A Real Sumbitch: Hall talks "American Wasteland"

Thu, March 22nd, 2007 at 12:00am PDT

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Justin Jordan, Guest Contributor

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"American Wasteland" #1
What would a western be without a long haul trucker, bloodthirsty vampires and a boy named 'Sumbitch?'

Er…normal?

"American Wasteland: Blood and Diesel," a new horror miniseries from Arcana, may have Westerns in its DNA, but don't expect John Wayne to come strolling around a tumbleweed. It isn't that kind of story.

As told by writer RD Hall and artist Mark Kidwell, "American Wasteland" is the simple story of a truck driver whose day, well, it just got bad.

"'American Wasteland' is the story of Cletus McCoy. He's a truck driver whose run is interrupted by this plague of monsters," Hall told CBR News. "So we get to see how people react to the beginnings of this apocalyptic world.  We get to experience all of the rumors and speculation of how this began, and the crumbling of the status quo."

Cletus is our protagonist, sure, but he's not quite the broad shouldered lantern jawed action hero you might usually find in the midst of an outbreak of monsters.

"Cletus is regular guy, maybe a bit of a Mama's boy, but I doubt you'd call him that to his face.  He's a bit of a wisecracker," Hall explains.  "He's also the type of guy you'd want by your side if monsters took over the world.  If Cletus is backed into a corner you'll have to kill him before he gives up."

"American Wasteland" #1 Tony Moore cover
And he's accompanied through Monsterville by a real son of a bitch. Or, well, a Sumbitch, at least, a young boy with an odd name.

"Sumbitch is a bit of a mystery.  He's been so traumatized by what's happened to him that all he can say is sumbitch.  I will say he plays a very important role in the story," said Hall.

Cletus and Sumbitch have to contend with vampires on their trip, but don't expect capes or an excess of angst. These are mean nasty things that have left humanity far behind, and have a lot in common with the sort of zombies you'd get in "28 Days Later" or "Dawn of the Dead."

"Once you are bitten you start on a downward spiral," said Hall.   "First you are powerful and fast, retaining all most of your mental abilities.  Soon after, your mind breaks down and you become more animal than man.   Johnny Copperhead, the vamp leader, and his crew find a way to stall the process, but there is no cure.  These vamps are more biologically based than supernatural – that means no wooden stakes or silver to kill them.  A shotgun would serve your purpose better. There are speculations to the Vamp's origins, and one of them may be right; but, I don't want to show all my cards before the story gets told."

Vampires, beer trucks and Sumbitch not withstanding, the series really does have its roots in the classic Western genre, something Hall kept in mind while writing the series.

"American Wasteland" #1, page 3
"I am really enamored with Westerns, and I think John Ford's 'The Searchers' was a big influence on 'American Wasteland.' 'American Wasteland's' a modern day western, and the tables are turned on the cowboys (humans) who are now the ones being driven out by the Vamps," said Hall.

Hall's influences go far beyond westerns, though, including a longtime love of comics.

"The first comic I ever actually read was 'Batman: Special #1.'  It was by Mike Barr and Michael Golden.  I don't know if you've read that one, but it was and still is one of my favorite Batman stories.  It featured 'The Wrath,' a villain who's origin was the direct opposite of Batman's (his parents were killed by a young Jim Gordon). I'm a big fan of stories, regardless of genre, whether they are horror, science fiction, comedy or crime.  In the end, I think it's about telling good stories regardless of genre.  That being said, I am definitely a big fan of horror, but I love my science fiction and fantasy, too!"

Hall brings a long background of writing to the series, using techniques gleaned from a variety of media to help tell Cletus' story.

"I've been writing on and off since I was 13," said Hall. "I started taking it seriously in college; I took a lot of creative writing and film classes.  The film classes were the biggest help of all; we went through every genre - we would deconstruct a film like a watchmaker deconstructs a watch.  I really learned storytelling from all angles.

"American Wasteland" #1, page 8
"My first published comic was 'Frankenstein: Monster Mayhem' for Dead Dog Comics.  Out of that work sprang two creator owned characters: Wollstone and Kraft  They were two intrepid detectives that investigated the good Doctor Frankenstein, in my version.  They'll be showing up again soon in 'Wollstone and Kraft: Masters of the Macabre.'  In between 'Frankenstein' and 'American Wasteland: Blood and Diesel,' I wrote a series of short comic stories for DDE and a mini called 'The Morgue.'  I also sold a screen play called 'The Craving.'"

Some comics have a long and troubled history before they ever actually make it onto store shelves. "American Wasteland" is not one of those comics.

"Mark and I developed a pitch which included the first five pages of 'American Wasteland.'  We approached Sean at Arcana - Mark showed him the pages and he asked me what it was all about, so I rattled on for a 5 minutes, detailing every step of the story.  I must have sounded like a mad man, but Sean instantly said, 'Let's green light this!'  Mark and I thought Sean might take the pitch home and think about it, but it was that fast.  I still remember the shocked look on Mark's face," Hall said.

There's more "American Wasteland" on the way, as "Blood and Diesel" serves as just the introduction to the larger world and Hall hopes to do more stories in his big bloody sandbox.

"'American Wasteland' is a big world.   There are a lot of stories to tell and they may not all involve Cletus (if he survives the first series) or any of the characters from 'Blood and Diesel,'" said Hall. "So, yeah, I think there are hundreds of directions we can go, and stories to tell.  I really want to do an anthology book set in the 'American Wasteland' universe and give other artists and writers a crack a telling stories that involve other survivors of the wasteland."

Until then, Hall has a lot on his plate to keep him busy.

"My next book, with artist Andrew Mangum, is 'Killplay,' a sci-fi/slasher and it's really dark.  Also a western called, 'Brother's Keeper,' and a dark fantasy called, 'Red.'  And somewhere between these is a secret project for Fangoria Comics," said Hall.

"American Wasteland" is available in your seedier comic book shops now.

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