“It’s like the Bad News Bears, if they were a team of super-powered soldiers being hunted by werewolves” we meet Packs of the Lowcountry creators John Dudley and Don Cardenas

Packs of The Lowcountry Issue 1 - ComixologyWerewolves, aliens, magic and more! These are the key ingredients of new ComiXology Submit series Packs of the Low Country from writer John Dudley and Don Cardenas. Following an alien invasion soldier Conrad Bastion and his team are sent into the enigmatic Lowcountry to find out more about the mysterious ‘packs’, but will this mission change his life in ways he had never thought possible? We catch up with the creators to find out more!

Jump in.
Our hero (and the reader) literally jump into a story-in-progress. But the story our hero is jumping into may or may not be ‘his’ story.

Give us a quick rundown of the story and characters in Packs of the Low Country? How would you describe the book to a new reader and what makes it so special that readers should check it out?

John Dudley: Packs disguises itself as a hero’s journey. But its really a team-building fable. Basically, Packs features the Bad News Bears – if they were a team of super-powered soldiers being hunted by werewolves.

Our hero (and the reader) literally jump into a story-in-progress. But the story our hero is jumping into may or may not be ‘his’ story. And since the Packs team thrives on compressed, mile-a-minute storytelling, he better learn quick! We will kill off stragglers.

How did you guys team up? What are your respective backgrounds in comics?

JD: We met on the 11 O’Clock Comics (EOC) forums. It helped that we both currently live in Chicago. We met at a coffee shop before getting started on the project.

Prior to POTL, I had done a few short comics with friends, several through the EOC community. I was fortunate to do my first comic with King Bone Press when they were just getting started. Those guys are killin’ it lately. I’m a huge fan of Hellbillies and all their work. Outside of my short comics with King Bone, most of my writing was prose (hence the ridiculously heavy word count in Packs! Deal with it.)

DC: Yeah John had posted he was looking for an artist and I was really just being nosy! To my utter surprise I found a staggering amount of themes/similarities to something I was developing, in which I had to ask myself, coincidence or fate?

Was the story pretty much written when Don came on board or was it more of a collaborative process? What made you choose Don to draw your book?

JD: A full script and series roadmap was my initial pitch to bring Don on board. From there it just took a few all-expenses paid trips to the islands and a fine gift basket or two. A joke!

The Packs story has changed dramatically since we began working on it as a team. I can’t stress enough the Don deserves 99% of the credit for everything. His input is in each and every storytelling choice. Don’s an amazing storyteller, even outside of his visual storytelling. There are just way too many subtle decisions he made that will never get the attention they deserve (ex: look at the repeated panel sequencing of Bastion shooting his rifle on two seperate pages in issue 1). As for why I wanted to work with him, the answer is the pages! Look at the pages!!!

DC: John is being very generous, there was a really great road map laid out and he’s been great with knowing when to let me drive and with telling me to slow down as we approach a cliff!

Mysterous Power
“We wanted issue #1 to be as wide open as possible [in terms of genre], to the point where abundant space itself is daunting.”
The whole story is based in the Low Country of South Carolina (which I believe is John’s home area) how important is the geography of the area to the story?

JD: Oh man, this question opens the floodgates! I’ll try to restrain myself…

The geography inspired the tale in many ways. The germ of the idea first came to me during a guided historical tour of Beaufort, SC, a city right in the heart of the Lowcountry. I had always felt that moonlit nights in the low country – which is largely a marshy swampland – could be downright creepy. And I mean this in the best possible way. On numerous occasions I saw glowing eyes high up in the live oak trees. Likely racoons or bobcats. But as a kid, I was pretty sure that they were monsters. Always made me run home a helluva lot faster!

It’s a beautiful part of the world with tons of very-real history, some of it quite tragic. Lots of conflict. But the region has produced no shortage of incredible individuals. Seriously, look up Robert Smalls from Beaufort, SC. If you ever needed to believe that the world can produce real heroes, his life proves it. It’s no wonder that so many of the stories inspired by the lowcountry are historical fiction or deeply poetic. The past is very alive in places like Beaufort. I love it as much as it is possible to love a place.

The lowcountry has inspired tons of fiction as well. Oddly, not much science fiction or fantasy. I found this an odd ommission, because, as I mentioned, the geography always fired up my imagination. And I happen to think that everyone deserves some escapism. We all need stories, every day. The closer they are to home, the more affecting they can be, even (and sometimes even especially) with fantasy.

The book has a real mix of genres in it, from sci-fi invasion to classic horror to action and adventure to a bit supernatural/magic with Hel, what kind of books, comics, writers and artists inspire you and what were the touchstone you guys both bonded on during the project?

JD: I already know that Don is going to go on about the X-Men! And I’d be lying if I said that 80s-90s X-Men wasn’t a major influcence for me as well.

The mash-up element is crucial to this tale. We’re throwing our main character off his feet as much as we can, and that hybrid of genres plays into it. For instance, we wanted issue #1 to be as wide open as possible, to the point where abundant space itself is daunting. Bastion calls it “the unfenced world”, where monsters roam free. He’s a super sharp guy, but it’s the first time he’s had to make massive life-or-death decisions on his own. We’ve all felt daunted like this (But it’s much more intensely represented with werewolves! Not to mention insane and unexpected x factors, like Helena’s show of power). Then issue #2 completely shifts gears, it’s utterly claustraphobic. Action and horror turns into psychological horror as Bastion burrows into his fears.

But trust me when I say that, by the final page of the series, Packs of the Lowcountry is unquestionably one genre! Until then, lips are sealed.

DC: Actually, I’m not gonna say X-men! Well, maybe a little. I think John and I bonded over how this story bleeds into all these different genres, and the real fun has been experiment with those knobs and seeing what happens. I really tried to draw on the feeling classic John Carpenter and James Cameron films would give me mixed with those cheesy Sci fi monster flicks from the 80’s.

Packs of The Lowcountry Issue 1 - ComixologyIn your opening bio John I love the story about you only ever buying out of sequence comic books as a kid and then filling in the rest of the stories. What was the best fill-in story you wrote and have you since compared them to what actually happens and are there any that you thought you did better?

JD: When I was a comics-starved kid I had fill in the gaps between issues that I couldn’t find (I had extremely limited access to comics, which probably factored into how I came to covet them and try my hand at writing). I’ll tell you this, Mr. Sinister was a far more affecting influence in my stories than he ever was in the comics! Still don’t understand why I thought he was the bees knees. But I do still get a little giddy whenever he shows up.

Don, we love the striking approach you have to covers, it really make them stand out. What made you go with this approach rather than the more standard comic cover treatment?

DC: The approach to the covers took some time to figure out. There is a theme these days of using a lot of white space and/or design elements in conjunction with an image that for the most part, works amazingly well. Though when I applied those ideas to Packs it wasn’t working, nothing felt right. I tried a pinup style cover and for a minute I even considered a real old school style with word balloons and text. Nothing “felt” right.

 Then, one day I ended up mindlessly thumbnailing the cover to issue 1, which apart from being lines and squiggles, was key. Once I had the idea and feel I delved into really playing with textures and deep colors, evoking as “heavy” a feeling as possible. I think a lot of books are using white to pop out these days so while this was not a real conscious choice to go against that, we end up contrasting against them really well!
I really want the focal silhouettes to draw you in while the textures and colors surround it and add a creepy, uneasy feeling. I also think eliminating any cover credits and having just the title, # and price really makes a difference. Ultimately, our focus is the story, and the cover is another opportunity to tell it.

We’re all about digital comics here at Pipedream Comics, how have you used digital to make more of Packs of the Low Country? You’re releasing it via Comixology Submit, but what about other options? And how has digital helped you in terms of getting your indie comic out to the world?

JD: Well, since Don and I have (thus far) been unable to attend many cons, digital is absolutely a vital for Packs. It’s our central distribution model. We’ve been working like crazy. We completed the first three issues, printing a very small number, for anyone willing to spend $5+ for us to ship them one comic! So yeah, prior to Comixology launch, we really haven’t had a means to share this labor of love.

And I gotta say, I’m thrilled to see just how well Don’s work (and Kelly Fitzpatrick’s color work!) looks and reads via Comixology’s Guided View. The panel borders make the series uniquely well suited to be read that way (imho). Backlit and zoomed-in Don Cardenas pages are the best way to really appreciate the man’s story-telling (if you can just ignore all those words!).

Packs of the Lowcountry page
“I’m thrilled to see just how well Don’s work (and Kelly Fitzpatrick’s color work!) looks and reads via Comixology’s Guided View”

DC: I love paper comics. I never minded digital, but I recently got a larger tablet which really kicked my appreciation of it into overdrive. Digital was always a plan with Packs, and going with Comixology Submit was the easiest way to get it to people, especially now that they offer DRM free downloads. I have been also researching getting Packs onto Comicsfix and Scribd, though that may be post collection since that would work best with those services.

One day I’d love to really push it and experiment with the Thrillbent/Infinite Comics approach, as I really enjoy those.

Finally, what can we expect from you guys next? How long will Packs of the Low Country run for and what can we expect from you after that?

JD: My next comics project is a science fiction story. A four issue futuristic western. Heavily influenced by NSA scandals and how married we all are to technology that tracks our every movement. In my experience writing the scripts, I’ve been shocked by just how fitting the themes of classic westerns are to these distinctly contemporary issues we’re now facing. I’m hoping to start pitching the scripts to some artists soon. (If there are any interested artists out there, I’m happy to share the pitch!) I’d love to release it as a web comic first. 

As for the end of Packs, it’s one story with a finite ending. The door’s certainly open for future exploration. But it’s been our plan since day one to end Packs with a period. No… that’s a lie. I lied. 

Packs ends with an exclaimation mark!

DC: As John said, this arc has a certain ending tied to the heart of this world, but we’ve definitely built it so we can tell further stories, which is something I would personally love to do.

As for the future, Packs is keeping me plenty busy, but as a labor of love, I am always looking for some Work for hire along with wishing for 40 hour days so I have time to work on all the ideas I have piling up!

You can purchase Pack of the Low Country #1 from ComiXology for £0.69/$0.99 or visit Dudley’s Comics or The Art of Don Cardenas to find more!