All The King’s Men is being written by an incredibly talented and diverse team of writers from around the world. The stories in the anthology are informed by their unique perspective on the world, and their own fascinating experiences.
We here at anthology HQ want to celebrate these writers and their experiences. We not only want to support their other creative endeavours, but we also want to give you some insight into them as people and as creators, and to give you a chance to follow these great writers beyond this anthology.
Today’s featured writer is Donathin Frye, a writer based in Ohio.
Please, tell us about yourself.
I’m a thirty-two year old guy living in Columbus, Ohio. I live with my amazing girlfriend of five years, Edelyn. We spend some of our downtime time outdoors, playing Frisbee, swimming, running obstacle courses (poorly) — but we spend most of our together time eating great food (she’s a great cook and keeps me from eating too much boxed mac+cheese) and watching a dizzying amount of good television. She’s been incredibly supportive of the time I’ve devoted in transition to becoming a comic book writer, and I love her like crazy.
What else? I’m the youngest Don in a family of eight (maybe more) Dons. The most unfortunate thing about it isn’t the confusion at Holiday gatherings, but that there are so many Dons and there is absolutely no Italian or super cool mafioso connection in my family. There’s a strong line of Shawnee and Cherokee on my mother’s side, and a super Irish/German Catholic ancestry in my father’s half of the family. Unsubstantiated claims abound that we’re the descendants of horse thieves and that I might be distantly related to Tecumseh. Probably rubbish.
I’ve been a professional stage actor for twelve years now, and during that time I’ve had the opportunity to travel, tour all over America, live in many different wonderful places. I’ve also been lucky enough to write and direct numerous plays as well. I love the theater life. I grew up very interested in the stories and mythologies of Native cultures. That’s developed into a fierce, almost religious obsession with pursuing storytelling in many forms for me: from stage, to comic books, to games, to reading and watching a whole lot of films and great television.
How long have you been writing?
I wrote a lot of short stories and poetry as a child. In college, that developed into an interest in screenwriting and playwriting. There, through a student-run workshop for playwrights, I developed over a dozen original plays that were performed live. Since then, I’ve continued to write plays, but I’ve also delved into sketch comedy writing, adaptations, and game writing. I recently won a BroadwayWorld Award for Best Regional Playwright for my modern adaptation of the classic comedic operetta The Merry Widow. It’s a small thing, but I’m very proud of it; adapting and fully modernizing a century old libretto and its lyrics, written in an entirely different language, is probably one of the craziest projects that I’ve ever taken on.
However, I only began taking classes, reading books and studying comic writing about a year ago now. I’ve found it to be a natural and fun progression of style for me, as it is very similar to screenwriting. So I’ve put aside almost all of my other projects currently to focus entirely on writing comics and improving my craft.
Who is your favourite writer, and why?
You may as well be asking me to pick my favorite type of cheese! There are so many incredible writers working in such wide spectrum of mediums. In the comic world, Brian K. Vaughan and Alan Moore are kings. I’ll read any short story and novel written by Stephen King, George R.R. Martin or Patrick Rothfuss.
But my absolute favorite writer? Well, it might be controversial to some other sci-fi fans, but I’ll give the nod to Damon Lindelof. LOST was a huge influence on me. It made me believe in the potency of character-driven mystery, in challenging the viewer or reader to decipher the truth of a narrative for themselves. Since then, I’ve enjoyed or loved everything else that Lindelof’s written, but his current work, the television show The Leftovers on HBO, is my pick for the best drama that I’ve ever seen — and while television is always a collaboration between many forces, Lindelof’s writing and vision is at the core of that creative success. If you stop reading this interview and go watch The Leftovers right now, I will not be disappointed. It deserves all of the attention.
What can you tell us about your writing process? Do you approach each project in the same way?
Oh, no, not at all. Because of my background in theater, I thrive on collaboration. Since I started working in comic books at the start of this year, I’ve collaborated with ten different amazing artists already. And whether or not it’s work on a full series or a short graphical story, I fully believe that every collaboration is different. The relationship between me (the writer) and the artist needs to be organic, specific. The level of detail in my script, the type of language that I use to help direct and activate the artist’s magical imagination, it changes. The editorial process can’t be the same, either. I firmly believe in building an understanding, a positive relationship with clear expectations for both sides, before I truly begin writing.
Beyond that, my approach is very organized and detailed. Some folks are able to communicate with loose ideas, but I’m just not wired that way. I start with a page-by-page outline of a script, and an issue-by-issue outline of an ongoing series if appropriate. Then, I tackle each page once the team is happy with the outline. I draw my sad-looking storyboards to work out a loose idea of the paneling, and then I write the first draft of the script.
Once I’ve finished a given script, I edit the #@$! out of it. Good dialogue is important to me, so I spend a lot of time acting out each line (in full character voices, probably to my neighbors’ lament) and tightening up the language until it sounds right. Then, I go through and pay a lot of special attention to my descriptive verbs — am I using clear, effective verbs to describe the action of a panel? That’s a key part of the communication of a script from the writer to the artist.
Your story in All The King’s Men is a comic entitled Survivor, a character study that follows one man through the pivotal traumas in his life. Can you tell us where this story came from, and what it means to you?
I think that I find myself very interested in certain kinds of stories. Having developed a strong belief in pacifism as I’ve gotten older, I find myself drawn to narratives about violence: not violent narratives for the sake of violence, but narratives (that may include violence) about the origins and effects of violence. It’s a theme common in a good deal of my work, including Survivor. We follow a story about a man named Vladimir Gromov; as he tells his story to other survivors, you learn that he has found himself in some extremely challenging situations where he’s been forced to make some very tough decisions.
Additionally, I very much wanted to write a story that plays with the Unreliable Narrator trope. How do you pull off an unreliable narrator in a comic book with just 30 pages? It was a challenging objective, but one that I couldn’t step away from once I’d set my mind to it.
And, finally, I think that most writers find some sort of catharsis in their work. I come from a troubled background in a number of ways. I’ve witnessed some impossible things to un-see. I’ve done some things that I’m not proud of. I’ve struggled in a number of ways that have shaped who I am now and how I think about storytelling. I think often about the times in my life where my good intentions and my self-interest hit an impasse — and so I have a predictable amount of guilt because of that. And while I’ve not gone to the extremes that Vladimir does in Survivor, there is an element, an unanswered question about my own innocence and culpability wrapped up in the story too.
At the end of the story, I hope that the reader will ask themselves how they feel about Vlad. When did he make the right decisions? When did he cross the line? What would the reader have done to survive in those situations? Was he destined to live a violent life from the start? What’s his future look like? And by encouraging those questions, there’s a touch of personal confession and cathartic relief there for me.
You’ve recently launched a comic series called Atonement, and a gothic/fantasy horror graphic novel I, Necromancer is currently in production. Can you tell us about these books, and what it’s like working with the different creative teams working on them?
Atonement is a gritty sci-fi/mystery series that follows the SBS Phoenix III, a colony ship housing the last living remnants of mankind, at the end of a 1,200 year search for a habitable planet. The artist that I collaborate with, Kijori, has an unconventional style. It’s extremely detailed in terms of comic book art — which is to say, it’s a hyper-realistic style that relies on visual context and inference to help build its mythology. Because of the level of detail, we only publish two updates a month, but we challenge ourselves to produce something special with every page. Our hope is that our fanbase and Patreon will continue to grow and allow for us to devote more time to Atonement so that we can produce more updates per month. It’s a truly epic project on every level, insanely ambitious. If I knew when I’d started it (less than a year ago) what I know about comic production now, then I probably wouldn’t have been crazy enough to jump down the rabbit hole. I am really, very happy that I was crazy enough to start Atonement, though, because it’s a complete joy to work on.
I, Necromancer, meanwhile, is the story of a villainous spell-slinger and swordsman hellbent on revenge, and the good-intentioned adventurers that will have to challenge their own morality and convictions to stop him. I’ve had a few people tell me that it’s like Breaking Bad meets Dungeons and Dragons (with a touch of H.P. Lovecraft), which is a fun way to think about it. The story itself is about the infectiousness of violence, using fantasy metaphors to point at real life issues. The cover artist, Anna Landin, has a real knack for the dark and emotional. Lukasz Marko, who does all of the interior art, is a true student and lover of horror — and I think that that shines clearly in his super atmospheric style. They’re both an absolute joy to work with! I find myself constantly excited to see the next page of the comic come to life.
In addition to your work in comics, you’re also a stage actor and a resident playwright at Shadowbox Live. What’s the most rewarding thing about working in theatre?
The joy of collaboration is close, but on a more base and emotional level, my answer might be a little trite. As a stage actor, there is something so unique about the process, so different than other forms of storytelling and art. I stand on stage and play a character, I tell that character’s story in the context of a larger story. At the end of the night, the character has changed, has grown, has experienced something that is shared with the audience. And then the next night, it all happens again, this single story, this arc. It might be a little different each time, it might feel different, he might act different to some small degree. There is a sort of butterfly effect in stage acting — if all of the actors are listening to each other, the smallest change in one moment or line might send ripples out that change other reactions, other moments.
It’s thrilling. It really is. Whether or not you do it professionally or for fun, as a hobby, I could not recommend it enough for literally every human being on the planet. Try it at least once in your life.
What’s the greatest challenge you’ve faced working in theatre?
That would depend on the type of challenge. There are moments where I’ve been broke, hungry, not getting cast. But those are challenges that are familiar. Creatively, there is a single experience that was far more challenging than any other that I’ve had.
I played the leading role in a beast of a show called The Romans in Britain once, in college. I played a celtic tribal priest in the first act; during the course of the act, the Romans invaded the island and came into conflict with my tribe. The show itself was very much about imperialism and the systematic destruction of native cultures, which is a narrative theme to which I feel very strongly connected.
Without getting into more detail than is necessary, my character suffered sexual abuses, was stripped (entirely) naked for a prolonged period of time, underwent physical torture, witnessed the murder of his family and ultimately committed suicide. All of this was explicitly and unrelentingly portrayed live. I was twenty years old when I played that role — far too young, and however devoted to overcoming those challenges, far too inexperienced to handle such daunting theatrical obstacles with the care that they demanded. I’m honestly not sure how well or poorly I did; the entire experience is something of a very strange dream (and a bit of a nightmare) to me. It was simultaneously rewarding and entirely traumatic.
You’ve also got a branching-narrative gamebook project in the works. Can you tell us about that? What are some of the advantages and difficulties associated with working with a branching narrative?
Remember when I said earlier that adapting The Merry Widow was the single craziest writing project that I’ve ever taken on? I totally lied. I’m developing a gamebook prequel to Atonement that I’ve titled Alone. It follows the story of a man capable of glimpsing into the future and his crew, as they explore a mysterious, abandoned space station. If you’re not familiar, a gamebook usually resembles a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book. The reader is forced to make decisions and the story changes, adapting to the decisions that they make. From there, gamebooks can vary greatly.
Alone is particularly ambitious, because I’m a bit of a glutton for punishment. It’s an electronic gamebook (you will play it on your mobile device or computer) with choices and branching narratives, but it also has a lot of atmospheric sound effects, original music, creepy voice overs … all engineered by myself. The awesome programmer that I’m working with, Faye, uses CSS to add atmospheric animations and effects to the experience: the goal is immersion. To that end, the horror novel House of Leaves was a major inspiration in the way that it challenges the reader by breaking the conventions of page layout, design, how text is read, etc.
And if all of that weren’t enough to try to include in the gamebook, it also does some very insidious things as an interactive horror novella. It tracks the decisions you make about other characters, how you react to specific moments of tension in the story, and it designs its narrative to give you more of the things that you seem to be scared of, and more twists that it believes will elicit an emotional response from you. In short, it watches what you’re doing, and tries to provide you the best (most unsettling) story tailored to your choices.
The difficulties are … well, all of the above. It requires an incredible amount of planning, tweaking, playtesting, attention to detail. We’re probably certifiably insane just for trying it at all.
Are you working on or planning anything else at the moment?
Next year, I’m hoping to develop two shorter graphic novels for print. One takes place on stage and backstage during a single night’s performance of Romeo and Juliet, and blends satire with romance, action, and a bit of a ghost story.
The other is something of a deconstructed super-hero story about a Shawnee woman recovering from addiction who is capable of rewinding time — but only when she is doping. It’s pretty close to my heart and will deal a lot with addiction, reservation life, racism, the history of Native Americans — all tied up into these sort of true crime noir/super-hero trappings.
I’m also working on guest writing episodes for the 80s/90s action cartoon-styled comic book, The Adventures of Toad. It’s a lot of fun and the creator, Derik Diaz, is a fantastic guy to work with.
Where would you like to see yourself and your writing career in five or ten years’ time?
I’d like to be just as prolific as I am now, but rich. Like super rich.
In all seriousness, I’m not sure. I have an obsession and a need to create, but I also am very professionally minded and need to make a living off of my work. I’d love to be able to support myself entirely through writing while still being able to write what I want to write.
I guess that makes me the same as just about every other writer on the planet, but there it is!
We here at ATKM HQ think Donathin is a writer worth following.