With two issues of Absolute Carnage now in readers’ hands, writer Donny Cates and artist Ryan Stegman are knee-deep in symbiote fluid as they craft a definitive Spider-Man horror story.
But the worse may still be yet to come, as Stegman teases “fates worse than death” for some beloved characters – and has no plans to slow down on how far he’ll take the visceral visual terror of Absolute Carnage.
With Absolute Carnage #2 out this week and #3 on its way September 18, Newsarama spoke with Stegman about the process of bringing this long-in-the-making event, and what it’s like to attempt to split the difference between a superhero story and a tale of true terror.
Newsarama: Ryan, you’ve drawn some big Spider-stories before – but Absolute Carnage is different. With two issues in the bag, tell us about your philosophy for drawing what is essentially a Symbiote horror story.
Ryan Stegman: I'm always inclined to use heavy blacks and shading so I'm just leaning into that even more. Or I should say, I am just doing what I'm most comfortable with! The uncomfortable thing for me sometimes is to dial that aspect back for happy scenes.
Also, when Donny gives me a big moment that is supposed to be scary I try to really nail it, because if some of the drama of this book doesn't come through then it sort of falls apart. So when he lobs the ball over the plate I just try to make sure I swing for the fences.
Nrama: Before we go any further I gotta ask – without being too spoilery, what’s on your drawing board right now?
Stegman: Ha! I can't tell you that because it's truly one of the most spoilery things about the book!
Issue #3, page 20. People will know when they see it. I'll tell you one other thing that I drew today that wasn't on this board though, which is a very sweet hug between two characters.
Nrama: Following that, Absolute Carnage has had some seriously dark moments. What’s been the most challenging aspect of drawing this event as you dig in?
Stegman: From an actual drawing aspect it's right in my wheelhouse. This is some of the easiest (and most fun) stuff for me to draw. The hardest part was actually that the first issue was 60 pages. It's one of those things where you just can't see where the end of it is. About mid-way through you take a look at it and think, "this is never going to end' and also, 'this isn't coming out for like six months"
When it finally came out it was probably the biggest relief of my career. I had been drawing this book in a vacuum. I feel like I knew it was good, but at the last minute Donny and I started worrying. Then the reviews started coming in and we breathed a sigh of relief. I drank a little too much that night.
Nrama: You and Donny Cates have been building to this event for a long time in Venom. What’s the thing you’ve most been looking forward to actually putting on the page?
Stegman: Without giving spoilers, again, issue #3 page 20 was one where when we talked about it in the room at the story summit for this book we all kind of gasped and thought about how cool this was gonna be. In issue 1 though when we first see Norman in his cell, I had that idea for that image in my head for over a month before I drew it. I couldn't wait to get there.
Nrama: How has your working relationship with Donny developed since you’ve been working together? Have his scripts evolved since you started?
Stegman: We clicked from day one. I love working with him. There's a (no pun intended) symbiosis that occurs between us. I get him and he gets me. And it just started that way.
It has evolved slightly in that he can get looser with his scripts. We sat on a train together the other day going from Connecticut to New York and I was drawing and he was writing and he just turned to me and said, "Hey can I just write where this scene begins and ends and you fill in the rest?" And I said “Hell yeah,” because that's fun. He could have sat there and beat that whole thing out but he knew I would be able to do cool stuff and it just wasn't worth it.
Nrama: You are really slathering the pages of Absolute Carnage in Symbiote goo – and building a terrifying mood without crossing into territory that would strain the tone of the Marvel Universe. How do you split that difference while staying true to the world you’re working in?
Stegman: To be honest I don't know if I'm splitting the difference!
I've often felt like I went a little too far but I figure that's the editor's job. If I go too far, they will tell me and I'll adjust it. But so far they've just let me fly and I love it.
These are the things I like. I always operate thinking about kids reading it - but not in a way where I want to talk down to them. I want them to get this comic and hide it from their parents because it's teetering right on that edge of too much.
Nrama: You’re working alongside inker JP Meyer and colorist Frank Martin on this series. What makes them the perfect creative partners for Absolute Carnage?
Stegman: Well that's easy, it's because they're the perfect creative partners for me! We've all jelled to such an insane degree on this book, I can't imagine working with anyone else.
I used to want to ink myself but then JP came in and did what I was trying to do but way better. And Frank... I had asked for Frank on multiple projects because I knew he'd be a great fit. And when I finally got him and saw his work in action it was amazing.
We're gonna keep this team together for a long time.
Nrama: Of the core characters – Spider-Man, Venom, and Carnage, do you have a favorite to draw right now?
Stegman: I'm really enjoying drawing the new Carnage because, well, he's new. I've drawn Venom and Spidey a lot already. But I do have to say, the dialogue that Donny writes for Spidey has made him a real treat to draw. I get so excited to draw his acting in this book.
Nrama: Can you tease us about any of the horrors that are still to come in this series?
Stegman: No!!!! Just know that nobody is safe! I'll say this: A lot of events rely on that big death that shocks everyone. But what if there are fates worse than death? What then!!!!!