Vampires have come a long way since John Polidori’s The Vampyre in 1819. Popular culture has since seen creepy vampires, sexy vampires, and even high school teen angst-y vampires (in both buff and sparkly categories). In Redneck #1, Donny Cates takes the standard set of vampire mythos and applies them to a redneck family in East Texas.
The Bowmans run the local BBQ in a small East Texas town called Sulphur Springs. Secretly a clutch of vampires, the family survives on cow’s blood and mostly keeps to themselves. Father Landry and his brood are the only other family in Sulphur Springs that suspects the Bowmans’ true nature.
Bad Blood Tends to Beget Bad Blood
The Landrys and Bowmans have literally been at each other’s throats for generations. It’s been pretty quiet for a spell, but the tension is building. A couple of drunk kids out on the town is about all it would take to start an all out war.
“It’s a story about a family’s quest to turn themselves into more than the monsters they’ve always been. To find a little peace in a world that hates them,” says Cates of his new series in an exclusive interview with TFAW. “It ain’t gonna be easy. And it’s sure as hell gonna be bloody. But it might just be the best time you’ve ever had reading a book about vampires!”
Image Comics is seeing the payoff after going to the well again with Cates. He smashed it with God Country and is riding that success into another promising series. Fans of God Country,Harrow County, vampire lore, and horror comics will definitely want to get in on this series.
You’ve probably been hearing a lot about Donny Cates recently, and with good reason. The author of Buzzkill and Ghost Fleet is killing it with his new series God Country. With two new ongoing series just around the corner, Redneck (April 19) and Babyteeth (June), Cates is in high demand. We caught up with him and picked his brain about Redneck and life in Texas.
TFAW: Do you remember the first comic book you read? How did you end up with it?
Donny Cates: I do! Kind of…My Dad taught me to read using comics when I was a kid. My brother was a big baseball card kid, so I’d always go with him to the mall. The baseball card shop had a bunch of shelves of comics and I was just OBSESSED with them. So, my dad made a deal with me. If I learned to read them, he would buy them for me. So I did!
I learned how to read using an issue of Green Lantern. And for the life of me I can’t remember which issue it was. I like to think I’d know it if I saw it. But who knows?
TFAW: What series got you hooked on comics?
Cates: That’s a tough question because I was hooked from the jump. I started reading young and I’ve never really taken any time off. I will say that when I discovered the Vertigo stuff as a kid I was just blown away. Books like Preacher and Sandman and [Alan] Moore’s Swamp Thing and Hellblazer just exploded my mind and my sense of what comics could be.
There isn’t just one moment where you are in and someone gives you the decoder ring…
TFAW: What comic writers inspire you?
Cates: Mark Waid is the writer who first jumps to mind. He’s had such an incredible career and he wrote Kingdom Come when he was MY age. Just thinking about gives me hives. And he’s only gotten better. Jason Aaron is another one. I look at the work he’s putting out and I’m just floored with every issue. I truly think we are all lucky to be alive while that man is putting books out.
TFAW: How did you get your big break in comics? At what point did it hit you that you had broken in?
Cates: Well, the truth of the matter is that there isn’t just one moment where you are in and someone gives you the decoder ring and now everything is super easy, you know? You actually break in numerous times. I’ve been doing this, in some capacity or another for ten years or so…and I’m JUST NOW feeling like I’m “in.”
TFAW: What is Redneck about?
Cates:Redneck follows The Bowmans, a family of vampires living in East Texas just trying to get by and live in peace. They run a cattle farm and live off the blood of the cows they slaughter for the BBQ shop their familiars run in town. It’s a safe life, but it’s just surviving. Not really “living”. They are very much an isolationist family. They don’t bother the townsfolk and the town doesn’t bother them. Until well, something goes terribly wrong. And our peaceful group of vampires suddenly find themselves on the verge of war.
Stephen King has Maine. I have Texas.
TFAW: We’ve all seen creepy vampires, sexy vampires, and high school teen vampires in books and movies. So far, I think this is the only story about hillbilly vampires. What inspired you to take vampire mythos in this new direction?
Cates: Well, it started out with me looking at the word “redneck” and wondering if anyone had ever done a vampire book with that name…because come on, right? It started as simply as that. But when I started digging into the story I wanted to tell, it kind of came alive. I found myself writing about my own family, my own history. And then the history of Texas and the idea of bad blood and the sins of the past kind of a thing.
It’s such great fodder for stories when you have an immortal family of vampires that have hundreds of years of history in place before the story even begins. It’s all my favorite things wrapped up in a neat little package. Westerns, Vampires, Texas, Horror, family drama! I love it.
TFAW: Texas is also the setting of God Country. Is Texas a hotbed of paranormal activity?
Cates: It certainly is in my books! Even if you look back at Buzzkill and Ghost Fleet, both of those books are set in or around Texas to a certain degree. I don’t know what it is about the state that inspires me so much. I mean, obviously I’m from Texas and I still live here, but there’s just something weird and haunted about it that I can’t help feel inspired by. Stephen King has Maine. I have Texas.
I always say that Lisandro draws ugly things really pretty.
TFAW: What can we look forward to in the upcoming Redneck issues?
Cates: Lots and lots of blood. And horses. And fire. And guns. And beer.
TFAW: How did you end up partnering with Lisandro Estherren on Redneck?
Cates: I pitched Redneck to Skybound without an artist attached. So once it was greenlit, Jon Moisan (series editor) and I just poured over portfolios and traded back and forth the people we liked. It was really fun, actually. I think Lisandro jumped out at Jon and I both for his ability to draw raw emotion and really evocative moods and settings. I always say that Lisandro draws ugly things really pretty. And that kind of blend of hideous and beautiful, mean and emotional. It was just perfect for the book.
Cates:Babyteeth! My other ongoing this year. That one comes out in June. And I have a few other big announcements later this year that I can’t tell anyone about. But suffice to say you aren’t rid of me just yet.
TFAW: Can I get an elevator pitch for Babyteeth?
Cates: Sure! Sadie Ritter is sixteen and pregnant with the antichrist. Once the baby is born, all hell comes with it. It’s very sweet.
In God Country, Emmett Quinlan was seemingly chosen at random to wield a magical sword called Valofax. While holding the 12-foot sword, Quinlan is whole again for the first time in decades. As a result, his Alzheimer’s horrible fog is lifted. He met his granddaughter for the first time. He remembers his son, daughter-in-law, and the pain of losing his wife, Elizabeth.
Previously, in God Country #2, Aristus, God of War, comes to Texas to retrieve the blade of blades. Aristus is rebuked by the sword itself when he tries to remove the sword from Quinlan. Valofax, it turns out, is more than a magic weapon. Valofax is the God of blades and it has chosen Emmett.
The Power of the Sword
“It is every sword ever forged. Every enchanted blade you have ever heard of. Every myth, every song, every tale spoken of a mighty warrior and his unbreakable steel…it is and has always been Valofax.”
Emmett begins to feel the true weight of the amazing gift Valofax has given him. He will have to fight gods and demons to keep the blade. If he relinquishes Valofax to Aristus, he will suffer no consequences or retribution from the gods. The downside is that his dementia will return.
At the end of the chapter, Quinlan’s intent becomes clear. He sends Aristus back to The Kingdom of Always with a four word message–“Come and take it.”
Death Has Come To West Texas
In the opening sequences of God Country #3, Emmett spends some granddaddy time with Deena. Roy and Janey finally have some time alone to process the miraculous events unfolding.
Meanwhile, Emmett’s message to The Kingdom of Always has been received. And the time for catchin’ up and carryin’ on has ended. Balegrim and his demon army descend on the Quinlan farm. Challenge accepted.
Emmett Quinlan is a Texas widower who suffers from Alzheimer’s. Emmett’s son Roy is doing his level best, but failing in the role of caretaker. But Emmett’s outbursts have become violent. Local law enforcement attempts to convince Roy to institutionalize his father. Roy’s loyalty to Emmett threatens to tear Roy’s little family apart.
In God Country #1, a cyclone leveled the family’s homestead and reality got turned on its ear. While it appeared that nothing could have survived the destruction, a twenty-foot demon crawled out of the rubble. Intent on harming Roy’s little girl Deena, the demon was laid to waste by Emmett, wielding an enormous sword.
It became immediately apparent that something was up with the old man. Emmett not only fought like a berserker, his memory returned. As long as he held onto the mysterious sword, he was okay.
“And it began here. With a storm, an old man, his family, a demon an ancient, indestructible, enchanted twelve-foot sword and the god who wanted it back.”
The Gods have come to Texas and they don’t intend on leaving empty handed.
In God Country #2, we learn there is a cost to Emmett’s lucidity. There are consequences for misusing the sentient weapon. Emmett must take on all challengers. He must avoid using the sword in matters without honor. If the sword finds its champion unworthy at any time, it will twist Emmett inside out.
Emmett is faced with a heavy decision. He can keep the sword and live in clarity as its servant, or renounce the magical weapon and live in a secure cloud of dementia.
Every once in a while, a story comes along that makes you sit up and take notice. God Country is one of those stories.
Writer Donny Cates sums it up nicely. “God Country is full of heart, action, giant swords, Kirby Gods, Texans, magic tornadoes, and family drama. It’s really just everything I love, piled into one great epic yarn. Everyone is welcome to come on in, grab a beer, have a seat and get ready. We have a hell of a story to tell you.”
Often in the retelling of stories little slices of truth are carved off or embellished. When told time and again, passed from ear to ear, these stories grow and change with each new telling. Eventually, the story gets so big that, looking back, it’s hard to identify when the simple tale transformed into a legend.
That is the feeling conveyed in God Country #1. There is a sense of bigness in this story. And it’s helped along by an unnamed narrator whose words frame the story of Emmett Quinlan and his erstwhile son’s family. It’s a device that is used effectively to enhance the fable-like quality of the book.
It begins in West Texas with Roy Quinlan approaching his father’s house to talk to the local sheriff. It becomes quickly apparent that all is not well at the Quinlan homestead. Roy’s dad, Emmett, is an old man suffering from Alzheimer’s who barely recognizes his own family. He’s gone so far as to threaten his young granddaughter. Afraid for her family’s safety, Roy’s wife, Jane, leaves her husband to look after the Emmett by himself.
A Storm, a Sword, and Sanity Restored
But when a freak tornado sweeps through the town, seemingly destroying Emmett’s home and everyone inside, Jane races back. She finds Roy miraculously survived. However, just as the two reunite, a Demon swept in on the storm attacks.
Then, in a blinding flash, Emmett Quinlan vanquishes the creature with an ancient, indestructible, enchanted twelve-foot sword. While holding the sword, named Valofax, Emmett’s deteriorating mind seems to have been healed. The issue closes with the old man looking on his family with fresh, rejuvenated eyes.
God Country #1 is full of very human moments, wrapped up in the beginnings of an epic story. The relationships between the members of the Quinlan family take center stage. Hopefully following issues can answer several burning questions. Where did the demon come from? Is Emmett’s recovery permanent? Who is the vengeful-looking god, hovering above the world? And will that god get his sword back?