Venom creators Donny Cates & Ryan Stegman reunite for Vanish at Substack & Image Comics

(Image credit: Ryan Stegman/JP Mayer (KLC Press))

The latest addition to the line of comic creators joining Substack Pro isn't a single person with a team supporting them - it's a team of long-time friends and collaborators, doing it together.

The Marvel Comics duo of writer Donny Cates and artist Ryan Stegman are continuing their collaboration past Venom, Absolute Carnage, and King In Black to launch their own creator-owned series called Vanish.

"Vanish is the big bad boy of our launch. Ryan and I's creator-owned follow-up to our King in Black saga," Cates tells Newsarama. "It's...insane. It's exactly the kind of book i've dreamt of doing for so long."

(Image credit: KLC Press)

"It's my first creator-owned book so I'm extremely excited," Stegman adds. "We've been hard at work for quite some time building the world and designing characters. And, long story short, it's awesome."

But before we get to far into Vanish, their Substack won't be premiering just that comic book series, but two other creator-owned series that is part of their publishing imprint KLC Press. (KLC stands for 'Kids Love Chains', if you must know).

Two other Cates-written projects, Flood (with artist Megan Hutchison-Cates and colorist Dee Cunniffe) and The One You Feed (with artist Dylan Burnett), will be serialized on the KLC Press Substack Pro newsletter. Those two books were previously announced to be published by Image Comics, and Cates assures us that hasn't changed. 

"Both will eventually be coming out through Image in print As will Vanish," Cates says. "Folks can get a whole lot more info on that front by smashing that subscribe button on KLC Press!!"

Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman's Vanish

(Image credit: Ryan Stegman/JP Mayer (KLC Press))

With Vanish, Cates and Stegman reunite with their Marvel Comics team of inker JP Meyer and letterer/designer John J. Hill for a superhero story that they say they could never do through Marvel.

"When people read it, I think they'll see the kinds of tropes we're playing with and destroying," says Cates. "But the big thing for us when we were making it and crafting it, was always asking ourselves 'What could we do here if we could do anything?' because as much freedom as Marvel always gave us (and they let us get away with a lot) we could never like....blow up the moon, or level New York to dust, or have someone bash someone's brains out with a brick. But....we can in Vanish."

Cates and Stegman have thrown out the term "emo bullshit" to describe their work together, and with Vanish they're back on that - and then some.

"We love big explosions, big fights, but also big emotional moments. The underpinnings of everything we do are those emotional moments," says Stegman. "And as an artist, I think I thrive doing those types of things. And boy does this book have that in spades."

Cates adds that this is their "emo bullshit," but so "brutal" you could almost classify it as "screamo" instead of emo.

Behind the scenes of KLC Press

(Image credit: Dylan Burnett (KLC Press))

Cates and Stegman's secret weapon in all of this is letterer/designer/project manager John J. Hill, who's worked on most of their books the past few years.

"He's really been the backbone of this entire operation going back to God Country," says Cates. "He's helping on every single facet of this thing from lettering and designing the books, to handling the day-to-day of the Substack in general. We literally couldn't do this without him."

While Vanish, Flood, and The One You Feed will eventually be published through Image, Cates and Stegman says this Substack Pro 'grant' allows them to "do more."

"We can now bring to you a behind-the-scenes look at what it is like for us to make this book," Stegman says. "I hope the experience people get out of this makes it more memorable than a monthly comic. They're a part of everything that we are doing."

Cates says the traditional model for creator-owned comics is "in some way, very disconnected from the creators themselves" and wants to have a more direct connection with the readers.

But those readers who know his work from print comics shouldn't feel left out, Cates says.

"There's nothing about this deal that says these books aren't coming out through traditional publishers at some point as well," says Cates. "We love retailers and we love physical comics. If anything we hope this substack serves as more promotion for those eventual releases."

Cates and Stegman are well known to fans for their engaging activities with fans at conventions, signings, social media, and Stegman's own podcast. Stegman says the Substack Pro is an extension of that, with the resources to help them do it.

"[The KLC Press Substack] This will just be the ultimate version of our online presences. More access, more interaction. More of everything, really," says Stegman. "For people that do listen to our podcast, Griffin and Ethan (AKA the supple boiz) are benefitting from this as well. They are now getting PAID real money to help us with all this. And they are helping us, along with John Hill, to really create something special."

Seperating themselves from others on Substack

(Image credit: Ryan Stegman/JP Mayer (KLC Press))

When the various comics creators taking part in these Substack Pro accounts came to light, comics fans learned these comic creators would be on the same paid platform that also funds destructive and damaging beliefs. When asked how they handle that, Cates and Stegman says their Substack area will be a "positive and inclusive space" and that if Substack "started to push people" to things the duo didn't believe in, they would leave.

"In the end, this is a great opportunity for us and I don't believe that our work will be seen alongside those others," Stegman tells Newsarama. "If that started to happen, if algorithms started to push people from our stuff to those things that we don't believe in, well, we are allowed to leave the platform with all of our content and contacts. I sincerely hope it doesn't come to that, though." 

"I believe as things stand that Ryan and I can (hopefully) add a wonderful and positive environment to this platform," says Cates. "We may not be able to fix everything. I'm not saying that. But like Ryan said, if you join our Substack, you will be in a positive and inclusive space. And should that change due to factors outside of our control, then so will we.

"We've all been living and participating on social media platforms for years and even decades now that are filled with negativity, hatred, and bad actors," Cates continues. "If anything, I think it's possible that this one can adapt and change and be influenced by the type of inclusive and positive voices we all want to see gain a larger stage." 

KLC Press clubhouse

At the end of the day, Cates hopes KLC Press's Subsck will be "a rad little club full of awesome people to talk about comics with every week." And by "awesome people," he's including the readers in that club.

"Interacting with fans has always been one of my favorite parts of this gig. I love the energy and the love. And that's absolutely something Ryan thinks we have in our corner here," says Cates. "I think people dig Ryan and I's energy because we're fans ourselves. We love comics. And we love making them. Now we just want you to come watch us make them, and hopefully make you smile and laugh while we do it." 

Stegman and Cates will be talking more about KLC Press' Substack deal on a live stream episode of the podcast Steg-Man and his Amazing Friends on the evening of August 17.

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Chris Arrant

Chris Arrant covered comic book news for Newsarama from 2003 to 2022 (and as editor/senior editor from 2015 to 2022) and has also written for USA Today, Life, Entertainment Weekly, Publisher's Weekly, Marvel Entertainment, TOKYOPOP, AdHouse Books, Cartoon Brew, Bleeding Cool, Comic Shop News, and CBR. He is the author of the book Modern: Masters Cliff Chiang, co-authored Art of Spider-Man Classic, and contributed to Dark Horse/Bedside Press' anthology Pros and (Comic) Cons. He has acted as a judge for the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards, the Harvey Awards, and the Stan Lee Awards. Chris is a member of the American Library Association's Graphic Novel & Comics Round Table. (He/him)