Southern Bastards, story by Jason Aaron and art by Jason Latour, announces its intentions on the very first page: a jumble of signs pointing out churches a few miles ahead, overgrown woods creeping up to the highway, and a dog taking a crap by the side of the road. It screams at you, “This is what I’m about, this is what I am, and I don’t care what you think.” And really, that’s what the South is all about.
Being from the South myself, I can relate to much of this comic. I have a preference regarding vinegar versus tomato based barbeque sauce. I’ve been to high school footballs games (my high school’s mascot was a Rebel, even) on Fridays and I’ve seen how much it meant to people. I think a restaurant lacking in good sweet tea isn’t much of a restaurant at all. And yeah, travelling around the South, and even among the older generations of my own family, I’ve experienced some prejudice towards other people.
This comic is about all of those things, particularly family, to an exaggerated, hyperbolized extent. This comic is all about history, which the South has in spades.
Earl Tubb (a man most likely in his 50s or 60s) returns to the fictional Craw County, Alabama, in order to sell his dad’s house. He comes driving into town in a “Y’All Haul” truck, thinking that he’ll be gone within three days. He’s wrong. Earl finds that his hometown has a larger hold on him than he thought, that it’s more important to him than he thought, and he stays to right what he views as the wrongs in his town: he takes aim at the corrupt coach of the local high school football team, who apparently has his fingers in everything.
There are a few through lines in this book. One is particularly gross, but effective: most issues we see a really mangy, stray dog barking or taking a crap somewhere. It speaks to the low down nature of the characters as well as the griminess of the subject matter in the story and the art. The second lends this story an element of personal tragedy apart from the larger, Greek tragedy stylings of the plot: while there aren’t narration or caption boxes, Earl Tubb spends a few panels of each issue on his cell phone, and we don’t know who he’s calling (and who’s never calls him back) until the very end. As the story progresses, his phone calls get more and more desperate. It’s through his phone calls that we learn how Earl Tubb really feels. We learn about how he’s breaking, little by little. When he finally bursts into tears as he’s leaving yet another message it’s earned, and it’s one hell of a gut punch.
A huge reason why it’s such a gut punch is the absolutely brilliant work of Jason Latour. His artwork is perfectly matched to the story. It’s scratchy at all times, but extremely expressive during the emotional scenes, and extremely violent during the fights. His work captures the weight of every punch and swing of a baseball bat, and I never lost track of who was who or where people were standing in a scene. Plus, and this is really the best part of all, his art really makes me want to eat some ribs.
Sidebar: this release includes a cover/variant cover gallery as well as a recipe for fried apple pie that looks simply delicious.
I really can’t say enough good things about this book. I will recommend it to every single person that I know. It speaks to me both personally and as a lover of comics. The story is memorable and tragic, the art is flawless and animated. If you missed these four issues, please pick up this trade. It’s easily one of my very favorite comics right now, and I can’t wait for #5.
Story: Jason Aaron Art: Jason Latour
Story: 10 Art: 9.5 Overall 10 Recommendation: Buy it RIGHT THIS INSTANT
Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review.