Image's hit series The Walking Dead is about humans living in a world of supernatural monsters, but this week's new series Redneck is about one breed of those monsters trying to live in a world full of humans.
Scheduled to hit shelves April 19, Redneck by Donny Cates and Lisandro Estherren follows a family of backwoods Americana vampires who run a BBQ joint by day and feud with a neighboring human family a la the Hatfields and McCoys all day and night. Based in part on Cates' own Texas upbringing and the people he grew up with (minus the vampire bit, of course), Redneck is the first vampire series from the Image Comics publishing imprint that zombies built, Skybound Entertainment.
With the book due out this week, Newsarama talked with both Cates and Estherren about this all-too-literal take on the word "Redneck" and how they frame it as a mirror to The Walking Dead.
Newsarama: Donny, what can you tell us about Redneck?
Donny Cates: Redneck follows the Bowmans, a family of vampires living in East Texas just minding their own business. That’s it. That’s the whole thing. Nothing else shocking or cataclysmic and devastating happens at all.
It's about this small family living in peace and hiding from their own bloody history. Trying to build a better life. Trying not to be monsters anymore.
And the very grim consequences that occur when that dream is shattered.
Nrama: Lisandro, what made Redneck a project you wanted to do?
Lisandro Estherren: I just loved the story, not only because of the vampires, but because it is a story with substance, with deep and well developed characters, and also a comment on the struggle of facing the world from an outsider’s perspective.
Nrama: And these vampires own BBQ restaurant. I know Redneck is intended to be serious in nature, but I can't get this unique idea out of my craw - as some Southerners might say. How'd the idea for Redneck come about?
Cates: It really all came from the title. I know that’s not a sexy or profound answer, but that’s how these things work sometimes. I was shocked no one had used it before, so I set out to craft a story around it… and that’s when it dawned on me (After a few days of crafting the pitch) that it was slowly becoming a very profound and personal book for me.
I ended up putting more of myself and my own family’s history into this one than I ever thought I would.
So yeah, it for sure started with a cool title and a fun idea about vampires running a BBQ shop…but it very quickly evolved into something I’m incredibly proud of. It’s my favorite thing I’ve ever done.
Nrama: So just who are Bartlett and the Bowmans in this, individually?
Cates: Bartlett is a bit of a black sheep in the book. You can be born into the family or turned into the family. Meaning born through “natural” means, or killed and brought back as a vampire. There’s a bit of a hierarchy in the family. Natural born vampires have higher status, and obviously, those turned later are… kind of looked down on. So you can guess which one Bartlett is.
Bartlett was turned into the family the same year, same month that Texas declared its independence. He calls himself “the last surviving son of Texas” which is a bunch of bullshit obviously. When our story begins, Bartlett is a bit useless. Bored, drunk and eager to prove himself. Which is a deadly combination when you’re a vampire in a world that hates you.
The Bowmans themselves are interesting. They’ve been in Texas longer than Texas has been Texas…and when our story opens we get the sense that something has gone very wrong. That maybe The Bowmans are the last of their kind. That they are in hiding from something or someone.
That’s one of the things that I love about this book. These are vampires who could honestly care less about being vampires. They aren’t a part of some grand vampire parliament or coven; they aren’t beautiful and wise…they don’t even really know how vampires work or what the “rules” are.
They’re just a little family trying to get by. Just trying to live their immortal lives in some peace and quiet. And oh boy do they not get their wish.
Nrama: So just who is out to get them, in this initial arc, at least?
Cates: Well, that’d be the Landry’s. The Landry’s are a massive religious and political force in Sulphur Springs (Where the Bowman’s live), and they know about the Bowmans. They always have in fact. The two families have a bit of a Hatfield and McCoy thing going on. But what’s cool to me, is that even thought his feud has been going on for decades, if not longer…it’s always new Landry's and the same Bowmans.
So, there’s an interesting dynamic in this book… because if you were to ask the Landry’s they’d tell you that they are the good guys and this family of vampires needs to be killed.
And hey… the messed-up thing about this book is… they might be right.
Nrama: Lisandro, how'd you go about designing these vampires?
Estherren: The funny part is that these vampires are real people – they are friends and acquaintances of Donny. So we worked the designs from pictures and made a couple of tweaks in order to make them look more suitable to the story we want to tell.
Nrama: The look from the covers by you and Dee Cunniffe is striking. How'd you settle about what your style would be for the covers?
Estherren: I've tried to find a cleaner look for the covers, leave room for Dee to do his magic, and also put together a strong and synthetic piece for each issue.
Nrama: The term "redneck" calls out some raw visuals and memories, not to mention for me growing up in what some people call 'the Redneck Riviera'. What do you think of this rise of a look at southern culture with things like Justified, Southern Bastards, and Warlords of Appalachia?
Cates: Yeah, it’s interesting, right? I think it’s just the rise of creator-owned stories bumping up against and into the kind of subtle rise of southern authors. I know just speaking for myself, it’s certainly not something I thought about or planned out, you know? I think we're all just writing what we know. And what we like.
Estherren: I think it is very interesting because it depicts, in one way or another (and through different forms of art), the rich and vast American history and culture, which like in other countries is a complex and changing thing. Also, the rise of this look at the southern culture could be a significant way to re-think the singularity and the diversity of the communities and the cultural heritage.
Cates: If anything, both God Country and Redneck were me just saying “screw it” and doing what I wanted to do, rather than what I thought other people would want to read. I started making comics I wanted to read… and weirdly enough people started showing up.
I set stories in Texas because Texas is a place that fascinates me. It's where I'm from and the place I call home. I tend to tell more emotional and personal stories when I set them there.
So, I guess Texas is the security blanket I wrap myself in before I expose myself to everyone. Wait… no that sounded terrible.
Nrama: How did you and Lisandro connect to do this series?
Cates: Lisandro was one of my many artists we looked at for the book. I pitched the story without anyone attached, and so we had this fun few weeks where Jon Moisan (series editor) and I just poured over different artists and traded ones we liked and so on.
Estherren: I did some test pages for Jon when he was at Marvel, so it was great to talk again and find out he was putting together this project at Skybound. Then he said that Donny was the writer, so I jumped in immediately! We found things in common, like music and our love for the drums. So it's been really a treat to work with him.
Cates: Lisandro jumped out at both Jon and I right away. He’s able to do this amazing magic trick in his art where he draws ugly things in an exquisite and raw and honest way. His style is very open and emotional. I knew he was the guy for the job almost instantly.
Nrama: What led you to working with Skybound as opposed to doing creator-owned through Image Central directly?
Cates: They asked! Honestly. Jon Moisan reached out to me out of the blue back in 2015 and asked if I had any interest in doing something with Skybound. In pitching something. I am a huge fan of the books Skybound puts out, so I was obviously both flattered and excited (and terrified) by the idea. It just so happened that I had been working on Redneck that same week he emailed and they really liked it.
To be the first vampire book Skybound has ever done is pretty wild. It’s a great fit.
I’ve been saying that Redneck is, in a lot of ways, a kind of mirror of The Walking Dead. In The Walking Dead, you follow a group of humans just trying to get by and fighting for their continual existence in a world filled with monsters.
In Redneck you follow a group of monsters trying to do the same thing in a world filled with us. And in certain ways that can be kind of scarier for them.
And no, Robert, I’m not saying my book is as cool as yours. I’m just saying we look good on the shelf together. :)
Nrama: Big picture, what are your goals with Redneck?
Cates: I’ve never really had an opportunity to tell a long-form story. To (pardon the pun) sink my teeth into something and play with characters for a long time. These characters, this family, has such a rich history before the story even begins, and with them already being dead and immortal and all…the opportunities for continuing stories is limitless.
Estherren: I´d like to help the series to be a consistent and vivid universe and let the readers fall in love with these awesome characters, so they have a really fun time reading it like we did making it.
Cates: Big picture, my goal is to try and stay on this book for as long you’ll all have me. I could write it forever. I love it.
Oh, and obviously being cooler than The Walking Dead is a big goal, too.