Social issues through comic books special guest Donny Cates

credits: Donny Cates
credits: Donny Cates

Social issues through comic books special guest Donny cates

With a writing voice that is crisp and unique, Donny Cates is creating a buzz in the industry that is hard not to notice. Not slowing down from his recent work with Dark Horse Comics, Mr. Cates is preparing to participate in this summers on line free study course Social Issues Through Comics, hosted by Christina Blanch (who hosted last years massive Gender Through Comics online course) Mr. Cates kindly made time to share a bit about his work, the importance of using comics as a soap box for social commentary, The Toadies drummer Mark Reznicek and much more. So, dear reader, come closer as we get into part two of our guest speaker interviews for Social Issues Through Comic Books. Enjoy!

MT: With Hunter Quaid (which ran in Dark Horse Presents and was written by both yourself and Eliot Rahal) as well as Dark Horse Comics Buzzkill (written by both yourself and Mark Reznicek) alcoholism seems to play an integral role in making the lead characters who they are. Was there a conscious decision to saddle these characters with this specific challenge? Why alcoholism and not some other form of substance abuse? Where did the ideas for these characters come from?

DC: That’s really funny you bring that up actually, It actually hadn’t dawned on me that my two books I’m doing at Dark Horse both have an alcoholic in them. What’s funny is that we’ve never actually shown Hunter drinking or really anything related to alcohol, we’ve always just described him as a “Violent and drunken Doctor Who” but that’s as much to do with him being in that “hard boiled” detective genre than anything else really. As far as Buzzkill goes…the first germ of an idea came from my co-writer Mark Reznicek (He has a pretty sweet band too, The Toadies…they’re…kind of a big deal) he shot me an email one day and said he had an idea that was basically “What if a superhero got his powers from drinking and doing drugs”. Now, the easy way to go with that idea is to make it funny, have a laugh at his drunken antics…that kind of thing. But I really latched on to this idea of power and addiction and the relationship of both, everyone thinks they are invincible when they are loaded…that their addiction makes them powerful…more charming, stronger, smarter…that kind of thing. What I discovered and just found so fascinating, on my way through the project was that the 12 steps actually serves as a really perfect template for the hero’s journey, or the Mono-myth, the quest, the failures, the redemption…it’s all right there.

MT: You’ll be participating as a guest speaker in Professor Blanch’s online course on social issues in comics. What is it about the medium that makes it such an ideal format to broach such topics as alcoholism? How important do you think it is that our comics actually have something to say about society, or do you feel it is okay to just look at them as entertainment?

DC: Well, I think it can be both, and that’s the beautiful thing about comics, really. When the creator wants to, comics can and absolutely should be used to highlight or examine very strong social issues. That’s what makes comics indestructible as an art form….you can do, and say whatever you want….you can do things with comics that no other form of art can even come close to, does that mean every comic should have a profound message? of course not. Sometimes it’s just really, really cool to see Batman punch a dude in the neck…and there’s nothing wrong with that because IT ALL COUNTS. From web comics to Manga to indie books to big two crossovers…it all counts.

For me personally, Buzzkill was my first foray into making something that got a decent amount of attention, but the success of that book doesn’t dictate what I’m doing next…my next two books are widely different from Buzzkill in tone and message and that’s on purpose, after something so heavy and raw, I really wanted to tell some silly stories…some action stories…some different stories. Any other medium you can get pigeon holed as “the serious writer” or “the action guy” but not comics…good stories are good stories.

MT: What made you decide to participate in this round of the popular online course?

DC: Well, how could I not? I was a big fan of the first round and when I got the invite I was thrilled to be a part of such an amazing list of creators and educators. I’m a little blown away at the company I’m in to be honest. Just to see my name alongside people like Warren Ellis and Denny O’Neil is a dream come true.

MT: When did you know that you wanted to create comics?

DC: I honestly didn’t know until about 2007 or so, I was running a chain of comic shops here in Austin and when the bottom fell out on that I really had no plan for myself… I knew i wanted to be in the comics field and be close to the art form I loved but…well, I honestly had no idea how that could happen…after much discussion with my family and friends, I decided to attend the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) where I majored in Sequential Art and I promptly…..failed horribly. I quickly learned that i was not, and would never be a comic book artist….but i also learned I had a knack and deep interest in writing. The money I paid SCAD didn’t result in a degree, but it DID result in a career, which is all anyone can ask of an education. SCAD is also where I met my artist on Hunter Quaid, Melissa Curtin, my artist on Buzzkill, Geoff Shaw and my colorist on both books, Lauren Affe….so all in all I’d say it paid off!

Go to school kids!

MT: With your work, how much do social issues inform your creative process?

DC: Well, I’d be lying if I said I sat down with the paper everyday to comb over social issues I can write about, but all in all I don’t think I’m alone when I say that the opinions and viewpoints of my work are all taken from my real life feelings. The coolest thing about being a writer is that you get to build your own soapbox to stand on….and anything that pisses you off… you get to have an outlet for. I don’t think it would surprise people to learn that I’ve dealt with some of the issues in the book, in that way it was a great opportunity to excise some demons for me. I think a lot of creators use their books as platforms to address problems they see not only in society but in themselves as well.

MT: What are some of your favorite reads right now? What would you say were some of your most influential reads growing up?

DC: I’m kind of a Marvel Zombie (Despite what my initials tell you) so It’s really hard to go wrong with anything that Dan Slott, Bendis or Mark Waid are writing. Those guys are so clearly the new Mount Rushmore of comics and it’s humbling to read their work. Also my good buddies over at Dark Horse have quite the stable of guys too, my friends Jai Nitz (Dream Thief) and Frank Barberie (Five Ghosts, White Suits) are doing some really excellent work. The most influential stuff I read growing up was probably Gaiman‘s Sandman and Alan Moore‘s Miracleman, both are books that I go back and reread once a year or so and realize in ever increasing horror that I will just NEVER be that good and there’s no point in trying and I should just quit.

MT: What is next on the horizon for you that fans should keep an eye out for? Any dream projects in the wings that you are looking forward to? Where can fans find you (if you have an online presence) and your work?

DC: I’m pretty easy to get a hold of. I’m on Facebook and I live on Twitter (@doncates) so that would definitely be the destination for any upcoming news. I’m working on three new books right now, two of which are at Dark Horse and one that’s a bit more secretive. I can’t say much except that one of them will be announced out in Chicago for C2E2. Some awesome stuff coming up for sure!!

MT: Finally, if you could have a superpower, what would it be?

DC: To always have the correct answer to any question that’s given.

Thank you Mr. Cates! Readers wishing to learn more about social issues in comics should sign up for the upcoming online free course. Stay tuned for part three of our comic creators participating in this incredible event when we interview Mark Waid!

Read More by Mark Turner


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