It’s interesting how quickly something topical becomes something historical. Take this first issue of Southern Dog, by writer Jeremy Holt and artist Alex Diotto, as an example. With its references to Obama’s recent inauguration, and the impact this has on a select few racists from the Southern states, this is a story that feels very much wrapped up in commentary about the rise of the Tea Party movement in 2009 and the undercurrents of ingrained racism driving some of those who participated in it. Of course, it seems that ideas of racism and ignorance in society are going to remain ever-topical for a long time yet, so the story is not entirely dated. But still, I have a feeling that Southern Dog may enjoy increased success given a few more years of seperation, when readers can look back on it as a snapshot of a particular moment in American history. With added werewolves.
The story itself seems to be your basic “protagonist gets bitten by a werewolf and finds himself turning into one himself” narrative, but Holt gives it color by setting it against this backdrop of racial tension, and the spectre of past bigotry that can at times seem to hover over the south. Some of the writing can be a bit on the nose – the convenient timing of the teacher happening to be doing a project on the American Civil War, or characters (white and black) just being overtly vile and transparently racist when in reality these sentiments might be expressed with more subtlety – but Holt does a commendable job of demonstrating how regular people can be horrible in little ways, and the cumulative effect that has. I also think it says a lot for the strength of his world-building that the werewolf “A-plot” progresses very little in this first issue, but this still feels like a substantial, rewarding read based on the characterisation and the establishment of the stifling status quo.
Visually, Southern Dog is a treat. The first thing that greets you upon picking up the comic is the dramatic, eye-catching cover from Bedlam artist Riley Rossmo. But though Rossmo doesn’t handle the interiors, what we get instead is far from a disappointment. Instead, young newcomer Alex Diotto could be the book’s biggest revelation. Aided by the bright, crisp colors of Adam Metcalfe, Diotto’s simple yet expressive lines give each page real bounce and energy. 20-year-old Diotto seems to have an intuitive knack for dynamic page layouts and shot angles that many artists take years to learn. Everything feels tightly framed around Jasper, our protagonist. Look how often we get close-ups, or the border of the panels pressing against his shoulders. It all adds to this feeling of him being trapped in this life, with a family he feels himself growing apart from and a local culture he is at odds with. Skillful storytelling.
Overall, Southern Dog #1 is an intriguing debut, using political commentary to add spice to its genre trappings. It will be interesting to see how the balance between these two aspects shifts as the series progresses.
Artist: Alex Diotto
Colorist: Adam Metcalfe
Letterer: Ed Brisson
Design: Tim Daniel
Cover: Riley Rossmo
Publisher: 215 Ink
Synopsis: A coming of age tale of 14 year old Jasper Dixon, who struggles to adjust to a rabid wolf bite coupled with the hormonal changes of puberty – effects that trigger his werewolf transformation. Set in Fort Payne, AL, six weeks leading up to the Presidential Inauguration of Barack Obama, he’ll learn to confront the complexities of racism, love, and what it truly means to be a family in the Deep South.
Southern Dog #1 is available to buy now from the 215 Ink store.