A young, middle-class Mexican couple on the run from a cartel stumbles into a house of horrors as they attempt to cross the Texas border to safety. In Red Border #1, which is worse: the deadly Juarez Cartel or the strange family offering them sanctuary?

Written by Jason Starr and illustrated by Will Conrad, the new series from Artists, Writers and Artisans (AWA) Studios features colors by Ivan Nunes and letters by Sal Cipriano. The issue also has a cover by Tim Bradstreet.

Ahead of the debut next week, The Beat chatted with Starr and Conrad about the real-world tale of terror.

Deanna Destito: The setting of the story is quite timely with what is going on at the borders now. Did that inspire the story or did you have this idea brewing already?

Jason Starr: Red Border is about Eduardo and Karina and their journey, trying to run from a cartel in Mexico and winding up in a much worse situation in Texas. It’s about the current events on both sides of the border too, but I didn’t want to write directly about border issues. I wanted the issues to come organically from the characters and the action of the story, so it was really all about coming up with an exciting, visceral plot that would also be visually exciting for Will Conrad to draw.

Will Conrad: When I first was approached by Axel [Alonso] to work with a project, I was given a few options of story outlines. When I read Red Border I had no doubt that it was the one I wanted to be a part of. Not only because it’s so pertinent today, but being from South America, I have seen a lot of cases of people trying to cross the border illegally, and in some cases with a bad end. So, this subject is very close to my own heart.

Destito: This brand of horror is particularly disturbing because the monsters are actual humans, and this could happen. Do you find this type of scary story more appealing than something more supernatural? 

Starr: As a fan, I like reading and watching supernatural horror, as well as real world horror. I’ve done both in my novels and comics, but I usually lean toward realistic, psychological, character-driven horror and suspense. In these sorts of stories—like in Get Out or Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Psycho—there’s no buffer for the reader because the reader feels like the events could actually happen. I was definitely going for this sort of vibe with Red Border. I wanted readers to imagine making the same decisions the characters make, and for the outcomes to feel believable, and ultimately terrifying.

Conrad: There’s already too much supernatural horror stories out there, and with the advent of video games and movies with such graphic quality and power, a lot of spectators kinda became desensitized with this kind of story. When we have a thriller with monsters that are actually human, I think it strikes a chord and we realize that the monster can be next door. So, in that sense, I’m sure people will be able to relate much more to the plot and will be on for a thrilling ride.

Destito: Which of the characters was your favorite to write or design, and why?

Starr: I liked writing all the characters, but Colby was my favorite. It’s always more enjoyable for me to write the villains, as opposed to the heroes, because the villains can be more eccentric and behaviorally limitless. Colby is such an extreme character, I didn’t know what insane or unpredictable thing he’d say or do next, so he was naturally a blast to write.

Conrad: I love designing all of the characters, but I always had a thing for drawing villains. The character I like designing the most was the gangster boss. I guess simply for the fact that he is a middle-aged fat and bald guy, that visually you wouldn’t think could do much harm. But when he starts showing what he is really made of, you sense that he is a dangerous and cold killer.

Destito: How has it been working with the rest of the creative team?

Starr: Working with Will was seamless; he found expression and texture in the characters that I didn’t even know was there. Ivan Nunes’ colors took it all to yet another level.

Conrad:  It’s been great! From my partnership with Jason and Ivan to my dealings with all the editors and everybody from the Studio. Everyone in the process was so involved and excited with the project that it was contagious. Each person that had a finger on Red Border couldn’t wait to see the book done, and all that love for the project shows on each page of the books.

Destito: Why was AWA the right place for this story?

Starr: Red Border is a dark, intense comic. AWA is doing the sort of dark edgy comics that Vertigo and Marvel MAX have done in the past. Having written for both of those imprints, it was natural for me to do Red Border with AWA. I think AWA wants to create exciting, edgy comics that also have a cultural impact, and we’re definitely all on the same page.

Conrad: I believe that AWA is the right place for this story for a couple of reasons. First of all, it’s not a story you see on your average publisher. It’s bold and provocative, and very relevant. And AWA is, by definition, a bold company. They are doing everything right, with courage and taking risks. And they gave us creators a lot of freedom to express ourselves on the pages. The second reason is that the whole line of titles coming through AWA is relevant to the world we live in on some level. So, Red Border couldn’t be different, and fits right in with the other books that are coming out through the company.

Red Border #1 hits comic shops on March 18. Head over to AWA’s website for more on the series.

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