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Donny Cates Leverages His Texas Roots

The Lone Star State is weird and haunted and inspires the writer’s work

You’ve probably been hearing a lot about Donny Cates recently, and with good reason. The author of Buzzkill and Ghost Fleet is killing it with his new series God Country. With two new ongoing series just around the corner, Redneck (April 19) and Babyteeth (June), Cates is in high demand. We caught up with him and picked his brain about Redneck and life in Texas.

TFAW: Do you remember the first comic book you read? How did you end up with it?

Donny Cates: I do! Kind of…My Dad taught me to read using comics when I was a kid. My brother was a big baseball card kid, so I’d always go with him to the mall. The baseball card shop had a bunch of shelves of comics and I was just OBSESSED with them. So, my dad made a deal with me. If I learned to read them, he would buy them for me. So I did!

I learned how to read using an issue of Green Lantern. And for the life of me I can’t remember which issue it was. I like to think I’d know it if I saw it. But who knows?

TFAW: What series got you hooked on comics?

Cates: That’s a tough question because I was hooked from the jump. I started reading young and I’ve never really taken any time off. I will say that when I discovered the Vertigo stuff as a kid I was just blown away. Books like Preacher and Sandman and [Alan] Moore’s Swamp Thing and Hellblazer just exploded my mind and my sense of what comics could be.

There isn’t just one moment where you are in and someone gives you the decoder ring…

TFAW: What comic writers inspire you?

Cates: Mark Waid is the writer who first jumps to mind. He’s had such an incredible career and he wrote Kingdom Come when he was MY age. Just thinking about gives me hives. And he’s only gotten better. Jason Aaron is another one. I look at the work he’s putting out and I’m just floored with every issue. I truly think we are all lucky to be alive while that man is putting books out.

TFAW: How did you get your big break in comics? At what point did it hit you that you had broken in?

Cates: Well, the truth of the matter is that there isn’t just one moment where you are in and someone gives you the decoder ring and now everything is super easy, you know? You actually break in numerous times. I’ve been doing this, in some capacity or another for ten years or so…and I’m JUST NOW feeling like I’m “in.”

Redneck
Redneck

TFAW: What is Redneck about?

Cates: Redneck follows The Bowmans, a family of vampires living in East Texas just trying to get by and live in peace. They run a cattle farm and live off the blood of the cows they slaughter for the BBQ shop their familiars run in town. It’s a safe life, but it’s just surviving. Not really “living”. They are very much an isolationist family. They don’t bother the townsfolk and the town doesn’t bother them. Until well, something goes terribly wrong. And our peaceful group of vampires suddenly find themselves on the verge of war.

Stephen King has Maine. I have Texas.

TFAW: We’ve all seen creepy vampires, sexy vampires, and high school teen vampires in books and movies. So far, I think this is the only story about hillbilly vampires. What inspired you to take vampire mythos in this new direction?

Cates: Well, it started out with me looking at the word “redneck” and wondering if anyone had ever done a vampire book with that name…because come on, right? It started as simply as that. But when I started digging into the story I wanted to tell, it kind of came alive. I found myself writing about my own family, my own history. And then the history of Texas and the idea of bad blood and the sins of the past kind of a thing.

It’s such great fodder for stories when you have an immortal family of vampires that have hundreds of years of history in place before the story even begins. It’s all my favorite things wrapped up in a neat little package. Westerns, Vampires, Texas, Horror, family drama! I love it.

TFAW: Texas is also the setting of God Country. Is Texas a hotbed of paranormal activity?

Cates: It certainly is in my books! Even if you look back at Buzzkill and Ghost Fleet, both of those books are set in or around Texas to a certain degree. I don’t know what it is about the state that inspires me so much. I mean, obviously I’m from Texas and I still live here, but there’s just something weird and haunted about it that I can’t help feel inspired by. Stephen King has Maine. I have Texas.

I always say that Lisandro draws ugly things really pretty.

TFAW: What can we look forward to in the upcoming Redneck issues?

Cates: Lots and lots of blood. And horses. And fire. And guns. And beer.

TFAW: How did you end up partnering with Lisandro Estherren on Redneck?

Cates: I pitched Redneck to Skybound without an artist attached. So once it was greenlit, Jon Moisan (series editor) and I just poured over portfolios and traded back and forth the people we liked. It was really fun, actually. I think Lisandro jumped out at Jon and I both for his ability to draw raw emotion and really evocative moods and settings. I always say that Lisandro draws ugly things really pretty. And that kind of blend of hideous and beautiful, mean and emotional. It was just perfect for the book.

TFAW: What titles are on your pull list?

Cates: Southern Bastards, Daredevil, Kingpin, Invincible, Horizon, Extremity, Thor, Unworthy Thor, Thanos. I’m pretty down for the Secret Empire stuff. Pretty stoked about that. I’m loving all the Bat books right now. The Young Animal line is dope of course. Super Sons is outstanding. God, what else? I know I’m probably forgetting a thousand books. I read all of them. I read all of the comics.

TFAW: What’s next?

Cates: Babyteeth! My other ongoing this year. That one comes out in June. And I have a few other big announcements later this year that I can’t tell anyone about. But suffice to say you aren’t rid of me just yet.

TFAW: Can I get an elevator pitch for Babyteeth?

Cates: Sure! Sadie Ritter is sixteen and pregnant with the antichrist. Once the baby is born, all hell comes with it. It’s very sweet.

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Written by Brendan Allen

Brendan Allen has probably had more jobs than you would reasonably believe. Dog trainer? He’s done it. Flooring contractor? Yep! EMT? Army NBC specialist? Road dog for a Celtic rock band? Yes, yes, and och aye! Now he reads comics and writes about them. His kids think he's Batman, and he just may be.