Donny Cates talks the Texas vampires of Redneck

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Mar 27, 2017, 11:30 AM EDT

Writer Donny Cates has had a meteoric rise in the comic book world over the last few years, writing stories for Heavy Metal Magazine, publishing series at Dark Horse and boldly writing Star Trek at IDW. His most recent series is God Country at Image Comics, which launched to huge acclaim, and now he's looking to follow it up with another new creator-owned series from Image.

Redneck is a new horror series from Cates and artists Lisandro Estherren and Dee Cunniffe about a family of Texan vampires coming April 19 from Robert Kirkman's Skybound imprint. I had a chance to read the first issue, and it's a fantastically subversive horror story. Redneck is surprising, full of immediately memorable characters, and is even bitingly funny in parts. The art is shadowy and expressive, accompanied by an appropriately haunting palette. This is one vampire comic that definitely doesn't suck.

I got an opportunity to ask Cates a few questions about what sets Redneck apart, the Texas setting, working with Skybound and, of course, how they get the blood out of their mustaches. Check out the interview below, along with a preview of the bloody great first issue.

Despite their having been around for so long, vampires and zombies have a bit of a stigma on them recently as having been overused. What's your elevator pitch to sell people on Redneck, and what do you think makes it a unique addition the vampire genre?

Donny Cates: Yeah, sure, the short of it is this: Redneck follows the Bowmans, an ancient family of vampires living in East Texas. When our story picks up they are trying their best to break a pattern of violence they themselves put in motion hundreds of years ago. Trying to atone for the blood they've spilled. Trying like hell to not be monsters anymore. But, as you'll see as the series moves along, well, sometimes besides their best intentions, things tend to get pretty monstrous after all.

Time will tell if it's a worthy entry in regards to the vampire-story pantheon, but for me at least, it's not really about that. I think the best vampire stories (and zombies, and most monster stories) are always talking about something else. They use the monsters as a stand-in to talk about a larger issue. Redneck is about family. A family trying to be better than their own past.

You mentioned the Texas setting, and that’s a familiar one in your work, with your other Image book, God Country, taking place there. What about Texas makes you want to explore it in these different ways? And isn’t that a lot of sunshine for a vampire family?

Yeah, it's not an ideal situation for them no matter how you slice it. And as far as the setting goes, it's my home. It's what I know and it inspires me. Stephen King has Maine; I have the great state of Texas. The settings also really serve the story as well. God Country is set in West Texas (Specifically the Marathon/Alpine/Big Bend area) and Redneck is in East Texas (Sulphur Springs ... at first). Anyone who's ever been to either and seen the other can tell you, they might as well take place on different planets. West Texas is old like a forgotten ancient temple. East Texas is old like a dying dog. West Texas is mysterious like buried treasure. East Texas is mysterious like a hole filled with snakes. It's rough, rusty country. Ideal if you wanted people to leave you the hell alone for a few centuries or so.

One is great for gods. One is great for vampires.

Despite being a horror book, I also found the first issue to be surprisingly humorous, such as the scene where a vampire is told to watch his language after taking the lord’s name in vain. How important is humor to this series?

I tend to think that if you can make an audience laugh with a character that it's a pretty straight line to their heart. Humor is the fastest way we connect to each other as humans, and if you can laugh with a character, it's just that much easier to cry for them later. And it's also just a part of life. Life is goofy sometimes. Being a vampire is probably hilarious. I mean, not all the time, right? I'm sure back in the old days when you didn't have Amazon delivery or Netflix, or late night diners, or Wal-Mart, being a vampire was probably terrible! But these days? I think it's super-doable. Not great. But you can make it work. Well ...The Bowmans don't seem like they can ... but I feel like I could.

I know I'm off topic here, but this actually goes back to an earlier question you asked about why this story stood out amongst other vampire stories. I think that humor, that frank way they all speak and behave is a big part of why (I think) it works as something new. These vampires aren't your typical vampires ... which sounds like a huge cliche, right? But they aren't pretty, or well-spoken or connected to the secret vampire covens or any of that crap. Hell, they're barely interested in being vampires. They don't even really know the rules!

They're just good simple people who want the same things we do. They want peace, and they want to be safe. And yeah, they want to drink beer and tell jokes.

How did you find your art team of Lisandro Estherren and Dee Cunniffe, and what made them the right ones to tell the Bowmans’ story?

That's one of the great parts about working for Skybound. Which is, everyone wants to work for Skybound! So yeah after the book was greenlit Jon Moisan (series editor) and I just poured through portfolios trying to find the right fit. Lisandro's stuff just jumped out at me as being able to capture that grittiness and grime and the raw emotion we needed. Lisandro draws ugly very beautifully. He was a total no-brainer. Dee and I have worked together in the past on a few projects and I just love his palette choices and his speed! Add in Joe Sabino on letters (which don't get talked about enough, but I think Joe does some really cool beautiful things in this book) and it's a killer team. I'm really proud of this crew.

Did he design the logo? The logo and cover design is great.

No, our logo was designed by (the amazing) Andres Juarez! In-house design guru at Skybound. And yeah, isn't that logo amazing?!

And speaking of Skybound, they have been developing a reputation for horror, thanks in no small part to Outcast and The Walking Dead. Does that add any extra pressure to you to add to that legacy?

As to the legacy of Skybound, It's certainly something I'm aware of. The pedigree that comes with that logo on my covers. But it's not something I would call pressure. It's a badge I'm very proud to wear. I'm telling the story I want to tell, exactly the way I want to tell it, and as well as I'm capable of telling it. To me, that's the way you honor that symbol.

Is there a set number of issues for the series or is it an ongoing?

It's an ongoing! And we are pretty deep into it actually. I just wrapped up the 12th issue script and Lisandro is currently rounding third on the sixth issue. It's a crazy ride. And we have so many stories to tell!

How hard is it to clean blood out of a handlebar mustache?

The Bowmans actually have a homemade "beer" they like to drink that they affectionately refer to as "Bloodweiser." It's a special combination of cow blood and paint thinner. So yeah, as well as giving a nice little buzz ... the paint thinner helps with the mustache thing too.

Redneck #1 is on sale April 19 from Image Comics. All artwork by Lisandro Estherren and Dee Cunniffe.