The first issue of Image Comics’ Redlands hits like a battering ram. Telling the story of a coven of witches who seize control of a small Florida down from a corrupt police force, the first chapter jumps straight into the action, depicting a horrific, unrelenting series of events that set a vicious tone for the miniseries. Writer and colorist Jordie Bellaire, artist Vanesa Del Rey, and letterer Clayton Cowles waste no time jumping right into the intensity, but for the book’s second issue, they’re slowing things down and giving readers the chance to catch their breath before the next terrifying twist. 30 years after the events of the first issue, witches Alice, Bridget, and Ro are the new Redlands police department, but they have their work cut out for them in this exclusive preview of issue #2.
Redlands is the first series written by Bellaire, an Eisner Award-winning colorist, and she turned to her personal passions for inspiration. “Redlands was really propelled by my love of true crime and all things horror, especially the satanic occult,” says Bellaire. “I’m fascinated by corrupt power and real people who find themselves with power after living so long without. It will change people, sometimes for the worst.”
Bellaire is doing double duty on Redlands as both writer and colorist, and being responsible for a key visual element influences what she puts in her script. “With an illustration degree, I always think visually, which is why color was such a great field for me to enter. Writing is a bit of a different beast, and I used to write quite a lot when I was younger, enjoyed creative writing, poetry, even essays, but writing comics is just...wow! It’s hard! The best thing color has offered me is the knowledge that whatever I write, I’ll be coloring soon after. So I better be writing some interesting settings!”
Bellaire and Del Rey previously worked together on Scarlet Witch and Zero (which also featured Cowles’ lettering), and they’ve developed a strong creative rapport. Bellaire’s textured coloring complements Del Rey’s moody inks, and having that deeper understanding of Del Rey’s art enriches Bellaire’s writing. “Vanesa, to me, is the star of this work,” says Bellaire. “Her illustrations are perfect, dark and haunting. It’s also got the visceral edge of being hard and still uncertain. And lastly, Vanesa really knows how to nail the quality of sex without being extremely focused on the male gaze version of sex. Her characters and settings are direct, evocative and warm. I can’t imagine anyone else drawing this place, so glad she’s a co-creator.”
“Jordie is an incredible collaborator,” says Del Rey. “Our creative relationship has happened very naturally. She understands the intentions in my work, I believe it is because she and I have similar influences when it comes to making images. I’m not sure, but this is probably because we come from the same school of thought, we had some of the same teachers in college. As storytellers, we seem to be dealing with a lot of the same frustrations from evolving during this day and age. I feel lucky we have both chosen the medium of comics to document, and explore our experience in this existence.”
These preview pages highlight how well this creative team creates a sense of place, not just in terms of the environmental design, but in the ominous atmosphere that surrounds these characters from the very first page of clouds rolling in against a red sky. “The main thing for me is to be able to make the reader stay inside the story,” says Del Rey. “I have to create a whole world for them to get lost in. It’s about pacing, clarity and imagination. I need the reader to get an idea of what is happening with just the pictures, I have to be clear and smart about how, when and what I show. There is also the element of entertainment that I have to take into account, the pictures need to be captivating as well. For the pictures to be captivating I need good design. But all of these elements without a great idea to develop become a waste. The story should be something with content, something attractive to me.”
Del Rey has worked on a number of horror comics, and she appreciates the challenge of darker stories. “I feel the pacing for horror stories is a lot of fun to play with,” says Del Rey. “Building up the mystery, then speeding up for a reveal and then frightening things happen. The imagery too, of course! I’m not crazy about gore, I’m more into strange, dark and bizarre stuff. But most importantly, the style I have developed has a more dense atmospheric look that goes well with the development of horror stories.”
Clayton Cowles is one of the most sought-after letterers working in comics, largely because he knows how to adjust his work to fit the specific needs of the story. “This is the first straight-up horror book I’ve ever done, and I tailored the style more to suit Vanesa and Jordie than anything,” says Cowles. “I can’t really speak for anyone else who works in the horror genre, but asymmetrical word balloons work pretty well for me. I think that distortion infuses the lettering with an atmosphere of unease, giving the reader a touch of anxiety. Using an upper/lowercase font works well too, which is a very nice surprise for me. Normally I go for all-uppercase fonts, but Jordie specifically asked for uppers/lowers, and the book is so much better/creepier for it.”
“When we were first cracking the lettering style, I used the same pre-made tails you would see in Batman or The Vision or anywhere else,” says Cowles. “We decided to go with those tails, but after looking at the samples the next day with fresh eyes, I thought hand-drawn tails would suit Vanesa’s artwork better. Her linework is hazy and atmospheric, and the stiff tails cut right through its natural grace, so I made the change. Plus, with Redlands being a creator-owned book, there comes the freedom to experiment, especially when your collaborators are as innovative and open-minded as Jordie and Vanesa are.” This is a creative team that really understands the potential of the medium, and readers can see their craft in action by picking up the first issue of Redlands right now before grabbing #2 on September 13.