Southern Bastards #1 – What it means to be a man

The deep dirty South, I wish I knew what that actually meant. But my knowledge of that region of the United States is derived from cultural references from hip-hop music, television shows and professional wrestling. Through all these I would associate the South with rednecks, trucker caps, college football, Nascar racing, steak, ribs, evangelical Christianity, and most of all a characteristic incomprehensible accent known as a Southern drawl. Jason Aaron and Latour are borne of Southern roots and discuss this in an epilogue, focusing heavily on the themes of a disreputable origin and a return to whence they came. This comic is a personal venture looking retrospectively at the deep and dirty south, which is full of bastards, of which they are two.

Dog poohThe book is not an easy read. We mirror Earl Tubb’s worrisome features as we hope to make it through without disturbing anyone or being noticed at all. Unfortunately given the title of the book, that was never really going to be a realistic outcome. Craw County is not a pleasant place; the opening double page spread of a dog defecating in front of signs promoting Christianity is certainly testament to that. The Southern scene is set with panels featuring a BBQ restaurant, a junkie redneck, an disobedient child, high school cheerleaders, a tattooed thug urinating on a dog and my favourite, the confederate flag as a car number plate. The whole comic is superbly constructed and has a very uncomfortable and volatile feel to it. The artwork is also particularly apt as the backgrounds are suitably desolate and grim. Earl carried the weight of the world seemingly upon his face, as his leathery burdensome expression is reminiscent of his fathers. The local reprobates are hideously drawn with terrible teeth and misplaced features. The dramatic sounds are effected as large yellow writing sprawled across the panels and to provide emphasis. The colouring is very deliberate in its expressive nature and the County is generally on dark and shady on the whole. The scenes pertaining to his father are all coated in red and the night sequences are predominantly grayscale with the light provided by lamps and car headlights. At every point you know where you stand and what to expect, which is almost always a terrible thing.

Father fight

The story is quite simple, an old man returns to empty the house he grew up in, having left forty years ago. There is an instant flashback sequence as he cautiously approaches the Tubb residence. He remembers watching his father fend off a violent gang of thugs with a baseball bat. As we view glimpses of memorabilia on the wall, there are shots of swinging and kicking interspersed. It is an emotive opener but serves the specific purpose of demonstrating the degree of violence Earl grew up with but also the resilience and fortitude of his father, a sheriff who left five men bloodied outside of his home. It is an incredible scene as Latour’s art is coarse and full of grit, with the red shading of the brutality juxtaposed with the faded colours of aged wall frames. This particular effect is utilised on the final pages of the book as we witness another fight whilst single panel adages of Sheriff Tubb’s life interrupt the savagery. The powerful nature of Big Bert Tubb’s actions stays with you throughout the issue because it forms the cornerstone of Earl’s personality. All of his actions essentially relate to his father, as he confronts the place he once called home and the grave that holds the great man.

EarlWhat I find remarkable about this issue is the lamentation and deep emotions that are associated with a homecoming. Earl’s father is clearly a hero in the literal sense of the word, but there is a subtle and unshakable undertone that runs through the book. We experience the odd comment about Big Bert Tubb being an asshole and how the community has been shaped by his rule. His reputation begins as a seemingly triumphant act of justice turns into a sour and corrupt tale of villainy. There is much left to be said. As the two Jason’s create an incredibly boorish texture to Craw County, we also begin a catharsis that may end with the inevitable son becoming his father. There is a lovely touch, demonstrative of this theme, in the restaurant when Earl hears screams in the kitchen. A single panel is coloured red, as he closes the door and decides to take defend those in need. This is the first time we see that particular shading not in association with his father. As much as he appears to resent Big Bert, he resents more that he shares his traits. Suddenly we start to understand why he ran from home in the first place. This level of deep-seated pain is borne out further as we read the inscription on his father’s tombstone. It casts aspersions on our central protagonist, Earl Tubb, who may not have been a southern bastard after all.

“Here was a man

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