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BCP Interview – Donny Cates and Eliot Rahal chat about THE PAYBACKS!

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In case you missed it, we reviewed the first issue of upcoming Dark Horse series “The Paybacks” a couple of weeks ago, calling it “absolutely bloody hilarious“, “nearly impossible not to read with a smile on your face“, and a host of other superlatives too numerous to mention.  Well, we’ve been fortunate enough to be able to sit down with the co-creators of the series, Donny Cates and Eliot Rahal, for a chat about all things Paybacks, including the brainstorming sessions, Geoff Shaw’s gorgeous artwork, and – most importantly – that unicorn scene.


Big Comic Page: First off, thanks to both of you for taking the time to chat with us.  Now, you guys have been friends for quite some time, I believe.  How did the pair of you meet initially?

Eliot: We met in the Fall of 2010 as editorial interns at Marvel Comics. It seems almost like a Rom-Com looking back on it now. We were both lonely — living in the big city — he made a joke in intern alley, and I laughed. We became fast friends. Eventually, we began to collaborate on a comic book which turned into a thing called Hunter Quaid. Fast forward to NYCC 2011 and we are pitching Hunter to Dark Horse, and by some spring of luck they ended up putting it in Dark Horse Presents. And now… we’re here!

Donny: Yeah, Hunter Quaid was this weirdo time traveling 40’s detective dude. We were able to sell it to Dark Horse based on our pitch and the art alone. We had Lauren Affe on colors for that. Lauren has been with me for everything I’ve ever done. She is incredible at what she does. I was able to turn Hunter Quaid into a tool to help me shop around to people i wanted to work with. I was able to show it to my friend (And drummer of the Toadies) Mark Reznicek. He dug it and we ended up creating Buzzkill, which spun into The Paybacks. It’s cool to look back and see that, even when i was on my own writing, everything always stems back from my friendship with Eliot. We have a similar sense of humor and work ethic. So far, so good I’d say. :)

BCP: For those of our readers who might not be aware – or who may have missed our advance review of the first issue – tell us a little about the premise behind The Paybacks?

Eliot: Here’s sort of the thing we like to say: WHAT IF YOU WANTED TO BE A SUPERHERO?! BUT YOU CAN’T AFFORD THE CAPE AND THE COWL? WELL… WHAT IF YOU COULD TAKE OUT A LOAN TO BUY ALL THE GIZMOS AND GADGETS YOUR CRIME FIGHTING HEART NEEDED? NOW… WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU DEFAULT ON THAT LOAN? WHO THEN WOULD COME COLLECT?

MEET THE PAYBACKS! – A GROUP OF “C” & “B” LISTER HEROES WHO THEMSELVES HAVE DEFAULTED ON A LOAN, AND ARE NOW WORKING AS REPO MEN AND WOMEN TO WORK IT OFF!

Sorry for the Caps lock… I just harness my inner Stan Lee whenever talking about the above.

Donny: Excelsior.

BCP: The idea of these idolized superheroes getting into money problems and potentially losing all of their gadgets and vehicles is absolutely inspired, if you don’t mind me saying.  Where did the initial idea come from? Hopefully not from personal experience ;)

Eliot: Haha. Well… We both have had the idea for a long time. Almost two and a half years. Then we had the opportunity to insert this idea inside the BuzzKill Universe, and turned out to work perfectly! In regards to “ARE WE WRITING ABOUT OURSELVES.” Yes, in a weird way. I mean I’ve accrued A LOT OF DEBT. So has my wife. So has a lot of people I know (Mostly young friends). Well… We didn’t initially start with that in mind, but the more world building we did, the more it factored in.

Donny: What i find so compelling about this book is that we are (again) writing the third act of all these superheroes. It’s something you never get to see in the big two. Big two books by their design are perpetually stuck in second acts. Which is dope, and i love them so much. But, what this book and Buzzkill have in common is that when the book opens up, the part where they were “superheroes” is over. They’ve already lost. And then the book becomes about what do they do now? How do they continue being heroes while being hobbled by this debt. Some of them get angry, some get sad, some laugh. It’s so much.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

BCP: The first issue has more than its fair share of genuine laugh-out-loud moments.  Is that the tone we can expect from the rest of the series, or will things get a little more ‘serious’ before it’s all said and done?

Eliot: Yes… And Yes… And Yes… And Also YES. BUT ALSO…. Maybe?

Donny: I’ll be less mysterious than my handsome friend here. Yes. things get dark. It’s never a “heavy” book by any means..but yeah, just due to its inherent premise, there’s going to be some horrible things coming down the line. There’s only so many super-powered people you can repo before you start to make some awfully powerful enemies. In the Paybacks there’s only two ways out: You pay off your debt…or you die. One of those things happens more often than the other.

BCP: The Paybacks features artwork from Buzzkill artist Geoff Shaw.  Was it important to have a ‘known quantity’ for you guys on this book, and how have you found Geoff’s work on the new series?

Donny: Geoff is the only person who could draw this book. He’s one of my very very good friends and not only is he an INCREDIBLE talent, he gets the tone. He gets the jokes. He’s in line with how the book is supposed to feel. There’s something magical about it really. Everything he touches makes the book a million times better. It makes us want to write the best things we can for him. He elevates us all.

Eliot: Personally, I think it’s very important. It’s a solid foundation that we can build off of. It also gives us a bit of a legacy, which I think is much needed for super-hero comics.

BCP: You guys seem like you’re having an absolute blast with this one, particularly with some of the situations you’ve thrown into the book (I’m thinking the Night Knight/Knight Mare exchange in particular).  What were the brainstorming sessions like?

Eliot: Some are random phone calls to each other in the middle of the night. Other’s came from a writer’s retreat we had together before production on the book ever even began. But yeah, the best stuff comes from a collaborative catharsis that we share together. When my words and his words suddenly become the book.

Donny: I’ll echo what Eliot said. It’s funny, because I’ll write a draft and it won’t sound like The Paybacks until Eliot goes through and adds his voice. Or he’ll write a draft and the same thing happens. And then Geoff adds a part of him, and then Lauren adds a part of her. It’s only The Paybacks when those elements are all there. Its such an amazing process to watch this thing come to life slowly as the team’s hands touch it.

I will say this. The Knight Mare joke made Eliot and I both almost pee our pants when we came up with it. Rest assured that if you are laughing, you are sharing a laugh with us as well. That’s maybe my favorite part of the book. If you dig the book, you’re kind of family. You’re in on it. You’re there with us.

BCP: What’s your creative process like when it comes to designing the visual aspect of the characters?  Do you guys have very specific ideas for what you want them to look like, or do you just kinda let Geoff do his thing?

Eliot: We definitely have things in mind, but also Geoff knows what he is doing. And it would be an insult to not treat him with the same respect and freedom that we get from Dark Horse.

Donny: Agreed. After Buzzkill I wouldn’t dream of telling Geoff his business when it comes to designing superheroes or anything else for that matter. Geoff is a master at this and The Paybacks is his thesis. He’s doing some incredible work on this book. We cannot wait for you guys to see this minotaur thing he created…..oh man…

BCP: There’s a pretty massive roster of characters in this one – who should readers be looking out for in particular?

Eliot: All of them are beautiful. But Bloodpouch and Miss Adventure became darlings of us both, I think. Also, Skisquatch – Who doesn’t love that name?

Donny: The Van is filled with heroes of all sizes and shapes, but our core four or five characters run the show. Each arc has a bit of a spotlight on a certain character. You might not even realize it until the arc is over but we love each of them in their own way. These are people who might not hang together outside of this “job” but have really grown to like each other.

BCP: I know it’s potentially like picking between your children, but do each have a favourite character?

Eliot: I can’t do it. I go back and forth on all of them. The one guy who definitely isn’t our favorite is Night Knight. He’s just such a dick. I mean we purposefully make him a dick. But yeah… He’s a lot of fun to be mean to.

Donny: The Soviet Nunchuck. He’s this big deadly/sweet bear. And he only speaks in action movie quotes. and he has a bo staff with a sickle on one end and a hammer on the other and it breaks apart into nunchucks. what’s not to love? Oh, and yeah, screw Night Knight. Guys a dick.

BCP: And finally, the pre-ordering window for issue #1 closes on 24th August.  What would you say to comic readers and retailers out there that would hopefully get them ordering this book?

Eliot: Buy this or I’ll destroy everything you love. JUST KIDDING!!!! Seriously… This book is the product of two friends having fun. We poured that into the pages, and I think it shows. If you want to read a comic book and smile, then you should try reading ours

Donny: It truly is a book made by comic book geeks, FOR comic book geeks. In a world filled to the brim with dark and grim and overly serious “heroes” we think it’s really fun to see some people having fun and cracking a smile. That smile might be covered in blood and missing some teeth once in a while, but it’s there. This is our love letter to everything comic book. we really hope you’ll come hang out at our party with us. Everyones invited. We have popsicles.

BCP:  Thanks again for your time, guys.  Let’s hope this one does as well as it clearly deserves to.


As mentioned, the Paybacks is set to hit shelves on 16th September, and you can pre-order the first issue from the JUL15 PREVIEWS catalog using Diamond #JUL150091!

Oh, and if you order 15 or more copies you get an additional 10% off your order! Let your local retailer know, because this comic is simply too good to miss out on.


The writer of this piece was: 576682_510764502303144_947146289_nCraig Neilson-Adams (aka Ceej)
Article Archive: Ceej Says
You can follow Ceej on Twitter


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3 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Advance Review – The Paybacks #2 (Dark Horse Comics) | BIG COMIC PAGE
  2. Review – The Paybacks #3 (Dark Horse Comics) | BIG COMIC PAGE
  3. Review – The Paybacks #4 (Dark Horse Comics) | BIG COMIC PAGE

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