Donny Cates & Ryan Stegman Talk To Rich Johnston About Their Substack

Bleeding Cool has covered a number of announcements from Donny Cates over what appeared to be new Image Comics, such as Flood, Vanish, and CCCC. But, as of right now, they are going to be Substack Comics. At least at first. KLC Press standing for Kids Love Chains! will publish Vanish, written by Donny Cates, pencilled by Ryan Stegman, who most recently worked together on Venom, Absolute Carnage, and The King In Black at Marvel Comics, and designed by John J. Hill on Substack, and they state that "KLC Press is their playground for developing creator-owned comics and products… unshackled from the confines of big industry comics." I didn't know any of this when Donny and Ryan asked me to interview them about their new Substack launch today, alongside a number of major comics creators who have announced their own plans, and are still going to, as well as certain associated criticism. But I soon found out what was going on. As will you.

Donny Cates & Ryan Stegman Talk To Rich Johnston About Their Substack
KLC Press with a slightly overblown claim now.
  • Rich Johnston: So Donny, Ryan, you are launching a Substack, and at this point, I have no idea what the hook is. Are you teaching classes like Scott Snyder, dishing dirt like James Tynion, drawing insanely complex diagrams to illustrate world-building like Jonathan Hickman, or clearly winging it like Chip Zdarsky?
  • Ryan Stegman: The best thing that we have to offer is our new creator-owned book, VANISH. And also, we can gladly say that we have issue one nearly in the can, so we have a ton of art to show right out of the gate. The "hook" for us is that we have a team of guys working on our substack so that we can bring you an unprecedented look at what the creation of a book looks like. This is something I have wanted to do for quite some time, but it always ended up being too time-consuming. With the Substack grant, we can now pay people to do the stuff that we don't have time to do and really blow this thing out. And Donny and I will have our separate things that we are doing. Like I'll be doing a lot of live-drawing and/or art lesson-type stuff.
  • Donny Cates: I think the honest answer as to what our "hook" is, is that you're going to have direct access to a creative duo. To see how we make our weird little brand of comics. You'll see lots of video podcasts where we jam on ideas, and then see those ideas go into scripts, and then layouts and then pages and inks and so on and so on. I think Ryan and I have been having a ton of fun over the years with our signings and panels and podcasts interacting with our fans in a very non-sanitized way. This lets us take that same brand and take it globally. Really, I guess if I had to distill our hook down to one thing, it would be that our Substack is Better Than Watchmen. 

Donny Cates & Ryan Stegman Talk To Rich Johnston About Their Substack

Now I knew something about Vanish. They announced it back in June, and Bleeding Cool managed to grab some screencaps from their YouTube video at the time. We had also learned of other series by Donny Cates planned for Image Comics, Flood and Wereworld – renamed The One You Feed at Panel Syndicate.

Donny Cates & Ryan Stegman Talk To Rich Johnston About Their Substack

  • Rich Johnston: Vanish was previously announced by you two as coming from Kids Love Chains Press. Is that what this is? What is Vanish? And what was the original plan for it before Nick Spencer popped up with Substack offers?
  • Donny Cates: Vanish is a comic book (that you can learn more about in our substack!!) that Ryan and I had always planned on creating after Venom wrapped under our imprint Kids Love Chains. Which was going to be a general banner for our comics and toys and merch and podcasts and all things Stegman and Cates. Then Nick came along with the Substack thing, and we thought, "well, hell, instead of waiting until this thing is done and then releasing it, why not open the curtain and let people in and we can give them some fun exclusive content and swag!!" It really was just the right time, right place. Because as well as VANISH, I have two other creator-owned books that I have multiple issues done already. I'll be sharing those over there as well. And then, yes, they'll all be available in comic shops soon after. We love retailers.
  • Ryan Stegman: This was really just good timing. We had a plan for everything, and Substack came along and blew those plans to smithereens in a good way. Now we can do things exactly the way we want with no compromise.

Donny Cates & Ryan Stegman Talk To Rich Johnston About Their Substack

  • Rich Johnston: Donny, you previously described characters as "a team of well, superheroes of some fashion; that guy appears to have the Image logo upside down on his shirt, an upside-down cross, but they look like good guys, which is weird because the other guy looks like a bad guy"… naming influences while creating it as a "bunch of Spawn comics, WildCATS comics and a huge tome of Akira." And asking themselves "one question we kept in mind the entire time, what could we do in Vanish that Marvel would never allow?" What are we going to see in Vanish, free from Disney control? And will it see eventually see print at Image Comics?
  • Donny Cates: Yes, it will. I have a wonderful relationship with Image, and I would never go anywhere else to publish my creator-owned work. The thing is, it takes a LONG time to get a book up on its feet so that it can be solicited at Image. Three issues in the can minimum, and then three more months before it comes out on stands. With substack, we get to let people in on the process with blogs and videos and podcasts and all kinds of things. The whole thing won't be 100% VANISH all the time. Like I said, I have other books as well. BUT on the topic of Vanish. Yeah, that's something we kept on coming back to in that book. It was always "What can we do here that we could never do before?" Marvel gave us an enormous amount of freedom, but obviously, at Marvel, you can't blow the earth in two (Believe me, I've tried) or bash a guy's head in with a brick or whatever. Here, with Vanish, we have no guardrails. So we pushed ourselves as hard as we could to make something huge and insane.
  • Ryan Stegman: So far, I've drawn intestines, exit wounds, and LOTS of blood. With Marvel, you always know there's a limit, as there should be. So it's a constant dance. But here we don't have to dance anymore. I can draw whatever I want. It's very liberating.

Donny Cates & Ryan Stegman Talk To Rich Johnston About Their Substack

  •  Rich Johnston: Is there a danger that showing how the sausage is made so much will distract from the magic? What if the Substack videos for Watchmen had shown Rorschsch eating beans from a can because we saw Dave Gibbons doing that while drawing? Or if the psychic squid was based on one of Alan's kids' toys? Or if "I did it thirty-five minutes ago" was originally the response to Alan's wife asking him to do the washing up? Would the magic of the story be destroyed? And is that what you are about to do?
  • Donny Cates: It's a good question. But I think what a lot of people like about Ryan, and I's dynamic is that we are so honest and forthcoming about our process and how we make things. So, while we won't be spoiling things necessarily, I personally think finding out that Alan's wife asking him to do the washing was an influence on him is a pretty fucking cool thing to know! But, again, we're going to figure it out. I certainly have no idea what I'm doing with all of this. But then again, that's been true of my comic career for almost a decade now. So….shrug emoji??? I don't know, man. Let's just have some fun. The magic will find us if it's there.
  • Ryan Stegman: NOBODY KNOWS! That's the beauty of this thing. But the fans that do support this will find out as well! Did this enhance their experience? Or did it detract? I have a deep love for the Beatles, and I remember reading a book that was about the MEANING of their songs. It sucked and did kind of turn out to be a regrettable experience. But I've also read books about the Beatles that just talk about what was happening in their lives and what the circumstances were when they wrote the songs, and it was totally enjoyable and added texture to the songs. So I think if we emphasize the right elements, it will be great. Also, I am totally comparing us to the Beatles. Yep.

Donny Cates & Ryan Stegman Talk To Rich Johnston About Their Substack

  • Rich Johnston: Are you quitting Twitter as well?
  • Donny Cates: God, I hope so.
  • Ryan Stegman: I still view Twitter as a valuable place to promote, but I've basically turned to just doing that a while ago. I'll still toss out the asinine comment here and there, but I'd imagine I will mostly be using it for promotion and avoiding the post-apocalyptic hellscape parts of it.

Donny Cates & Ryan Stegman Talk To Rich Johnston About Their Substack

  • Rich Johnston: Rob Liefeld's reckons you've had a $600,000 advance from Substack. Is that in the right ballpark?
  • Ryan Stegman: lol. Like we'd ever tell you!!!!!
  • Donny Cates:  Look, obviously we can't share that kind of information, but I'll say this, in an industry that has constantly been criticized for not taking care of its creators, this platform is finally giving creators a chance to be independent and make some truly incredible work and be paid what they are worth. I, for one, think that's pretty rad.

Donny Cates & Ryan Stegman Talk To Rich Johnston About Their Substack

 

  • Rich Johnston: Let's talk Substack. A number of comic book creators have expressed concern that Substack is a publisher that, unlike Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and the like, doesn't just have transphobic or racist content as a side-effect of offering voices to everyone, but specifically had made funds available to buy those voices to the platform. Does this trouble you at all? 
  • Ryan Stegman: It's certainly troubling. Other creators that are joining substack have put it much more eloquently than I ever could (like Saladin), but I will say that the good news is we can take our mailing list whenever we want and do whatever we want with it. Substack doesn't own it. So if we ever feel that our content is being used to promote people we don't agree with, we have an out. No strings attached.
  • Donny Cates: Agreed. No platform is ever going to be perfect. You know this. But as Ryan said, when you come to our substack, you aren't going to be in the firing range in the same way you are on Twitter and the like. If you're there with us, we're going to have a fun time. And should that change, so will we.

Donny Cates & Ryan Stegman Talk To Rich Johnston About Their Substack

 

  • Rich Johnston: So will Vanish be bigger than The Beatles? Is that what you are saying? And if so, doesn't mathematically that mean that Vanish is bigger than Jesus?
  • Ryan Stegman: Well, people have called Donny and I the Beatles of comics. And I can see why given that we are sexy cultural icons in our early to mid-20s who are creating art that will change the world forever.  But I feel like this comparison actually might be selling us short? I mean, did the Beatles ever have the number one selling comic book?  Anyway, not touching the Jesus part.
  • Donny Cates:  I've never even heard of any of these people.

KLC Press can be found on Substack right here.

Donny Cates & Ryan Stegman Talk To Rich Johnston About Their Substack

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About Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.
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