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RYAN & DONNY'S HALF-ASSED SUBSTACK PODCAST | episode 1
A brand new show from the internet's favorite podcasters! (trust us, we checked)
Come one, come all and be among the first to learn some of the story details of VANISH in this inaugural installment of RYAN & DONNY’S HALF-ASSED SUBSTACK PODCAST: a new short-form podcast that will be released exclusively on this very Substack! Enjoy!
Donny Cates: Hi, everybody. My name is Donny. That's Ryan. This is the Substack- what the fuck is the name of the show? The Half-Assed Substack Podcast? That's right guys, Ryan and Donny's Half-Assed Substack Podcast. It's been a crazy couple of weeks to have you guys jump on to the Substack. Ryan and I have been, frankly, kind of like blown away by the response. It's way more than we ever thought it was gonna be. We had this big grand plan. And then a horde of you came at us and ran at us and destroyed all of our plans. And so now we are doing this half-assed podcast to see if we can get out there and start talking about stuff in a way that is perhaps more cogent than the written form. Today, we're going to tell you a little bit more about Vanish, our big baby, our big creator-owned book that Ryan and I are striking out on our own and doing. Ryan's put up some drawings, some panels, some sketches, we've put up variant covers from the likes of Scottie Young and Daniel Warren Johnson. And we have more to come. But I think we're probably at a point now where we should tell you what the hell VANISH is about.
Ryan Stegman: Do we know how to do that even?
Donny Cates: I think I can do it.
Ryan Stegman: Okay.
Donny Cates: VANISH tells a very familiar story. It's an old trope going back to like, the times of King Arthur and Excalibur and, you know, Beowulf and all these things of the chosen one, the chosen hero. In this instance, it tells a story of a little kid who's, well, he's got magic powers, and he's selected and he has to go away to this magical school- again, a tale as old as time- he gets to go away to this magic school, and he ends up getting sorted into a different house. And he ends up on the wrong side of this crazy magic war between wizards and sorcerers and stuff. And anyway, yeah, he's the chosen one, right? He's this little kid, like kind of magic kid. Right? And that's normally kind of where those stories end, right? Like the the magic kid, he goes and he kills the bad guy, again, a story that's been told a long time. For a long time. Not so much recently, but a long time ago. This is this story's been told a lot, specifically, and most importantly, Neil Gaiman's Books of Magic, which are really our biggest influence here. In VANISH, we catch up with that kid, who is now in his late 30s, and is just losing his mind. He's moved to the world of normal human beings. And when you peak at age 14, as the chosen one, in your 30s and stuff, it kind of sucks. It's kind of lame. And you end up becoming an alcoholic and spinning out.
Ryan Stegman: Like a child star.
Donny Cates: Exactly.
Ryan Stegman: Like Danny Bonaduce.
Donny Cates: Yeah, that's the Danny I was gonna think of. That's right.
Ryan Stegman: I'm looking up right now if he's alive, by the way, but go on.
Donny Cates: I want to say he is. So we catch up with him but, the thing is, in his mind, the war isn't over. Because you see, when he was 14, when he killed this big bad guy, well, that bad guy had a lot of evil people who worked for him, who just went away, who just oh, I don't know, vanished, and were never punished. At least in his head, he's still looking over his shoulder for ghosts, for these evildoers who are coming. And I don't know, the story kind of explores the idea of, well, which thing is worse? If he's right, and they come back, and he actually has to go back to war again, or what if he's wrong, and he's just chasing ghosts and is just out there just at war in his own fucking PTSD'd-out head? What if it costs him everything in the end? What does that make him? Without giving away too much stuff, that's kind of the little seed, the genesis of what Vanish is. I'll say what's really cool about the book is that we brought together a lot of influences that we both have. Obviously, Ryan and I are children of the 90s. This is, after all, Kids Love Chains Press. But also, you know, sitting in Ryan's studio, which you can see on screen right now, all those books behind him are a wide variety of influences, and stuff that Ryan has on his work. And as we just sat there and started plotting this story, we started going through those books and just picking things out. And one of the biggest ones for us was, weirdly enough, Akira, and then like, WildCats, and Constantine and magic stuff and everything. And it is a combination of all those things. What's cool about those books in particular is that, with those books, you can do anything you want. As I've talked with this in interviews and stuff, but like what can you do in Vanish, that you can't do at Marvel on a Marvel book is something that ran through Ryan and I's thinking about the entire thing. We would get to a scene and- this isn't something that's gonna happen in the book... or is it? But we were talking and we were like, "what is this? What's gonna make this fight unique? What could happen in this that's cool, like, I could like break his arm." And then we'd like look through Akira and be like, "oh, no, what if like, we nuked half of North America?" We were like, "oh, wait, that's right- we can do that!" Yeah, that's right. We could just, like, break Florida off of the entire map and just sink it into the ocean, shit like that. Things that we can do that we can't do anywhere else. And that's not only there in stuff like Akira but like in WildCats, in Wildstorm, and in old Vertigo comics and stuff like that. VANISH is… I guess the simplest way to say it is... Is it too corny to say that it's me and Ryan “off the chain”?
Ryan Stegman: I mean, kids love chains.
Donny Cates: That's right.
Ryan Stegman: I was gonna say one thing. When we set out to do a creator owned book, that we feel like we really are doing with VANISH, is... we could have done something quiet or, like a lot of guys do these real, quiet personal stories. And this is not that. This is the loudest story ever.
Donny Cates: Yeah.
Ryan Stegman: They've already seen some pages from it. But I mean, it opens up and it is just insane from page one. And people have only seen scene one right now. And, if we would have shown them pages six and seven- that spread- the story goes completely in a different direction from that.
Donny Cates: Yeah, it doesn't make any sense.
Ryan Stegman: Yeah, it's totally insane. It's just a bunch of crazy shit. We have no intention of doing this quietly.
Donny Cates: No, no. And that's it. But at the same time, though, what is really interesting about it is that, you know, I'll just say this, because this is the place for it, right? This is kind of what this whole thing is about. For me, at least, it is a very personal book. It talks about a lot of things that I've gone through personally, and things I know that Ryan and I share. It's about your mental health and how that can kind of take a toll on your family and those around you and stuff like that. So, it is very much that but yeah, at the same time it is...it's huge. It's insane. It doesn't make any sense. I mean, like, it makes sense, but it doesn't make any sense.
Ryan Stegman: We kept the tone from what we did on Venom, I would say. We ended Venom with him with a giant axe. So, it's this big bombastic story, but at the same time there was the underlying story of the whole thing. It's actually this quiet father/son story. VANISH has that same sort of thing. The B story and the A story. It looks like a bunch of explosions, but it's really this very touching story in the end.
Donny Cates: Yeah. Oliver Harrison is the name of our main character. He has a wife and he settled down and all she wants from him is to just be at peace and just realize that the war is over. And like, we don't have to do this anymore. And, for him, he wakes up in a panic every single night because, to him, the war didn't stop. And she begs him and begs him and begs him to just let this go and back off and don't do this thing. And he can't, he can't. He can't not. Because he's the chosen one. And he's special. It's gonna be really interesting. It's such a bizarre mashup of tones and themes. It really shouldn't work. And so far, I think it really is. I guess you guys will be the ones to tell us if it does or not. But we have really long plans for it. We have this first arc, which is pretty long. I don't want to go out of my way and tell too much. VANISH being a book about magic at its core- Also, I will say this, and this is very important, I want you to really pay attention to what I'm telling you here: VANISH, being a magic book, is in itself a magic trick. Meaning that everything that we have just told you might be entirely fucking false. We might be lying right to your face. That might not be what this book is about, at all. And as you read this book, you might think that you're on solid ground, and you know who the good guys are, and the bad guys are, and who's gonna win and who's gonna lose, and where things are going. But every time you get a sense that you're safe, I want you to take a breath, and realize that you're not. That you're never safe. Because, just like in the main character in this book, something is happening around you that you have no control of. So I would always watch your back when you're reading this book.
Ryan Stegman: One of the things that I find really fascinating about the story so far is the way that we're dealing with the fact that he indeed was a child soldier, and that all these adults put him in this position to have to be on the front line of a war. And if you really think about it, it's like, why, why the kids? Why are the kids on the front line? I've drawn some pages that they'll see soon enough. And we very much lean into the militaristic aspect of the whole thing.
Donny Cates: Right.
Ryan Stegman: It's kind of harrowing to see these kids lined up and ready to go to war and the things that happen to them and the traumas that they go through.
Donny Cates: Yeah, it's weird, because you've never seen anything like that before in your entire life. You've never seen a group of children lined up in front of a magical school ready to go to war.
Ryan Stegman: [laughs]
Donny Cates: You've never seen that before. And it's weird, it's harrowing. You know, it's scary to think about, that someone would do that. That someone would do that, and that it would be popular, and everyone would just get on board with it. And everyone would just be totally fine with that sort of an idea of an entire school of child soldiers. Of course, I'm making jokes here, because everyone knows what I'm really talking about, which is, obviously, the X-Men.
Ryan Stegman: Mhm.
Donny Cates: Why would anybody do that? That's terrible. Imagine being trained from a little kid to, every semester of your entire childhood, murder someone and you get points towards like a, whatever the fuck they get, like a school pennant. Or you get a little participation trophy because you killed that guy, and you killed that guy. "Huzzah, a million points to some-random-made-up-word!" Imagine what that would do to you.
Ryan Stegman: What kind of cognitive dissonance does it take from us as viewers in these types of stories? Like, you said the X-Men were like, "Yeah, you know, train these kids. Teach me how to fight these things!" But, in real life, if it wasn't magic or superpowers, and they were just giving them guns, you'd be like, "Oh, oh no. Do not do that."
Donny Cates: That's terrible, exactly! What is the difference between this and an AR-15? "It chooses you!" What's the difference here? "Here's a magical item. By the way, yes, there are three different ways, like words, that you can just say- and you can just look them up anywhere- that if you say them aloud, you can murder somebody with this, but just make sure you don't do that. But if you're gonna do it, make sure you do it for the school and towards the bad guy."
Ryan Stegman: Those words are the bazooka of that world.
Donny Cates: Yeah, and they're just all handed out on the first day of class. It's very odd. It's very concerning. And it seems to me like, once you get out of that school, there doesn't seem to be any sort of... what exactly is that school training those kids for? Besides working at that school?
Ryan Stegman: Or the government. They're either in the government or at the school.
Donny Cates: Right, because there doesn't seem to be-
Ryan Stegman: We're talking about X-Men still, by the way.
Donny Cates: The X-Men! But...there doesn't seem to be a magical police force anywhere? Or an army or anything? Nope. Because they have kids. And that's fine. The kids will just take care of that. No big deal. What exactly are they fucking training for?! Why are they in school? To go and do what?! Those are the kinds of questions that you're going to find answers to in the book VANISH by myself and Ryan Stegman. Available very soon, relatively soon. Right here, on this Substack for Kids Love Chains Press.
Ryan Stegman: And you'll be seeing sneak peeks of it as we go.
Donny Cates: That's right. And it's been a thrill and an honor to explore this, this idea of this brand new world full of brand new ideas with my best friend Ryan Stegman.
Ryan Stegman: Love you, Donny.
Donny Cates: Love you too.
Kids Love Chains.