RYAN & DONNY'S HALF-ASSED SUBSTACK PODCAST | episode 4
The boys discuss how they began working together!
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And now on to the video goodness…
Only a few times in any given generation can a truly prolific artist be born. But to have two? AND to have them work together?! It’s almost unheard of.
In this installment of Ryan and Donny’s Half-Assed Substack Podcast, the fellas dig into the origins of their creative partnership and why exactly they work so well together to bring us all the baddest of badass comics. Check it out!
Donny Cates: Hey everybody, Donny Cates here and welcome to another bite-size portion of Ryan and Donny's Half-Assed Substack Podcast. Today, we're gonna be talking about origin stories. Particularly, how Ryan Stegman and I became the voices of a generation and how we came to overthrow the entire comic book market, outselling the highest-selling books that have ever been sold. And now have created Substack and have kind of started a revolution. That's what people are saying, anyway. I don't know. I don't see myself as a hero.
Ryan Stegman: Is this The Image Revolution Part 2? I don't know.
Donny Cates: Yeah. I don't see myself as a hero, but I'm happy that people think that and that I'm here for them. Today, we're going to be talking about how Ryan and I met. Now how we met and how we started working together are two different stories. My half of it is very simple. Ryan Stegman and I had worked in the same circles. I knew Riley [Rossmo] and his wife, and obviously Daniel Warren Johnson and Skottie [Young]. But Ryan and I had never really hung out. I think maybe we were at a dinner one time together. But we never talked. I knew who he was and I was a fan of his work. I doubt he knew who I was because, I think at that point I was just coming up.
Ryan Stegman: I did know, because you had worked with Daniel.
Donny Cates: Oh, on Ghost Fleet, yeah! Of course. So, cut to many, many, many years later. 2017. Maybe going into 2018? I don't recall. I had been chosen to take over Venom. I turned in the first issue. And I had to turn in my outline, and all these kinds of things. And we were on an artist hunt. And they came to me and they- they meaning Nick Lowe and Devin Lewis, our editors on the series- and they more than suggested Ryan Stegman. They were insistent on it. And I came back- and Ryan knows this- I said no. I was not interested in him on this book. And they were like, "why?" And I was like, "look, I love his artwork. He's phenomenal. But he's just come off of doing Venom Inc. And he's done Venom stuff in the past. I kind of want to go into this really fresh and have people who have never done this book before on the book." And they were like, "well, dude, will you at least do us a favor and call him and talk to him?" And I was like, "ugh, yes. Alright, fine. I'll call him and talk to him." And so they sent me your number. I got on the phone with Ryan and... I don't know, Ryan, that's a good place for you to take that over. Leading up to that phone call, what was your mindset?
Ryan Stegman: At the time, I had finished Venom Inc., and I was actually actively rejecting any offers that they had, because I had decided I was gonna go write and draw my own creator-owned book. I had one approved, I started working on it. And [Marvel] kept offering me stuff. And I just kept saying, "well, no, I'm doing this thing." And then they asked, "what about Venom?" And that kind of piqued my interest a little bit, so I asked who's writing it and they said Donny Cates. I knew you, vaguely. I had read some of God Country, and I liked it. I remember I asked an editor at Marvel who the next wave of writers coming up were, just because I wanted to know his thoughts on that. And I do remember him listing everybody, he said a little blurb about each of them. And then he said, "Donny Cates, who almost has too many ideas." And I thought that was intriguing, actually. That sounds like somebody I'd like to work with. So then they said, "why don't you talk to Donny?" Because, at first when they offered Venom, I was like "I don't think so, I'm working on this thing." And they said, "well just get on the phone with him." Same thing they did to you. So there's two of us who are both like, "I don't know. No... I don't know." Right? And then, you know, the rest is history. You called me and you started talking about Venom-dragons and necroswords. Again, too many ideas. It was a two-hour conversation where you just told me everything. At the end of it, I was still trying to play it cool. I think at the end of it, I was like, "yeah, I'll let you know." And then I think that night I DM'd you on Twitter saying, "I think I'm gonna do this."
Donny Cates: Yeah.
Ryan Stegman: And you said, "let's do it." After that, they told me that I should work with an inker. And I asked who. And I said, "well, here's the inkers that I like." And I gave them a list of these famous inkers. And then they were like, "well, there's this guy, JP, who likes to work on that stuff. But he doesn't get the artists that do stuff like that." So I gave him a shot. And then he turned in one page and we were like, "yep, that's the guy."
Donny Cates: Yeah, "that's him." I remember that page, too. Yeah.
Ryan Stegman: It was awesome!
Donny Cates: Yeah, it was phenomenal. I saw it and I was like, "Jesus Christ." Yeah. Then, there was a period of us really getting into what would become our collaborative process. How we collaborate started to evolve and got pretty concrete pretty quick. I discovered that you were a guy who really does like to be a true collaborator. You would send me stuff outside of the editorial groups, you know, and we would talk. It was a big deal. Ryan and I have never been in a fight, like, not one time. But we do have these moments, I think once a month or so where, for instance- it shook me a little bit to begin with, and I got a little bit frustrated with you- when you were turning in drawings of Eddie and it wasn't what I needed it to look like for the story. You were still doing boxer, ugly, classic Eddie look. And you were still doing this big, chunky Venom that was more of a monster and stuff, and I had to get on the phone with you. And I was like, "nah, man, look, we're trying to do something here. We're trying to make him a leading man, a main character. And so when he's in the suit, it needs to look like a dude in the suit." And you were like, "I don't know what you're asking me for." And then I eventually just got that toy out and I sent you a picture of that toy.
Ryan Stegman: I have it on my desk right now.
Donny Cates: I said, "like this, it needs to look just like this." You were kind of snappy with me. And I was like, "shit, is this not gonna work? Is he already mad at me as I'm giving him notes like this?" Then, the next time I talked to you, you were like, "how's this? Is this good?" And yes, it was perfect. And you were like "okay, cool." And we moved right along.
Ryan Stegman: Anytime that we argue, that's the way it works. I get upset. Not upset even-
Donny Cates: No.
Ryan Stegman: I get short.
Donny Cates: Yeah, short.
Ryan Stegman: And then I think about it. And then I find what the thing is that you were trying to come together on and then, you know, it does come together.
Donny Cates: Yeah, in the best collaborations I've ever had- and Ryan is number one in this department- you realize that what you're arguing about is that you're both trying to make the thing that will have both your names on it perfect. I'm not ever mad at you. You're not ever mad at me. We're mad at the project, because it's not sculpting itself the way that it wants to be. And, as soon as we get that thing done, we just go back to being completely fine.
Ryan Stegman: Yeah. That's what we were talking about with the Baron Vanish design. I don't think that you could detect it, because you weren't in my office, you were at home and I was sending you stuff randomly. But I was banging my head against the wall. That whole time, I was probably in that short mindset. Not because I thought you were being unreasonable, because I would send you something and you'd be like, "no, that's not quite it." It was because I knew it wasn't it.
Donny Cates: Right.
Ryan Stegman: Every single time I'd be like, "I know. But what is it?" Finally, all of a sudden it was like "this is it." And we both agreed. Yes, that's it. But there was a period there in the creative process, where we don't know, we both don't know the answer. We're trying to find the answer and eventually we do.
Donny Cates: Yeah, and it's worked out. To this day, I write scripts for Ryan different than I do for anyone else, because I have complete and utter trust about him, in that, not only do I trust his artistic eye and everything, I know that Ryan is always on Team Vanish or Team King in Black or whatever it is. He's so dialed-in and so connected to the story that we've both crafted and that I'm putting down the blueprints for. I know that he's never going to deviate, I can trust him to jam in the right key, if that makes sense. I don't need to, like, spell shit out for him. I mean, if you guys could ever see the King in Black scripts, I mean, Jesus Christ. That was the culmination of four years of us working together. And those King in Black scripts, because the schedule was so insane due to the fact that I was writing the Venom tie-ins and the main title, there are entire parts of it that are like, "pages 12 through 23, here's two paragraphs, this is how it needs to shake down." Really that only happened a lot on issue five. That entire sequence is the sequence where he gets Mjolnir and the board and puts them together to make the axe and just beats the shit out of Knull. That entire sequence was just a paragraph that I gave over to him. And he turned in probably one of the coolest sequences in the entire book. We do that on VANISH too. I was just out of town, and I didn't have access to my computer and I just called Ryan. And I was like, "hey, man, I know you’re waiting on the page. Here's the page, the page is X, Y, and Z." And Ryan just said "okay" and turned it in the next day. I think even then later that day.
Ryan Stegman: Yup.
Donny Cates: I was like, "yeah, that's perfect. That's exactly what that was supposed to be." So yeah. From humble beginnings, where we both didn't want to work with the other person, to now, where we are forced to for the rest of our lives.
Ryan Stegman: We're married, practically.
Donny Cates: We have pieces of paper connecting us that are signed-off by attorneys, so we might as well be. Well Ryan, I gotta say, here's to five more years and beyond. I love you buddy.
Ryan Stegman: Love you too.
Donny Cates: And kids love chains! And we love you.