Free Comic Book Day is fast approaching, and 12-Gauge Comics is making the most of the annual celebration of the storytelling medium. This Saturday, "The Ride" takes center stage once again with a story by Nathan Edmondson and Paul Azaceta teasing the return of the series this summer. "The Ride" centers around a '68 Camero and the journeys taken by its passengers. This time around, all "The Ride" stories share a theme: southern gothic. The 9-page Free Comic Book Day teaser by Edmondson and Azaceta is the first part of a full story about a key party gone wrong that appears in one of two 48-page prestige format books hitting stores in August and September. Other creators involved in the series revival include David Lapham, Ron Marz, Dexter Vines and Rick Leonardi.
CBR spoke with Edmondson, Azaceta and series editor Keven Gardner about the Free Comic Book Day issue, how the revival of "The Ride" took form, the inspiration for Edmondson and Azaceta's contribution and the southern gothic theme of the books.
CBR News: Keven what's the concept behind this revival of "The Ride?"
Keven Gardner: The main thing is "The Ride" was created to be an avenue or a vehicle -- pardon the pun -- for writers and artists to have fun and not be so tied-in to the daily grind of mainstream comics. This is another bad pun but, it's a little bit of a joyride, hopefully, for everybody. They can come in and they've only got a few rules which are: you've got the car that's the same '68 Camero, it can be in pretty much any time period you want to tell your story and you've got to have something cool that happens. It's grounded in reality; we push the boundaries of action, keeping it fun and fresh, but there's no sci-fi, there's no futuristic stories or anything like that. It's pretty much a crime anthology.
We started it back in '04 and we never wanted to make it a monthly book just because the quality would suffer. It's been a few years and everybody asks us all the time, "When are you bringing back 'The Ride?'" So, we've been wanting to do this for a year or two. Finally, the opportunity came about, the stars aligned and we've got a really great group of guys on board. They're all having a lot of fun. The theme of this one is southern gothic. We've had a lot of stories set in the south already and this is a chance to push that theme a little bit. That means something a little different to everybody. Nathan and Paul's story is definitely set in the south and it feels very realistic and true to the region. On the other hand, I've got Tom Coker who's doing a story that will be really pushing the southern gothic with a little more horror-type elements that might make you think about. Ron Marz's story is pretty much a straight mafia story. Even within a southern gothic theme, there's going to be a couple of different things we'll be hitting on. There'll be something for everyone, I think.
Nathan, tell us a little bit about your story for "The Ride" Free Comic Book Day issue.
Nathan Edmondson: Well, the story that Paul and I have coming out on Free Comic Book Day is one that really comes from the heart of the south and what it means to be southern gothic. It's a macabre hook, it's a story about a key party that goes wrong and the heart of it is the idea that this car brings out something sinister and brings out something almost evil in people. Looking at the series "The Ride" when talking to Keven about it initially, it struck me that it's never directly acknowledged but disaster and torture seems to follow this car. So, put it into the heart of the '80s in the south and Athens and the music scene and what does it bring out of that? So that's what we had fun with.
Paul, what is it about your art style that made it the right fit for the tale that Nathan put together?
Paul Azaceta: I guess it fits well because I have what people would describe as more of a realistic style and a little darker tone that I could bring to it. That definitely, I think, fits with what Nathan brought to it with the tone of the book.
"The Ride" can be a pretty reality-grounded series, but it sounds like you'll be taking it in a much darker direction. What was the impetus to steer things this way?
Edmondson: In reading back through the previous iterations of the story, on one hand we didn't want to reiterate anything, but I think even in the issues -- and I'm thinking of Wagner's issues particularly -- there's sort of high action. There still seems to be an imminent doom feel, at least. Maybe that's just me reading through the different issues and knowing the saga of the car, at any point where it could go. The great thing about "The Ride" is you can read the issues out of order or in chronological order and they make the same kind of sense, but you can get a different foreboding if you know what, for example, Tom Coker's story's going to be after one.
I'm very versed in southern gothic literature, with Flannery O'Connor's work and Cormac McCarthy among my favorites. I'd like to consider myself a scholar of those writers. Along that dark, between the red clay and the Spanish moss and the loblolly pines across the south, there's sort of something sinister you can see there. The story is a brief one. It's not just something we were able to explore over 100 pages. I think Paul did a fantastic job, even in the more pedestrian panels, of giving a sense of a seriousness, that there's a reality to all of this.
I'm glad you brought up the southern gothic theme. What does it mean to you and how do you feel this particular story capitalizes on this concept?
Azaceta: Southern gothic would be not just about the setting of the place -- obviously, the gothic and noir or darker stories go into it -- but adding the southern really adds a setting to it. Cormac McCarthy's stuff deals with the southern border of the United States, and this story that Nathan wrote is more in country or rural areas. I think it has a lot to do with that -- setting and stuff. Maybe it's just because I approach it visually, as an artist, and I think about a lot of that stuff. For me, it's the setting.
Edmondson: I think playing off of what Paul just said, Athens as a city -- especially Athens in the '80s -- was one of those foreign to Italy renaissance hubs for activity. It was the music scene in the country, in the same way in the '90s Seattle would become and later Atlanta for hip-hop. But Athens, it's a college town first and foremost. It's also a town kind of in the middle of nowhere. It's surrounded by -- no matter where you're coming from, you have to drive through a lot of hills and trees and kudzu. You're going to cross a bunch of rivers and stuff. There are just some unique things about Athens. I think Paul did a phenomenal job of showing and establishing the setting, with the earrings the girls are wearing and the carpeting and the décor and in the ambiance of the shadows. You get a sense very quickly. He's a very talented artist, so it shouldn't come as a surprise to anybody that he can establish the mood for these things so quickly.
One thing that attracts me to putting stories in the south or these sorts of stories is something that Flannery O'Connor said -- and I'm not sure I can quote it exactly -- but the essence of it is, in the south, we can still recognize good from evil whereas the rest of the world has gone grey. We still know black from white, here. If we react to freaks in the south, we can still recognize them, or something like that. When you're setting something in the south, you have that opportunity to see something differently than the rest of the world, see things in the way the rest of the world would find pretty damn strange but in that strangeness, there's a uniqueness and there's something interesting to tell in the story.
Honestly, all this is so big compared to the little crime tale that we tell, but I think that Keven and 12 Gauge have a thing for this too -- I don't want to speak for him, but being from the south, this is something we all know in the back of our heads.
Gardner: They've sewn it up pretty well. I think when I first talked to Nathan about doing a "Ride" story, he asked, "What do you want it to be about?" "Well, I'm thinking about this southern gothic story. I don't really know, that means something different to everybody. Just think of the kudzu and the music that's playing in the car." That's what really got it going, I think, which was totally unintentional. He took this music from the '80s that was so important to not just the south -- obviously, REM and the B-52's came from the south -- but the music touches everybody. I think southern culture, even if you're not from the south, you can appreciate it.
The southern gothic thing was just setting the mood and obviously, when you're telling stories when people are probably getting shot and killed or whatever, it's going to have a darkness to it. They made the story and really did a good job of capturing that.
One thing to bring up, too, is that this book is black and white I never wanted "The Ride" to be a color book because so much more of the art can be seen when it's black and white. You can do grey tones or zip-a-tones, all kinds of fun stuff to make it stand out but this is a very black and white book. There's evil people and there are people that are doing right. At the end of the day, that's what these stories are about. Even if they're bad people, they get pushed into situations where they have to make choices. Everybody has a line and we find out what those lines are pretty quickly in "Ride" stories.
Edmondson: Honestly, the black and white medium -- for one thing, Paul needs no color. He proves it in this story. There's a lot of artists where you get the line art, you get the inks, whatever it may be, and it may be very, very good, but it's just not going to work without color. Paul can tell any story without color, I'm convinced of that. But there is something with "The Ride" itself. It comes down to the black and white aesthetic. It's got a little bit of roughness to it, there are a few charcoal smears, rough edges and things. It definitely gives the book a mood that it wouldn't have with color. That mood would be lost a little bit. It's almost like going to visit your grandparents when you're young and pulling the book off the shelf and reading it. Even if the book isn't a scary story, just because it's the old musty pages, the glue and it's a strange book, you get a certain kind of response to the aesthetic of what you're reading. I think that's true of "The Ride" stories because they're black and white.
What were the challenges, as creators, in producing this story?
Azaceta: It's actually funny enough that Nathan was talking about my stuff working in black and white. It's really the first time I had something I knew was going to be published in black and white -- like, what I hand in is going to be printed, which I think is a really cool different feeling from knowing I was going to hand it off to someone else to color it and change it a little bit. For the better, I'm not saying that's a bad thing, but still change from what I'm doing here at home. The challenge, I guess, was just thinking about that. This is going to be the final thing, so I'm trying to add a little bit of stuff and experiment. I think it was a chance to experiment. I had some digital zip-a-tone, so it was a chance to do that kind of stuff. The challenge was coming at it from a different direction than my usual stuff which I know is going to go through a colorist. It was a lot of fun, too. It took me a little bit, at first, to figure out my approach and do something different. Looking back, also, there are some other great artists on the other "The Ride" stories, and I didn't want to just do what they did, so I had to come up with my own unique approach. Figuring that out was probably the main challenge. Aside from that, capturing the '80s was something that struck me right away after reading the script. I grew up in that time period. I love that time period, I love the movies from that time, so I tried to infuse that [into the story].
Edmondson: To tell something compelling in short form, to tell something meaningful in short form. I didn't want to throw 20 pages of action out. To me, that's a wasted opportunity, especially with a franchise that I respect as much as this one, which is not to say it's necessarily all that meaningful. I'll let the reader be the judge. The story comes in two parts because we knew we'd be releasing part of it for Free Comic Book Day and the rest of it would come out after that. It's like a dual story that has this connection in it. It was just finding out how to tell two stories in as quick and meaningful a way as possible and to write in such a way that it gives space for Paul to really show off.
"The Ride" appears in 12 Gauge's Free Comic Book Day issue on May 5