The American south has a history and soul to it unlike any that can be found anywhere else in the United States. Perhaps that’s why so many writers artists have revisited the South to use as a backdrop for yarns that reflect and comment upon the moral fabric of not just Americans, but humanity in general. That examination is particularly prevalent in the Southern Gothic tradition, which couples the supernatural and the grotesque to add another layer to that discussion.
Writer and colorist Jordie Bellaire and artist Vanesa Del Rey use those traditions to compelling results in their new series Redlands, debuting this August from Image Comics. The book follows witches in a southern town who exact revenge after a failed lynching on the part of the townsfolk who would destroy them. Ms. Bellaire spoke to me recently about the conceit of Redlands, playing with conventions in the series, and how her background informs how she approaches the book.
FreakSugar: For folks who are considering picking up the book, what can you tell us about the conceit of Redlands?
Jordie Bellaire: Redlands is a story that grew out of anger and a basic resentment of the state of things in America, politically and culturally. But also, it is such an intense love letter to all things occult and evil. It’s a strange balance between drama and horror, posing some difficult questions about what is evil and what is right or wrong. Because in my story, really everyone is to blame for something. No one is perfect and everyone is pretty awful.
FS: What can you tell us about where we find ourselves at the beginning of the first issue of Redlands?
JB: The beginning of Redlands issue 1 takes places after a witch lynching has gone horribly wrong: the witches escape and begin to terrorize those who thought they could destroy them. It’s meant to be the reversal of how many stories of witches begin, they often lose and lose their lives.
FS: Readers are dropped right in the middle of the action and you hit the ground running. It brings to the table a disorienting effect that pulls the reader in right away. Does that tie into the overall feel that you want to bring to the book?
JB: I think a lot of the book will be more of a slow burn, I’d like it to have that Southern flair of being relaxed and understated. There will be times the book should grab you again and push you quickly to the end but those scenes will really beg for that attention. Otherwise, Redlands should unfold like you’re a tourist in the town and in the lives of those part of it. Saunter through, stay a while, be careful you don’t piss off the wrong person.
FS: The witches that are wreaking havoc in town seem to have an agenda behind their chaos, one that stretches back through the decades. What can you tell us about them?
JB: I’d like the witches to remain mysterious for the most part until their stories are revealed but I can say they follow the tradition of being indoctrinated at a young age and they have certain abilities that speak to who they are as people, deep down. Charmer, firestarter and shapeshifter. Regardless of their abilities, women are often treated the same way throughout history and that’s what these characters are angriest about. Women get pushed around a lot and these ladies are just tired of the whole damn thing.
FS: Vanesa Del Rey’s linework is so visceral that it’s alternately gorgeous and uncomfortable, which makes the story pop to the fore even more. What was the collaboration process like with Vanesa?
JB: Vanesa is a total gem, pro and mad scientist rolled into one. I think she really gets the tone and the look of the book so there’s very little back and forth. I trust her to do her thing and the way she interprets the words I give her are often ten times better than I could have imagined. She’s also given so much to the story with her art. She’ll draw something unusual or something that wasn’t described and now I have to write about it later, invent a story for this particular thing she’s done. Basically, I can never say enough great things about Vanesa!
FS: You always bring such thoughtfulness to the color choices that you bring to whatever project you tackle, and Redlands is no exception. How did you decide on the palette you chose for the book?
JB: Redlands should feel hot, hot, hot! And of course red, red, red.
This, combined with things like my love for Zodiac and Stoker are the biggest color inspirations for Redlands. The series also plays a lot with fire so you can expect lots of those burning, hot flames page to page.
FS: While this is book is very much its own unique animal, it seems to share DNA with Southern Gothic yarns and modern witch tales. What are your influences for Redlands and how do they affect how you approach the book?
JB: Stephen King is a huge inspiration to me and he is one of the, if not the single greatest, storyteller of the “small-town horror” genre. He once mentioned that while writing Salem’s Lot, he wanted all of his characters to die and let the vampires win, but he fell in love with some of the characters and they were stronger than he thought. Those are the sorts of ideas that have helped me approach Redlands as a whole. I try to make the witches and Redlands townspeople alive and to me, let them chose their own fate. I have an ending in mind but even then, I’m not sure how the witches are going to react. I like to talk about them as if they have power, for real, which kind of freaks me out sometimes but it certainly makes them very fun to write.
FS: Following up on that, while I’m not from the Deep South, I am from Kentucky and there are people in this book that echo folks I know. What was the research process like for crafting the series?
JB: The research is my life!! And the news and the experiences of my friends and family.
Let’s have a pint sometime and I’ll tell you all about it.
FS: At the book’s end, you give a note to readers about who the comic is for and what to expect tonally. As the project grew, did you have a certain idea or mission statement that drove how you approached the book?
JB: I think I knew the book was always for bullied kids like me growing up and even as I grew up, the things that bothered me as a kid still bothered me now. I think some things in the world just haven’t changed. So in a way, I didn’t have a mission statement but I did have a personal stake in the book and the themes there. It’s very personal and very important to me. Some of the things that will be said and done in Redlands are things I wish I could do or things I wish hadn’t happened. It’s a very cathartic work that comes from the darkest places of me and in someways I’d like to think, from many other people. I hope it can resonate with those creepy, cobwebbed areas in all of us
FS: What can you tease that we can expect to see going forward in Redlands?
JB: Redlands will upset people, hands down. It is upsetting work and there are things I’m pushing the witches toward that will be hard for them and hopefully therefore, hard for the readers. Redlands is cathartic but it’s also brutally honest and complicated. It’s full of drama and Satan but mostly drama and just lots of Satan.
Redlands #1, written and colored by Jordie Bellaire with Vanesa Del Rey on linework, is on sale August 9th from Image Comics.
From the official issue description:
A brand-new horror book from the minds of Eisner Award-winner JORDIE BELLAIRE (PRETTY DEADLY, Vision, Batman) and critically acclaimed artist VANESA R. DEL REY (ZERO, Scarlet Witch, Constantine) brings you to the sleepy, sunny town of Redlands, Florida. The police are failing to maintain control of their old-fashioned town, and a coven of killer witches plan to take everything from them. This summer, hide your bibles.