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Kids Love Chains – An Interview with Donny Cates

With the launch of Spawn's Universe from Todd McFarlane, Jim Cheung, Stephen Segovia, and Marcio Takara and this month's King Spawn, readers are seeing the devil's favorite weapon glide to new heights and a rejuvenated interest that hasn't been seen since the debut of the first Spawn title almost 30 years ago.

King Spawn, which goes on sale on August 25, is written by Sean Lewis and McFarlane, with interior art by Javier Fernandez, Brett Booth, Philip Tan, Stephen Segovia, McFarlane, and Marcio Takara. The new Spawn spin-off ("Spawn-off?") has generated retail pre-orders of 497,000 copies to comic book stores, according to Todd McFarlane Productions.

As with most big releases comes the art of the variant cover. Writer Donny Cates was part of the original announcement of the expansion of the Spawn universe as he provided a cover for King Spawn that McFarlane himself inked and was colored by Dee Cunniffe, who is the colorist for Cates' and Geoff Darrow's Crossover at Image.

CBY spoke to Cates on the boyhood dream coming true, his love and admiration for McFarlane and why, oh why, kids love chains.

COMIC BOOK YETI: Okay so you have a King Spawn cover that you penciled and Todd inked. I don't know if a lot of people know this but you actually went to SCAD and majored in sequential art, but decided to drop out to, you know...ultimately go make comics. I think it was...what, Ghost Fleet? How much of an influence was Todd to you growing up just on a visionary level?

DONNY CATES: I think it's fairly obvious that, you know, I just founded an imprint with Ryan Stegman called "Kids Love Chains" [laughs]. And you know, the final pages of Venom, after four years of Ryan and mine's saga, we have a new Venom...and he has chains around his wrists. Eddie asks him what's going on with those chains, and well I just like them as all the comics I read as a kid had chains in them.

If that's not a direct call out to my hero, Todd McFarlane, I don't know how much louder I could have made it.

CBY: And the first arc of Crossover is also called 'Kids Love Chains,' right?

DC: Yes, it is.

" a certain point, if you show a giant-ass sword, somebody is going to have to fight a god."

CBY: So you're just a big ole kid at heart that loves chains.

DC: It's more of a motto for me than anything else. It may sound silly, but it comes from this video with Todd McFarlane, Rob Liefeld, and Stan Lee and they're all creating a character at the same time. At one point, Todd is drawing with his head down and goes "I'm going to add some chains." He then looks at the camera and says, "kids love chains."

So, to me, that's just a perfect thing to keep in mind. Comics can be this beautiful medium that can keep these deep, personal stories about society or politics, but the comics that Ryan and I like to make are "yeah, let's put our personal feelings into this...but let's not forget kids love chains!" Let's not forget that we need to sell this and something needs to explode or something cool needs to happen. So what "kids love chains" means to me is that comics are fucking cool and we can do things in comics that nobody else can.

But they can also be personal, and bombastic. The most personal book I ever wrote was God Country, and it's about a lot of things that happened in my family. I was also very aware that at a certain point, if you show a giant-ass sword, somebody is going to have to fight a god. So yeah, I think the "kids love chains" ethos has served me very well.


CBY: Do you have a favorite Spawn arc or issue?

DC: God. Okay. When the timer ran out. When I read that first issue, I always thought that was such a genius way to hook readers. If I recall, when the timer runs out, he's Malebolgia's servant and you just weren't sure when it was going to end. I remember when I was working at my local comic book store, and just like [thinking,] "holy shit, he did it!"

CBY: I talked to Todd about inking and his goal was always to make sure that whatever he inks, it still looks like the person underneath and I think he succeeds here. When we talked about him inking the Cable first appearance, I think that was more Todd than Rob though, but with how you crosshatch and your feathering, I really wouldn't know it was him. It's so clean like that.

DC: Oh my God [laughs]. That is such a compliment. In my mind, it's also such an unearned compliment. I've only drawn three covers and they've only been on things that Todd McFarlane has created, now that I think about it [laughs]. I think you can tell which one had help here.

CBY: Well, I mean, talking to him and learning about his style, he pencils so loose as is and usually does barebones on an outline and then just finishes it with inks. There's a Capullo cover that Greg penciled and it's so loose that Todd filled everything in almost. So I feel like, no matter what level of skill you have, Todd can make you look like a million bucks on your own. So, how loose were you with the cover here?

DC: I gotta tell you, with the Venom cover and King In Black cover, I've had it in my head that nobody is expecting anything out of me. The gag of the covers is that the writer is doing them, but I tried my ass off. My wife, Megan, who is brilliant and so amazing and knows what she's talking about in a way I certainly don't. So I'll tell you now, both the Venom and King In Black covers, I spent maybe an hour on. Then I sent them to Dee Cunniffe, and there aren't enough words to describe how good he is.

Photo credit: Robyn Van Swank
Photo credit: Robyn Van Swank

CBY: I know Dee! He colored my first two published works. You're right, though! Super talented.

DC: I don't think anybody colors more things than Dee right now. He's such a sweetheart and one of my best friends and made me look so good. He cleaned it up, and everything. The thing about the Spawn cover is that I knew Todd would be inking so I couldn't bullshit my way through with it [laughs]. So I couldn't just send it off to a buddy and be like "Hey, can you make me look cool here?"

I wanted to be respectful of Todd, and I hold him in the highest regard imaginable. So, for him to ask me to do this was such a big deal for me.

But to go back and answer if my pencils were loose: oh, this was the tightest thing I've ever done. There was fading, there was crosshatching, there was fingerprints, charcoal...there was every trick in the book [laughs]! I mean there's referencing my own hands and hours on learning how to draw chains. It was so much! I just didn't want to do what I did for the other covers.

CBY: You wanted to put Spawn on a Spawn cover!

DC: Exactly! I'm the self-proclaimed '90s kid who loves chains, so if I'm going to do a Spawn cover, well I had to show up [laughs]! That's the mentality I try to put into everything I do. I'm very much the guy who is really into his work and tells people to check out everything I've done, but that sort of all changes when Todd McFarlane asks you to draw one of his characters.

I grew up with all these Image guys and like Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti, because it was this era of knowing who people were. I'm not buying Thor or whatever because of the character; if I'm going to buy a book, it's because of them. They're in Wizard Magazine and they're rockstars to me. But at the same time, I've never turned in something to a publisher that [I] wasn't proud of that I had my name on.

So, it's easy for me to go and say my Venom run was great and my new Hulk run is dope, but when it comes to art, it suddenly becomes "Oh please no, don't look at it." [laughs] It's okay to fail and it's okay to fail in public and I've definitely failed a lot. I've written things that people have hated, but when you put yourself out there like that, try as hard as you can. Take as much time as allotted and when it's done, I hope you can say, "This is fucking cool."

I think that's important.

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