"After 14 years, Luke McBain's come back to Eden. No one's going to mess with him – and there's only one way he's leaving. "
Although those are the final words of the first issue of the recently released comic book miniseries Luke McBain, it's apropos as an introduction to what the book is all about.
Luke McBain is the story of a man returning home after years spent behind bars, and his home is the fictional town of Eden, Louisiana. Off the beaten bath and north of New Orleans, this is the kind of town you might drive through without blinking if you didn't know what to look for. But for McBain, it's the place he calls home. But after his fourteen-year absence, it's not the place it used to be.
In a unique twist, country singer Trace Adkins is Luke McBain. No, there's not a television show or movie in the wings (yet), but Trace stars in the comic as Luke. From his likeness, down to his mannerisms and his down-to-earth sense of storytelling seen in his music, Adkins and the book's publisher and creators entered into a unique partnership that appeals to both comic fans and country music fans. For Alabama-based publisher 12 Gauge and its head Keven Gardner, it seemed an ideal synergy of talent – their other big book for 2010 is a spinoff of the upcoming second Boondock Saints movie. Enlisted to put pen to paper and make the comic was Louisiana native Kody Chamberlin on art and writer David Tischman, who has spent considerable time both in comics and in movies recently.
With Luke McBain #1 released in November and issue 2 scheduled for later this month, we talked with Tischman and Chamberlin about the project.
Newsarama: Thanks for sitting down with us, guys. The first issue of Luke McBain is out, and more are on the way --- but for those that are late to the party, how would you describe it for us?
David Tischman: Here's what we tell people -- Luke McBain returns to his small Louisiana hometown after 14 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit -- but here's what the book's really about. It's about a guy who doesn't take people's shit. This is a guy who's "all in" all the time. He was brought up right, and he knows right from wrong. And you better get the hell out of his way. He opens doors for a lady, and he beats the crap out of a hopped-up Meth addict waving a gun around a convenience store. Along the way, he reconnects with some people from his past, and realizes his life is just beginning.
Kody Chamberlain: Without giving too much away, the story revolves around two brothers and the paths they've chosen in life. It's really a great character story, David did an amazing job crafting the storyline.
Nrama: Holding #1 in my hands here fresh from reading it, and I feel a real Walking Tall vibe, or maybe Billy Jack. Am I seeing things?
Chamberlain: I used to love those films as a kid, they were raw and over the top. There's just something about those larger than life characters that are always fun to watch. The style I'm using on this project is already a little raw and rough, so I think it compliments the 1970's exploitation stuff well enough. I wasn't trying to recreate that 1970's look, but I was conscious of it and figured I'd embrace some of those qualities. I've pulled in some of those washed out colors and there's a lot of rough textures worked into the final artwork. I'm even scratching up some of the panels with razor blades to roughen things up.
Nrama: How about you, David? Were those movies big influences?
Tischman: I am a big fan of those movies, and of the action movies of that period. In Luke McBain, we kept it simple. We let the characters talk to each other, and we let them breathe. For instance, it wouldn't be authentic to have McBain go on and on. Those movies are about honest men who cannot abide the injustice that threatens their towns and their friends. These are men who are pushed to the brink, and push back--hard.
Nrama: This book stars, in a way, country singer Trace Adkins. I've seen Trace pop up in movies, television shows, and even on Donald Trump's The Apprentice and now ... comics? How did this all come into place?
Tischman: 12 Gauge is a great publisher, and I love the smart, balls-to-the-walls action stuff Keven Gardner publishes. Keven and I are friends, and we were looking to work together. Billy Jack and Walking Tall came up. The great action movies of the '70s. This was before Taken and the Clint Eastwood movie came out. I had just produced a horror movie, Trailer Park of Terror, which is based on the comic book, and Trace Adkins was in that movie. Trace did a great job. And the idea just kind of came out of that. Keven and I developed the idea--a simple revenge story, set against the modern American south. We pitched it to Trace and his manager, Ken Levitan, and they loved it. That was about a year ago. When we started talking about artists, Kody Chamberlain was literally the first and only name we wanted. Kody has exactly the right look for this book. We knew he'd knock it out of the park.
Nrama: Kody, how did you go about making sure the character looks like Trace?
Chamberlain: Trace forwarded me a set of snapshots and music video DVDs so I did a lot of sketching from that. I also did DVD screen grabs to use as photo reference. Our goal from the start was to get a bit of Trace's likeness into the McBain character, but I never felt any pressure to stray from what I though worked visually. Trying to create a perfect likeness in a comic will usually end up looking stiff and that's a problem we addressed before anything was drawn, so we stayed away from it. We did all agree up front that we'd get as close as we could without compromising the gritty lineart that works so well for this type of story.
Nrama: Did you get an opportunity to meet Trace and size him up in person?
Chamberlain: I did. We were invited to check out a concert while Trace was on tour and my wife and I were invited back stage to meet him and talk about the project a bit. He was very complimentary about everything and loved the artwork. That was early in the process so I only had about 7 pages done, but he called in a few of his guys backstage and they all got a kick out of the pages. He asked a few 'behind the scenes' questions about how I produce the artwork, and he seemed sincere in his excitement for the comic. I got a real sense that he trusted what we were doing and I found a lot of inspiration in that.
Nrama: So Kody's got the visuals down, but what about you David? How did you get the mannerisms and inflection of Trace down onto the printed page?
Tischman I have every TV appearance Trace's done in the last year on my TiVo. That includes all the "Celebrity Apprentice" stuff, and Craig Ferguson. And a concert they aired on DirecTV, and a promo piece for his book on Fox News. The meetings with Trace in Nashville really helped, too. It was very important to keep an honest Southern feel to the scripts, and Keven--who's in Alabama--kept me honest. Luke McBain is a story for Trace Adkins fans. That's why we felt it's important to have the books available to his fans on tour. When his fans go to a Trace Adkins show, they'll be able to buy Luke McBain.
Nrama: You mentioned meeting Trace to secure this project; can you tell us about that?
Tischman: Keven and I went to Nashville several times, and met with Trace each time. He's very tall. And there were calls and e-mails to get the story to where we all wanted it to be. Trace tells you when he likes something, and he stands up for a point he believes in. Luke McBain is an original character in an original story, but that guy looks and feels like Trace Adkins.
Nrama:Speaking of getting down the truth of Trace, this takes place in the countryside of Louisiana – that's home territory for both Trace and Kody. Kody, how's that been – drawing a story set so close to home?
Chamberlain: I'm not sure how much thought went into keeping everything local, I think it just ended up falling into place. But it does sort of make sense to have a Louisiana artist doing a book set in Louisiana. Eden is a fictional town, so I haven't been making much of an effort to recreate any specific architecture or landmark. I'm just pulling from my own experiences and making sure things feel authentic. The script is great, loads of rich details to pull from, but David's been leaving all the Louisiana stuff wide open. It's all very subtle, but it's the kind of thing that I enjoy doing. If you look specifically at the first couple of pages of issue #1, McBain is walking down a country road toward an old filling station. I really wanted to make that feel authentic but not photo realistic. There's little stuff like that throughout the series, I've been having a lot of fun playing around with that concept.
Nrama: From Louisiana to New Jersey, by way of you, David. Before we sign off here, how'd you get into the zone for writing this?
Tischman: Yes, I am a proud son of suburban New Jersey. [laughs]
I read Trace's book, and we talked with Trace about a ton of specifics. And I learned a lot. And there are times in the scripts and in conversations with Kody where I let him take the lead. The details are important and there are times when Kody knows those details better than I do. But story-wise? A story is a story. Whether you're walking down the street in Eden, Louisiana or Scotch Plains, New Jersey. Luke McBain is written as a Western. Look at the lyrics to some of Trace's songs, and then look at a Springsteen song. Couldn't be more different, but at their core, both are talking about America--what it is, and what it should be.