and how Iris got his name.
Newsarama: Shawn, let's start with the general concept of this story. It's got booze and war and monsters, so it seems like it has a little of everything. But how would you describe it?
Shawn Aldridge: At the base of it, it's about some small town folks — regular people – in inescapable circumstances brought about their decisions.
It's sort of a Southern gothic feel. The supernatural elements play heavy, but at the end of the day, it's about being human.
And it's about what you do for family, and when they're sort of backed into a corner, how you react to that. I think that works with the monster — the supernatural part of the book — and the main character, Iris, himself. His main motivation becomes saving his family.
Nrama: How do you think Scott's art plays into this "Southern gothic" feel you're creating in the story?
Aldridge: Scott does a really good job of giving the book its own, unique feel. Just little things that he adds, things that weren't in the script. For example, the very first scene is sort of a flashback to young Iris, who is the main character, and Scott gave him a wagon. And that seems such a small thing, but it added so much to the innocence that kind of dies in that first scene.
And the monster — Scott has designed this really unique and creepy monster that I don't think you're going to find anywhere else. It's not a vampire or zombie or werewolf or zombie or anything like that. It's definitely unique in the book itself.
Scott Godlewski: Well thank you! I think Shawn does a really good job of building this whole world, the characters, and the dialogue, that my only goal is to not ruin any of that.
Aldridge: So far, so good!
Nrama: Shawn, you mentioned the main character, Iris. Why did you pick a name like "Iris" for the main character?
Aldridge: There's a certain intent in the name being one that, when you see it, you think of a female. It wasn't the name at first. It sort of evolved. You named the character something generic, then you realize they're not a John or a Bob. And I liked the sort of openness of that name. I think it adds to his character. I think a name like that would affect how a boy would grow up. I think his name gives him certain characteristics. You look back and think, maybe he was a little bit picked on because he has this somewhat female name.
And also, it's sort of a Southern name. I know plenty of boys and girls that had these names that could work both ways, and that kind of plays into it too.
And I just like the name!
Who knows if it plays out as well in the story as in your head. There was a purpose in my mind.
Nrama: What I'm kind of hearing is that there's an innocence about Iris, or a loss of innocence that really drives his character.
Aldridge: There is. The first scene, without giving anything away, sets the tone for the whole book. There's some cruelty that goes down in the first three or four pages. And I even say, in the words, that it's not about cruelty so much as it's about survival. And I think for Iris, he's… I don't want to say he's soft, but there's a hope within him that he sort of perpetuates through most of the book. That everything's going to work out.
But he never makes the decision to make things work out. So there's a sort of indecision, I guess, in a way, but also this optimism that it's going to be OK no matter how crazy things get if you just wait around. It'll work itself out.
And that's not the case at all.
So it's about killing who he was to be who he needs to be in this moment, in this situation. I mean, he's not a do-nothing, but he has this flaw that he lets things roll over him. Instead of trying to run from the wave, he just kind of lets it crash on him and hopes that he can swim.
Nrama: Scott, can you describe any of your tools of the trade? Is there anything special you're doing to achieve the look of this book?
Godlewski: I haven't really changed anything. What I do is, I pencil digitally. I just brush everything out in Photoshop. I just like penciling there so it's ready to ink when I print it out on my board. I'm working a little looser on this comic, just to try to give the lines more character and maybe add some unpredictability. It just makes it feel a little more unstable.
Nrama: I assume there are some flashbacks in Iraq, and of course this takes place in Kentucky. How much of a role does the setting play in the story and art?
Aldridge: The setting serves as a catalyst to the story. I wanted to tap into how those settings could affect the scenarios and situations that play out, especially with Kentucky. Growing up there, there's a feel there, a sort of slow Southern drawl, that I hope comes across. And in Iraq too — in our story, the flashbacks occur during the Iraq War. So there are things that push — there's destruction and craziness going on. You can almost not trust anybody walking around, and that includes the American soldiers. War affects people.
And the backwoods of Kentucky is sort of this isolation, but also, it's an escape. And I think that's an important part of the book — one of the major themes of the book is this sort of escape.
And as radically different as they are, Iraq and Kentucky, there's a thread that they share, in the sense that being born there — being born anywhere really — offers its own set of circumstances that I think is sort of… I don't want to say it's a burden, but it's something that you carry with you. If you're born in North Dakota, there are elements there that will shape you in a way that aren't there in, say, Florida.
Should you be born in these places, it sort of sets you on a certain path. So yeah, it does sort of play a role in giving the book a unique flavor.
Godlewski: I try to keep some accuracy to the setting, but I'm not the type of artist who puts a priority on drawing tiny details. Everything just needs to be recognizable — so you know that's a farmhouse and you know, for example, that's a street. I think the art serves the story, and I'm trying to do justice to Shawn's great story.