I got to talk with wildly talented novelist and comics writer Sydney Duncan about the recently finished first volume of “Kill Whitey Donovan” and about her process, the talent she works with, and the comic’s upcoming film adaptation.
MFR: Hi Sydney, Thanks for doing this interview. Congrats on finishing the series!
SD: My pleasure, Justin! And thank you!
MFR: While tales of revenge set up in Westerns or around this time period are a relatively popular genre, “Kill Whitey Donovan” has an ace up its sleeve in its choice of protagonists. What exactly motivated your creation of Anna and Hattie as a pair and their quest for vengeance?
SD: You know, that’s a good question because I’m not entirely sure of the answer. A lot of stuff I like to write explores identity and transition. As a woman of trans experience, that’s probably not revelatory. But Kill Whitey Donovan began as a novel and at the time I started writing that book, I’d been contemplating external and internal pressures on identity and, as I recall, I was sort of thunderstruck and the concept of these two women formed. Hattie’s journey was this struggle against how the outer world saw her and Anna’s was a conflict with this inner sense of herself versus who she was expected to be. I had all these questions like, are these characters the way they are because of their circumstances? Can they become something else, if those circumstances change? To what extent can the boundaries of that becoming be pushed? Cerebral, but not exactly page-turning stuff. So, I sought those answers against a revenge tale and voila!
As far as the genre goes, it might be a matter of writing what you know. I’m from Alabama and the Civil War still casts a pretty long shadow down here. In a real sense, it was a war for identity and dealt in a violent way with those internal and external conflicts. Also, the ideas of femininity and the narrow construct of women were very rigid, giving both our leads something to rebel against. So, it seemed a perfect backdrop.
MFR: The handling of this story’s flashback sequences as well as the overall pacing are airtight and very focused. Was the story as it happened pretty set in your mind when you started or did it change shape and evolve organically as you wrote it?
SD: Thank you!
I think every writer sets out with a story in their minds and then it evolves into something more organic. That was certainly true with KWD. I find that I may want the characters to behave a way or do a thing but after a certain point in writing them, they kind of take the reigns and tell me what’s what.
The flashbacks, though, were always part of the plan. In a sense, they are the real story. The plot device is this journey to kill Donovan, but the story is about what these characters need to become to do that. In order to express that, I wanted to show moments in their past that conveyed the person they had been and juxtapose it with the person they were becoming. That evolution is the heart of the story.
MFR: This comic is blessed with the phenomenal art of Natalie Barahona. How did you two start working together, and what was the process like?
She really is so talented. If my only claim to fame in life is to be able to say I wrote Natalie Barahona’s first comic book, I’ll die happy. I can’t wait to watch her career. She has the most amazing instincts and is such a brilliant storyteller. Honestly, we’d just hand her a script and watch her go. I can’t imagine an easier collaborator to work with.
She got involved through Brian Stelfreeze, who would come on board for Art Direction and Editing. When 12-Gauge Publisher Keven Gardner and I were first talking artists, Brian had already been giving some early advice and guidance, and at some point he suggested Natalie. My understanding is that Brian doesn’t take apprentices, but he’d made an exception for her and had worked with her for a little while when KWD came up. I think he basically concluded, She’s ready. Which was immediately apparent when she started turning in character sketches and art. And her coloring – it just blew us away.
MFR: More congratulations are in order, since “Kill Whitey Donovan” is getting a big-screen adaptation! How exactly did that come about, and in what ways are you involved?
Thanks! We’re really excited about that. When I originally pitched this story, I pitched it to Keven, publisher of 12-Gauge Comics, which is the studio that produced the book before Dark Horse got involved. If you aren’t familiar with 12-Gauge, they have several Image books and have worked with properties such as Boondock Saints and Body Bags. Keven has been around the comic book business for years, working at Valliant early before doing his own thing. He also had his own comic shop for a minute – one I frequented a lot in college, without actually knowing him. Recently, he’s had some success in getting Hollywood interest in their comic books. I think he felt KWD had potential to work for the screen and set some meetings to make it happen. It was pretty quick.
Beyond an occasional note, though, I’m not terribly involved in the effort to adapt the comic. I had a call early with the screenwriter, Sigrid Gilmer, who is an amazing writer. She was incredibly generous to offer space for me to have input, but I felt strongly that she should have the opportunity to make the film hers and let it be it’s own thing. I’m privy to all the script drafts and I have to say, I’m very excited with what she’s producing. It captures the spirit of the comic and then gives you more. I can’t wait to see it in the end.
MFR: The final page of the series teases that Hattie and Anna’s story may not be over. What could we expect from a potential follow up?
Volume 2 is all about consequences and fathers: those missing, those present, and those left behind and raging with grief. It also greatly expands the world of KWD while anchoring it to this little gold rush town out west where Hattie’s mom lives under the tyrannical reign of the elder
Donovan. Meanwhile, both of our leads have to deal with what they’ve just done and the internalization of that will manifest in very different ways for them both. All while a man with every means seeks his own reckoning.
Be sure to check out “Kill Whitey Donovan” and the past and future works of Sydney Duncan!