On this blog I try to focus on books, but I do like movies, and sometimes they overlap! I came to this book via the movie Lawless, in which Tom Hardy plays one of the Bondurant brothers, and after researching the movie a little I discovered it's based on a book that recounts a semi-true story.
Tom Hardy as Forrest Bondurant
The book version is by Matt Bondurant, a part fiction, part history pried from his own grandfather and news clippings from the 1930s, and it's titled 'The Wettest County in the World'. The genuine historical facts are that the Bondurant brothers existed, they were bootleggers in the prohibition era, and they were involved in a soot-out with a federal officer that resulted in an official investigation later known as the Great Franklin County Moonshine Conspiracy. Jack and Forrest Bondurant were both shot and both survived to testify in court, and it was found that the federal officers in charge of enforcing prohibition were instead taking a cut from the bootleggers.
All of that is true, and you can find the original newspaper articles about it still. The author's grandfather was Jack Bondurant, the youngest of the trio of brothers, and would not talk about the incident much but what little he did say sparked an interest in his grandson. The book is story woven around those facts, and the movie is based on that story.
Forrest Bondurant for Inktober
The real Forrest Bondurant (Actually James Forrest Bondurant) was a thin, sickly looking man who survived the Spanish Flu when he was younger, and in the book he's described in a way that fits the few photographs that exist. He is not intended to be the main character of the story, that role belongs to the youngest brother Jack. While the book was an interesting read to follow up the movie, it's a little difficult on its own because the story is not linear. Rather than simply following Jack's story of the events leading up to the shootout, and what followed, the book cuts between that and the efforts of a reporter visiting years later and trying to piece together the events from the close-mouthed locals. It's a slightly confusing way to deliver a narrative.
In the movie, Shia Lebouf plays Jack, and the narrative ostensibly follows his story (there's no reporter in the movie at all). Tom Hardy as Forrest manages to steal the show, though, and that's not just my opinion alone. Apparently he was cast for his performance in another movie where he was looking pale and sickly for the role, but when they filmed Lawless he was in the process of bulking up to play Bane in the Batman sequel so he was not what they were expecting. His version is a different character altogether, a human tank who rules over his brothers with mumbling and grumbling and brass knuckles in the pocket of his cardigan. He's a strangely maternal figure, and gives the impression he'd be happy sitting darning socks and quietly running his restaurant/gas station, but he also lays out his enemies with a couple of swift heavy punches and engages in shocking violence to protect his own. For all that the story is a good one in either format, it's the movie version of the character that I like best.
Presented here is both my Inktober version of Forrest doing the mending, and a more dynamic painting I did earlier this year, for the full dichotomy of the character.
When I was younger, there was a time that I spent a lot of time reading comics. While I went through some of the more conventional Marvel stuff (X-Men, X-Calibur, some Dr. Strange), when I got older and moved across the country I gave away or sold most of it. The stuff I held onto was mostly Sandman by Neil Gaiman (There will be later posts on this, trust me), and every old issue I had of Poison Elves.
If you're a comic book fan and you've still never heard of Poison Elves, I can't say that I'm surprised. I grew up in a little city called Bellingham, WA and the creator of Poison Elves was a local guy. An artist named Drew Hayes started the comics as an independent publisher, working in black and white to keep print costs down and telling the story of a violent young elf named Lusiphur Malache, living in a vaguely medieval fantasy world with a more extensive backstory than he ever quite got the chance to put down on paper, but hinted at with the material he did put out.
While he was a little bit older than me, Drew Hayes moved in some of the same social circles that I did in High School and college, and it remains one of the big regrets of my life that I never got to meet him and tell him what a formative influence he was on me. It seemed like at least half the people I knew did meet him, and he was a not infrequent guest at the parties at a place near the college we all jokingly dubbed Freak Manor. From his work, his very open letters that prefaced each issue, and what I heard from people who did meet him, it's clear he struggled with depression. His character was one who railed against an unjust and uncaring world, and often ended up holding the short end of the stick.
I moved away from Bellingham in late 2000, and one of the last things I did was send him a piece of fan art and a letter.
Drew Hayes died in 2007, of a heart attack.
The body of work he left behind is a little graphic, with an issue that's even straight up titled Sex & Violence, but the thread that runs through it all is that it's Funny. For a series that centers around an assassin, Poison Elves is heavy on the comedy, and that's a big part of what always kept me coming back.
It's a wry, cynical kind of humor sometimes, but every moment that things start to get too morose, the jokes start cracking again and swing the tone around. The purple marauder (on the far left cover there) is a misogynist so over the top that's he's a joke in the first place, and it's both funny and satisfying to see Lusiphur give him his due.
My own rendition of the purple Marauder
There's some raunchy jokes, and plenty of gore in black and white, so I'm not trying to misrepresent the comic as nothing but light-hearted fun. The female characters are all drawn in classic comic style, with big breasts and legs for days, but they also tend to be independent and able to take care of themselves, many of them unattached and not looking attachment. There's sex here, but it's treated as consensual and adult, and never one-sided. These are things I didn't really notice, when I was younger, but in retrospect they're aspects that I appreciate because not all comics treat women this way. There's flaws. but Poison Elves remains an old favorite and a heavy influence on my art and my own comic ideas. Thanks Drew.