The pulpy combination of ultra-violence and lightning-fast muscle cars has been the bread and butter for 12-Gauge Comics' flagship title, "The Ride." Since it debuted in 2004, "The Ride" has seen different creators grab the wheel, using a car as a very literal vehicle to spin tales of action, crime and punishment. The series returns September 5 with the first of a two-part anthology called "The Ride: Southern Gothic."
In the first issue, three gritty stories are rolled out, all set in the South. Writer Nathan Edmonson ("Who Is Jake Ellis?") and artist Paul Azaceta ("X-Men") begin their story at a swinging key party that twists into a gruesome tale of crime and karma, set to a two-song soundtrack of R.E.M and The B-52's previewed in 12-Gauge's Free Comic Book Day issue. David Lapham ("Stray Bullets") teams up with writer Jody LeHeup, for a story LeHeup describes as a vicious tale about what happens when best laid plans go to waste, and when you're left "hoping that lady luck is around to save your ass."
Rounding out the lineup is writer Ron Marz ("Green Lantern") who returns to "The Ride." This time he's joined by frequent collaborator Rick Leonardi ("Nightwing", "Green Lantern Versus Aliens") for the first of a two-parter that takes place in the Dixie Mafia underworld. Marz's story concludes in Southern Gothic's second issue with Tom Raney taking over on art duties.
Asked about his story, "Paid in Full," Marz said it's "one story split into two distinct halves, with a cliffhanger in the middle. The car figures into the story as a pawn between rival crime bosses, as a pair of meth runners are forced to steal the Ride from a Dixie Mafia kingpin, in order to repay a debt. But there's another layer in the story that becomes apparent as the second half unfolds."
Keven Gardner, President of 12-Gauge and creator of "The Ride" said the idea for an anthology focused around a car was "borne out of my desire to both get into publishing and to create a cool crime and action book." While the initial issues were published though Image Comics, 12-Gauge has since spun out into its own independent publisher.
In 2004, "The Ride" began as a two-issue limited series, written by Doug Wagner, featuring art by Cully Hamner, Brian Stelfreeze, Jason Pearson and more. More stand-alone stories followed, and Gardner realized he hit on something special.
"Ron Marz and Chuck Dixon, in the fourth book titled 'Foreign Parts,' really pushed the limits of storytelling with what they wrote," said Gardner. "That's when I knew we had something unique on our hands and that the title should always be treated as something special-- no churning out issues just for the sake of getting something out each month. The quality had to stay at a high level and the creators had to be some of the industry's best."
Gardner brought Marz back for "Southern Gothic" reuniting the writer with artist Rick Leonardi. "Rick's one of my favorite artists to collaborate with, easily one of the best storytellers I've ever worked with," said Marz. "I know he's going to draw the hell out of anything I give him, and it's going to come back more clever and graceful than it was in my head."
In fact, Marz gave Leonardi something especially fun to draw: a car chase.
"One of my rules is that car chases almost never work in comics, because static imagery is not conducive to conveying speed," he said. "So of course I ignored my own advice and wrote an extended car chase for Rick to draw, and it's perfect. It works completely."
LeHeup spoke highly about the chance to work with Lapham on their story, "Money Shot." The duo previously worked together when LeHeup was an editor at Marvel Comics. "It was just a great working relationship," said LeHeup, going on to say that bringing Lapham on was a no-brainer. "Fortunately he liked the idea and we were able to work it into his schedule so off we went. Or off he went, I should say. Man, he drew the holy hell out of this story. I am absolutely head over heels in love with every line on these pages. There's a reason David's the legend that he is."
Gardner agreed with LeHeup, noting how special it was bringing Lapham on board for "The Ride."
"He was actually the guy that first inspired me to do something like 'The Ride' when he self-published 'Stray Bullets,'" said Gardner. "Up until I saw that book of his on the stands, it had never registered that you could do something that cool on your own, without some big corporation behind you.
"I was just out of college, working at Valiant, and mostly into superhero comics. I hadn't been exposed to something as original as what David did with 'Stray Bullets.' Having him do this 'Ride' story kind of brings everything full circle, and that's pretty damn cool."
Part of the unique approach to "The Ride: Southern Gothic" is its southern theme -- something near and dear to Gardner's heart.
"From the beginning, one of the things I wanted to do was shine a spotlight on the region where I was born and raised. Being from Alabama, it always bugged me that mainstream comic stories were either set in New York or some other urban metropolis, so I wanted to do something different," said Gardner. "The first batch of creators were all living in Atlanta and had an appreciation for the south, so telling a story set in their own backyard was part of the appeal to them. I asked Doug -- who wrote the first two issues -- to come up with a story that took place in Auburn, Alabama, where we both went to college. Setting the big finale of this pulp-fiction kind of story in a sleepy college town turned some heads. People seemed to react to it, especially fans with southern roots, which was nice."
Gardner further explained the importance of the southern setting this time around. "Not all of the stories in "The Ride" have been set in the south, but a enough of them were that the setting became a bit of a character. 'Southern Gothic' explores some of the charm of the region -- college football, boiled peanuts, kudzu, the music -- that people think of as uniquely southern. But don't worry; this group of stories still brings the pain that fans of 'The Ride' want to see.
"The Ride: Southern Gothic" #1 is on sale September 5.