Donny Cates On Bringing ‘Buzzkill’ To Dark Horse Comics [Interview]
In September Dark Horse Comics debuted Buzzkill #1, co-written by Donny Cates and Mark Reznicek, illustrated by Geoff Shaw and colored by Lauren Affe. At a glance the cover for the first issue appears to present a somber, but otherwise with-it costumed superhero enjoying a cigarette and a bottle of wine as he leans over the ledge of a skyscraper surveying his city. But then there's the title, "Buzzkill," and an environment not dotted with highrises, but rather filled with enormous bottles of hooch. This hero has a problem. Turns out that not only is the protagonist -- who may or may not be named Ruben -- an alcoholic, but a retired crime fighter who depended on abusing substances to put his powers to use... not that he can tell the civilians in his new support group. Meanwhile, his former supervillain foes conspire in the shadows, plotting revenge for a catastrophic battle he can't even remember. ComicsAlliance got in touch with Cates to learn more about the new miniseries and what's in store for Buzzkill's less-than-heroic hero.
ComicsAlliance: The cover for Buzzkill #1 features a quote from Mark Waid saying "God, I wish I'd thought of this." What was the impetus for the creation of the story by you, Mark Reznicek and Geoff Shaw?
Donny Cates: I had met Rez a few times through my childhood friend Wes Solem (Check out his band Here Holy Spain, they RULE) and we both LOVE comics and hit it off right off the bat. I had been published at Dark Horse a few times already (Hunter Quaid in Dark Horse Presents) and I just asked Rez if he had any ideas for a comic. He sat on it for a few months and eventually got back to me with this idea for a superhero who gets his powers from drinking. I loved the core concept but I started extrapolating the idea and thinking about what would actually happen, not what would be funny, but what would be some of the real world consequences of this guy. And pretty quickly I had flushed out a solid little four issue mini called BLACKOUT!.. and then we had to change the name because Dark Horse already had a hero named Blackout... go figure.
CA: Mark is known by music fans as the longtime Toadies drummer. What's it been like collaborating with him on the book?
Cates: You know, it's weird. You become friends with a guy and you kind of forget that he's this really successful and talented musician, Rez has become a close friend of mine and sometimes I have to remind myself "This is the dude who played on Rubberneck! this dude is in your favorite band!" I mean (and here's a little exclusive for you) I have a Toadies lyric tattooed on my left arm for pete's sake! The lyric is from a song called "I Burn" and this past weekend, out at their festival Dia De Los Toadies, we had an early release of the book and I got to come up on stage and play the drums with Rez on that song. It was also my birthday...
So yeah, to answer your question... it's rad as hell.
CA: There have been quite a few heroes (and villains) who gain or otherwise channel their powers using a special substance. How did you work to differentiate the protagonist of Buzzkill from, say, Hourman?
Cates: Well, if we had written the book from that kind of angle it would have been pretty hard to make it look different. We were very careful to not use alcohol as something that looked cool or sexy, it's not Popeye's can of spinach, you know? It's something he kind of hates, but it's also something that makes him powerful... in that sense it's much more of a dependence than a enhancement, it's a drug. He's an addict. Things don't go very well.
CA: While he makes some truths plain, Buzzkill's protagonist withholds a lot of information from the reader -- and not necessarily by choice. How unreliable should readers expect this unreliable narrator to be through the series?
Cates: Very. "Ruben" is very reluctant to share with "normal people", he can't really relate to them. It's something I think is really funny, actually. We always talk about trying to make a character relatable and real... but what if the hero doesn't want to relate to you? What if he doesn't understand you? I think that's pretty interesting. But again, to answer your question, keep reading... some truths will be brought into the light, no matter how much Ruben wants them to stay buried...
CA: We live in a culture that kind of simultaneously glamorizes and demonizes drugs. What were the Buzzkill team's considerations regarding how you presented the effects of drugs and alcohol in the story?
Cates: We thought about things like Requiem for a Dream and Breaking Bad... no one has ever accused Breaking Bad of making meth look sexy, you know? I kind of hate the implied pun of this phrase but we wanted to write "a sobering look at alcoholism" we can dress it up in capes and tights all we want, but this is a book about addiction. It's not glamorous.
CA: Artist Geoff Shaw and colorist Lauren Affe compliment each other well on this book, particularly when the story jumps between flashbacks and the present day. How did you like working with the art team on Buzzkill and how did your collaborative efforts evolve between issues?
Cates: I've worked with Lauren on every book I've written, and I plan on doing the same thing with any of my books in the future, she's simply a wizard at what she does, we have a shorthand at this point where I really don't give her much direction, the Zip A Tone thing aside.... I don't instruct Lauren as much as I UNLEASH Lauren. She's a rainbow-colored force of nature.
Geoff is amazing. When Rez and I started looking for artists, I called up an old professor friend of mine at SCAD [Savannah College of Art and Design] and said "Who's killing it over there?" He sent me a few different artists and I liked some of them... but then I saw Geoff's pages and it was just a revelation, it looked like what I had in my head the entire time. Almost every single first concept sketch he sent us, we used. He just gets it.
There was a moment that really sticks out to me... we were trying to come up with the first cover, and we had some problems at first getting the "superhero" concept across. I think it was me who said "lets just put a cape on him" and Geoff was just not having that, he kept on telling me that Ruben wouldn't wear a cape, when i asked him why not he would just say "Because that's just not who he is, man!" and I was so happy, here was an artist who thinks about the character and cares about the character enough to tell the dude who created him that he's wrong! And he was right! Ruben totally wouldn't wear a cape!
Geoff is going to dominate the comics world this year. I'm so proud to have worked with him.
CA: It only ran for a few episodes, but for whatever reason I still remember MTV's 1995-1996 Buzzkill TV series, which in some ways was a predecessor to shows like Jackass. Do you anticipate this Buzzkill comic will inspire a comic book arms race for more and more extreme addiction-based limited series?
Cates: Only if I get to write them! No, but i really do think it was a good time for the book to come out, I think people will always appreciate truth in storytelling. It's Breaking Bad, you know? Even though Walt has become this horrific person, we identify with him because there's an inherit honesty to that character, an honest darkness in Walt that we can all relate to. I don't know how people are going to react to what's coming up for Ruben, but I hope they recognize the truth in his story.
CA: In the event that Buzzkill inspires cosplay, are you prepared to claim responsibility for what could be volatile behavior at conventions?