Creator Spotlight showcases comic creators whose work you should be enjoying if you don’t already. This debut edition of the CBU Creator Spotlight is by Brandon Rucker as he shines a strobe of praise upon a most buzz-worthy Texan scribe.
So the creator who gets the distinct honor of being the first to receive the Spotlight treatment here at the CBU is none other than the supernova-hot scribe from Austin, Texas by the name of Donny Cates (@Don Cates to his many Twitter followers). He also just happens to be my new favorite comics writer/creator, having recently and quickly joined the ranks of fellow comics writers Ed Brubaker *, Greg Rucka ** and Brian K. Vaughan ***, all of whom I consider to be the best storytellers in the game currently and whose work should be read as often as possible.
Donny Cates got his comics start in 2013 at Dark Horse Comics with the rebooted volume of their classic anthology series Dark Horse Presents with a couple of short stories in issues #24 & 27. Also in 2013 from Dark Horse: Buzzkill (illustrated by Geoff Shaw), about a superhero who gets his powers through the consumption of alcohol and illicit drugs and somehow saves the world after he blacks-out. This critically acclaimed miniseries (subsequently collected by Dark Horse in 2013), will be repackaged and reissued in a new trade paperback by Image Comics in September.
2014 brought another Dark Horse Comics publication, The Ghost Fleet (with Daniel Warren Johnson**** on art) about an elite combat-trained trucker who uncovers a conspiracy that will change his life forever. The series was strangely truncated to a maxi-series by Dark Horse, who published the latter chapters exclusively via their digital platform.
In 2015 Cates swiftly graduates to the mainstream with Marvel Comics’ Secret Wars: Battleworld tie-in miniseries. It’s a one-off assignment that would serve as a portent of a fate yet to come. But first, enter 2015’s The Paybacks, initially from Dark Horse before moving over to Heavy Metal’s new comics imprint in 2016 (and illustrated by Buzzkill’s Geoff Shaw), and this was followed by 2016’s Interceptor, also from Heavy Metal. With these two series Cates continued to pave a noteworthy path through the indie comics landscape.
But it’s when the calendar struck 2017 and Mr. Cates finally lands at Image Comics that things became a lot more interesting, more noteworthy and more acclaimed. His first Image series to hit the scene this momentous year was the self-contained 6-issue limited series God Country (illustrated by Buzzkill’s & The Payback’s Geoff Shaw), which began in January from Image Comics and was swiftly released in a collected volume on August 2nd, which I just read this past week. If you haven’t read this series and you’re a regular reader of Image Comics, do yourself a huge favor and grab this graphic novel pronto (or hunt down the single issues if you must, thought I’d expect a bit of a markup on those). I was instantly thrilled by God Country from the first few pages and onward. Only having finished it recently myself, I’m still critically processing it, in words, but in grade it earns a solid A from me. At this point the Image Comics solicitation copy does better than I could at describing the series.
SOUTHERN BASTARDS meets American Gods in a high-stakes fantasy series that masterfully blends high-octane action and jaw-dropping world-building. In GOD COUNTRY, readers meet Emmett Quinlan, an old widower rattled by dementia. Emmett isn’t just a problem for his children—his violent outbursts are more than the local cops can handle. When a tornado levels his home—as well as the surrounding West Texas town—a restored Quinlan rises from the wreckage. An enchanted sword at the eye of the storm gives him more than a sound mind and body, however. He’s now the only man who can face these otherworldly creatures the sword has drawn down to the Lone Star State… In GOD COUNTRY, salvation is a double-edged sword.
Read an interview with Cates and artist Geoff Shaw here.
Next up is the ongoing Image Comics series Redneck, which began in April with a #1 issue that arrived to wide speculation due to the instant acclaim and fanfare of God Country. Heck, someone at my LCS bought up almost all the copies on the shelf and I had to wait a week for my first print copy (though my store did gift me the black & white ashcan edition to hold me over — good on’em fer dat, right?)
Anyway, here’s how Image Comics dot com describes Redneck . . .
The Bowmans are VAMPIRES who have quietly run the local barbecue joint in their small town for years, living off cow’s blood. Their peaceful coexistence ends as generations of hate, fear, and bad blood bubble to the surface–making it impossible to separate man from monster!
Read an interview with Cates and artist Lisandro Esterren here.
Redneck’s been described as a Southern-fried Gothic masterpiece. I agree. In fact, Redneck has filled the rivalry-fueled Dixie-fried crime void left by Southern Bastards due to an unexpected hiatus. So if you like/love Southern Bastards like I do, I can promise you you’ll dig Redneck too.
Finally, Babyteeth from Aftershock Comics. This is perhaps the crown jewel, the culmination of Mr. Cates’ indie oeuvre so far. Illustrated by Garry Brown, Babyteeth is . . . well, I would be remiss not to quote the promo copy from Aftershock which just describes the series so teasingly. To wit . . .
Sadie Ritter is sixteen years old, nine months pregnant, and scared out of her sweet nerdy mind. Having a baby that young is tough, but with the support of her loving family behind her, everything should be okay. OH YEAH, and also her baby is the antichrist and it’s going to break open the barriers between the earthly and demonic planes and unleash eternal suffering to all of humankind. Other than that, though…should be fine.
A common theme that runs through these three series in particular — God Country, Redneck and Babyteeth is family. There’s a lot of heart in these stories amid high suspense, tension, dread, hope and a touch of supernatural horror and the dark fantastic. All of Cates’ visual collaborators lack a certain polish or sleekness to their art, which is perfect and adds to the character, atmosphere and overall appeal of these Donny Cates yarns.
I’ll close the spotlight with this: you will be or already are seeing Donny Cates’ name more because just last month ahead of San Diego Comic Con it was announced that Marvel has signed him to an exclusive contract (which merely precludes him from writing for DC Comics and superheroes at any other publisher). Very soon you will see his byline in both Captain America: Steve Rogers and Captain America: Sam Wilson, as well as Thanos and Doctor Strange and more higher profile books in the coming year. He’s one to watch, no doubt.
* Ed Brubaker is the co-creator/author of Kill or Be Killed, Velvet and Criminal.
** Greg Rucka is the co-creator/author of Lazarus, Black Magik and Stumptown.
*** Brian K. Vaughan is the co-creator/author of Saga, Paper Girls and Barrier.
**** Daniel Warren Johnson is the creator/writer/artist of Extremity.