South Texas Blues is a graphic novel written by Christopher Garetano about the making of Tobe Hooper’s gory masterpiece, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). Garetano, a lifelong fan of the horror genre also has his roots in independent filmmaking much like Hooper. His docudrama, Montauk Chronicles (2015), about the legendary Camp Hero base and the alleged experiments involving mind control, torture, extraterrestrial contact, and time travel that took place there won best documentary at the Philip K. Dick Science Fiction Film Festival in 2015.
Since then, he has added television producer to his resume with his most recent series being Strange World which aired on the Travel Channel in 2019. Although his professional dance card is quickly filling up, South Texas Blues has been his passion project since 2012 when it first appeared in Fangoria as a comic strip.
After reading his foreword in the graphic novel, it is clear that Garetano is heavily influenced by Hooper’s journey to make the film that would put Hooper on the map. Perhaps this is why Garetano is able to tap into the director’s mindset so well. The first volume of South Texas Blues, Of Outlaws and Chainsaws, focuses on the inspiration behind one of the most famous drive-in movies ever made.
Garetano’s story starts with Tobe Hooper visiting Benjamin’s Department Store in Austin, Texas (according to an article in The Washington Post, the actual retailer was Montgomery Ward) during the holiday season. The year is 1972 and our 29-year-old filmmaker is disheartened and disillusioned. He desperately wants to make a film, but he is at a standstill. As he wanders around the store, he contemplates the fact that he won’t be able to live an “ordinary life.” Just as he is about to give up on his aspirations, in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the Christmas shopping crowd, he is bestowed with an idea, a seed if you will, that when planted bears fruit immediately.
Before him is a shiny display of chainsaws. As he looks at the tool, he imagines cutting his way through the teaming hordes to find his freedom again. When he returns from his daydream, the legend of Leatherface is born. From there, everything takes flight. Hooper and his partner, screenwriter Kim Henkel, meet with “Whiz Kid” Warren Skaaren who is the head of the Texas Film Commission to pitch their movie about a family of hungry cannibals who kill their prey with a chainsaw.
Right away, Warren sees the potential in this horrific brainstorm to make money. However, the green light isn’t given automatically. The waiting period to secure funds drives young Tobe Hooper insane as he listens to reports of the war in Vietnam on his television and worries about whether or not he will be able to realize his dream. Then word comes through that his wish has been granted. His film will be backed and the business of pre-production can begin.
Of course, a director needs a cast. In Hooper’s case, he went to the University of Texas to find his future actors in the drama department. Edwin Neal made the roster and word of mouth circulated. Pretty soon, Tobe had the majority of his actors and crew except for the most important character in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Leatherface. For movie trivia buffs, South Texas Blues delves into the audition process for thespians interested in playing the maniac. Basically, Hooper and company asked a series of questions to determine if the people who were wanting to play the Ed Gein inspired part were mentally fit to portray the role. Those questions included “Are you a violent person?” and “Are you responsible for any violent crimes?” When they stumbled upon Gunnar Hansen, he was all too eager to let them know that he was a writer first and foremost. Relieved, Hooper hired him.
The next influential person to join the production was art director Robert A. Burns. Garetano points out how instrumental he was in deciding the now legendary overall look of the gritty horror film. From finding the perfect abode for the Sawyer family to locating the dumping ground of a local vet to procure animal bones and various carcasses for the overall depraved set décor, Burns turned out to be a godsend. South Texas Blues Vol. 1 ends just as Gunnar picks up the chainsaw and the camera begins to roll.
This graphic novel is perfect for horror connoisseurs, cinephiles, and budding filmmakers. Anyone who has ever dreamed about being in the movie industry should pick up this three-volume set. What is extremely impressive about South Texas Blues is illustrator Trevor Cook’s work. His art is dark and will remind readers of the disturbing works of Francisco Goya which is perfect for the subject matter.
Volumes 2 and 3 are forthcoming and both will feature the work of different illustrators. To order South Texas Blues, visit the website located at this link.