By Elisabetta Silvestro
The Appalachian region is known by many for different stereotypes: poverty, clan feuding, ignorance, but most of all for one thing, the hillbilly.
The hillbilly is the subject and inspiration for the new comic book series Whiskey Tango, founded by former City College students James Christopher and Anthony Mata, together with local artist Justin Smith.
Christopher, who has been a journalism major at City College for two years, grew up in a family of coal miners in West Virginia. When he turned to creative writing, he started doing research on the Appalachian history.
He noticed similarities with stories of the Wild West, just these stories have rarely been told. Christopher got inspired and started writing a script for a graphic novel called “Odd, West Virginia.”
“I’m kind of playing on this very well established stereotype and I’m taking it one step further making it dark and gothic,” Christopher said.
Around the same time, Christopher and Mata were working for the same publication, Mission neighborhood newspaper El Tecolote. Christopher, who was already working with Smith on the project, told Mata about his idea and got him on board too.
“I liked the story because it wasn’t superhero bullshit. It was a story from life,” Mata said.
Not having any experience in graphic novel publishing, Christopher asked City College teacher Louis Schubert for advice. Schubert teaches the class Comics, Power and Society, which Christopher was taking.
Schubert suggested to bring their work at the Alternative Press Expo, an event focused on showing alternative and independent comic books, and to start by making a small comic book instead of a graphic novel, which is more complicated.
The three of them started working together this past June, learning as they went. The process of conceptualizing and designing the characters took already two months.
“The most important thing was to make them look ugly and dirty,” Mata said.
The first step was writing the story then convert the story into a script, and finally putting everything together with the illustrations.
Mata says illustrating for a comic book is completely different from the usual illustration.
“It’s like a giant puzzle,” he said. “Like the still of a movie.” It needs to be dynamic or else it will be boring.
“You have to show all these characters from different perspectives,” Christopher said.
It took them four weeks to actually put together the 28-page comic book that debuted Oct. 4 at the Alternative Press Expo event held in San Francisco.
The comic comprises two stories, both of the genre “appalachian gothic & hillbilly noir,” as the comic book professes. The covers’ illustrations are from Rhett Johnston.
“Dog Days of Raleigh Bottom,” written by Christopher and Smith and illustrated by Mata, tells a story of Oxycodone addiction, death and misery.
“That’s all based on real people. That entire story is not embellished at all, if anything it’s turned down,” Christopher said.
He took inspiration from the stories of Oceana, W.Va., a small town just 50 miles from Christopher’s hometown, Shady Spring, famous for its Oxycodone epidemic.
The second story, “The Devil’s Share,” written by Christopher and illustrated by Smith, revises the Hatfield-McCoy feud in a new gothic-noir key.
The 300 copies are currently for sale at Comix Experience on Divisadero Street and on Whiskey Tango’s website. In November more copies will be sold at the other major comic book stores in San Francisco.
Whiskey Tango has in store two new graphic novels, longer and more developed than their first effort. The next one coming out between the next Winter and Spring.