Though alternative music stars like Gerard Way, Tori Amos and others have explored the medium of comics in recent years, representatives from the world of country music have been notably absent from the art form. Looking to change this is David Tischman, the writer (with Howard Chaykin) behind Vertigo’s “American Century,” “Greatest Hits,” and the upcoming WildStorm series “Red Herring.” His four-issue miniseries “Luke McBain” debuts in November from 12-Gauge Comics, with its title character drawn in the likeness of country star Trace Adkins. Kody Chamberlain is illustrating the series, with covers by Brian Stelfreeze. CBR News caught up with Tischman and 12-Gauge Publisher Keven Gardner to discuss the title.
“Luke McBain” opens with its titular star returning home after serving 14 years in prison. The southern U.S. town McBain finds himself in now is one controlled by greed and corruption, and he’s the only one with the courage to set things right. “Keven has built 12-Gauge on this great notion of the modern South and that you can have these great character and action stories in the south,” Tischman told CBR.
“First and foremost, we wanted to create a story that would work for 12-Gauge, regardless of Trace Adkins’s involvement. And we definitely did that,” Gardner agreed. “We came up with this story with kind of a ‘Walking Tall,’ ‘Billy Jack’ feel to it, a guy who’s been in jail for a while, taking the rap for a crime he didn’t do. He’s really wanting to just relax, get back to the life he left behind. But no good deed goes unpunished. He finds out that his brother owns the town, so he’s got to stand up for the people. Whether you know who Trace Adkins is or not, it’s a really good story.”
Tischman has previously worked with Trace Adkins on the film “Trailer Park of Terror,” in which the country star played the devil. “When you meet [Trace], he really is just this larger than life character. Keven and I had been talking about working together and it really seemed like the perfect merging of ideas,” the writer explained. “Certainly, if Fall Out Boy can do a comic book, I don’t know why Trace Adkins can’t do a comic book.”
As to what elements Trace Adkins’s likeness brings to the character of Luke McBain, Tischman said that he spent a lot of time with Adkins and Gardner to get the feel of McBain just right. “Keven and I spent a lot of time working through the McBain character and running things by Trace so that the character became kind of a reflection of his entertainment persona. It breathes a real life personality into the fictional character, which is something we wanted. It’s something that I think we’ve worked hard to write into the character.”
Certain types of stories appeal to readers or fans in cycles, and that when David Tischman was initially discussing what would become “Luke McBain” with Gardner, horror movies were falling out of fashion. “Sort of cyclically, when the high-concept horror movies peter out, that’s when you see a reemergence of the personal vigilante thriller, along the lines of ‘Death Wish’ or ‘Walking Tall,’ or, specifically, ‘Billy Jack,'” Tischman said. “That was part of our conversation, and then the economy did what it did, and all of a sudden the Clint Eastwood movie [‘Gran Torino’] comes out and it’s a huge success, and ‘Taken’ comes out and it’s a huge success. ‘McBain’ is, mythically, in the same wheelhouse as those stories. This is about a guy taking on the system gone wrong. He did the right thing for the wrong person. Now, he’s done his time, he just wants to come back to his small town in Louisiana, and get back to his life. He’s been in prison for a while, and he just wants to sit on that porch and play his guitar and have a beer and breathe. What he finds is, bad things are happening, and he can’t just sit there and ignore them. It pits him against his brother again, who is not a good guy. There are a lot of head-butts in this story. There are some bodies that go flying.”
Tischman described McBain as a character who knows the difference between right and wrong and isn’t one to turn away from a confrontation. Furthering McBain’s motivation, 12-Gauge’s Gardner explained, is the fact that he is largely responsible for the plight of his community — if he hadn’t taken the fall for his brother, the town would not be in the dire shape it’s in. “The family of McBain owns a big logging company. Luke McBain comes back, and finds his brother has taken this position in the family company and used it to turn the business into something unseemly,” the Publisher said. “So it’s his fault that the town is the way it is. He wants to fix this problem that he helped create. And the other thing that helps is he’s 6′ 6″, a big muscular guy who knows how to use his fists. It’s not hard for him to take control.”
Providing artwork for the series is Louisiana-based Kody Chamberlain, who Gardner said was perfect for the role. “He lives there, and he actually helped put some notes into the story, adding depth on the surroundings. And he did a couple character designs, and it’s one of the easiest approval processes I’ve ever been through. We sat down at a table with Trace and his manager, and they’re like, ‘yeah, this guy’s great, we love it.’ Period. No notes. But he’s definitely been a blessing. And he turns his pages in on time.”
Tischman agreed, praising Chamberlain’s authentic sense of place. “Literally, it’s where he lives and where he grew up. And it’s where Trace grew up. I actually think that Trace picked that up, that it comes through in Kody’s art. The way the trees look, the way the buildings look. A small city in northern Louisiana is not going to look like a small city in New Jersey, which is where I grew up.”
Given that Trace Adkins also starred in the movie adaptation of the comic book, “Trailer Park of Terror,” CBR asked Tischman and Gardner whether there were plans for “Luke McBain” on the silver screen. “Right now, let’s make a good comic book,” Tischman said. “This is not an instance where somebody pulled a screenplay out of the drawer and said, ‘hey, let’s turn this into a comic book.’ This is an instance of recognizing a really great talent and working with that talent and coming up with a really great original story for an audience that has not been traditionally served in comics. That’s what we’re doing.”
Gardner’s primary intent was to create a strong comic book for 12-Gauge that catered to country music fans, which he sees as being left out even as rock stars and movie actors become involved with comics with increasing regularity. But, Gardner said, this new territory also makes him wonder how comics fans outside the country music community will react to the series. “This country music guy and comic books, that’s not peanut butter and jelly. You don’t necessarily think of those things together. The Tori Amos book [‘Comic Book Tattoo’], that makes sense, things like that, or ‘Umbrella Academy,’ that makes sense immediately, whereas this is more of a stretch. But on the other hand, we’re going to be bringing a lot of people into comic book stores who have never walked into comic book stores, because they’re going to want this book. That’s good, we’re hoping we can bring some more people in, and maybe they’ll find something else that’s interesting, as well.”
“Luke McBain” #1 will be released in November to coincide with Trace Adkins’s latest tour. Kevin Gardner is publishing the book exclusively under the 12-Gauge banner, so “Luke McBain” will be listed in the Diamond “Previews” catalogue in its own 12-Gauge section. Other 12-Gauge titles have been published through Image. “The unique strategy of the Trace Adkins comic book just didn’t work with the Image business model,” Gardner said. “Just want people to be aware of that, because they won’t see it under Image Comics for November, it’ll be a little further back in the catalogue.”
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