I’ve been a big fan of Ryan Kelly’s for a long time. Local was one of the first comics I read outside of the Big Two, and it wowed me. I even got a commission of Megan, the protagonist, from Kelly of her visiting my home state of Minnesota. Since then I’ve closely followed Ryan’s work, from New York Four to Star Wars to all the way up to his new series Cry Havoc with Si Spurrier. I was lucky enough to ask Ryan some questions about his experiences on the series and in the comic industry as a whole. Keep reading to get the answers.
How did you connect with Si Spurrier?
Through email. I guess he liked my work (yay!) and asked If I’d be interested in Cry Havoc.
What attracted you to his story and scripts?
Large-scale concepts and big, world-building visions just don’t appeal to me much, not as an artist or a reader. I need to read the script the way an actor does before agreeing to take on a role. I just need to “hear” the characters speaking to each other. Only then, I know If I can do something with it. Lucky for me, within Si’s magnificent script where real characters with conflict and emotion. I knew then that I’d have to do this.
You’re largely, though not exclusively, known for drawing stories in a firmly real world setting. Was it rewarding to break out of that a bit with the monsters in Cry Havoc?
I supposed that’s true. I don’t think I really know what I’m “known for” because I’m always surprised when I find out. I’d love to be known as someone who draws great stories with great writers, because I think I have. Cry Havoc offers me a familiar landscape of emotional real-world drama that I know how to do, for sure, but it offers me new challenges as well. Si’s script has a ton of nuanced plot points and references to myths and legends, so it forces me to push the imagery beyond the familiar. I’m trying to draw the monsters more as kinetic masses of magical energy and less as cartoonish movie monsters.
Did you start drawing pages before or after you knew who was going to color them?
Gosh, we started this project so long ago that my memory is already a thick, viscous mush. As it goes with these things, I likely produced a group of pages early on so we have something to show off. Recruiting a small squadron of Colorists wasn’t a breeze at first because everyone’s so busy. Colorists are working on multiple books and taking on an Image book isn’t going to appeal to everyone. Matt Wilson, Nick Filardi and Lee Loughridge saw something special in Cry Havoc and luckily, thank the almighty comic god, they took on this project. They make my work better, pure and simple, and I’m incredibly grateful for it.
Do you in general draw differently based on who’s going to be coloring your work?
I feel like I’m drawing for the Cry Havoc colorists in the sense that they are the main feature of the book. I’m sure there are artists that are really into their art and then they’re like, “Color me, now!” But, I just love handing in pages and see what comes back. It’s just wonderful. I rethink my art style after the colors come in. Some colorist’s work really come forward and sit on top of the lines, while some colorists’ work recede. I make adjustments to my art depending on what each colorist is doing. The subtle craftwork itself may be too boring to discuss in an interview, but it’s definitely there.
Image Comics is the hot publisher right now, but you’re also working at Vertigo. What different benefits do they provide you creatively, professionally or economically?
Image puts out a lot of books. And, Image puts out some great books. I guess that makes them “hot,” but it’s not said enough that there are other publishers putting out books that are just as good and yet, they’re not “hot.” Now, this makes me look like the evil monster for saying that, but, I want to make it super clear: I buy comic books with my own money and most of what I buy (besides self-published stuff) are Image books. They are a personal favorite.
As a creator, Image is magnificent. Their staff is wonderful: professional and easy to work with. What you hear is true: It can be a bit trying to get your book accepted, but once it’s on board, they let you do your thing. I feel honored to have an Image book. What you hear about Vertigo is true: They have a top-notch editorial staff and they are there to make your book better. I often have to redraw things and make art corrections, and it’s annoying, but guess what? Every single redrawn panel made the book better. I love working at Vertigo and I hope I can do it forever. I would much rather be working on original material than some superhero thing. I wish I got hired to do the superhero stuff, but it’s not really happening.
You’re drawing two monthly books right now. Are you going to be able to maintain that schedule long term?
No, and this needs to be the last time. I’ve been doing this–working on multiple books at once–since 2005, and I always made it work because 1. I just stayed up all night and didn’t sleep and 2. I sacrificed family time to get the work done. I got myself into trouble this year because I just refused to do those things anymore. I’m almost 40 now and my body is telling me to stop and go to sleep and that’s why i’m struggling to get these two books done. I’m drawing two monthlies now, both full art, and barely making it. But what can you do? Sometimes, artists need the money. But, anyway, this is the last time for me. After this, it’s one series at a time. I think.
You’re well known for your beautiful commissions. How important do you consider them either financially or to raise your profile?
Five years ago, I thought that If I draw a beautiful Catwoman commission, and put it online, a DC editor would see it and hire me. When that wasn’t happening for me, I lost interest in doing them. I lost interest in drawing other peoples’ stuff. And, that’s partially why I launched Funrama…So I can draw my stuff. I still love superheroes–DC and Marvel–but when I wasn’t getting hired to draw them, I lost that love really quickly. Now, I try to just do pre-show commissions before going to conventions. I love to make the fans happy and doing pre-show commissions has made it fun for me again. That’s part of the business.
Three issues of Funrama have been released. Are you doing more with the series, or writing another comic in the near future?
I released Funrama #3 in 2014 and it was a minor disaster. I finished the book, printed it, announced its release on social media, and… nothing. No one cared. No one bought it. That’s not true… about 30 people bought it. It was humiliating. It was a rude awakening. And yet, it made sense. Funrama #1 and #2 sold really well. That was in 2010 and 2012. In 2010 and 2012, I was more of a “hot artist”. In 2013, a ton of new, young artists came into their own, and by 2014, I was more… old. It’s possible that Funrama #3 just wasn’t exciting at that time because, let’s face it, about 3 million new comics are released every week. Maybe I just don’t know anything. It won’t stop Funrama, though! I’m working hard on issue #4. It’s delayed because getting two new series off the ground this year took a lot out of me. But, Funrama is my baby. I’ll be making it when I’m 80!
How has your art matured since you started working in comics?
I’ve matured in the way I see the whole comic industry landscape. It’s taken me a while to get there, but I think I finally see all of its peaks and valleys with clarity now. With my artwork, I’m more impatient and fidgety. I have to change approach every issue. Just look at each issue of Funrama. Look at the way I drew Lucifer, and then Local, and then Saucer Country, and then Survivors Club. I hate drawing the same thing the same way twice. I just do my best and hope a few people like it.