Newsletter #32: The Donny Who Laughs

Musings on Donny Cates, A24 & Fortnite!


Hey guys, it’s Scott on this rainy Tuesday morning here on the East Coast.

So, I'm so excited about this week. First up, for anybody in Comic Writing 101, or anyone who's interested in taking the class, we've got a really special session this week—we have Donny Cates, my friend and an incredible writer, coming on to discuss characterization with us. That's live 9pm EST from my local shop, 4th World Comics, and if you sign up (for only $7 a class), you get all kinds of extras on the site, too. But all the old classes are archived as well, I get asked that a lot. But yes, they are. So, you get access to everything we've done so far, everything we will do, and I can tell you that Donny is a fantastic speaker when it comes to discussing all things comics. So, if you have questions for him, put them here. There'll be a chance to ask in the live session itself, but we're going to look at the start of his Venom run. So take a look at that first issue. Also, Thanos Wins, starting with Thanos Vol. 2 #13, and God Country #1.

So, we're going to be talking about introduction of characters, the introduction of protagonists, and why Donny made the choices that he made when it comes to the scenes, the methods, the techniques he used in introducing the main characters of these books. It's going to be fun, don't miss it. I promise, we're gonna have a blast! And yeah, come ask anything to either of us, but especially to Donny, because he's kind enough to give his time. And if you're not following him and Ryan Stegman over here on Substack, go do that! They're fantastic creators, they're great people, their whole relationship and creative output is amazing. So, I can't say enough good things about them.

And one of the things I wanted to talk about today, it was interesting re-reading a lot of Donny's work, there’s a sense of ambition and confidence. There's a feeling you get the minute you open Venom and Thanos, and what he's doing with Thor, and on his own work as well—Crossover, which is a fantastic book, and what's coming with Vanish, the book that he and Ryan are doing for their Substack platform initially. There's a sense of purpose, there's a sense of vision, there's a sense of voice, as we were discussing it in class, that marriage of form and content where you just know that this person has thought about what they're saying, what they're about to say, what they’re aiming for with the story, and that it's there. It's in the DNA of what he's doing from go. And it's interesting, because with licensed characters in particular, when it comes to Superman, or Spider-Man or Wolverine or any of those characters, they’re so intimidating that doing that can be incredibly hard.

I mean, I can speak from experience when it comes to Batman, I was terrified when I got on Bruce Wayne, as I've spoken to you guys about. I was terrified when I was on Dick Grayson, but there was a sort of comfort level of with that character as Batman, because he was out of place as the guy in the cowl, and therefore like I had a connection to him in that way. Whereas Bruce is, you know, the classic, and is scary as all shit. So, what I learned going on to it was the only way to approach it is to imagine you're kind of writing fanfiction—to take all your love of that character and pour it in and assume that even if you're going to try something that's the story you've always wanted to do that’s going to add or change or build on the mythology and legacy that exists already, that fans are going to be able to recognize that because of the affection and passion you have for this character being there in every line. And that can be a hard thing to remember, because we all have these incredible connections to these characters in different ways.

So, there is no way to write a Batman that everybody's gonna like, or a Venom that everybody's gonna like, or a Spider-Man that everybody's gonna like, especially not an X-Men that everybody's gonna like, because everyone has their favorite team. Everyone has their favorite version of Batman, everyone has their favorite run on Spider Man. And in that way, you have to kind of accept that you're going to upset some people. But if you're coming from a place that's true of heart, and you're doing it out of affection for this character and wanting to show why you think this character is special, and why you want to write your own fears and anxieties and hopes through this character, it will become apparent to fans relatively quickly that you should be given a chance to do that story. They might still yell at you, don't get me wrong. I got yelled at plenty on Batman from the moment we started, the moment we finished, and I always tried to take it with a grain of salt and just say, “thank you for your passion for the character.” But certainly it can be tough.

And one of the things I respect so much about writers, creators like Donny, and Jason Aaron when he came on to Thor and Ghost Rider, and John Hickman on X-Men, and Kelly Sue on Captain Marvel and on Aquaman—there's a sense of purpose from go and you feel it. And a lot of that is just in the thoughtfulness of execution. And we'll see that when we look at the characterization of Eddie Brock and the symbiote in those first pages, or when we look at Thanos and the way he's introduced, the method that Donny chooses to use to introduce him. Everything has a kind of transparent sense of confidence, and he's just there, you just know it. Anyway, so I'm really excited to dive into all of that. Again, you're always welcome to sign up, try it out. If you don't like it, you can drop it, no big deal, but the highlight of my month is getting to do the class. So, I really hope you guys will give it a chance if you're not in there already.

Also, today, we have the fourth offering from Best Jackett Press’ partnership with comiXology. This is a 99𝇍 book out today that's a sampler of all the books we're doing that you haven't seen yet, so all five. So, that's Canary, a dark, twisted Western with Dan Panosian about a mine collapse that reveals this very dark element that people have been hunting for for a long time deep in the earth. Duck and Cover, which is a manga-influenced Americana YA story with Rafa Albuquerque that takes place in a post-apocalyptic 1956 where nuclear exchange has destroyed most of America and only kids that hid under their desks survived for some strange and mysterious reason. The Book of Evil with Jock, which is part prose and imagines a future where almost everybody, 98% of the population, are born psychopaths. And it’s told from the POV of a young boy and his friends who decide to run away and try and find a place where they can avoid this transformation.

Barnstormers: A Ballad of Love and Murder, which I'm doing with Tula Lotay, who I love. I love her art, she's a fantastic person, she runs Thought Bubble Comic Con. I wish I could go this year, family circumstances are preventing me, even though I'm on the list. So, huge apologies. I'll do it next year. That book is historical fiction about a pilot in the early 1900s who meets up with a runaway and the two of them have a deadly adventure together across the United States of The Great Gatsby-era. And for me, at least, that moment is an interesting reflection on this one—a quiet, fragile, ominous moment after a pandemic and cataclysmic events and before more cataclysmic events where the wealthy chose to party as opposed to digging in and trying to find some civic responsibility.

Anyway, other books—Dudley Datson and the Forever Machine, it's a YA-inspired story that I came up with with pal Jamal Igle. It's written with our kids in mind, we both have teenagers who love adventure stories, he has a daughter and I have a son. And it's about a boy who discovers a perpetual motion machine that was created by Daedalus back in ancient times and opens portals to other realities. So, it's a big, fun ongoing with huge mythology. And yeah, those are the five ones that you haven't seen yet.

So, some of them have preview pages, some of them have descriptions and character designs and all that stuff. So, you can get that for 99𝇍 from comiXology right now, or if you got a subscription, which you should, to comiXology Unlimited, you get that for free with your subscription, obviously. And again, I would just say to you, the reason we're doing this this way, is to encourage you to get a subscription so that you can browse 40,000+ comics, classics as well as comics by emergent, diverse creators who are enriching the medium in all kinds of ways. So, my hope is you'll go down the rabbit hole, fall in love with comics, then go to your shop and buy lots of stuff.

Also, a quick fun thing. I'm excited that I've never been cooler to my kids than I am at this moment for Batman Who Laughs appearing in Fortnite yesterday. So I got a slew of 14 and 10-year-olds asking my kids about, “can I get the codes?” and whatever. So, I'm gonna bask in that a little bit today.

I think the last thing I just wanted to say was, I'm interested, if you guys are, in talking about horror a little bit here, especially for this month. I know we're already nearing the end, but it got me thinking, just watching a bunch of modern horror like A24-style stuff from Hereditary and Midsommar and The Night House that feel very of the moment in comparison to some of the stuff that was iconic when I was growing up, and talking about how horror reflects different anxieties in the zeitgeist at different moments and what that means. So, if you're up for it, I'd love to do it. And maybe we'll make it the subject of a livestream. I'm going to do one of those soon.

So, keep your eyes peeled for annual subscribers or anyone that wants to switch over to an annual subscription. You get four livestreams where we just ask questions and get to talk about a subject. So, yeah, thank you again for an amazing week. And yeah, let's dive in and talk character on Thursday- Wednesday! Wednesday, sorry, Wednesday, 9pm EST from my store. Sorry, our two-year-old is still waking up in the middle of the night, so I'm not at my sharpest!


P.S. The first two issues of brother Chip Zdarsky’s vampire superhero series The All-Nighter, with art by Jason Loo & Paris Alleyne and letters by Aditya Bidikar, just dropped on comiXology. It’s a super fun book that I highly recommend all of you read. Throw some well-deserved praise at the whole creative team, who all did an amazing job here. You can also read Chip’s own thoughts on the book in the latest post of his Substack newsletter:

It's Chip Zdarsky's Newsletter, Okay?
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