Exploring The Epic And Intimate ‘God Country’ With Donny Cates [Interview]
In Donny Cates and Geoff Shaw's upcoming Image title God Country, a man moves his family across the country to help care for his ailing father --- but everything changes dramatically after a storm of biblical proportions hits town.
ComicsAlliance caught up with Cates to talk about balancing the personal with the epic, and the importance of God Country's West Texas location.
ComicsAlliance: God Country deals with a heavy subject not often explored in comics. Was this a personal story for you?
Donny Cates: Okay, here’s a vague answer for you: I think all stories are personal to a certain degree. At least, they should be. None of us have super powers, but all of us feel. So even in the most outlandish out-there story, there should be a degree of honest emotion or relatable humanity there for the reader to cling on to as you take them through whatever wild hell you’re about to take them on. It’s something Geoff and I have tried to accomplish in everything we’ve done, from Buzzkill to even The Paybacks, which is such an out and out comedy, we still try to start on a foundation of honesty, and build up from there.
Okay, but answer the question, right? The real answer is that God Country has a lot of its roots in a kind of horrific medical event I went through a few years back. Anyone who’s had a brush with their own mortality can attest to the kind of feelings regarding life and death and family and legacy that it can dredge up. And around that same time my brother had a baby! So in a very short time I was presented with my own mortality followed by this amazing new life that had my last name on it.
You combine all of those experiences, and God Country is (apparently) what comes out of it.
CA: The series also has the high-concept, sci-fi/fantasy aspect to it. What led to the merging of the personal with the fantastical?
DC: Well, everything kind of flows out from this one big idea. The overarching theme of the series is the idea of this small family in Texas dealing with things beyond their control. Whether it’s an illness that they cannot control, a storm, or even huge Kirby Gods, it’s all a metaphorical extension of that same core concept. It’ll make more sense as readers start to follow along, but everything starts and ends with the family. It’s their story.
CA: Was it tough to reconcile the very real and personal struggle with Alzheimer's with the more fantastical elements of the comics?
DC: Not… really. And that’s something that will become more obvious as readers see how this story evolves. Because both of those things are the same thing in my mind. When someone you love is beset upon by an illness like this, it honestly can feel like there’s….something out there taking them from you. Some kind of otherworldly thing, some being….you can call it God or whatever your beliefs are, but it seems like there’s some sort of cruel plan at work that you didn’t get to have a say in. People tend to turn to god in times of illness as a last resort… people pray over loved ones who they think they’ll lose…
Our book is just about those prayers being answered…but maybe not answered by the god you thought you were praying to.
CA: What is it about Texas as a location that makes it so key to the story?
DC: I’m from Texas, so obviously I’m biased. But West Texas in particular has this wild, kind of alien/mystical vibe to it that felt like the perfect setting for this story. Anyone who has ever been out in the high plains of West Texas can attest to the feeling you get when you’re out there. It feels... eerie isn’t the right word, but it’s very close. It feel like that part of the country is virtually unchanged since the dawn of time, it feels untamed and wild and supernatural.
Geoff Shaw said it best when he said, “If you were to look out (at West Texas) and see giant gods out there fighting, it would be shocking, but it wouldn’t seem that out of place”
CA: When collaborating with Geoff Shaw, how descriptive are you when it comes to the big, bombastic action, as opposed to the intimate family drama, and how much does he have free reign?
DC: I tend to script pretty tight for everything regardless of what the scene is. That being said, there are absolutely things I write for Geoff that I wouldn’t write for anyone else, because Geoff and I have been doing this for so long and we really get each other.
His acting is, I think, the best in the biz. I really do. Geoff can sell the hell out of anything, be it giant superhero action, or big giant mazes or labyrinth monsters or dragons or cosmic space stuff, but… what sets him apart from everyone else these days, I think, is how he emotes though his character work. So, in that way, I get to be a bit looser when it comes to the emotional stuff. Meaning, I don’t need to micromanage him and tell him exactly how a character is sitting, or standing, or holding themselves in order to evoke a certain mood or emotion. He just gets it. He knows exactly what I’m trying to do and he just nails it every single time.
CA: Do you go back and forth on character and object designs to really build the lore and feel for this world?
DC: As I’ve said, Geoff and I have been working together pretty closely for a while now, so as well as developing a pretty solid friendship, we’ve also come to a place where we have an almost identical taste in character design and design in general. I think maybe we’ve maybe gone back and re-designed a character a total of one time? Geoff just nails it on his first at bat. He knows what I’m trying to evoke in the script, and he and I just lock in very well together.
He’s pretty damn good, that Geoff Shaw. I’m a big fan.
CA: Just how fantastical is God Country going to get, and on the flipside, just how hard-hitting is it going to get?
DC: I’ve said this a few times now, and it never stops being a weird statement, but God Country is both the smallest, most intimate story we’ve ever told, and somehow manages to also be the most insane, bombastic, far reaching epic we’ve ever done. It’s out there, for sure.
But what I’ve always liked about the book, is that we witness everything not from above, looking down on humanity and the Quinlan family, but from below. We are down on the ground with Emmett and his family the entire time, so we witness these insane things alongside them. We feel their pain, and their joy and their abject terror and loss while standing next to them, looking up into the sky. It’s a wild ride, and god... I can’t wait for you all to come and join us on it.
Check out the preview for God Country #1 below:
Here's the solicitation information for the first issue:
GOD COUNTRY #1
STORY: DONNY CATES
ART: GEOFF SHAW, JASON WORDIE, JOHN J. HILL
COVER A: GEOFF SHAW & DAVE STEWART
COVER B: GERARDO ZAFFINO
JANUARY 11 / 32 PAGES / FC / M / $3.99
Emmet Quinlan, an old widower rattled by dementia, isn't just a problem for his children—his violent outbursts are more than the local cops can handle. When a tornado levels his home—as well as the surrounding West Texas town—a restored Quinlan rises from the wreckage. The enchanted sword at the eye of the storm gives him more than a sound mind and body, however.
He's now the only man who can face the otherworldly creatures the sword has drawn down to the Lone Star State...