Having a bad day? Like a really, really bad day? Forget a Snickers... how about an enchanted talking sword?
That's what turns around the life of the elderly Emmet Quinlan when the sword is one of the only things left standing after a tornado levels his and his departed wife's West Texas home. But as with all good things, there's a catch - and it begins with the 20 foot tall Jack Kirby-esque gods who come after the sword.
Buzzkill creators Donny Cates and Geoff Shaw have reunited for what the writer calls a "Fourth World Texan tall tale" titled God Country. With the first issue scheduled to debut from Image Comics on January 11, Newsarama talked to the two long-time friends about this story of a magic sword giving a man a chance to regain his mojo.
Newsarama: So, what can you tell me about this new series God Country?
Donny Cates: God Country is a story of an old man in West Texas battling Alzheimer’s, his family, a tornado and a twelve foot indestructible enchanted talking sword named Valofax. It’s a story I have wanted to tell for a pretty long time now. Something that’s been rattling around in my head since before Geoff and I made Buzzkill, even. Like a lot of my books, it’s not really about the things you might think at first glance. In the way that Buzzkill wasn’t really about superheroes or Ghost Fleet wasn’t really about big rigs, God Country has a lot more to offer than just “an old man with a sword”.
This book has a lot to say about family, about legacy. About what parts of yourself you leave behind for them. About letting go. It’s both the wildest, most far out story we’ve ever told and at the same time the most deeply personal thing we’ve ever done. There is a lot of all of our heart in this one.
Nrama: I’m from the American South, so “God Country” is a phrase heard around here as a synonym for the “Bible Belt.” But what’s it mean for you two, and for this series?
Cates: That’s actually a question that’s come up before, and the best way I can describe the thinking behind the title is that it’s more of a threat than anything else. I like to think of the title in the same way you would describe a part of the country that has a lot of wolf attacks. You’d say “Be careful out there, that’s Wolf Country.” The title was inspired, in a way, by a few trips I took out to West Texas. That part of the state is so beautiful and dangerous. Untamed, unconquered.
Anyone who’s ever seen it can attest to the notion that it seems like giant gods roaming the earth would fit right at home out there. It''s a magical and incredibly ominous place. That’s something we’ve really tried to capture in the book. That feeling of epic scale.
Geoff Shaw: Big is the word. Anything with "God" in the title is going to raise some eyebrows, but as to Donny's point, we're not so much speaking about a specific God so much as all of them. One look at West Texas, and it doesn't take a lot of imagination to envision a landscape teeming with larger-than-life beings.
It's a place that is defined by its people and culture, rich and intrinsically linked to not only the place but also the scale of Texas itself. We really wanted to marry that sense of size visually, the deeply rooted history with the invading supernatural, who feel just as natural as the native Texans. So in that sense, the landscape plays an integral role, which meant lots and lots of wide-screen panels.
Nrama: So just who is Emmet Quinlan, before and after the tornado?
Cates: That question is kind of the heart of the entire series. Emmett used to be a very sweet, if not a bit stoic, man. A good father, a great husband, a role model in his community. A good man by any measure. The illness that’s taken hold of him has changed him, though. When the story opens Emmett is hateful, confused and angry. He doesn’t seem to be able to hold on to anything. He doesn’t realize his wife, Elizabeth, has passed on. He lashes out. Screams at his son. Scares his granddaughter. Anyone who has gone through this kind of thing can relate to that feeling of having this person around who looks like your loved one, but they just really aren’t there anymore. Its…it can be devastating.
When the storm comes, it comes from somewhere else. Somewhere magical and wild that doesn’t play by the rules you and I know. It brings this sword, Valofax, and as long as Emmett is holding on to that sword… he’s back. He’s better. He’s made whole again. He knows his own name and the faces of his family.
So, all is right in the world as long as he holds the sword. The problem is that the tornado didn’t just bring Valofax. It brought other things as well. And Emmett will have to fight to hang on to the sword, and to his memories as hard as he can.
It’s where we get out series tagline. Which is: Salvation is a double-edged sword.
Nrama: I get a rustic backwoods vibe out of this, a la Southern Bastards – but with a King Arthur twist given that sword Emmet finds. What’s the tone of this book?
Cates: Absolutely. I think Image has been calling it Southern Bastards meets American Gods. And while Texas is not the south, and these gods are anything but American, that’s an apt description tone-wise. I’ve been calling it a fourth-world Texan tall tale. A fantastical western.
It’s actually the second in what I’d call a kind of thematic trilogy of supernatural Texas books. The first being Ghost Fleet, the second being God Country and the third… I would imagine you’ll all be hearing about that one later this year.
Nrama: So we’ve been narrowly avoiding talking about this, but let's get into it: the monsters that the tornado and this sword bring. Who and what are they?
Cates: Yeah, let’s do it. They are the true owners of the sword. 20 foot tall Kirby Gods. We meet a few of them as we move along in the story. The god of war, Aristus, the god of death, Balegrim, and then a few more I’m not going to say a word about. Creating these gods with Geoff has been an incredible amount of fun. The combination of these huge forces of nature battling against a hardened old Texan is the most fun I’ve ever had writing anything. As for their story, and why their sword ended up on earth, in Texas, in the hands of an old man… I’m going to have to let you all find that out on your own. I’ll say this - just because they are gods doesn’t mean they don’t have the same family drama you and I do. It’s just that the stakes involved in theirs tend to be rather cataclysmic. Apocalyptic, even.
Nrama: Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe this is your first Image book for either of you – how’d you connect with each other, and connect with Image?
Cates: Well, Geoff and I have been on this odd journey together for a few years now. We did Buzzkill together, the first book for either of us that anyone noticed, and then we went right on to The Paybacks at Dark Horse, and then subsequently over to Heavy Metal to finish telling that story. Geoff and I went to school together, and I don’t want to speak for Geoff but we’ve grown to be very, very good friends. We have very similar tastes and we trust each other as storytellers. It was truly a no-brainer to bring Geoff in on this. No one does raw emotion and earth shattering power better than Geoff. I'd put him up against any of the biggest names in comics.
And then, man... the jaw-dropping talent of Gerardo Zaffino came on to provide us with some astounding variant covers. Then we got Jason Wordie to come in and color his heart out on the book, and the amazing John J. Hill on design and lettering - he's responsible for that killer logo of ours. All in all, I’m incredibly proud of the work this team has done turning my silly scripts into such a beautiful book. It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before.
Shaw: We just couldn't get enough of each other! Really, Donny and I really click both on and off the page. So when he approached me with this project, I almost didn't need to hear the pitch. That being said it was a bad ass pitch.
As much fun as we had on Buzzkill and The Paybacks, and the very stylized world we created there, I was really attracted to do a more grounded story, both literally and visually. Couple that with the freedom at Image to tell a new story the way we want to tell it was a no-brainer, not to mention a great honor. Did I mention I get to draw gigantic Kirby Gods!
Nrama: So how long to you plan for this series to go?
Cates: We have a very tight plan. That’s for sure. That being said, that’s up to the audience and the response we get on the project. Speaking only for myself here, I could write this book until I’m old and gray. I love it. I can’t remember the last time a story has had its hooks in me like God Country has. We’re in it for the long haul, and we have a hell of a story to tell you all. We’ll be here as long you’ll all have us!
Nrama: What are your big goals with this series?
Cates: I’ve done drama in Buzzkill, action in Ghost Fleet, a comedy in The Paybacks, and an insane science fiction caper in Interceptor. For this one, I wanted to try and stretch and grow as a storyteller and tell something unique. Something important. I wanted to tell a story only I could tell from a very personal perspective. I wanted to tell a story that felt timeless. Something you could hand to someone in 50 years and have them dig it, and relate to it. We’re going to shoot for the moon on this one, everyone. I really and truly hope you’ll all come and join us. I think you’ll dig it.
If nothing else, I can damn well guarantee it’s going to be beautiful to look at. Geoff, Jason, John, and Gerardo are all at the top of their game. That alone is worth the price of admission.
And yeah… the story is pretty cool, too. :)
Shaw: I second that big time. As an artist, you want to stretch, evolve, and take chances. And every story brings with it a new set of challenges, new problems to solve and perspectives to dive into.
With God Country, I think we're making something fresh. It's a big, gritty story, but it's setting and characters are dwarfed by its heart. More than anything, you want to tell stories that connect with people, and hopefully, say something they've never heard before. I think every member of the team would agree we've got something special, and a hell of a lot of fun.