Caryn A. Tate has been writing Red Plains for a couple of years now, and the world of her story, which is set in the Old West but is not bound by the traditions of the Western genre, is getting more and more complex. With the publication of The Ballad of Double Ott this week, she launches a new story arc and an intriguing new character. I talked to Tate two years ago, and this seemed like an opportune time to revisit Red Plains.
Robot 6: Is Double Ott a new character, or has he appeared in other issues of Red Plains? Who is he, and what is his backstory?
Caryn A. Tate: Double Ott is a brand new character to the series. It’s been a long time coming—he first came to me a couple of years ago, and I fleshed out the plot of The Ballad of Double Ott around the same time. But I wanted to wait for the timing to be right in the series, not just to introduce Ott, but to bring back Velasquez, who played a huge role in the Red Plains story Nice Place to Raise Your Kids Up. There had to be a good amount of time between Nice Place and The Ballad of Double Ott because I wanted there to be some anticipation for folks as to what happened to Velasquez, what was going to happen to Lupe and the other Escovidos, and there has been a whole lot of other stuff going on in town too!
Ott is a bounty hunter and an ex Buffalo Soldier who comes through the town of Red Plains hot on the trail of a white slavery ring. He’s a classic action hero badass—ready for any situation, armed to the teeth, and lives a life of adventure! Double Ott embodies my favorite action heroes that I grew up on…and in that light, he’s the one character in the Red Plains series that I take some liberties with!
Robot 6: How did Velazquez lose his nose?
Tate: He would probably make up a thrilling tall tale about it where he was the victim of some awful Mexican hating white settlers, or possibly a story of how he lost it defending the honor of a virginal young Latina, but here’s the truth. At the end of “Nice Place to Raise Your Kids Up,” Velasquez had a hair-raising run-in with Rose Templeton. And let’s just say I wouldn’t want to butt heads with Rose, and Velasquez now wishes he hadn’t either.
Now he is known throughout the countryside as “No Nose” Velasquez, but of course no one had better call him that to his face. Despite how that encounter turned out, you can bet he's looking to even the score.
Robot 6:Velazquez seems like a bad guy—he is capturing poor people and selling them into slavery—yet in the love scenes he seems more sympathetic. How did you come up with him, and where is he going?
Tate: Well, yeah, he’s doing some not so nice things these days. But let’s be fair, he’s been dealt a tough hand! He’s doing what he can to get by and, hopefully, make himself a new life.
And seriously, if we look at it from a real world point of view—I tried to make Velasquez a three dimensional character by showing all of his actions and why he takes them. So he does this “bad” thing over here, but with the woman he loves, of course he’s a different person. I feel like that’s just real…if you look at any criminal in real life, why is it so many of them have a romantic interest? It’s because they’re different people when they’re with them. I think that’s true of any of us—we tend to act differently in certain environments, with certain people.
It’s funny, because I actually came up with Velasquez as a fully fledged character, this tortured, love struck villain, already missing his nose. It was after my original concept of him that I thought about his history and where he came from. So for Nice Place to Raise Your Kids Up, the whole point of him being in that story was to go back and show how he became this person, and how he lost his nose. How he became this notorious, hellish legend.
You’ll have to keep reading to see where he’s going. He may surprise all of us—especially Lupe!
Robot 6: Double Ott also seems to have good guy/bad guy elements to him. Usually the hallmark of Westerns is that it is very clear who are the good guys and who are the bad guys. Are you deliberately subverting that tradition?
Tate: I guess you might say that, simply because to me it’s important to have all the characters come across as real people. Honestly that “white hat-black hat” stereotype is something I’ve always disliked, because it’s just not how people really are. It doesn’t ring true and hence it feels disrespectful to its audience in my opinion. I don’t like to be talked down to in my entertainment, and I write Red Plains assuming that its audience doesn’t like that either.
Robot 6: Are there other traditions you are playing with as well?
Tate: Well, the standing tradition in westerns that I’ve always said we’re playing with in Red Plains—defying, actually—is that of the fictional tropes that the genre has seen for decades that have unfortunately tainted a lot of peoples’ view of westerns. You know the ones—the gunfight in the street at high noon, cowboys who never do ranch work, dance hall girls and prostitutes being the only women in town, things like that.
In addition, I draw upon a lot of non-western influences, especially real life crime. I read a lot of these books and stories, and do a lot of research into the psyche of criminals, both modern day and historical, as well as that of cops and the other folks who hunt the perpetrators. This all plays into Red Plains as a series very strongly, because as I’ve always said, if you break it down very simply, it’s essentially a crime story that takes place in the American West in 1880. Which, to me, is actually a big part of the appeal of the Old West. When I was younger I realized that Westerns were actually crime tales in a different setting, and as I got more and more into other crime fiction and true crime, I liked that more and more, and wanted to tell more of those kinds of stories. I mean think about it—what do we all think of when we hear “western” or “Old West”? Billy the Kid, Wyatt Earp, the Daltons, or you can even take it to the next level and say we also think of the biggest kinds of crimes, like that of the U.S. government on Native Americans. Those are all true crime stories if I’ve ever heard them.
Robot 6: Mike's style is very distinctive—I would say it is reminiscent of aquatint, although I¹m sure he does it on a computer. How did you find him, and what attracted you to his work?
Tate: Mike is a gloriously talented artist. We found each other online, which is how I’ve found all the artists I’ve worked with on Red Plains so far. There are lots of gifted folks out there who are looking for the type of unusual and meaty stories comics like Red Plains can give an artist.
Some of the first art of Mike’s that I saw were paintings, and they had a beautiful stylistic bent to them that really appealed to me. But at the same time, he had a few on his site that were western oriented, and those had a detailed, realistic look to them that really drew me in. It’s important to me for Red Plains that the in-your-face, accurate types of stories that I’m telling are also reflected in the art, and Mike really knocked both Mi Amor and The Ballad of Double Ott out of the park. He’s been great to work with, and every single page he sent in just took my breath away, no exaggeration.
Robot 6: You describe The Ballad of Double Ott as "explosive," and there is a lot of action to it. There seem to be a lot of panels and splash pages with things flying all over, even breaking the panel. How do you convey that sense of motion to the artist?
Tate: Oh man, I love splash pages and most of all, I love panels that bleed out to the edges of the page, as if they can’t be contained. It’s exciting and with my background in visual art, I always love seeing art that defies convention, you know?
Most times in the script I actually ask the artist for these sorts of pages. I go into a lot of detail in the script, especially for a particular scene that carries a lot of weight for the story, and most times I see the scene very clearly in my head so I can pretty easily describe to the artist what I want this panel to look like, what the characters are feeling, or if something ties to another story thread, that sort of thing, in hopes of getting the most emotional impact on the page as we can. And, tying into that, I try to write the scripts so that the artist is truly entertained while working on the pages. As far as panels bleeding to the edge of the page, I often tell the artists I work with going into the Red Plains gig that this is something I’m looking for. This is an unconventional comic, so let’s make the end product as unconventional as we can!