Review: Southern Dog #1 / Author: Jeremy Holt / Artist: Alex Diotto / Publisher: 215Ink / Release Date: Out Now
In a letter at the end of Southern Dog’s first issue, writer Jeremy Holt informs us that the book was passed on by every major publisher until 215 Ink accepted his pitch and it’s easy to see why. Southern Dog confronts issues of race, bigotry and hate with a fearlessness that would terrify publishers whose primary interest is in inoffensive mass appeal.
Issue #1 opens with the narrator telling us: “I’m scared. Not of death. But of the blind hate in people. In my town, it’s just part of the American way.” The story begins at an ostensible end, with a chained werewolf being dragged behind a pickup truck as a gaggle of proud bigots (Lycanthrophobes?) hoot and holler at their victory. The group and their victim make their way to a gathering straight out of D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of the Nation, as a cadre of Klansmen, huddled around a burning cross, prepare for an execution.
Just as our werewolf narrator concedes defeat, we’re taken back in time by six weeks, where we meet Jasper, our narrator in human form, and his exceedingly Southern family. Jasper is desperate to please the family’s gun-toting traditional values-loving patriarch and his older brother James as the trio takes part in a great American pastime: hunting. For anyone who’s been following American politics recently, it comes as no surprise that the phrase “traditional values” is a stand-in for the sort of nostalgia that valorizes the ingrained racism of the past, when times were made “simpler” at the expense of the marginalized. As if that wasn’t enough to clearly indicate where this family stood on the matter of race, James is seen carrying around a copy of The Turner Diaries, a book that the Southern Poverty Law Center has described as “the bible of the racist right.”
Jasper’s school provides a neat cross-section of just how naïve it would be to assume that the US has entered a post-racial utopia now that an African-American man is in the White House. Tensions are high on both sides of the divide, as white and black students hurl racially motivated vitriol at one another with aplomb. In a landscape already deeply divided along racial lines, Jasper can’t seem to catch a break. After being bitten by a werewolf on a hunting trip, Jasper finds himself at the mercy of a group of bullies who were none too pleased to find him flirting with Zoe, an African-American student. When Jasper’s father learns the identities of the boys involved, we learn precisely what sort of “traditional values” he yearns for as the book ends on the promise of yet more hate-fueled violence.
Southern Dog artist Alex Diotto gives life to Holt’s story with masterful layouts and gorgeous inks. The polish and sophistication of the book’s design, from Riley Rossmo’s jaw-dropping cover art to Ed Brisson’s lettering and Adam Metcalfe’s colours, are par excellence. Overall, Southern Dog is a brave new work that ventures into territory few dare to tread and emerges, triumphantly, as a definite must-read.