Southern Gothic: The Purloined Letters #3
But first, let me hit you with some news: we’re printing an ashcan!
“What’s an ashcan?” you say?
Well back in the timey-times, ashcans were comics printed solely to establish trademarks before U.S. copyright law was drastically updated. In the late 20th century, the term was revived to describe promotional printings. It’s in that spirit that we’re printing a VERY limited run of an ashcan called Southern Gothic: Good Country People that collects the material presented in chapters 1-6 on Substack!
If you are a Visionary or paid subscriber, you will receive a copy of the comic as a part of your 2023 rewards! Be on the lookout for an email from The New Futurists confirming your mailing address later this week!
For anyone who would like to purchase a copy of the ashcan, we’ll let you know when they are available in early June. We also plan to have copies for sale at HeroesCon in Charlotte, NC on June 16-18. If you’re attending HeroesCon, make sure to visit us in Artists Alley because we plan to have a heaping helping of Southern Gothic for you to enjoy. And for all of our paid and unpaid subscribers: watch this space for updates on prints, stickers, and other merch!
Now let’s get to it. Bring on the questions!
The New Futurists is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support our work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
I just recently found your comic on Substack and I love it! These writers are some of my heroes so they belong in a comic book! Every time I read a new post I think about how this comic would translate to a show or movie. Have you thought about who you would fancast in Southern Gothic?
– Abby, Mission Viejo, CA
Ben Bolling: Abby– from your lips to Cthulu’s ears! Add it to your vision board, gentle readers: we want to see a Southern Gothic adaptation in TV’s (current) Golden Age!
I joke that I can only hold at MOST 25 celebrities’ names/faces in my brain at any given time, so even trying to answer this question has proven HILARIOUS (e.g. “Who’s that woman with the hair from that HBO show?”).
But let’s get it on the table: this is Pedro Pascal’s planet and we’re all just living on it right now. Wouldn’t he be amazing as Tennessee?
Ezequiel Rubio: I definitely see Pedro Pascal as Tennesse—or any other role for that matter, the thing is having him in the show!
BB: Right? Oh, he would be a wicked Edgar Allan Poe, too! Just get the man’s agent on the horn, okay? I recently saw Mae Martin’s Netflix standup special Sap (which I highly recommend) and I think they would do a killer Truman! Also– and you’ll start to see a trend here— I recently saw that British Vogue cover with Selma Blair: absolute perfection for Carson! I’m terrible at this because I am CLEARLY just naming actors who have recently crossed my field of vision. Can we talk about Sheryl Lee Ralph for Zora? What a hoot! Oh and that other guy everybody loves (*long and winding search later*): Murray Bartlett! I bet that guy would chew the scenery as Hoover!
Thanks for your enthusiasm and the fun question, Abby! Now, if you could just negotiate a fair deal to end the WGA Writers’ strike, land us a lucrative production deal, and get Pedro’s agent on the horn that would be super! (Who am I kidding? I’m still holding out for my Sheetz endorsement!)
Hey Southern Gothic. I enjoy your webcomic. Cool concept. I was surprised to hear that all of the art for Southern Gothic is done digitally. Do you have brush settings or packs that you use regularly?
– David C, Durham, NC
ER: Hi David, yes, all the work is digital. I usually work with an iPad Pro and Procreate (and sometimes Clip Studio). I have a lot of brushes but I mostly use 3 or 4 for the whole process (pencil brush to sketch, one for inking, and one for coloring— apart from some special effects brushes here and there).
BB: Since we started this project I’ve been GOOPED by Ezequiel’s ability to make digital art look, well, NON-digital. I’m a big fan of the textures and inking effects he uses to create the Southern Gothic aesthetic.
For my part, I mainly use Clip Studio and Photoshop. In Clip Studio you can download assets like brushes and textures from the internal network of users and artists– which is particularly useful for finding niche special effects brushes. Much like Ezequiel, I typically use 2 or 3 brushes for most of my work. I’m a big fan of True Grit Texture Supply which creates tools for just about every digital illustration app out there. For pencils, I tend to use the TGTS Chromagraph “Classic Concept Sketcher” and for inks I use “Rusty Nib 2” from their Rusty Nib pack. For color, Heaven help us all. These days I typically tag in our teammate Rafael because I can count on his color work looking 100 times better than mine! Lean into your strengths and know your weaknesses, I say!
Also, like a year ago, I took a screenshot of the brilliant artist Pepe Larraz’s inking pen settings from Clip Studio that he posted to…maybe Instagram stories? I’ve had an index card on my desk reminding me to look up that screenshot and experiment ever since. If I ever recover that information, I’ll share it with y’all! Thanks for reading and thanks for the question, David!
I grew up in Big Stone Gap and I loved seeing it in your comic. How did you get it to look just like home?
– Sarah H., Columbia, SC
ER: Hi Sarah, I’d love to visit Big Stone Gap someday.
BB: I legit love the thought of taking Ezequiel on a tour of Big Stone Gap! Add another note on your vision boards, gentle readers.
ER: Ben always sends me links with locations and apart from that I do my own research looking for pics on the internet.
BB: As our regular readers may recognize, Sarah and I share Big Stone Gap, Virginia as our beloved hometown. Give it up to Ezequiel for making Big Stone Gap and Appalachian Kentucky look just as beautiful on the page as it is in real life!
When I’m writing, if I reference a specific person or place, I’ll often do a quick Google image search to hyperlink in the script I send Ezequiel. Sometimes I fall down rabbit holes in my research and collect references during that process. Having spent the last 40 years explaining where Big Stone Gap is to folks, I knew that this particular setting would be obscure to most readers. And I’m very sensitive to depictions of Appalachia in popular culture. So I wanted to make absolutely sure that we got this part right. Honestly, I was afraid that someone might get mad at me for calling out John Fox, Jr. for his absolute treachery toward the Appalachian region and its peoples, but so far I haven’t been run out of BSG when I visit home!
Love the comic. Also appreciate your talk about process. How do you design the characters that appear in Southern Gothic? I’m sure there are a lot of references of the authors, but what about the fictional characters? Do you look at film and TV references for those?
– Derek, State College, PA
BB: Oh that’s an interesting question. So sure, for historical figures, references abound. But can I take a second to celebrate how Ezequiel manages to capture the essence of all the “real” people in our story? Speaking as an illustrator, it is very hard to translate a reference image into an illustration still recognizable as THAT PERSON doing something outlandish– I’m thinking of moments like “Flannery O’Connor firing a shotgun.”
But back to your question: some of our characters are based on fictional characters who haven’t been seen in other media. It’s funny how this question ties back to the earlier fancasting question. For those readers familiar with RuPaul’s Drag Race lingo, when I’m writing I sometimes ask, “Who would play her?” and include ideas in the script. And sometimes, I come across fun details doing research that I pass along to Ezequiel.
ER: Yes! Ben always sends me references for actors who played the characters in a play or movie.
BB: I remember a specific one. Sylvia Sidney, a really striking actress, played June Tolliver in the 1936 film version of The Trail of the Lonesome Pine. I remember suggesting she would be a good reference for Mrs. Hale in the Big Stone Gap chapters.
ER: Sometimes there’s no easy reference, but there’s always an old picture of someone who lived in that time that we can use as inspiration.
BB: Totally. If I had a dollar for every pic of a 19th-century American I’ve looked up this year, we could all go to Sheetz and have a really nice time.
Do you have any suggestions for overcoming a creative block as an artist, writer, or creative person?
– Jess, Macon, GA
ER: Sit down and write or draw every day, whatever, no matter if it’s any good, inspiration will eventually come, and as Picasso said, it will find you working!
After chapter 14 is published, I’ll try to remember to tell y’all the story of busting through a block I had in that script.
Ezequiel’s advice is spot on. Push through and do the work.
Practically speaking, if I find myself blocked, I work on something else. For instance, if a scene isn’t popping for me, I leave it and move ahead to the next scene. Or I dip into my email and take care of some business and return to the problem a few minutes later. Sometimes I’ll even go for a quick run and give my subconscious a crack at the problem that was creating the block. My husband would probably report that I play the piano and sing a lot when I’m working out a block (i.e. procrastinating?). But ultimately, you have to put in the work and do the thing. Deadlines are wonderful motivators for me; nothing is ever finished, merely due. I also recommend finding a creative cohort: a group of folks doing the same work you’re doing, whether it’s writing, art, music or whatever. Talk about your craft, share your work, kvetch, and hold each other accountable. Best of luck to you, Jess, and thank you for reading!
I was in your Major American Authors class at UNC in 2016. I took the class to get a gen ed requirement (editor’s note: a requirement for an undergraduate degree), but it was one of my favorite classes at Carolina! I never had read Faulkner before that class and haven’t read anything by him since. But I remember loving Go Down, Moses in that class. Is there a suggested reading order or certain books you suggest starting with?
– Amy, Charlotte, NC
BB: Amy! What a TREAT! I love hearing from former students! Now be straight with me: is this the message before the message where you ask me to write a letter of recommendation? Because if so, you’ll get a really good one since you seem to be reading the Substack!
Okay, I love this question. Reading Faulkner sounds daunting to a lot of folks, even those of us who make a career out of being book nerds. I can’t tell you HOW many folks I’ve talked to over the years who read As I Lay Dying or The Sound and the Fury in high school and were somehow flummoxed by those books or their instructor! Bless you. It gets better!
If you’re looking for a solid starting point with Mr. Faulkner, might I suggest Go Down, Moses? As Amy mentions, this book is my reliable “introduction to Faulkner” in the literature classroom. It’s dense, but the plot threads are accessible. There’s some major league detective work required of the reader, but it’s fun! That’s always something I say to students: “It’s a book! Why so serious? Have fun with it!”
Okay but I’ve already used my Go Down, Moses and my “it’s fun!” trick on Amy, so what’s next? I don’t abide by reading orders. You might read Faulkner’s novels in the order in which he wrote them or I’m sure somebody’s put together a “chronological reading guide” to Yoknapatawpha. I read most of Faulkner before graduate school and then reread the Yoknapatawpha texts in the order in which they were written while writing my dissertation. Personally, I preferred the hunting and pecking over the strict chronology.
And might I suggest “The Snopes Trilogy” which consists of The Hamlet, The Town, and The Mansion? The overarching plot is engaging and Faulkner digs deep into the imaginative project of Yoknapatawpha. I’m not sure he sticks the landing in The Mansion, but these books get my vote for “fun and resonant” Faulkner reading.
Dang! Thanks for writing in, Amy, and major thanks for reading your old teacher’s ramblings! Your letter of rec is on file whenever you need it!
Major thanks– HUGE– to everyone who wrote in! And thanks to all of our subscribers and casual readers– we greatly appreciate your ongoing support for The New Futurists!
We’ll see you back here next month for chapter 13 of Southern Gothic! In the meantime, leave us your comments below and continue to send your Purloined Letters to email@example.com. Remember to include “Southern Gothic” in the subject and if you’re okay with your letter being included in a future installment of The Purloined Letters please indicate “OKAY TO PRINT.”
See you in the funny papers!