What is a hobo's idea of a perfect place? For Thanny and Jed, it's Liquor City - and they're on their way there.
In February 20's Long Road to Liquor City OGN, these two vagabonds are telling lies, stealing pies, and up to hijinx as they cross the United States in search of the easy life during the Great Depression.
Jed and Thanny's journey isn't easy - and it wasn't easy for writer Macon Blair and artist Joe Flood. The duo mentioned work on this title to Newsarama as far back as 2010, and in that time the two have individually worked on several comic books and films, but somehow found their way back to finish this story with Oni.
With the book due out in nine days, the duo talk about Long Road to Liquor City and their own long road to get there.
Newsarama: Joe, Macon, I'm glad to be here talking to you about this nine years after the last time we spoke. What's it like to be back here and Long Road to Liquor City almost out in stores?
Macon Blair: Chris! Nice to talk to you again, sir! Liquor City has been a passion project for Joe and I since we started way back when but we had to put it aside for a few years and focus on some other projects to pay the bills. But once Oni came on board as the publisher it kicked back into high gear.
In one sense it feels a little surreal, that this thing we hatched so long ago when each of our lives we so different (before having families) is now going to come out. On the other hand, I think Joe and I are both stubborn and felt determined that one way or another we’d get it out there. Very grateful that Oni Press wanted to roll the dice.
Joe Flood: Grateful, very grateful to work with professionals who are willing to support me and at times put up with me and my issues, which there were a lot of, between the time we put out that ashcan and now.
I’m married now and have a daughter, my life is completely different. What hasn’t changed is the friends and family who support and encourage me.
I’m glad to hear that they’re all excited that this book is about to come out, because despite all the life events and other pressing or more lucrative projects that kept me from finishing this one, they knew I loved this project and I wanted to see it through, I just needed seven years to do it.
Nrama: Macon, you gave Joe the Long Road to Liquor City script back in 2010. Joe, did you know then that it would be a long multi-year project?
Flood: No, I thought it would be an easy sell. A crazy hobo adventure, who wouldn’t want to publish that?
We were rejected by several publishers, including Oni, until I just happened to be guest at a portfolio review my friend was organizing at the Savannah College of Art & Design and Oni's James Lucas Jones was there and he asked me “Why haven't you pitched us anything lately.” To which I replied, “I did, you turned it down.” James asked me to jog his memory and I showed him recent pages from Liquor City and that’s went he finally gave us the green light to publish it. After that it was entirely on me to get it done in between other graphic novel projects. Something I overestimated my ability to do.
Nrama: Macon, has your work in films as a writer and actor affected Long Road to Liquor City at all?
Blair: It started out as a screenplay that eventually became a comic book project, so in that sense, absolutely. I was really thinking of the storytelling in terms of camera angles and performances and sound design.
(I probably wrote that stuff in way too much detail: “Jed is angry, but not so angry he’s frowning, more like he’s irritated but won’t give Thanny the satisfaction of a reaction. Imagine Jed’s just smelled something foul that he can’t identify.” And Joe was probably reading the script like, Yeah, yeah, he’s angry, I got it... )
Nrama: Set it up for us - who are Thanny and Jed?
Blair: Jed and Thanny are two hobos on the road in a fairy tale version of the 1930s. They’re relentlessly seeking out the fabled Liquor City, which Jed believes to be a kind of hobo utopia.
Jed is older, wiser (in his own mind, anyway) and more experienced. He’s also very rigid in his beliefs. Thanny is younger, sensitive, a seeker. He adores Jed but is starting to wonder if he truly has all the answers. But they’re all they have in the world right now and would do anything for each other. It’s a love story, really.
Nrama: And what's the allure of Liquor City?
Blair: It means different things to different people but the common idea is that it’s the greener grass on the other side. It’s whatever you want the most in life that’s always just out of reach but you keep after it because what else is there. To Jed, it’s simply a beautiful place where he can indulge a life of easy leisure. For Thanny, he’s less certain what it is and that leads to some friction. It comes down to a question of faith, which Jed has an abundance of while Thanny is more of a questioner.
Nrama: Joe, looking back, do certain pages have certain memories for you in your real life?
Flood: I’ve never run from the cops, but my friends and I in grade school had to run from the occasional grumpy neighbor, who didn’t like us cutting across their lawn on the way home from school.
Nrama: Did you go back and tweak any of the older pages given your progression as an artist since then?
Flood: Yes, almost every panel with Maggie in it was redrawn. Her design didn’t quite fit, she needed to be updated. The only thing that was kept the same on those panels were the colors, since I didn’t have time to recolor everything in that block of pages to make it consistent.
Take a look a the panel where the gun explodes. It was my one opportunity to go crazy with the color, it stands out in those first few pages and I intended it to be that way.
Nrama: And are there certain quirks of your younger artistic self you're trying to re-absorb now as an artist in 2019?
Flood: No, every quirk I had back then was due to inexperience or me rushing through a drawing.
Artists use a thing I like to call shorthand. It's a way of getting the necessary information across to the viewer with as little drawing as possible. It’s not bad drawing or cheating, it’s knowing what to leave in and leave out. It’s not only for efficiency, it can be quite beautiful as well. My shorthand is much better now than it was then. My favorite drawings are always sketches and doodles, the stuff I do when I’m getting warmed up to do actual work. My goal has always been to get that loose and relaxed quality in my finished comic art.
Nrama: This delves deep into the life of a hobo, which as a role has somewhat been tweaked by modern film and TV. Were you attempting a degree of authenticity here, or are you leaning into the cultural idea of a hobo?
Blair: It’s a world I’ve been fascinated with for a long time, so there was some measure of authenticity in terms of details, some vernacular, some of the sign language, things like that.
And Joe is very precise in terms of getting the period correct in his artwork. But it was always meant to feel more like a fairy tale: grounded in some kind of reality but tweaked into the fantastical. It definitely lands much more on the mythological side of things than the strictly accurate.
Flood: I am unaware of what makes a hobo authentic. The exploits of real-life hobos would make a fascinating documentary, but it’s not something that is on my radar. I always thought of a hobo as a romanticized version of a transient. A comical cartoon exaggeration, like the lovable tramp, portrayed by Charlie Chaplin.
People lost their homes in the Great Depression and had to take to the road. It was tragic. This isn’t about that, it’s a fantasy version of America by Macon’s and my imaginations. The whole book is Americana turned on its head. So if there are some real hardcore hobos out there that take offense to this book, I apologize.
Nrama: Any chance you and Joe are planning a signing tour akin to Jed and Thanny for this book?
Blair: Before we had kids I think we’d have been inclined to illegally hop a freight train to get to a convention but these days we’ll probably fly coach with our circular neck pillows like the boring fuddy-duddys that we are.
Flood: A road tour would be awesome, but I’m pretty sure I’m stuck here where I am for the next few months while I finish the last few issues of a 10-issue monthly writing and drawing for Lion Forge called Cellies. Once that’s wrapped up, it will probably be convention season, I sure hope to make the rounds with this book.
Nrama: Last question - what are your big goals for Long Road to Liquor City?
Flood: Well, finishing it was the biggest one.
Blair: To keep it going!
Flood: A second and third installment would be next. The story certainly has room to expand and I’d love to explore their world some more visually.
Blair: No spoilers but the book ends primed for more adventures, and it was planned as a trilogy, so my fondest hope would be to keep telling Jed and Thanny’s story.