How "Southern Bastards" Helped Me Love Football Again

Sports are so much more than games. Two types of people seem to understand this best: the greats who played better than everyone else, and the ones who dreamt about and killed themselves trying to reach the pinnacle, but never tasted the fruit of Elysium.

Football isn't in my blood. It isn't in my heritage. I'm a fighter, born from the taunts and pressure of bullies. However, football has worked its way into my dreams, but not by watching on Monday nights.

No sport has been more consistently and lovingly portrayed in American cinema than football. Baseball might be the American pastime, but for the last 20 years at least, football has been the darling of the silver screen (e.g. Rudy, Remember the Titans, We Are Marshall, The Blind Side, etc). That's where my, and many others, fondness for the sport became visceral.

With a dearth in truly great football films lately, my passion for the sport has waned. Sure, there's recently been great fodder for highlight reels and debate (e.g. Deflategate, etc). Yet, the heart needs more. It finally got it with the return of Jason Aaron.

Who the hell is Jason Aaron? He's not a football player, so you can stop looking for him on an NFL roster. He's one of the grittiest writers around today.

Aaron writes comic books. A few years ago he wrote, Scalped, the critically acclaimed story of an undercover FBI agent sent to a Native American reservation on the hunt for a crime boss, struggling with his lost/confused identity, and praying for increasingly elusive version of peace. After some excellent work for Marvel, Aaron is back on the independent comic book scene. He's teamed up with kickass author/artist Jason Latour, to produce a love/hate anthem of the South called Southern Bastards.

If you claim to love football, enjoy sports, or reading in any way whatsoever, then you need to pick up the first two volumes of Southern Bastards. Now! The days where comics books were limited to one dimensional cape crusaders has been long gone. And this is a beautiful example of the depth that the graphic novel medium can reach -- places where regulars novels, limited to the printed word alone, cannot touch.

Southern Bastards starts out as a story about an old man returning to his home in Craw County, Alabama, and finding he's not so different from the father he hated, and too stubborn and in love with his home to watch the crime and senseless violence all around him go un-punished. From beginning, Southern Bastards is a story about a killer, but it quickly becomes so much more. You should really Volume 1: "Here was a man" before moving on to the sports tale that inspired my renewed love football. But if you're short on cash or just plain lazy, then move on to next volume in the series, aptly titled, "Gridiron."

In this story you'll get some harsh answer to important questions:

"How did the worst football player at Craw County High School grow up to become the most feared and powerful man in town? And what dark price did he pay to get there? The second story arc of Southern Bastards lays bare the secret history of Coach Boss, the biggest bastard of them all."

The volume struck a cord with Ryan Kalil, four time Pro Bowler, two-time NCAA champ, and 2006 Morris Trophy winner currently playing for the Carolina Panthers.  Kalil writes the introduction to the volume, finding empathy for a brutal villain with a heart-wrenching backstory.

Kalil writes:

"Aaron's writing and Latour's art are really remarkable and I didn't think they could humanize Coach Boss the way they did. I'm very found of this story and I hope you are as eager as I am to see what Aaron and latour fry up next."

This is the two-page spread that indelibly etched Southern Bastards name on my list of top ten sports stories ever:

SB 1 SB 2

The art here is as perfectly nostalgic, unforgiving, and honest as the writing and feeling of this entire volume. Coach Boss is a world-class bastard. No question about it. He also had one helluva road to tow. That's not an excuse or mitigating circumstance, it's just the facts. A boy's pains don't pardon an old man's sins. Or do they?

Buy Southern Bastards, read it, and drink it in (preferably with a stiff libation in hand and with background music from the soundtracks of Changeling or Million Dollar Baby as both pair well with the sentiment of Aaron's writing and Latour's art). You may love it like me, you may loathe Coach Boss, but no matter what, you won't walk away apathetic. This is gutsy stuff that will make you feel. And if that's not what good writing and good sports are meant to do, then I don't know what can.

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