The American South has often been associated with intolerance, rednecks and violence. While stereotyping isn’t something to be proud of, it can be interesting to explore in literature. Jason Aaron’s and Jason Latour’s Southern Bastards: Here Was A Man takes a look at a small town in Alabama and explores themes of racism, loneliness and family legacy. The creative team’s American South is a place you can love, hate, miss and fear all at once. Nothing is held back in this graphic novel, with Aaron and Latour going full country.
The story centres around Craw County, a town famous for the American football team Runnin’ Rebs. The town itself is a character, pulling the strings of everyone who lives within it. Earl Tubb, the son of the former sheriff, returns to Craw County to confront his past. Now an old man, Earl thought he’d escaped from his home when he went off to fight in the Vietnam War, but he came back to deal with the complicated feelings he had towards his father.
Earl visits his father’s grave and it’s revealed through flashbacks that Bertrand Tubbs was a violent man who carried a baseball bat. After Earl witnesses a situation that leads to the murder, he suspects the high school football coach and local drug lord, Coach Boss is behind it. Earl decides to stay and gets a big stick of his own when lightning destroys the tree growing out of his father’s grave.
Earl gives Boss’ goons a severe beating and they retaliate by putting a young boy who’s close to Earl in the hospital. Determined to make a final stand, Earl goes down to the local diner and confronts Coach Boss. Earl remembers how Boss was the scrawny kid on the football team who got picked on, but Earl didn’t bother stopping it because he didn’t give a shit. The two of them brawl in the streets until Boss beats Earl to a bloody pulp and his fate is left ambiguous.
Throughout the graphic novel, Earl tries to call someone on the phone. In the end, it’s revealed to be his daughter, who is serving with the army. She finally answers her father while he’s lying in a pool of his own blood.
Aaron is great at creating flawed, human characters. Earl’s bitterness and rage towards his father can be felt by the reader and there’s a sense of history repeating itself. But he also has a compassionate side, choosing to fight back against the corruption of Craw County. An angry, barking dogs continues to pop up in the story and I believe the dog is used as a metaphor for Earl. He’s an old dog who knows he’s past his prime, but he’s going down swinging.
Latour’s art is gritty and rugged, capturing the sense of isolation the Deep South can bring. He uses a lot of red to highlight the bloodiness and violence of the environment.