Family Man: An Interview with Donny Cates

For the past two years, I’ve lived in Indiana and before that I spent a year in Georgia, but if you ask me where home is, I’ll tell you it’s Texas. Born in Austin, raised in Odessa, I can tell you that it holds a place in my heart that will never fade. Cut to a few months ago when I first read about God Country #1. From the description, I knew I’d want to pick it up and boy, was I impressed. It looked just like home, with heavenly colors and a story that literally made me cry. I’ve already pre-ordered the trade.
Now, in the last month I’ve read two issues of a new title called Redneck about Texan vampires and really enjoyed it as well. Come to find out they are both written by the same guy, Donny Cates, and he has yet another new series debuting this week from Aftershock called Babyteeth. I reached out and Donny was more the happy to answer a few questions about family, his current workload, and his lifelong love of comic books. Oh, and Texas too. Yeehaw!
Comic Crusaders: Hello Donny and thank you so much for speaking with me today.
Donny Cates: Hey no worries! Thanks for having me!
CC: My pleasure. So, to kick things off, what was your first exposure to comic books?
DC: My dad actually taught me how to read using comics when I was a little kid. It was the first language I ever spoke!
CC: I mean, it makes sense, since children’s books resemble comics in their flimsy, colorful packaging. Did that love of comics remain steady throughout your childhood? Or did novels and literature become a substitute?
DC: Oh Totally, I was never one of those guys that stopped reading comics for a while and then came back. I’ve been at my local shop every week since I was like 4. And yeah novels too. I’m a big reader. But comics have always been where my heart is.
CC: Did you ever try your hand at becoming an artist?
DC: Yeah, that was my first intent. I went to SCAD (art school) to become a penciller, but I was in classes with dudes like Geoff Shaw and Tradd Moore….so I quickly gave up on that dream and moved on to writing haha
CC: Wow, tough competition there. I’ve never seen your art, but judging by your writing, I’d say you made a smart move. So, who would you say are your writing inspirations?
DC: On the comic side I’d say guys like Jason Aaron, Neil Gaiman, and Mark Waid. On the literary side I’d say Cormac McCarthy, Larry McMurtry, Phillip Meyer and Stephen King.
CC:Funny you should mention Stephen King. He writes many of his books set in Maine, as that is where he hails from. You are a Texan. How does that influence your work?
I’m curious because in a recent letters column, you mentioned your father is from Lubbock and I was raised 2 hours from there, in Odessa.
DC: Yeah, Stephen King has Maine. I have Texas. Mines bigger haha. Texas is just a place that inspires me is all. It’s filled with mystery and so much untapped history. It’s a place that’s so open and inviting yet has an air of feeling haunted at the same time. It just speaks to me.
CC: You can go on a world tour and never leave the state! Did you ever feel pressured to move out of Texas to a more comically-inclined area like New York or California?
DC: No I would never leave Texas. It’s my seat of POWER.
CC: Thank God for the internet right?
So, speaking of God…
God Country is coming up on its sixth issue and is what made me want to do this interview in the first place. In a word, I was blown away. Not to make this about me, but my grandmother is in the late stages of Alzheimer’s, so this especially hit close to home for me. How did you approach writing a title whose main character suffers from degenerative mental disease?
DC: Well, first of all, thank you and condolences on your grandmothers struggle. It’s not an easy thing. To answer your question, not to get TOO personal, but a few years ago I went through a very profound medical event and had a touch with my own mortality. You come back from something like that changed, you know? I needed to write about that. I needed to write about this idea that…well, Balegrim says it best in issue four I believe when he says “EVERYONE leaves….what do you intend to leave them WITH”. That’s what the story is about. About facing ones own third act, looking back, and seeing what there is to fight for.
CC: It truly is a story about character growth and family and power. There are many swords of power throughout fiction, from Excalibur to light sabers, but what makes Valofax so unique? What sparked that concept?
DC: Well, obviously I don’t claim to have invented the idea of a magic sword right? So my thinking was actually very selfish if I’m being honest. I wanted Valofax to be ALL swords. The king of blades. So whenever you read a story about a magic sword, you as the reader, will know that it’s really Valofax you are seeing.  Excalibur is Valofax. ALL swords are Valofax. I really just wanted to have the best sword. That’s why the sword is designed to look like the Image logo too!!
CC: Ha, must be subliminal because I never noticed before! Did Geoff Shaw and Jason Wordie do your vision justice?
DC: Oh, More so than I could have ever even imagined. I never in my wildest dreams thought this book would look as beautiful as it does. Add in the design from John Hill and our INCREDIBLE variants from Gerardo Zaffino and yeah, what a dream team.
CC: Oh, 100%. The colors especially on issue one completely floored me, but every issue is just so damn impressive on every level.
DC: Oh thank you! Yeah, what I think makes the book work is that the whole team just GETS IT. They all know and are fully invested in what we are trying to achieve.
CC: Is there more story for God Country beyond this arc? Or is this a complete package in one trade?
DC: Six issues total.
CC: So coming up on this final issue, are you giving us solid closure or leaving us wanting more?
DC: I think people will be very satisfied. That’s all I can really say. We told the story the exact way we always wanted to. We’re all very proud.
CC: I’m sure I’ll love it.
DC: I hope so.
CC: Alright, so let’s talk about your most recent title from Image. How did you settle on the name “Redneck”? It seems so obvious, yet I’m unaware of anyone making that connection before.
DC: Yeah, I’m honestly shocked no one got that title for a country vampire book before us. It’s just so obvious. Honestly, the name came first, I wanted to call a vampire book Redneck, and the rest came from there.
CC: It feels like a blend of Southern Bastards and True Blood. With all the different genres colliding, how do you keep from recycling material and avoiding clichés?
DC: I don’t know. I don’t think about those other books or things like that. I’m telling my own stories. Jason Aaron didn’t invent the south, and True Blood didn’t invent vampires. In the same way, that God Country certainly didn’t create the idea of a magical sword, it was a story that has something to say. I feel like Redneck has that as well.
CC: I think so too. You mentioned recently that Redneck is about Blood. For those that have yet to discover the book, could you elaborate on that?
DC: Yeah well anyone who’s read my letter in the back of the first issue knows that Redneck is about my OWN blood.My own family. My dad had a very violent childhood, and he tried to break that cycle when he had my brother and I. That’s what Redneck is about. It’s about a family with evil in their blood… that has chosen to not be monsters anymore.
CC: Throw in the town blood feud and… you know… vampires, and we have ourselves a hell of a ride.
DC: You have no idea…..
CC: Well, you’ve finished writing the first dozen issues and you have claimed no signs of slowing down. Is there an end game in mind for the Bowman clan?
DC: I have an ending in mind, yeah, but I’m nowhere near it. It’s going to be a VERY long game with this one. I mean…they’re all immortal!
CC: Well, shoot, Rick Grimes and company are far from inexpendable, yet Kirkman and Adlard have kept The Walking Dead going for over 160 issues! Could you keep Redneck up for upwards of 100 issues with your vision? Would you?
DC: Oh absolutely! we have at least 60 issues planned right now!
CC: Well, I hope Image grants every one of them the go ahead.
DC: They have!
CC: Very good to hear!
So, with your recent success at Image, what caused the shift over to Aftershock for Babyteeth?
DC: Oh no drama there. Mike Marts reached out and asked if I had anything I was working on and I just happened to have been working on Babyteeth as a pitch when he called and they loved it. So It all just lined up.
CC: And how does working with the relatively new Aftershock compare to the powerhouse that is Image?
DC: Not that dissimilar really. Both just allow me to go and play and tell my crazy stories! I’ve been having a blast with both!
CC: Well, as of this interview, Babyteeth #1 has yet to hit comic shelves. All I have read is the Aftershock previews like everyone else. What can we expect out of this title?
DC: Honestly, despite all the “horror” tropes like the antichrist and all of that, Babyteeth is the sweetest book I’ve ever done. It’s about a mothers love for her child. It’s really just about this scared young girl named Sadie that’s been put in this insane situation. It’s about the antichrist in the same way Redneck is about vampires. Or the way God Country is about magic swords. Which, if you haven’t picked up on it yet….means that Babyteeth is about family.
CC: So it’s pretty safe to say family is a top priority for you in your writing. Are you work-from-home dad? How do you balance your personal and professional life?
DC: Oh, I’m married but we don’t have any children or anything. My wife runs a non-profit so she’s a workaholic as well. So our work/hanging out time tends to balance out quite nicely!
CC: Wow, I wish the schedules of my wife and me worked out that smoothly! So does Babyteeth have a long-term plan like Redneck or a limited one like God Country?
DC: It’s as ongoing as raising a real child is. It’s probably the most operatically structured out book I’ve ever done. It’ll be around for a while!
CC: Talk about job security…
DC: Oh no, for sure! We are in for the long haul!
CC: Well Donny, if Redneck and God Country are a proper litmus test for your writing ability, then I can’t wait for Babyteeth! Thank you so much for speaking with me, on the behalf of Comic Crusaders!
DC: Absolutely! And I’m not even done announcing things this year! We’ll have plenty to talk about in a month or so! 🙂
CC: Sounds like a scoop… too bad I can’t get an exclusive *wink wink*
DC: I’ll never tell… 😉
Well, who knows? Maybe Comic Crusaders can break the news of what Donny’s new project is…
In the meantime, follow him on Twitter (@doncates) and be sure to pick up Babyteeth #1, on your local comic book store shelves TODAY! And while you’re there, check out the latest issues of God Country and Redneck. Trust me, you are in for a wild ride!
PS. I just read Babyteeth and yeah… he’s got the juice…