MomoCon is arguably Atlanta’s premier fan convention, taking place each May from the Georgia Institute of Technology. A fitting locale, then, given my two guests: writer Donny Cates (Venom) and colorist Matt Wilson (War of the Realms), both of whom have heavy ties to ATL.
Wilson lives in Atlanta, and Cates got his start in comics here, working with Axel Alonso as an intern following a meeting at the Atlanta campus of the Savannah College of Art and Design. Unbeknownst to each other, both Wilson and Cates also attended SCAD — though Cates dropped out twice.
When asked about their experiences at SCAD, Cates remarked on how “there’s a very small amount – in the sequential art department – of writing classes.” While initially at the school as a penciller, Cates says his professor, Mark Kneece, saw his gift and encouraged him to pursue writing. Being in classes with artist Tradd Moore — whose attention to detail Cates called “psychotic” and “gorgeous” — also convinced Cates that, when compared to his own work, writing might be a better career.
Both Wilson and Cates credit their time at SCAD and the relationships they built there in both their starts in the comics industry, as well as the work they’re doing now. Now, however, both see the best parts of the college experience they had as working with so many other talented artists in the same space, pushing each other to be better. For aspiring students concerned about the cost, they both point towards the plethora of resources available to students now that just did not exist even a decade ago.
From Atlanta, the conversation jumped to how the Marvel films and comics influence each other. Cates replied that, while public perception about billion-dollar movies may seem to drive the narrative, in the Marvel writing rooms, the films are never brought up. “They chase us,” he said, “we don’t chase them. All that s**t in the films is taken from us…little things that people don’t realize, like Thor cut all his hair off in Thor (Ragnarok) and is Jason [Aaron]’s Thor book he had short hair. That’s because, when we’re in the writer’s room, the film people are there too and Jason said he was going to do that so they did it.”
I asked Wilson, after admitting that I had not truly appreciated the work of a colorist and the effect they can have on a book until reading The Mighty Thor, where he saw his role as the colorist in the creative process. Wilson says that he began coloring in the beginning of the current “age” of color work in comics maturing, especially with the advent of digital coloring.
Wilson also credited the improvement of the tools and the knowledge of colorists in using them in the explosion of color work in the industry. The expression of the characters as well as the color palettes chosen can affect the final dialogue and script in a comic, according to both Wilson and Cates, stripping out excess text in favor of detail in the art and color.
Cates brought up Frank Martin’s work on Venom, saying that his pitch was to color the book “like a horror book.” Martin would work “on shocking panels just [color] all red, just fill red, like blood splattered throughout the entire book.” Throughout the first two volumes of Venom, Martin also colored every panel mentioning Null or space horror in red, creating a story within the story, leading to the eventual appearance of Absolute Carnage.
Both Cates and Wilson consider the colorists on comics to be as essential as storytellers as the writer and penciller. Wilson brought up his own work on Black Widow, saying that the only panels in which he used red as central to the palette were fight scenes or flashbacks, and stringing them together tells a particular part of her story. The choice of colors are what drives Wilson’s joy in his work.
In speaking of his work on The Wicked and the Divine, he brought up a note in the script that it needed to feel like the music playing in the scene was speeding up. Wilson researched the wavelengths of colors and how fast they travel and applied those colors to the appropriate panels. While not an obvious addition to the reader, those choices allowed Wilson to give the panels the life they needed.
Cates and Wilson both bring obvious and palpable passion for their work, whether it be for a major publisher or their respective creator-owned books. Both are considered to be at the top of their game in the industry and will be for years to come.