By Jarrod Jones. Packs of the Lowcountry is dystopia with a difference. It’s a monster show. It’s a political thriller. It’s all of these things, on top of being a riveting character drama. Think Byrne/Claremont-era X-Men, spliced with a Universal Monster flick, do the math, and get back to me.
It sounds pretty good, doesn’t it. That’s because it is. Packs of the Lowcountry is available on comiXology now, there for your scrutiny, your enjoyment. But artist Don Cardenas has come before you with an even more enticing proposition. The collected edition of Packs of the Lowcountry, with all its shape-changing, gun-slinging gusto, bound with love and delivered with care. Don, along with Packs writer John Dudley, have spent a fraction of their lives putting this book together. And now they’re incredibly close to making the final step.
“My main influences for this story was using a James Cameron lens to tell a John Carpenter story. Balancing action and intensity with mood and tension. Lofty goals, but we are happy with the outcome,” Don told me in October. “This is not a ‘Let’s go shoot monsters’ book. Sure, some monsters get shot up nice and good, but we, our characters, and our readers were seeking something more. I think we gave them more.”
Don Cardenas took time out of his busy schedule to talk to me about Packs of the Lowcountry, working on a high-concept genre piece with Dudley, and the book’s Kickstarter, which launched today.
1. Give our readers the elevator pitch to ‘Packs of the Lowcountry’, if you would.
Don Cardenas: Packs of the Lowcountry takes place sixteen years after the world was overrun by nightmarish creatures. Only one fortified city is known to be free of the Invaders. But a rumor of a second city in South Carolina’s lowcountry sends a team deep into enemy territory. This crew of investigators is tired of running from their demons. But there is more to fear from this mission than they realize.
2. You’ve been working with John Dudley on ‘Packs’. What were the origins of this story? Who pitched what to whom?
John and I met on the 11 O’ Clock comics Podcast forum, which has a fairly large community of people working together and supporting each other. I was developing a web comic at the time and completely out of curiosity I clicked on John’s post about looking for a collaborator. After reading his synopsis of the story, there was so much overlap with characters and even story beats — despite being two entirely different setups and setting — that it felt like more than a coincidence. John had a skeleton for the story and together we talked and talked and talked and hammered this thing into shape. We worked kinda old-school Marvel style but definitely discussed everything in depth beforehand.
3. You and John are constructing a lived-in world inhabited by monsters and heroes. Which rules are important to establish in a world like this?
It was important to us that, while it is a dystopic future, it is not insanely futuristic and not insanely low-tech either. We certainly have fun with science and tech, but with a couple exceptions we tried to keep things not too far-fetched. Grounding elements are important to stories like this, and I think our locale and approach to certain things make the book different from other stories about this type of future. It’s the easiest thing to say “It’s the future we can make up anything,” but I believe some constraints make for more creative approaches.
4. Bastion Conroy is our point of view character. As the story progresses the world opens up around him. And while he knows about as much as we do about the “outside world”, Bastion isn’t exactly the most reliable character; we find out just as much about him as we do everything else. What kind of work have you put into making Bastion function as the story’s lead?
I think we could have easily made the book’s lead any one of our heroes, but using Bastion allowed us to kind of have this moral, earnest, and slightly milquetoast slate to slam against this world and show how bad things have gotten. Though he was eager to go out and see what happened to the world, he needed the team more than they really needed him. With the events in the second and third issue, he starts to shake off his own fears, doubts, and anxieties, which kind of completes his arc a bit, allowing us to highlight the others a little. This felt like the most natural way to explore this story.
5. ‘Packs of the Lowcountry’ is about to launch a Kickstarter campaign on November 1. Tell us about this Kickstarter; what it hopes to achieve, incentive programs, etc.
The main goal is to print up a 200+ page hardcover. We have a great printer ready and a beyond amazing list of pinup artists, as well as a ton of the process/backmatter stuff that we all love to see. Alongside that, we have the soundtrack, which is fifteen songs I composed specifically for the book. We are also offering commissions, original art, some cool stickers and patches I designed that are for all comics lovers. On top of all that we will have a couple early-bird tiers that are, [being] as objective as I can be, amazing.
6. You’ve assembled a very impressive crew of artists for the supplemental pinups section of the book. Mike Norton, Natasha Alterici, Brian Level, Kelly Williams, Marie Enger, and the list goes on. What kind of feedback have you received from your peers about ‘Packs of the Lowcounty’?
I would say of those I have discussed the book with, the reception has been all positive. Being the artist, most of the time discussion ends up being about the art and going back and forth on that. The most honest reception has been with fans. We printed the first five issues and sold them at cons over the years and response from people has been great. We have had a ton of great reviews as well, and those two factors are really what drove us to go all out with the Kickstarter and wrap this story up right.
7. Tell me about the music. I understand ‘Packs’ comes with its own soundtrack.
The music came about fairly naturally. As I was drawing the book I started to hear themes and bits of music. After searching all my music I realized that it wasn’t something I owned — it was something I needed to make. So I dove in and wrote the “INVASION” tune, which is kinda Hans Zimmer-y in regards to influence, but from there it’s been me doing my best to incorporate that bombast with John Carpenter’s awesome synthy melodies and a healthy dose of metal. I’m pretty proud of the whole thing. It’s not just some songs I wrote and said, “yeah, sure, here’s a soundtrack.” There are recurring sounds/melodies/themes throughout and I really think people will dig it both in and out of context of the book. These were poured over as much as my pages were.
8. I want to get into the ending some without too many spoilers. I think one of the cooler aspects to ‘Packs’ is that it ultimately becomes something more beyond its initial militaristic trappings, though it unravels its surprises patiently throughout the five issues. This thing has more twists in it than ‘Saga’, it feels like. How satisfying is it to see this story reach such satisfying heights?
When the ink dried on that last page I was finally able to look back objectively and see that John and I told the story we wanted to tell, and told it how we wanted to. Things happen in the story that may surprise some people and there are things that people may expect to happen but don’t. My main influences for this story was using a James Cameron lens to tell a John Carpenter story. Balancing action and intensity with mood and tension. Lofty goals, but we are happy with the outcome. This is not a “Let’s go shoot monsters” book. Sure, some monsters get shot up nice and good, but we, our characters, and our readers were seeking something more. I think we gave them more.
9. On that tack, what are the prospects of a second volume to ‘Packs of the Lowcountry’?
Creatively, I feel we have countless options. Realistically, though, it is based on the success of the Kickstarter. Making your own comics, man…it’s tough work. So we would like to have some reasonable demand from people for more. Honestly, I have a real fun idea for spinoff that I’d like to plot out with John and then write and draw, while John explores the world with other artists because I know for a fact he has other awesome stories and seeing other people explore this world visually would be a very selfish treat for me.
10. Let’s say you were an Invader. What kind would you want to be?
Oh man… maybe… hmm… I have to say a wolf. They may be a looming threat in the book but they are not inherently evil and are just kinda cool doing their thing. Also, it mean I don’t have to wear pants, and that’s always a win.
The first five issues of ‘Packs of the Lowcountry’ are available right now on comiXology.
Please consider contributing to the ‘Packs’ Kickstarter, which you can view here.