Singapore Comic Con 2019 (SGCC 2019) took place at the Marina Bay Sands Expo last weekend and we received the opportunity to interview comic book writer and the next hottest thing in comics, Donny Cates.
For those who don’t know him, Donny Cates is a comic book writer who has worked (and are currently working) on a slew of projects at Marvel Comics, including Venom, Cosmic Ghost Rider, Death Of The Inhumans, Guardians Of The Galaxy, Silver Surfer Black, Thanos, Doctor Strange and most recently, the Absolute Carnage crossover.
His past non-Marvel works include God Country at Image Comics, a cosmic story set in the most non-cosmic setting possible; a farm in the middle of rural America.
Q: What’s the important thing when you write?
A: I think it’s important to keep in mind that people are spending money on this product and every script that I write, I try to make sure that it’s worth four dollars. I used to run a comic book store and I read a lot of comics that aren’t worth people’s time.
We have to compete with Netflix and movies, so I like to think that if you buy a comic book from me, you’re getting a lot of comic book for your money.
Q: Your work on Venom and Absolute Carnage swing more towards horror, with its Lovecraftian themes and cosmic fear. Are there any plans for Marvel to follow up on that with perhaps a Vertigo-like imprint?
A: No, I don’t know, that’d be fun. It’s weird, Al Ewing and I didn’t really know each other before he was on the Immortal Hulk and I was on Venom. We both just weirdly at the same time decided that Marvel needed a lot of really fucked-up horror stuff.
I thought that the concept of Venom has always been a sci-fi horror, it’s a guy walking around with a black alien on him.
That’s terrifying, but he’s just never really been written that way.
I also wanted Venom to have his own little corner of the Marvel Universe because even the Punisher started off as a Spider-Man bad guy, but none of us thinks of him like that.
I’ve been trying my best to bring Venom out of Spider-Man’s shadow and give him his own world, give him his own bad guys.
I found a little niche area that’s Cthulu, elder god, H.P. Lovecraft kind of stuff, and people seem to dig it, so I keep on doing it.
Q: You’ve been touted as the next hottest thing in comics right now. How do you feel about that?
A: It’s really scary, I don’t like it at all. You know, on my desk, I have this page from Wizard magazine from the 90s and they used to do these top ten lists of like, the top hottest writers of 1994.
Number one is like Grant Morrison, two is like Mark Waid, and three is Garth Ennis, but number four through ten are like dudes you’ve never heard of. I keep it there as a reminder that that yeah, I might be the hottest guy this year, but if I don’t keep on working and making sure my stuff is good then I might not be next year.
So, I don’t know, I hear people say that but my life hasn’t changed. I’m still in my sweatpants on my laptop writing comics. You know, it’s fun, and I’m glad that people like it, but it’s not something I try to think about that much.
Q: What are your thoughts on Kevin Feige being handed the reins to everything from Marvel Comics to Marvel Entertainment?
A: Well, let me first begin by saying that Kevin Feige is now my new boss, so I’m way into it. Kevin’s really smart. In the same way that Disney bought Pixar, Disney doesn’t buy companies to change them. Disney buys successful things and then says keep on doing that, and then just give us the money.
So, much in the same way that Disney bought Marvel in 2009, everyone was so scared that Disney was going to change everything.
It’s so not true because Disney leaves us alone entirely.
We do everything we want to do and Kevin’s the same way, he’s not going to come in and try to make our comic books like the movies or anything like that.
The more I think about it, comics are like a very cheap experimental lab because we can do anything and then the stuff that works will go into huge movies.
The newest Thor film is going to be Jason Aaron’s run, Jane Foster is Thor.
So, it would short-sighted for him to change what we’re doing because they won’t be able to get any new stuff out of us.
I, like everyone else on the Marvel Publishing line, are really excited. We think it’s really cool. In fact, if anything changes, we’ll have more freedom.
Q: What do you think about the Venom movie and Tom Hardy’s role as Eddie Brock?
A: I think it is insane to me as a kid who grew up reading Venom and has been Venom fan my entire life, that not only do I live in a world where there is a Venom movie but also that by the time a solo Venom movie came out, I was the writer of Venom. That’s so weird and I can’t ever get my head around it.
I think they did a really good job on that movie, I always thought that Venom works the best when he’s a metaphor for addiction, and they nailed that in the film. The way that Tom Hardy played Eddie Brock is he’s a strung-out addict, all sweaty and people are worried about him.
The soundtrack is amazing too. I write my Venom books to the Venom soundtrack.
Q: You created Cosmic Ghost Rider. How do you feel now about the character turning out to be so popular?
A: Dude, I never thought that stupid character would get so much attention.
I think he’s really cool, obviously, but it was an idea I had when I was in high school.
People ask me all the time like, where did Cosmic Ghost Rider come from, and they’re always let down by the answer because the answer is: I thought the Ghost Rider would look cool in space.
I thought that would be a cool drawing, but like a lot of Marvel characters, they started out that way. Like the original Ghost Rider, he’s a cool drawing that would look good airbrushed onto the side of a van. Like Venom, he’s that way too, he’s like a black abyss with teeth, it’s fucking cool.
But no, we never thought Cosmic Ghost Rider would be that popular. I mean, he’s like so convoluted, confusing and weird, who has the least accessible storyline for anyone. He’s like Frank Castle in the future in an alternate dimension, who died and went to hell and came back and was Ghost Rider and was there for thousands of years and then Galactus came back and he became his herald, then he got killed by Silver Surfer in the future, and went to Valhalla, and got kicked out, and then raise baby Thanos into the Punisher, and then went back in time to drop him off.
It’s all so bananas, it’s so stupid. The fact that anyone can access it and get into it is so weird to me. Compare that to like, this kid got bitten by a spider and now he’s Spider-Man, that’s so easy. So, I don’t know, there’s like a statue and a toy, t-shirts and all that stuff, it’s really weird.
Q: What are your plans for Carnage post-Absolute Carnage?
A: If you’ve read Absolute Carnage, he’s dead. That’s the extent of my plans with Carnage. That being said, read Venom Island. The next arc that I’m doing with Mark Bagley on Venom will kind of answer that. I might not be totally done with that character yet.
Q: How does it feel to be the next writer for Thor after Jason Aaron’s epic years-long run?
A: It’s terrifying. It’s the scariest job in comics, man. When you look at the pantheon of writers who’ve written Thor, starting with Stan and Jack, Walt Simonson, Fraction, going into Jason Aaron. To me, I’m new to comics, I’ve only been here for three years, and so for me, it’s terrifying.
That said, when Jason took over the book, Jason made it his book, and we all talked about it as Jason’s Thor. In that spirit, Jason is one of my biggest heroes, he’s my favourite writer in the world, but I’m not writing Jason’s Thor. That’s done, it’s Donny’s Thor now. I kinda have to kick it all over, which is hard for me, because like that Thor run is my favourite run of comics.
I’m really proud and honoured to be the next guy on Thor, but I am sad that I won’t get to read Jason’s Thor anymore. All it means to me is that I should do my job better, and I have to honour that because the bar has been set really fucking high. I just have to not mess it up, man.
Q: How would your run affect the continuity on Thor as a character?
A: Well, it helps that Jason and I are really good friends. Jason has known that I was gonna be on Thor for like, three years now. Jason and I have known that for a long time and that’s why I kinda like my Venom book tying into his Thor run.
We keep on playing back and forth with each other’s stuff like Knull is talking about King Thor and all these things. We’ve been playing back and forth this entire time, and we’ll keep on doing that. He’s now on a team book, and I’m on a solo book, so we all know what we’re doing. It’s why we have these retreats.
That being said, I never let continuity get into the way of a cool story. I always think about Jonathan Hickman’s Secret Wars, which is a phenomenal event. You have to understand that when Jonathan pitched that story, he came into a room and said, okay, my event starts with all your books being cancelled.
That had to have happened because everyone’s books stopped. Sometimes you just gotta do that. It’s weird to say it to Jason, but at a certain point, I just have to say, you can’t use Thor on this. But what’s really cool about that is I get to write the Avengers because I’m writing Thor, and if I want Captain America or Iron Man to show up, I can just do that.
Q: Are you going to return to creator-owned or independent comic books in the near future?
A: Yeah, I’ll be announcing two new Image books next year (in 2020).
Q: What’s your creative process when writing comics?
A: On Venom, especially, that’s like a culmination of 30 years of me being a little kid. When my first issue of Venom came out, that month was the 30-year anniversary of Venom. I’m 35, I was a five-year-old when it first came out.
A lot of my stuff is just ideas that I’ve had since I was a little kid. I remember I would just make stuff up to tell my friends because I was the only one who read comics. I would tell them, like the green drool in Venom’s mouth is actually the bullets that he gets hit with dissolved and retroactively I now make myself not a liar because I went and made that shit canon.
So really, it’s just me having fun, man, and to make Venom feel unique in his own space. I think that J. Michael Straczynski’s Amazing Spider-Man was very big for me as a writer because it’s such an additive series. He developed so many new things. What I took from that was in the first arc of JMS’ run, he introduced Morlun. We’ve seen Spider-Man fight Doc Ock, we kinda know how that fight goes.
You don’t know what’s going to happen with Morlun. He’s going to beat Peter Parker to death on a street, which he does, by the way. That makes it so scary because it’s new and unknown. There’s a lot of Morlun’s DNA in Knull.
I try to be very additive, I try to look at what’s never been done. Not to promote my own book, but like Thor number #1 out January 1st, I found an unexplored area of Marvel dating back to the Jack Kirby cosmic odyssey stuff that I was just researching and looking at. I was reading it and I was like, I found this little plothole, this little piece of unexplored territory in an old Stan and Jack comic.
But I called Tom Brevoort at Marvel. He’s kinda like the all-father who knows everything. I called him and I said, hey, is it possible that no one has ever explained ‘this’, that ‘this’ has never been fleshed out? And he said, no, no one’s ever done that. I ask, can I do it, and he said, yeah.
I know that I’m speaking in absolute vagueries now but you’ll understand what I mean when you read it.
I don’t like telling stories about stories, I don’t like to do my version of whatever, I like to add some type of lore into it.
I want books to be changed after I leave them if that makes any sense.