Writer Donny Cates has an intimate understanding of and love for the Lone Star State. The Texas native and resident set his infinitely re-readable God Country there and has chosen it again as the setting for his forthcoming new series Redneck from Image Comics/Skybound Entertainment. Redneck tells the tale of a group of isolationist vampires residing in Sulphur Springs, Texas, and how the peaceful life they’ve set up for themselves is about to be torn asunder.
Mr. Cates spoke with me recently about the conceit of Redneck, how his personal background impacted the building of Redneck’s world, and how much the series owes its feel to westerns of old.
FreakSugar: For folks who are considering picking up the series, what can you tell us about Redneck?
Donny Cates: Redneck is the story of the Bowman family. A group of vampires living in East Texas. When our story opens they’ve been kind of leading this very isolationist life. Not bothering anyone (They run a cattle farm and live off the blood they take from the cattle they slaughter for the BBQ joint their familiars run in town) and minding their business and living in peace with the townsfolk around them.
This is the story of how that peace comes to an end.
FS: Redneck is set in Texas and you’ve written about Texas before in God Country, which I adore. Are you from Texas? How have your past experiences informed how you approach the book?
DC: I am very much from Texas, yes! I was born in Dallas and raised in a little town called Garland (the inspiration for ARLEN from King of The Hill) and I currently live in Austin. So yeah, I’ve spent my entire life here.
In regards to Redneck specifically, I have a lot of extended family out there and I spent my childhood in and around the Sulphur Springs area where Redneck is set. East Texas, to me, was always scary and overgrown and isolated. It’s no wonder I chose it to hide my little vampire family in. If you’ve ever been out there, you know how well they’d fit in.
FS: The family in Redneck is very isolationist, seemingly to protect both the townspeople and themselves. Can you elaborate a bit on how and why the vampires came to that approach toward outsiders?
DC: Well, I don’t know how much they protect the townsfolk. They aren’t heroes. But, I suppose, by not allowing themselves to kill the townsfolk, that’s protecting them in a way!
They are very isolationist. But it’s really just a survival thing more than it is any kind of moral code. When the book opens it seems like the Bowman family might be one of the only vampire families left after some sort of…event. They talk about their family having been “hunted” in the past….but that’s all we ever hear of it.
Obviously, that’s something we’ll hear more about as we move forward. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I’ll say…there’s very good reason for it.
FS: Following up on that, there’s a moral code that the older vampires seem to have that I found welcome. Too often in pop culture, when we see southern vampires, monsters, etc., they are portrayed as feckless, unethical horror shows. Was it a conscious decision on your part to turn that paradigm on its side?
DC: Again, I’ve never really seen it as a moral code really. They don’t kill people because if they did (in this day and age) it would get them attention. Attention leads to getting killed. I’ve always viewed the book as kind of a reverse of The Walking Dead. Whereas TWD is about a group of humans trying to survive in a world filled with monsters, Redneck is about a bunch of monsters trying to survive in a world filled with US! And we can get mobilized. We have guns and helicopters and cops. It’s not something that they take lightly. For the continued survival of their family (and their species), they have to learn a new way to live.
That all being said…when someone messes with their family…all bets are off.
FS: Bartlett Bowman states that there are different views within the Bowman family as to how vampires should interact with humans. Is that why we see something of a hint of a rift in how the others view the grandpa of the clan?
DC: Absolutely. It’s one of the core themes of the book actually. The older part of the family with its outdated and frankly dangerous views on how the world should run, and the new, more enlightened group of family…and the tension and the danger that those two warring ideologies create.
FS: The Bowman clan has a longstanding feud with some of the religious folk in town. How much as you going to touch on religion and how it’s been entwined with tales of horror in Redneck?
DC: It’s hard not to touch on things like that when you are dealing with East Texas, where every other building is a church, and the local church can be a very big community leader. So it’s not as much as me touching upon horror tropes, as it is touching on real life East Texas tropes! But yeah, we are absolutely going to talk about the role of god in a world where monsters exist. Count on it.
FS: I’m not from Texas, but I am from the south and I know a few of the people in Redneck. Are the characters based on anyone you personally know?
DC: Every single one of them actually! Literally without exception, all the characters in the book are based on my real friends here in Austin. When I started crafting the book, I knew I wanted all the characters to feel real. To feel lived in and, for lack of a better word, normal. So one day I looked up and realized that all my Texan buddies fit the bill pretty well!
FS: Lisandro Etherren’s art has a raw quality that couples wonderfully with the world you’ve written. What was the collaboration process like with Lisandro?
DC: It’s been great! Lisandro has this amazing rugged quality to his work that suits the book perfectly. He draws ugly in a really beautiful way. That was always very important to me. And he just nails it.
FS: Are there any particular vampire stories that influence your approach to Redneck? The book feels like it shares some DNA with Salem’s Lot, which is one of my favorite vampire yarns.
DC: I’m a big Stephen King fan, so that’s not surprising to hear. But I didn’t really base any of Redneck on other vampire stories. Much of the research I did was with westerns actually. I reread Lonesome Dove and Phillip Meyer’s The Son (both big inspirations on the book) and read a ton of Texas history. So the book shares DNA with Texas and the western genre more than any vampire story.
FS: What can we expect going forward in Redneck?
DC: Lots and lots of blood.
Redneck #1, written by Donny Cates with Lisandro Etherren on art, goes on sale Wednesday, April 19, from Image Comics/Skybound Entertainment. The final order cutoff deadline for comics retailers is Monday, March 27.
From the official issue description:
The Bowmans are VAMPIRES who have quietly run the local barbecue joint in their small town for years, living off cow’s blood. Their peaceful coexistence ends as generations of hate, fear, and bad blood bubble to the surface—making it impossible to separate man from monster! Critically acclaimed writer DONNY CATES (GOD COUNTRY) and artist LISANDRO ESTHERREN serve up the tale of a DIFFERENT kind of family just trying to get by, deep in the heart of Texas.