PACKS OF THE LOW COUNTRY released its first issue on March 21, 2015. Over two years and five issues later, writer John Dudley and artist Don Cardenas are bringing this science-fiction dystopia to readers in a full collected edition. With their Kickstarter starting on Wednesday, November 1, ComicsVerse sat down with Dudley and Cardenas to learn more about this pulse-pounding story.

Comicsverse (CV): In your own words, give me a run-down on what PACKS OF THE LOW COUNTRY is all about.

PACKS OF THE LOW COUNTRY
Courtesy of Roar Comics

John Dudley (JD) and Don Cardenas (DC): Packs is about surviving in a world that was invaded by literal nightmares. In the world of Packs, different species of monsters have claimed regions of the planet as their own. The story takes place years after the Invasion, when mankind has long since surrendered on any hope outside surviving another day.  

Basically, Packs is about taking steps forward despite living in a world that just makes you want to bunker down.

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CV: You said that you began collaborating on this story 4 years ago. How did this collaboration begin?

JD: It began as all good things do, over a cup of coffee. Don and I met via the EOC comics community (on their now defunct message boards). I had posted a synopsis and script for PACKS OF THE LOWCOUNTRY, which I wanted to co-create with an artist. To my incredible good fortune, Don didn’t just reply as a like-minded creator, he also lived in the same city.

So we met up a few days later and hashed it out over a cup. He had been in early planning stages of a story featuring a wolfman character that was also quite the genre mashup. It was immediately striking just how like-minded the two of us were as storytellers. We fell right into the Packs world and it became a true co-creation. Happy to say that 4 years later, we’re still in tune on the shape and direction of our world.

DC: That’s a lie. A complete fabrication. I had a Chai tea latte and John didn’t have anything to drink. Everything else is correct though!

CV: I particularly enjoy the sci-fi meets urban fantasy aesthetic of this world. The way you introduce the supernatural creatures as some form of invading species sets this story apart from many others that I have read. Tell me about how this concept originally came about.

DC: It seemed like a more terrifying scenario than just facing utter annihilation. The idea of different dangers taking hold and threats always being present opens up the characters to have a general unease at all times. No one is uploading a computer virus or using a nuke to wipe out all the bad guys in one shot.   

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CV: Don, the visual design for this world is wholly unique. I especially enjoy that the Lovecraftian, insectoid dragons don’t fit my typical conceptions. What were some of your inspirations in developing this visual aesthetic?

Packs of the Low Country
Courtesy of Roar Comics

DC: Thanks, the ideas of Lovecraft and those he inspired were most certainly in my brain when drawing the dragons. I do want to say I poured over designs and had intense sessions of research to find the most unusual looks for the invaders but that’s not the case. I just started drawing them and they all felt natural and right so I kept them in. When you first see them on the page is when I first drew them.

CV: We are introduced to the concept of the Free Lands early on, before Bastion embarks on his mission. Almost immediately, though, the story shifts exclusively to the monster infested Active Lands. What led to the decision to separate Bastion and his team, and by proxy the reader, from the safety of the Free Lands?

JD: That was an important decision. It all came down to wanting the reader literally jumping into the fire along with our central lead. We wanted to establish our threat immediately. No walls. We’ve only just learned his name before he jumps out of an airplane and into the invader territories. It’s go time. And he and the reader both have a lot of catching up to do.

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He’s jumping into an impossible task face first. If he stumbles, he’s pulling himself right back up. Then he’s taking that first confident step forward. Of course, all this confidence is only going to get him killed. Because his first step was right into the frying pan.

This is all to say that with Packs, we wanted to craft a tale that balances confident forward momentum with the humility to still recognize when you need a hand. To be sure, over the course of the story, some of our lead characters absolutely do not learn that balance… Naturally, monsters and literal dragons just made this dance of confidence and humility much more fun.

CV: I was happily surprised at the ways you dealt with character trauma in this issue. With such a sudden monster invasion, Bastion and Helena faced tragedy and loss at every turn. Thankfully, it came across so believably in both the characterization and in the art. What steps did you both take to isolate those feelings? What research did you do to demonstrate such a believable sense of panic?

JD: The world of Packs is a wildly heightened reality. But I think the base anxieties explored here are universal. They just happen to be expressed in heightened scenarios. Trauma, on the other hand, had to be approached more carefully. Through the narrative we wanted to make sure that we acknowledge that trauma is the villain that can’t be defeated. Not entirely. But despite that grim reality, we have to be inspired by the fact that there are examples everywhere of survivors of the unspeakable. They’re right here in the real world. Incredible survivors of psychological trauma. Everywhere. That’s real.

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They teach us that monsters are surmountable, even if you carry a piece of them with you after the battle, and no matter how long the battle lasts. These survivors manage to take confident steps forward. Why should a world following an invasion of literal monsters be any different?

CV: The Connect as a character stood out to me almost immediately, even before I had a chance to see the creature behind all the madness. As a villain, he is a far greater monster than any of the invading species, despite being human under all those thorns. Tell me about the process of developing the look and motivation for this character.

DC: I think, because he is Human, it makes his actions and ideas more terrifying than the invaders. In the grand scheme of things, the invaders generally exist with no direct malice. Though their nature is violent and horrible, they know nothing else. Sadly, human history has a pattern of those seeking and trying to wield power they do not understand or respect. Even when it’s clear they have lost control, they grasp at it even more and become even more dangerous.

The visual idea stemmed from both his abilities and the idea of what someone like that would use to intimidate/convey power. The thorns being a more direct representation of his abilities, while the giant, Kirby dot filled body displaying the vast amounts of power just nesting inside him. Because what is more powerful than Kirby?

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CV: I thought that a rather unique theme was presented in the portrayal of science. Science acts as a constant antagonist in this world. However, it is through Dr. Beach’s intervention and creation of superhumans that our heroes can save the day. This dichotomy drives this story forward. What inspired this theme?

Packs of the Low Country
Courtesy of Roar Comics

JD: The mad scientist creates destruction. It’s the classic dichotomy, isn’t it? “Creating destruction.” But science isn’t the problem. The technology used for destruction in Packs can just as easily be put to constructive use. And fortunately, just as in the real world, applied scientific discovery seems to flourish outside of a power vacuum. That said, the advanced tech in this tale represents power, which can always be exploited. Without giving too much away, I can say that the science is agnostic. It’s the misuse of human power that causes this whole mess.

There’s a natural fear that comes from the shadow of power. You can exploit that fear and cast a larger shadow. Or you can diffuse it. In Packs, our mad scientist is a man given the choice to recognize that absolute power corrupts. He’s been swept up in its tide in the past. But he can recognize the corruption. All he really has to do is admit that he was wrong and take that first step in the right direction. That first step is to openly reach out a hand for help. In Dr. Beach’s case, humility is the step that comes before confidence. Sadly, not every character in our tale takes this lesson to heart. But fortunately, some live this lesson with their every waking moment.

CV: PACKS OF THE LOW COUNTRY ends on a hopeful outlook with tons of potential for further storytelling. Are you planning on doing any more work with these characters, or are you happy with ending the story here?

DC: We are very happy with the ending and if we never return to this world we would have no regrets. The plan all along was to have this be a complete story start to finish. That said, if this story connects (pun certainly intended) with people and we have enough success/fan interest to return, we certainly have ideas to build upon these characters and the world in general. We made a big, dangerous place. The Lowcountry was only part of it.

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CV: What other projects do you two have in the works?

Don: First and Foremost, the Packs Kickstarter is our main focus. After that, I have a pitch I’m very excited about that I developed with Steve Bryant (Athena Voltaire, Ghoul Scouts) and a couple others that I have slowly developing to either write and draw or some variation of that.

John: I have a four issue comic series fully scripted and ready to go. But I’m grinding through this Kickstarter campaign first. Getting the Packs hardcover in my hands (and on my bookshelf) is the trophy, has been for a long time.

Want more PACKS OF THE LOW COUNTRY?

The PACKS OF THE LOW COUNTRY Kickstarter campaign opens on November 1, 2017. To learn more about John Dudley, visit his Twiter, @jdudley006. For Don Cardenas, visit his Twitter, @DonCardenasArt.

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