Get ready for an old-fashioned, down-home "Country Ass-Whuppin'!" Later this year, 12-Gauge Comics is setting a new standard for southern storytelling with an anthology spanning the various definitions and interpretations of that iconic phrase. Participating in the project are well over 30 writers, artists, colorists, letterers and designers who have donated their time and skills in order to raise money for the Red Cross. "100% of the proceeds will be going to the Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund in Alabama," said 12-Gauge President Keven Gardner. "Not one person working on 'Country Ass-Whuppin'' is taking a dollar from the sales. The writers, artists, colorists, production team, etc., are all working on this out of the kindness of their hearts. Diamond Comic Distributors has donated a full-page ad in their Previews catalogue, so that is a big chunk of money saved right off the bat, and hopefully we'll get some help with printing as well. There won't be any overhead or hidden expenses. When the money comes in, the only bill that's going to get paid is the printing -- everything else will go to the fund."
According to Gardner, the concept of "Country Ass-Whuppin'" was conceived at Southern comic convention staple, HeroesCon, in Charlotte, NC. "It's a funny story, really," Gardner recalled. "A few years ago at HeroesCon in Charlotte, a comic creator was at the 12-Gauge booth telling a few of us about how he'd been royally screwed by a 'big city' editor (who shall remain nameless!). The first thing that popped out of my mouth was, 'That guy needs a country ass-whuppin'.' Now, exactly what that is remains up for debate, but most of the guys standing around were, like me, from the South, and they all got what I was saying. Not long after, we're all sharing stories about the best country ass-whuppin' we'd ever seen, and the idea hit me to do this book. The one rule being that if you are going to write or draw in the book, you needed to be from the South, or had lived in the region long enough to know the culture. Everyone loved the idea and I started putting it together, but scheduling was difficult and it never got completely off the ground. However, after watching cities and towns all over my home state of Alabama get totally destroyed by the F5 tornados in April, I thought this book would be a great way to help some people in need. I started calling and emailing the creators who initially wanted to participate, and everyone was jumping in with both feet, so here we are."
The anthology has its roots in southern lore, with every writer and artist having some connection to the South. However, there is one other very essential piece to each story. "It's pretty simple, really. All of the stories are about someone beating someone else's ass, or getting their own ass kicked....and mostly in a humorous fashion," said Gardner. "A few stories are 100% true, some are tall tales, but they are all entertaining. Our hope is to share a slice of the South with comic fans all over. This definitely isn't a book making fun of the South, although we are certainly having fun doing the stories.
"The one person who kind of stretched the meaning of 'someone' a bit was Kody Chamberlain," Gardner continued. "He's from Louisiana and was telling me that if you live near the water in his area, you know never to leave your dog tied up in your yard or on your front porch -- because an alligator is likely to eat the dog! His story was going to be about a boy learning this lesson the hard way, and then beating the crap out of the gator that dined on his best friend. Kody didn't have time to do the full sequential story (he got a pass because he and his wife have a new baby to keep them busy), but was able to knock out a cover that captured the 'meat' of his story really well.
"Kody is great, and the list of other creators is really just amazing," Gardner continued. "We've got Alabama natives Jason Aaron ('X-Men: Schism,' 'Wolverine') and Cully Hamner ('Red,' 'Blue Beetle'), Sean Patrick Flanery (star of 'Boondock Saints' and 'Young Indiana Jones'), Brian Stelfreeze ('Ice,' 'Wednesday Comics), Rebekah Isaacs ('Iron Age,' 'Angel and Faith'), Jason Pearson ('Astonishing X-Men,' 'Deadpool'), Nathan Edmondson ('Who is Jake Ellis?') Doug Wagner ('Ice,' 'The Ride'), Tony Shasteen (Stephen King's 'The Talisman'), and many more. I'm just stunned when I look at the list of names attached to this project. It's a real testament to the kind of people working in our industry, as well as the strong roster of talent with ties to south.
"Kody actually just did his story as a cover, but I guess we can say it is a one-pager (and it does crack me up!)," Gardner said, citing many more of his favorite stories of country ass-whuppin'. "Sean Patrick Flanery's story had me rolling, and Jason Aaron wrote something that college football fans should get a kick out of, even though Jason pulls for the wrong team (he's an Alabama Crimson Tide guy and I'm an Auburn Tiger all the way -- - which is the most heated rivalry in sports, in case you didn't know). But really, all of them are good. It's hard to pick out one, especially with these great creative teams."
One of the many artists involved in the anthology is Cully Hamner, who is also providing cover art for the book. "It was an idea that Keven came up with a while ago just as an idea for a fun book," Hamner told CBR. "A lot of us who helped start or have been involved with 12 Gauge are from the South, and in the case of Kev and me, are from Alabama. Everybody's got stories of what we call 'country ass-whuppin's,' and they're routinely pathetic and hilarious at the same time -- but the kind of hilarious that makes you wince. You know, where you close one eye and go, "Oooohhh," right? I don't know why, but if you grew up in the South, you have at least of couple of these stories.
"Anyway, Kev lined up a roster of some pretty big-name, Southern-born creators (and a couple who lived in the South without the 'born' part). I was negotiating an exclusive with DC [Comics] at the time, so I got them to grant me an exception just to be involved, because it sounded like such a blast," Hamner continued. "But for one reason or another, no one could find the time off their regular work or family obligations to really get it going.
"Fast forward a couple of years to this past spring, and the truly awful swath of tornadoes that hit the region, Alabama worst of all. The devastation and number of deaths were shocking and really disheartening. I know Kev was personally affected by it, as he lives in Birmingham. I've lived in Atlanta now for about 20 years, but almost all of my extended family lives in Alabama. My immediately family are all situated around Huntsville and northern Alabama, and I'm back there at least once a year. Everyone was affected in a big way. So, Kev decided to revive 'Country Ass-Whuppin'' as a way of helping to raise money for the relief efforts, and began to contact all the creators. Everybody immediately committed to make the time however they could. I asked DC to grant me a special allowance once again from my current contract, and they were gracious about it. My only regret was that I was only able to contribute a cover -- 'cause I've got a couple of hellacious ass-whuppin's burned in my memory I could do stories about."
Hamner's cover image depicts, as he calls it, "a true, textbook country ass-whuppin'." "So the guy in the foreground, who is about as red a redneck as I could muster, is rearing his fist back between punches, blood and teeth all over his knuckles," Hamner said, describing the image. "The poor soul he's beating to a pulp is suitably flummoxed and humiliated, both of which are required by Alabama law to be truly country ass-whupped in the traditional manner. And of course, I stuck a tractor and a hot sun behind them, 'cause what's more country than a tractor and a hot sun? My early caricature and single-image-gag experience certainly really did come in handy, I tell you."
Another contributor, Georgia native and "Who is Jake Ellis?" creator Nathan Edmondson, took a look at change and the fickle southern weather patterns. "'Coming Up a Cloud' incorporates weather and old-southern attitudes; it's about two old men and their reflection upon the how things change -- or don't -- in the South, in particular, the weather," said Edmondson. "Here in Georgia, and across the Southeast, we grew up accustomed to summer afternoon thunderstorms so regular you could about set your watch by them. Those weather patterns change, and then they come back. Freezing winters come and go. So maybe things do change in the South, or maybe not. But we're set in our ways, and try to stir things up too much, and yer liable to get yer ass whupped."
Adding his two cents to the tales of southern whuppin' is actor Sean Patrick Flanery. His story, drawn by Rebekah Isaacs, is personal one. "It's about my first physical altercation and how the presence of a beautiful girl will greatly cloud your decision making," said Flanery. While he said that his skill and experience working in film didn't really inform his creative process, he does hope that folks get a kick out of his contribution. "I'm not sure it helped at all in telling a story that actually happened," he said, "but I hope it did, to the extent that people enjoy the story."
Flanery wasn't alone in recalling an autobiographical experience for the anthology -- "X-Men: Schism" writer Jason Aaron's "How Not To Get Your Ass Kicked While In Alabama" draws inspiration from his life experiences, as Aaron put it, "for the most part, avoid[ing] getting my ass kicked."
"I know a lot of people in both Alabama and Missouri who were in the path of the big tornadoes, but thankfully they all came through it okay," said Aaron. "We were lucky. But it was scary, even after the storms had passed. Where my parents live, the entire county was without power for almost a week. Some of the stories you hear, it sounds like something from 'The Walking Dead,' only, you know, without the zombies, thankfully."
For Gardner, the experience of putting together the benefit book was made even greater when reading creator contributions like Flanery's and Edmondson's combined with the fact that the book helps the South right when it needs it the most. "Reading the stories for the first time [is my favorite part]. No one really knows what the other guys are writing, so they are all very unique," he said. "Each one really conveys what a country ass-whuppin' means to the individual writer, and not what they think it should mean from reading other comics. I find that to be really cool. Jason Aaron actually turned in the very first one, and I knew this thing was going to be a winner right then and there. The people that buy this book are in for a real treat, and I can't stress enough how awesome it is that everyone is donating their time to help out these tornado victims. So many families in Alabama literally lost everything, and every comic sold is putting money back out there to help them."