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Today I have two interviews for the click of one! Writers Donny Cates and Mark Reznicek are talking about their new comic book Buzzkill, a mini-series which debuted on September 18th, 2013, about a superhero who needs to become drunk or do drugs in order to activate his powers and is trying to go to Alcoholics Anonymous.
Me: In Buzzkill, What do you each individually handle in the writing process?
Cates: I handle the physical scripting and layout of the book. Rez and I collaborate extensively on the story and the structure of every issue, dialogue, fight scenes, tone, movement...all that. I'm a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to format and panel layout so I do all of that. It honestly just came down to which of us was faster when it came to scripting. I know Rez wants to do some scripting on future projects and he totally will, we just wanted to nail our deadlines on this bad boy.
Reznicek: The initial concept was mine, which Donny developed and built upon. We collaborate on the plot and the major story beats, then Donny writes the script. He then sends it back to me, and I proofread it and tweak it if there are any bits that need tweaking. So I guess I'm the co-plotter/kibitzer.
Me: What inspired you to write a comic book about alcoholism and superheroes?
Cates: I've said this in other places before, but it really came from a lot of places. Rez sent me the initial bare bones idea of the book, which was very to the point and awesome "What if a guy got powers from drinking and doing drugs". I was....kind of going through a time in my life where I was... not struggling with it myself but I was watching a good friend of mine kind of succumb to the disease. I'd be lying if I said that witnessing that didn't inform a lot of this book. It was good therapy...I'll say that. The metaphor became very powerful and personal the more i thought about it. Like all good stories I think it was a combination of writing what you know (superheroes) and injecting some personal life experience into the book.
Me: What was it like working with artist Geoff Shaw and colorist Lauren Affe (and each other, of course)?
Cates: Well Rez is a big time rock star diva so it was pretty tough. I'm kidding of course, Rez is the sweetest most talented person I've worked with. No ego at all. If an idea was good, it went in the book, it didn't matter whose it was. I've absolutely loved working with him. Geoff is simply brilliant, his art is expressive and fluid and more than anything, Geoff GETS it. He knew from page one panel one what we were trying to do with the message and tone of the book. Almost every single initial character sketch was the one we went with. It's so nice to work with a team that generally cares about the book and trusts each other. Lauren as well, I've worked with Lauren on every book i've ever done and Lauren and I have a short hand now where I can just call her and say "I want this page to kind of have a 70's glam rock feel to it...like really Bowie.." And she'll just nail it. She nails it every time. Every time. Without fail. Lauren has a beautiful and amazing career ahead of her and i'm so honored to have her on board.
Reznicek: Working with Donny Cates is a real joy. His unbridled enthusiasm is infectious. Couple that with his unbridled creativity and you have a force of nature. He is a brilliant writer and just a fun guy to hang around. I couldn't ask for a better co-conspirator.
Geoff and Lauren were a dream come true to work with. Total pros and creative geniuses both. It is always incredibly exciting whenever new pages come in from either of them.
Me: What was your favorite scene to write in Buzzkill?
Cates: Oh god...that's hard to answer without spoiling things. I'd say the entire last issue. That issue really came to me, really came together so quickly and effortlessly. At the same time it was so personal and so...well, I can't really say. I'll say this...it feels good when your artist and editors tell me they really genuinely felt something from reading it. I think it's going to be a very divisive issue, people are going to love it or hate it...but I feel proud and confident in saying that, no matter what you feel, you're going to feel something... and that's really the best thing I can do as an artist.
Reznicek: Any scenes involving the Dr. Blaqk character are always the most fun to write.
Me: Mark, can you tell us about your band, the Toadies?
Reznicek: I've been a member of the band for 22 years. We put out our first album Rubberneck in 1994. It eventually sold over a million copies and went platinum, and spawned the hit singles "Possum Kingdom" and "Tyler." Since then we've continued to tour and record and curate our own annual music festival, Dia De Los Toadies. Our latest album is Play. Rock. Music.
Me: You mentioned one of your hit singles, "Possum Kingdom." Could you talk about the inspiration for the song? It was also featured on a couple of shows and games, wasn't it?
The Toadies - Possum Kingdom Music Video
Reznicek: "Possum Kingdom" was our highest charting single, and the song the Toadies are best known for. The song is named after a lake (Possum Kingdom Lake) about an hour west of our hometown Ft. Worth. Our singer, Vaden Todd Lewis, visited the lake often with his family and would trade scary stories around the campfire, which is the inspiration for the song. It has been featured on several soundtracks and in the Guitar Hero video game. The song even inspired a novel of the same name by author Lorelei Shannon.
Me: Do you use your musical background to help you write Buzzkill?
Reznicek: Yeah, my music experience definitely informed the creation and writing of Buzzkill. The excessive use of alcohol is a part of the rock'n'roll lifestyle, and that plays into the whole Buzzkill concept.
Me: I've heard there are plenty of villains and heroes that are going to be appearing in future issues of Buzzkill. Who are you most looking forward to us seeing?
Cates: There really are. I was shocked when the book was written and done with I counted and there are I think close to thirty characters introduced in the run. Which... is a bunch for four issues! I've always wanted to write a team book (if things go well i might just be doing that soon...) so I'm big on developing characters as a team or, rather a group of rogues. I think people are going to love Dr. Blaqk. He's a kooky dude. We always say he's a bit like Alan Moore, Dr. Strange and Tommy Chong rolled into one. What's cool about him is that he's a context-free character...there's no origin, you know? Once you meet him...you'll get it. Great character, I'm dying to do more with him. Also....obviously Panteradactyl is already making the rounds, people seem to like that dude.
Reznicek: Dr. Blaqk is a standout character, a sort of cross between Dr. Strange, Jerry Garcia, and Alan Moore. Other fun characters are Brutal Juice, Baboon, Panteradactyl, Kid Cthulu, and Sister Mary Frankenstein.
Me: Why did you decide to make Buzzkill a mini-series instead of an ongoing series? The world of Buzzkill is very intriguing and unique. Are you planning on using the characters and setting again in the future?
Cates: Well it was always planned as a mini. As a not so well known writer it can be tough to get a massive ongoing book approved, we had a better shot with a smaller story to prove ourselves. As to the characters and settings....yes, I'd plan on seeing some familiar faces pop up in other books of mine in the future. I wish I could tell you when and how...but look closely...pay attention. My books are always littered with little in jokes and predictions for sharp eyed readers. I love doing that stuff.
Me: What other comic books have you worked on?
Cates: I guess my first "Official" published work was in the recap pages of Ant-Man and Wasp from Marvel (Written and drawn by the incredibly talented Tim Seeley). I wrote and drew the little stick figure drawings in the recap page. I was an intern and they actually credited me in the book, which was rad! My other book is Hunter Quaid, which I write alongside my best friend Eliot Rahal, it was a book we actually came up with while both interning at Marvel, so far it's been in Dark Horse Presents for a couple of issues, we're looking to do a mini-series sometime early next year or so. Look out for that!
Reznicek: This is the first one!
Me: Do you have any comic book projects you are going to be working on in the future?
Cates: God willing! Haha, yeah I have some stuff in the hopper, but nothing I can really talk about. You'll be hearing stuff soon.
Reznicek: Yes. Donny and I are developing another book, a sort of rock'n'roll horror murder mystery. And we have ideas for further Buzzkill projects and spin-offs, so hopefully we'll get the opportunity to work on those.
Me: What message do you hope people will get from reading Buzzkill?
(left to right) Donny Cates, Geoff Shaw, Mark Reznicek
Cates: This is a great question. Buzzkill is ultimately a book about redemption, about trying, against all the impossible odds, to be a better person. To make a change. I want people to understand that no matter where they are, or what they've done, that there is always a way to change. It's the greatest gift we are given as human beings, we have the power to change our environment, to change ourselves. The book is about hope, I want people to understand that hope is real, it doesn't just exist in the comics, It's not just for heroes..... it exists everywhere and it exists inside of all of us.
Okay, now I feel like I'm writing the introduction to a Superman collection. Next question?
Reznicek: To paraphrase Stan Lee, with great power comes great responsibility... and a massive hangover. And that our actions have consequences.
Me: Why did you decide to write comic books?
Cates: It's what I've wanted to do since I was a little kid. I was taught how to read on Green Lantern comics, and I've just never stopped loving them. We, as comic book writers and artists, we can do anything. We can destroy and build and kill and give birth, go anywhere, see into any room, go into anyone's head.....we can literally do anything, hampered only by how fast our fingers can write, draw, paint or color.....who wouldn't want to do what we do? It's the greatest job in the universe.
Reznicek: I've been a fan of comics my whole life. Eventually I hit upon an idea that seemed worth pursuing as a comic book.
Me: What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Cates: Step one? Team up with a platinum selling rock band. Step two? (Shrugs shoulders) Step Three: Profit.
Honestly, the answer I give the most is just the most obvious thing in the world, and it was something that was told to me a long time ago: "Want to make comics? Make comics." The end. Really, that's all it is. If you want to do it you'll do it, and especially as a writer, you'll do it for free for a long, long time. You'll meet people, you'll go to cons, you'll make connections...it will come naturally, but all of that only happens if you have a product, and a good one at that.
There's an old expression that, I think, applies to both artists and writers which is "Writers write" some people take that to mean "work all the time, never stop writing, never stop working, work work WORK" which isn't bad advice really, but I don't think that's what it means. I think it means "Writers don't talk about writing...they write."
So yeah...if you want to make comics....stop talking about it and go make some awesome comics. I want to read them!
Reznicek: Don't give up. Keep writing. Chase your dreams.
Me: Who would you say influences your writing? Did any of your influences or a comic you read inspire anything in Buzzkill?
Cates: I'd feel weird and pretentious to compare my writing to others I admire, I think I still have a lot to learn, but I'll say Mark Waid is a guy I love to read. I can always tell he's having a great time writing his books, which is big for me, Jason Aaron and Brian Bendis as well, even when the scene is particularly dour or serious i can tell those guys absolutely adore what they do for a living, it comes out in their work, it really shows. Comics are fun, making them, reading them...it's all just so much fun. Comics shouldn't always be such a buzzkill......oh wait, shit....
Reznicek: I'm influenced by a lot of great comic book writers. To list just a few: Brian M. Bendis, Alan Moore, Mark Waid, Steve Englehart, Steve Gerber, Jack Kirby, Matt Fraction and on and on. A lifetime of reading comics has left a lasting influence and inspiration.
Me: Thank you for your time gentlemen. I'll be looking forward to that rock'n'roll horror mystery...
Also check out my review of Buzzkill #1, which has received the highest score I've ever given to a comic book!