During NYCC, I had the chance to sit down and interview the creators of Buzzkill (published by Dark Horse). Buzzkill is a story about a superhero who gains his powers from drinking and doing drugs. It’s ruined his life and he’s decided that he needs to quit and take his life back. The villains in his world, however, have other plans…
After reading the first issue, I knew I had to talk to these guys. This is such a different take on a topic that hits home for a lot of people. So I managed to get myself squeezed into Donny Cates (writer) and Geoff Shaw’s (artist) busy convention schedule. Donny and Geoff were a pleasure to talk to. They were open and candid about their hero, how he can help others, and what’s in store for him later on. The results of said conversation follow:
When I asked how they came up with the idea, Cates said that his co-writer (Mark Reznicek) was in a band and had been surrounded by a lot of addiction. Reznicek presented the idea of a superhero that gains his powers from using drugs and alcohol to Cates, who agreed whole-heartedly that this story should be told.
Cates was going through the loss of his friend to addiction at this time, and was able to use the creation of this book to help him heal. He told me “It was like therapy for me, to try and deal with how I lost my friend.”
His process for dealing with his loss reminds me of types of narrative therapy in which the client is helped to re-write the story. While the story is about his friend (Cates says that the main character is based off of his late friend) and not about his own struggles, writing this book has allowed him to change the narrative of his friend’s story.
Cates says the striking difference between his friend and the main character of Buzzkill (“Ruben”) is that “Ruben” asked for help, whereas his friend did not.
Another major distinction between the two? Cates’ friend did not have superpowers. “Ruben” does, however, and Cates has said that they represent the sins of his past, or the sins that he committed while in his addiction.
As if the aftermath of his life falling apart wasn’t enough!
The tone of this book seemed to be a constant balancing act. On the one hand, the hero could be portrayed as a drunken village idiot. On the other, the story could be so dark and serious that it would depress anyone who read it. I asked Cates and Shaw about the tone and how they managed to pull it off.
First off, Cates wanted me to know that the goal of creating Buzzkill was “to bring honesty and truth to something that has historically been used as a trope and a tool in popular fiction.” He went on to say “Making an alcoholic or an addict or anyone who is mentally unstable in any fashion the villain or a punchline is, I think, an inherently dishonest choice. It’s not something that they are conscious of or can control by themselves.”
Obviously, Cates wanted the story to be respectful of his friend and of others like him. There is humor in the story in order to make it easier to swallow and keep readers engaged.
They both expressed that it was fun to work on the book. Cates said “the life of an addict is incredibly bizarre and surreal at times.” (which must make it easy for them to throw in things like a teleporting goat and a gorilla with a bow tie).
Shaw told me he feels that without the humor to make the story lighter, the book would have fallen flat because it would have come off preachy or made it too serious to read.
I mean, that makes sense. We use humor as an ice breaker when meeting a new person to break the tension. It helps us calm our anxieties and make tough information easier to digest. It’s also a defense mechanism (one of the more adaptive ones to boot).
Cates made it clear that humor was used to enhance the story, but that “the joke is never on him,” the main character. Cates also stated that he would love for anyone who is going through addiction or who has someone they love going through addiction to know immediately that they are not being made fun of.
From what I’ve read of the story, I think they’ve nailed the balance between humor and seriousness.
A Hero’s Struggle
When I brought up the idea of geek therapy, Cates was excited. He thought that it was great, and that Buzzkill would fit right in. One of the best parts about writing this book, according to him, is hearing from community centers and rehab programs about how the book has affected their members.
Cates is hopeful that those struggling with addiction can relate to the character he had written. He emphasized that he is not an expert, although he has had some experience surrounding addiction.
When I asked about how relatable the story is, Cates said “This is an exploration of one person’s journey. It is not indicative of everyone’s journey, and we are not, by any stretch of the imagination, role models.”
With that said, Shaw, the artist, added “There is a universality to addiction, and cutting something that you have lived with and needed for so long, out of your life. Can you cut it out completely? Everyone can connect with that on some level.”
So the story represents everyone, and no one, all at the same time. I think those are some of the best stories for others to relate to. Stories that everyone can find some small piece of themselves in, but not those stories that are so close they might be scary to look at.
Reading a story that is not completely representative, but close enough allows us to distance ourselves from our own issues and see them through the character’s eyes.
Buzzkill seems to be one of these stories, and will be added to my catalog of comics to use with clients.
What the Future Holds
When I asked about what’s next for our hero, I was given a general break down of the books.
Issue 1 is mostly talking. Issue 2 is the most hardcore, with some action packed fight scenes. Cates and Shaw stated that issue 3 is the funniest. Then they started talking about the ending.
Cates said that no one is going to see the ending coming. That “people are either going to love it or really [fracking] hate it.” He said that it is not written necessarily for the readers, but for the main character. His story needed an honest ending, even though it may not be what people want.
I’m looking forward to reading more and finding out what this huge surprise ending is.
Oh, and finding the Dr. Who joke that Cates and Shaw told me is going to show up in issue 3 (which probably has to do with that bow tie wearing gorilla I mentioned).