Writer Donny Cates (along with co-writer Mark “Rez” Reznicek) and artist Geoff Shaw’s Dark horse book Buzzkill has been turning heads with its intriguing premise about a normal guy who gets superpowers after imbibing illicit substances, like drugs and alcohol. Steve Paugh sat down with them at this year’s New York Comic Con to see what it is they’re smoking to come up with an idea like this, why Dark Horse was the perfect publisher and to find out hints of the “bat-shit crazy” stuff that’s coming next for our drunken do-gooder!
First off, I want to say that I wish I had the powers of the main character in Buzzkill. I went a little crazy last night at one of the NYCC after parties...
Cates: Hey, that makes two of us!
Cates: Nice! Yeah, me and another buddy I work with went out. We went to one party, but it was too packed, so we just went somewhere else and did fireball shots.
Well, good to know we’re all in recovery, and pretty appropriate to my first question! Where did the idea for Buzzkill - a superhero who garners his powers from alcohol and drugs and is now dealing with addiction - come from?
Cates: So, Mark Rez, who’s my co-writer and also the drummer for The Toadies ... he’s a huge comic book geek. I was getting published through Dark Horse with my other book, Hunter Quaid, and he just shot me this email saying, “Look if you ever wanted to work on something together, I’ve got this germ of an idea.”
It was really just one sentence long: What if a guy got his powers from drinking and doing drugs? Now, starting with that base, the natural way to go - the easy way to go - is funny, silly, like Popeye and shit. But I wasn’t interested in that at all.
Both Rez and I are very attracted to the quieter stories. When Spider-Man fights Venom, that’s fun, but when he goes home to Mary Jane all bloody and crying? That’s the shit. That’s the real story.
So you wanted to focus really on the human side of the superhero dynamic.
Cates: Absolutely. I mean, superheroes as human beings is not a revolutionary thing - it’s fun to explore. But then we found Geoff, whose artwork is so good, it allows me to write 15 pages of a dude in a room talking and no one fucking notices that I’ve just written a really boring comic. That’s how dynamic his art is.
Shaw: I never get tired of hearing him say that. [laughs]
Cates: Well, it’s just his art, his acting, his expressions are so good, so earnest and honest, it really lets me have more freedom in what I want to do. I will say this: issue #2 is my apology to Geoff. He gave me an issue of all talking, so I said in the second issue, we’re gonna have a fuckin’ robot fighting a monkey. Let’s get into it, y’know?
That was goddamn brutal, by the way!
Shaw: Oh man, I had the most fun working on that issue.
Cates: It got raw as fuck!
Shaw: Yeah it did! And the story gets even better for me. Maybe it was my schedule or whatever, where I had the perfect amount of time to work on every page, but it ended up being really just fun.
Well, you can definitely tell you were having a good time with it, and it was definitely a good fit. Speaking of which, why Dark Horse for Buzzkill? Was it just your connections with them previously? Was it because it had a dynamic that fit well within its ethos or renewed approach to superheroes? Was it something else entirely?
Cates: They said yes! [laughs] No, I mean, I did have connections there, but having interned at Marvel before, I also have connections other places in the industry. Aub Driver - that pretty young man over there with the long hair [points to Dark Horse’s Public Relations & Social Media Strategist]? He really liked it, and he’s the one who actually got my book Hunter Quaid in front of people. But he took Buzzkill to the editorial department and at first, we got a lot of feedback saying, “Oh yeah, it’s like Hancock, we get it.”
But then Patrick Thorpe, our editor was the only one who actually saw the difference in it. So, in Patrick, we actually found someone who fucking got it, and I can’t thank him enough. He’s the kind of guy who, when I make a move or a decision, instead of putting his fingerprint on it, he’ll come back and say, “Why are we making that choice?” And then we’ll have a conversation about it and he’ll say, “Okay, let’s fucking do it.”
Working with Dark Horse has been a fucking blast, man, and I honestly can’t see this book working this well at any other company.
It does seem to match up pretty well, especially thanks to Dark Horse’s superhero line. Was that something you were conscious of as well? Working with analog superhero characters and pastiches? Is that a difficult sort of thing to approach, given fandom’s ties to the characters you’re drawing from? Is it a challenge or a benefit?
Cates: Obviously when you’re working with this kind of a trope, there are some things that you don’t have to really explain. When Eric [Buzzkill’s “dark knight” character] walks out of the shadows, I don’t need to tell you what’s going on. You get it. I mean, I give you an origin story kind of, but you don’t need to know that shit. When that character says “Me and the guys,” you know it’s our Justice League or whatever, so going into that, I knew people were going to understand that it was a superhero world.
But still, going into it, yeah we were conscious of it. I mean, in an effort to make you, the reader, understand that this was a grounded story, when you see superheroes in comics, you always see them from above, on a building or in the sky. But Eric and our main character just walking in the street is something we really wanted to have, something we really liked.
Shaw: Yeah, I can’t remember the last time I saw that in a comic book.
Cates: Exactly! Because it’s awkward, it’s weird. We’re not used to seeing them like that.
But it works, too. These aren’t only superheroes, they’re also just dudes fuckin’ around. They joke around and call each other out.
Cates: Exactly, and there’s another big visual clue there where Eric leaves and goes back into the superhero stories, leaving Reuben down here with the rest of us. So it’s using those superhero tropes, playing with them and then basing it on reality. It’s not easy, but it’s fun.
And it comes with its own unique voice, one with a definitive sense of humor. That “hang in there” joke in issue two was off-handed, natural and hilarious, for example.
Cates: Thanks man! I mean, I like to put in those little jokes in there. Like I’ve said in other interviews, if I can make the reader laugh with our main character, and not at him, that’s the payoff. I’ve only got four issues here, so if I can get you to relate to him, then you’re gonna route for him and like him.
Look at Breaking Bad, right? Besides season five, that show has bits of great comedy that make you love Walter ... and you shouldn’t. You really fucking shouldn’t love Walter. And in a lot of ways, if you keep reading, you really shouldn’t love our main character either.
Shaw: Well, this story is concise. It’s got a beginning and an end to this arc, you know?
Cates: Yeah, it was always planned as four issues. Now, the world? The consequences of what happens in this book within that world? There’s definitely more to tell. Geoff and I are working on something right now and we’ll be working on something else next year.
Shaw: We’re building a world. These characters aren’t just gonna go out into the ether. The intent is to make a new ... I guess “universe” might be the wrong word, but there is a bigger story going on.
Cates: For example, in issue two, when Doctor Blaqk kills those bad guys by sending them to other story lines? We’ll pick up at some point where that left off.
Yeah, that was an interesting scene...
Cates: Does he know he’s in a comic book?! I mean, he seemed to be able to read captions!
Along those same lines, I was talking to Dark Horse Editor-in-Chief Scott Allie earlier about the superhero titles, and I was wondering if Buzzkill would have any crossovers or interactions with that new world currently under construction.
Cates: Nah, that’s not something I’m interested in doing. I don’t wanna distract and I don’t want to be gimmicky. It’s a personal story, so to have him show up in a Hellboy shirt or whatever ... that would be weird. This is a private story set in superhero trappings. That’s not to say that, like, any of our ... I won’t call them sequels, but those stories set in the same universe? It’s possible you could see him again. Maybe not in the same context, but he could pop up later.
Well, we can’t wait to see what happens in issues three and four, especially after part two...
Shaw: It gets big, man.
Cates: God almighty. Yeah. So like, we’re doing one for me and one for him [points to Shaw]. Issue one was for me, issue two was for him. Issue three is CRAZY for me and issue four is just balls to the wall. That is the craziest shit I’ve ever written and the best art I’ve ever seen come out of this kid.
Shaw: I killed myself. I just locked myself in my room for three weeks, I needed that time just to ink it.
And it’s all done?
Shaw: Yup, it’s all done.
Cates: Yeah, he finished it on my birthday in September.
Ah, so it was a happy birthday then.
Cates: Absolutely, man!