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Donny Cates Explores Fatality, Family & The Fantastic in God Country

by  in CBR Exclusives Comment
Donny Cates Explores Fatality, Family & The Fantastic in God Country

Launching in the New Year from Image Comics is one of the most hotly anticipated ongoing fantasy series, from the creative team of Donny Cates, Geoff Shaw, Jason Wordie and John J. Hill, titled “God Country.” The southern-flavored genre comic follows the transformation of an elderly widower with Alzheimer’s, named Emmett Quinlan, into a fantastical god-like being when a mysterious sword lands in his West Texas town, unleashing a mystical threat upon the Earth.

CBR had the opportunity to speak in detail with Cates about “God Country,” in a conversation that spanned his personal inspiration for the story, the melding of the fantastic and the Southern United States, the significant of Alzheimer’s and the importance family to his story, and much much more.

When you’re through checking out the interview — and the glorious preview pages for “God Country” #1 dispersed below — be sure to discuss “God Country” with fellow fans in CBR’s Independents forum!

RELATED: PREVIEW: “God Country” #1

CBR: What kinds of stories influenced “God Country”?

Donny Cates: The obvious reference points I think a lot of people are going to make for something like this are gritty, southern-flavored comics like “Southern Bastards” and also far out cosmic adventure comics like Simonson’s “Thor” and old Kirby “Fourth World” type stuff, perhaps “Preacher” as well, with its incredible blending of those two elements.

To me, though, “God Country” has always been equal parts, Neil Gaiman and Cormac McCarthy. Not to say I’m comparing my work to those BRILLIANT MASTER STORYTELLERS but that’s where the guts of the story come from tone-wise. Both of those writers have this wonderful and at times unnerving matter-of-factness to the brutality and fantastical elements of their stories that really informed a lot of this book.

Why did you decide to make Alzheimer’s a central part of “God Country”?

A lot of things informed that choice. But to quite honest here…anyone who knows me, or has followed my dumb ramblings on Twitter knows that about two years ago I went through a very profound, and very serious health issue. I suppose without diving too deep into it and bumming everyone out, I had my first very real brush with my own mortality.

I’m fine now, by the way. Better than ever really. But it struck me then that you go through life thinking that these things happen to other people, that you’re invincible….and then life has this very hardcore way of reminding you that you are very much not. I began thinking of the fragility of life, as anyone who has gone through something like this would, and, well, the only way I know how to deal with things is to write about them.

So I began writing vague things about life and death and letting go, and…what I would be leaving behind if I left right now…that kind of thing. About love and family and growing old and how much of a GIFT growing old is…and long story short…”God Country” is what came out of all of that.

Phew…okay, next question?

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Why was it important to focus on family?

WELL, around that same time I was going through all of those awful medical things something wonderful happened. I became an Uncle! This new little bundle of beauty and hope was the perfect little mirror to all the dark things in my life at the time. So naturally I needed to write about that as well. The combination of my brush with death and then this amazing little miracle with my last name on it really inspired a great deal of the story. The idea of old life fading…and new life blossoming…it all came together really quick. That’s why the story has this old man and this very little girl in it. One to pass the story down, and one to pick it up and carry it on.

That focus on family, It also really grounds the book in a way that I think can be very easily related to. It’s tough to do that with giant Kirby gods roaming around, but you witness and learn about, all of these wild things with the Quinlan’s, so you experience their shock, their horror, and their joy alongside them. Not looking down at them from the heavens, but looking up with them. Beside them. That was important.

How does Emmet’s family react to his transformation?

As best as can be imagined, right? It’s hard for me to talk about it because I don’t want to spoil anything, but Emmett’s transformation has to do with his health and his mental capacity. So, the family is in this strange situation where they are obviously just overjoyed that he’s back…but at the same time they are not blind to that fact that his coming back the way he does is very….very scary. And it might (will) have consequences that none of them could possibly conceive.

At first, they take it as an answer to their prayers, a gift from god. And they’re kind of…half right. It did come from a god…but, not the one they’re thinking of, and it most certainly was NOT a gift.

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What do you find appealing about stories, like this one, set in Texas or the South?

First and foremost I’m from Texas, so I’m naturally a little biased. But this story, in particular, didn’t really have a setting to it for a while. It was just a story of this family and this sword and these gods…and that’s about all I had.

Then I went out to West Texas for the first time in my life. I’m from Dallas (Garland, really. A suburb outside of Dallas famous for being the inspiration for the town in “King OF The Hill”) and I spent a lot of my childhood in East Texas and central Texas, but for whatever reason, I never ventured out to the West.

Anyway, as soon as I laid eyes on it I knew this was where the book took place. West Texas is such a wild, untamed place. Virtually unchanged since man has been on this continent. I was out there with my wife reading a book about Texas and family (“The Son” by Phillip Meyer. A must read) and watching a storm come over the horizon and I begin to imagine great gods battling just on the other side of the hills. This might all sound crazy to anyone who hasn’t been there but I swear…if you saw a 20 foot tall Kirby god doing battle out there it would certainly be shocking….but it wouldn’t seem that out of place.

Why did you want to meld this very grounded, Southern Texan world with fantasy?

“God Country,” ultimately, and above all else, is about a small family dealing with forces beyond their control. In the beginning, those forces take the form of this horrid illness that has stolen a pillar of their family away. Emmett is suffering, he’s confused and angry and unmanageable. As the story evolves those forces grow from illness to “acts of God’ in the form of a tornado…and then to literal gods who have also come to take things away from them.

So it was important to me that when dealing with these big fantastical elements it always came back to the same idea. The same problem. That, no matter how big or out there the story gets, it’s always all about the Quinlans, and every insane thing they encounter is a just another metaphorical extension of the same idea. Things that are bigger than them that they can’t ignore. Uncontrollable things that they HAVE to face, that they have to fight.

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Is this series mapped out to be episodic or a lengthy serialized arc?

It’s all one big story that is very tightly connected and intricately planned out. It’s not the story of an old man solving crimes and playing hero with his new giant sword. It’s the story of a man trying to hold on to his family and his memories as giants conspire to take both of those things away from him.

We’re introduced to a God-like being in the first issue – who is he and what does he want?

That’s Aristus, the God of War, Blood, and Honor.

And he wants his goddamn sword back.

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“God Country” #1 hits stands on January 11, 2017; you can preview the first issue here.

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