By Chris Sotomayor
I’ve been a fan of Reilly’s since I first noticed his work on Cable & Deadpool, a few years back. One of the great things about following an artist from the beginning of his career, is that you can see glimmers of greatness, and Reilly is no exception. Reilly is a student of storytelling, and he gets straight A’s every time, always adding a new layer with every project. Plus, he’s just such a personable and easy-going guy.
1- Which work do you look back on as a defining moment of your career and which do you feel was probably the most creatively challenging?
I usually think of my run on Cable & Deadpool as the most defining work of my career, as well as the three issues of Incredible Hercules I drew. The most creatively challenging was Cable & Deadpool #49 and 50. What happened was, something came up and Fabian Nicieza, the series’s writer, had to leave the book two issues before it ended. I’d been working on the title regularly for about two years at that point, and felt like I knew the stories and characters better than a fill-in writer just coming onto the book would, and I wanted the series to have a proper send off. So, I put a pitch together myself and thankfully our editor Nicole Boose approved it and off I went, writing and drawing the last two issues! That was a great experience, and the books got really good reviews, so I feel pretty happy with how well I pulled it off.
2- In the business of comics, we’ve come pretty far in creator’s rights. Despite how far we’ve come, what do you think is the next plateau?
Oooh, that’s a tough one. Recently I feel like I’ve seen a lot of creator’s rights sliding back, as a lot of companies have popped up in the past few years that try to snatch up as many of the rights and royalties as they can so that they can make money from films and things like that, while still paying the comic creators very little or nothing upfront. Someone’s going to have to do something about that, but it’ll be a tough fight because in a lot of ways that’s brand new territory for comic artists.
Until then, my advice to artists and writers out there is to be mindful of what you sign your name on, and don’t invest in anyone who’s not willing to invest in you.
3- Whether it’s a project of your own or someone else’s, what is the one project that hasn’t been published that you feel should be?
I’ve got a few creator-owned projects waiting in the wings that I can’t wait to get out there. They WILL be published eventually, you’ll just have to wait and see!
4- Because of technology, both fans and creators now have an amazing amount of access to each other with an incredible level of immediacy. How do you think the attitudes of both fans and creators have changed because of that?
I think it’s been great! It’s provided excellent opportunities to show fans what I’m working on that they wouldn’t normally see, as well as get feedback from them that I probably wouldn’t be able to hear otherwise. Hell, it’s even a useful creative tool! It’s great to be able to ask for reference of something, or obscure points of continuity on Twitter or the Ten Ton message board and have someone hook me up right away!
5- Who do you feel is one of the biggest visual influences in comics in the last two decades?
Woo, twenty years is a long time– that takes us all the way back to 1991! A lot of art styles of come and gone in and out of vogue since then, and I don’t think you could name a single visual influence that’s been dominant over all that time. In 1991, Jim Lee was clearly the biggest influence, then for a long time it was Travis Charest who artists were turning to for inspiration. Recently I’ve noticed a big Leinil Yu influence in a lot of professionals, but younger people seem more influenced by Tite Kubo these days.
I know you asked for only one, but there’s four ;)
6- I know that in these interviews, one of the most common questions is about creative influence. I’d like to ask that question in a different way though. Which people in your life have influenced your career, either through direction and advice, providing a break, etc.?
As far as providing a break, I’ve got to hand it to John Barber, who was the one who first brought me into Marvel, and Nicole Boose, who believed in me enough to not only let me be the regular artist on Cable & Deadpool, but to let me write the final two issues of the series as well. I really wouldn’t be anywhere if it weren’t for them, so thanks guys!
I also have to give it up to my buddies at Ten Ton Studios. Our support of each other in the early years, and our continued discussions and critiques of each other’s work is always valuable. Having someone looking over my shoulder to tell me when I’m doing a good job and when I’m sucking, and doing the same to them, is one of the most useful things I could ask for when it comes to improving my work. I recommend every artist to find someone who’s knowledge and opinions you can count on to share your work with regularly.
7- For the last 30 or 40 years the comics industry has supposedly been “dying”. What do you think this business is lacking, and what can creators, fans, and those behind the scenes do to fill in those gaps and return comics to the healthy business it should be?
I think there’s a real problem in perception there, and comics aren’t quite as unhealthy as people think. The problem is, Marvel and DC only consider themselves as each other’s competition, and judge the health of the entire industry by their own health. But they’re NOT the whole industry.
When I was first getting into comics in the early 90’s, to my middle-school eyes comics seemed pretty healthy. EVERY kid was reading X-Men back then. Then for whatever reason, the X-Men went out of style, and rather than trying to find the next thing that would grab the imagination of the younger generation, the major comic book companies just kept trying to put the same thing out there over and over and wondered why it wouldn’t catch on, determinedly ignorant of the fact that kids where salivating over any comic from Japan that they could get their hands on.
Eventually someone figured out that whatever it was that the Japanese were offing was what people wanted, and the next thing you know, Manga exploded.
Now I guarantee you that any middle-school aged kid you ask will have a copy of Naruto or One-Piece lying around.
So the desire for comics is clearly there, people just aren’t as interested in what Marvel or DC are offering them.
Manga sales have dropped over the past year, which might mean that Manga’s starting to go out of style too, so American companies might have a new opportunity coming up to grab the attention of that age group where people are most likely to form life-long habits. I hope for Marvel and DC’s sake that they don’t drop the ball again.
8- What’s the most discouraging thing you’ve heard or experienced while trying to get your first big break and how did you overcome it?
The most discouraging thing was just going to convention after convention, showing my work to whoever would look at it and never seeming to get anywhere. I always got the same answer, which was pretty much “looks good, keep it up!” People seemed to like my work, but Marvel and DC didn’t seem to want to hire me, so eventually I just stopped showing my portfolio around. Eventually Mitch Breitweiser, who was a friend of mine and was already working professionally, took a look at my portfolio, and told me the problem was that I didn’t have any superhero stuff in there. I had great drawings of buildings and people interacting with each other and everything, but Marvel and DC are looking for dynamic action. Basically I wasn’t targeting my portfolio at the right audience.
So, I took some of my older stuff that was more action oriented and mixed it in with some of the newer stuff that had better drawings of architecture and cars and such, and that seemed to get a much better reaction, since I got hired pretty much right after that.
9- Whether it’s the quality of material, publishing strategy, marketing, or the treatment of people- what do you think is the biggest “wrong” and the biggest “right” that you’ve seen in the comics business?
One of the biggest “wrongs” I can think of is the fall of the “Marvel Style” of storytelling. In the classic “Marvel Style” the artist contributes to coming up with the story along with the writer, then the artist draws it, and the writers adds the dialog. Very few people do it this way anymore, and I think that’s a shame. By cutting the artist out of the concept stages, they’re ignoring half of the creativity they have at their disposal, and by cutting the artist out of the planning and pacing of the issue, they’re ignoring the input of the person who is actually going to be able to see how the planning and pacing develops on the page as it comes together. The artist can see if there are better ways to make the story work more easily than the editor or writer can. Also, as an artist who has worked both ways, I’m much more likely to care about and be invested in a story that I’ve contributed to in a more conceptual way, than I am if I get a full script and feel like the story would be exactly the same if a different artist were to draw it. In general, I’m more likely to do a better job on a story that I care about than one that I don’t. Also, most of the truly great comic book stories have been created with heavy story contributions by the person who provided the art. More editors should take that into consideration.
The biggest “right” I can think of is how Marvel and DC have been negotiating exclusive contracts with creators. It lets people know that they’re appreciated, and guarantees them work, which is a big thing for freelancers. Also I think they get opportunities for other benefits, like getting in on the company’s medical plan and things like that. It’s not quite as good as being an actual employee, but it’s still something.
10- There seems to be a bit of a disconnect between what comic fans think/say they want and what publishers see in buying trends. Do comics fans generally know what they want or are the publishers really giving them what they want and they just don’t want to admit it?
If you’re talking about why there are so many “event” comics which readers just love to complain about, it’s a bit of both, I think. It’s a pretty simple concept, but it’s kind of complicated to explain. Basically, if Spider-Man sells 50,000 copies, and Marvel starts hyping about how big and important their next event’s going to be, and Spider-Man’s on the cover, those 50,000 Spider-Man fans are all going to buy that event because they WANT the next chapter of the Spider-Man story, plus they’re promised by all the ads that this isn’t just ANY story, this is the BIG one. You KNOW they don’t want to miss the next big Spider-Man story.
If you put Thor and Iron Man on the cover, you’re telling their fans the same thing, and so any Thor or Iron Man fans who don’t care about Spider-Man are going to buy it too.
So it goes, until you’re got a lot of character on the cover, and 100,000 people who want the event.
But then the event comes and goes, and although Spider-Man was there, he really didn’t play a very big role, and the proper Spider-Man comic never even bothers to mention the story that happened during that event. So, in effect, it really wasn’t the big, important Spider-Man story that people were expecting, and you’ve got 50,000 disappointed Spider-Man fans who are going to complain.
Marvel probably realizes this, so they make sure they have Spider-Man and Thor and Iron Man on the cover of the NEXT event as well, so they can sell 100,000 copies again.
And that’s not to pick on Marvel, DC does the same thing.
11- As disposable/ consumable entertainment, how do you think comics (or publishing in general) can keep from suffering the same pitfalls as the music industry?
The music industry’s problem was that they fought digital-ization too hard when that was the thing that people wanted. It got to the point where it was actually more difficult to do, and you got an inferior product by buying things through the music industry’s preferred means than by downloading it illegally. I think what the comic industry needs to focus on is creating the best possibly product that they can, and make it as easy as possible for readers to acquire and use. Personally, I’m a big fan of Comixology. The way they format the comics on their program to slide from one panel to the next with a tap of your finger is far superior to reading a PDF on a computer screen, plus with their constantly expanding library, it’s easier to find a reliable place to download what you’re looking for there than it is on the internet. It’s worth the price.
Heh, not to sound like a spokesman for them or anything, but I think they’re a pretty clear example of how to do it right. More things like what they’re offering would be exactly what the comics industry needs.
12- A few years ago, people thought getting into the book stores was going to be some big boon to comics. I think we’ve seen that’s not entirely true. Do you think we’re headed for the same thing with digital comics/ downloads? Is it ultimately help or hype?
Again, I think that’s a matter of perception, because the Manga boom was fueled primarily through bookstores, so that was millions and millions of dollars going to buy comics which otherwise might not have.
As far as digital’s concerned, I think it must fall into the “help” category, because the entire world is becoming more digital. You have to be there, because that’s where the people are. At the same time, it’s a bit early to tell because I can’t think of anyone who ONLY buys their comics digitally, or any comic who’s reading experience is vastly improved by being digital in nature and people are just dying to get their hands on. If that happens– WHEN that happens– you’ll see the real digital explosion.
If you’re curious about Reilly’s work, check out his issues of Amazing Spider-Man (#s 661 & 662), or check out his Deviant Art site here: http://reillybrown.deviantart.com/
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.