By Matt O’Keefe
Ryan Ferrier jumpstarted his comic book writing career with the self-published Tiger Lawyer in 2010. In it he playfully poked at the wide breadth of interpretations of licensed characters, both story-wise and artistically, by splitting his creator-owned comic into two parts: one goofy and broad and the other dark and gritty, but both about the same protagonist. From there, Ferrier has gone on to build a career out of comics in both the styles he introduced in Tiger Lawyer #1. He balances writing more eclectic comics like D4VE from Monkeybrain and soon in print from IDW with darker ones like Brothers James and the upcoming Curb Stomp and Sons of Anarchy for BOOM! Studios. I spoke to Ryan about his humble small-press beginnings and speedy rise to publishers like Monkeybrain, BOOM! and IDW.
I thought the split between the fun and the serious in Tiger Lawyer was really clever. What made you decide to go that route?
It wasn’t planned; it just kind of happened. It started as a joke. I posted the script online for the funny half and Matt McCray, the artist, really got into it and said we should make it into a comic. So we did it and it steamrolled from there. That was all unplanned. After that half of the comic was completed I decided I wanted to put out a full issue and not just an ashcan, and at the time I really wanted to work with Vic Malhotra, whose art I just love. So we paired up and took it in a different direction with the crime noir more serious half. Because it was so unplanned we didn’t feel that we had to do it all fun [like the first half] and we could just do whatever we wanted with it. It was just comics people kind of goofing off, jamming with it. It just kind of took off from there. People dug it so we kept doing it.
How’d you get people to pay attention to Challenger Comics when it first started up?
It has (or had, I haven’t touched it in a while) a pretty small following, but the people who did follow it were really cool and excited about it. And I think a part of it was how everyone involved in Challenger Comics had already worked hard for years trying to “break in.” So each person that contributed kind of had their own equity in the sense that they all had people rooting for them and followers from their other work. And it can’t be understated how important social media is for creators just starting out. Twitter’s just been amazing about getting the word out and spreading links around and getting attention. So it was kind of a culmination of all those different things. And the first year that we did Challenger we put out just a ton of comics. I had several banked up from before the site had even launched, and in the first year we had over a dozen [on the site]. We hit the ground running, which is now kind of biting us in the butt because Challenger slowed down a lot. I think that’s partly because everyone involved is seeing bigger work. So it’s a lot harder for any of us to make a free short because we’re just so busy right now.
Yeah, I saw that like three people from Challenger Books have had books published Monkeybrain?
Yeah. Monkeybrain was really cool. We all kind of got on that Monkeybrain train this year and that was just a really interesting transition. And I’m even seeing now that a lot of people who were or are involved in Monkeybrain stuff are catapulting to other things like Mike Moreci, Ryan Lindsay and Paul Allor. They’re all getting big work now so I think i think Monkeybrain’s a logical next avenue for people putting all their work online and getting their work out there independently like with Challenger. But at the same time Monkeybrain has top names doing books there. Gabriel Hardman has Kinski and Joshua Williamson has Masks and Mobsters. The closest thing I can equate Monkeybrain to, and I use this comparison a lot with Challenger, is that it’s a really cool online convention for people really into making interesting comics their own way.
D4VE is coming out from IDW as single issues, right?
Yeah, that starts in Mid-February.
Why the shift from graphic novels to single issues for a Monkeybrain book?
You know, I’m not entirely sure. I’m certainly very cool with it. I think when I first started talking with IDW we were talking under the assumption that it would go right to trade. I can’t speak for Alison [Type] or Chris [Roberson], who run Monkeybrain, or anyone at IDW but I think that D4VE has had some good feedback and I think people dig it. At least I hope that’s why they want to do it in singles. But yeah, I’m interested in seeing how it does in a different market. Although at the same time there’s not too much difference between putting out a book at Monkeybrain and putting out a book in print with the exception of page count. That’s something a little bit different in the case of D4VE because of its digital roots. Some issues run a couple pages short, some run over. So that’s really the only kind of logistical challenge, but yeah, I’m really excited to see how it all plays out.
How did you tackle the page count challenge?
Well, in the case of D4VE with IDW we’re doing a whole bunch of new backmatter, so every issue is going to have some really cool original stuff. I know Issue 1 has a couple pin ups but moving forward with Issues 2-5 there’s going to be a whole bunch of cool stuff that me and Valentin [Ramon, the artist] are working on right now. And we’re doing all-new covers as well. I think each issue is going to have 3-4 variants and Valentin did a whole row of covers that connect to each other. It’s pretty exciting
Do you worry if cheap digital will cannibalize the sales for the print version?
That’s a really good question. I have thought about that many times, and I honestly don’t really know what to expect because this is also my first book at a bigger publisher. It’s my first time solicited in previews and being in regular comic shops and being on the shelves and stuff like that. Up until now I’ve just been super indy swinging it on my own, so I’m really curious to see how it goes. I think we’re still in a period of feeling out digital comics and I think there’s still a really big audience that is print only and an audience that’s digital only. I’ve heard lots of people say that they’re excited to read D4VE but they’re print people so they’ll get it once a trade comes out. So I’m hoping that [the print version finds an audience]. But at the same time I’m really just happy to have anyone read it, whether it be on ComiXology or the print books. I hope they buy the print books because I want them to be successful and I just quit my day job so [laughs] I would like to keep some money and hopefully it snowballs into more work. But I’m kind of not worried too much about it. More than anything, I’m grateful to have anything out. It’ll be interesting.
How’d you land a miniseries at BOOM Studios?
That’s a good question. I think I’m still figuring that out [laughs] but BOOM is awesome I love BOOM very much and they have been really really good to me. I guess long story short was that I met BOOM at a convention a few years ago and just started talking to them and some of their peoples. I actually started out lettering for BOOM. I do a lot of lettering still, and that for me has been a really good way to meet people in the industry, get experience and talk to editors. I don’t want to say sneak in through the backdoor because there’s no such thing, but for me lettering stuff was a way to build a relationship with editors and other creators. So yeah, that’s more or less how it happened. I started out lettering RoboCop two years ago and they were really nice to give me work and I’ve just been pitching stuff to them for awhile now and they were really stoked about Curb Stomp. Now that’s coming out, I think, two weeks after D4VE.
Curb Stomp seems to to be in a somewhat similar vein to Brothers James. Is that accurate?
I think in the sense that it’s not at all like D4VE or Tiger Lawyer you’re definitely on the right track. I think Brothers James is a little more of a genre book. I kind of hate using that term, but it’s really grindhousey pulpy. It knows what it is, it knows it’s in that cinematic, gritty world. I think that, if anything, Curb Stomp has a little more brightness to it. Which is really weird because Curb Stomp deals with more real social issues and there are a lot more messages in it than there were in Brothers James. And I think that Curb Stomp has a wider array of characters and different kinds of characters. That’s not at all to put down Brothers James because I love Brothers James. That was like my first passion project and I love what Brian and I have done with it; it was one of my favorite books to work on. But [Brothers James and Curb Stomp] are similar in that they’re really ultra violent but not in an offensive way, I hope. They’re more serious books and they’re more gritty. But Curb Stomp has a lot of humor and atmosphere and interesting and fun character stuff.
You mentioned the violence isn’t offensive in Curb Stomp and Brothers James. The violence in the Sons of Anarchy TV show is offensive to some people. How do you address that in the comic version?
That’s a very good question. It’s very, very interesting writing Curb Stomp and Sons of Anarchy at the same time because in Curb Stomp there are a lot of my beliefs and a lot of real issues that we’re tackling. And not to fault Sons of Anarchy, but it knows what it is and it knows the kind of content that it has. So there are a lot of differences in how to approach Sons of Anarchy as opposed to Curb Stomp. Like, if I wrote the kind of violence in Sons of Anarchy that I write in Curb Stomp, it wouldn’t feel like Sons of Anarchy. But at the same time I think [Sons of Anarchy] is a modern book. It’s a really great show so there’s wiggle room there, but there’s a distinct difference in how to approach both of them. I’m about an issues into Sons and it’s been a really interesting experience. Although they’re both in the same wheelhouse as gang-related, violent, kind-of-thriller books they’re like apples and oranges in terms of what headspace I need to get into to write them.
Your career has been progressing at a steady clip. Have you been following any sort of game plan to get where you are now?
Oh, man. That’s a tough one. I think it’s very, very apt that you ask me this today, because I finally came to terms that I’m going to quit my day job in a few weeks. I’m at that point in my career when it’s really, really fucking terrifying. This is it and I’m either going to fail spectacularly or at best kind of keep my head above water. But I think the game plan… lettering’s helped out a lot, but it’s not something that you can rest on entirely, just hope writing gigs come out of it. Over the past six or seven years I’ve made a lot of sacrifices and just worked myself to the bone. That’s what you have to do; you have to work so much and for very little. You have to work and know that most of [what you’re working on] is not going to get published. You just have to kinda hope that you get good and nurture relationships. There are so many things that affect a career. There are so many different factors that go into getting a comic book series greenlit. I honestly don’t really know anything beyond that you just have to hustle. So that’s kinda what i’m going to keep doing. I’m not going to slow down now that I don’t have a day job. After taking the leap you just have to hustle ten times faster [laughs].