Interview: Ryan Ottley
Years ago, around 2008ish, I did a number of interview for a comics fan site. Long story short, that website doesn’t exist anymore, and the interviews I had done for them have disappeared from the internet. Until now! I’m re-running these interviews on Stir Fry Comics so that they can stay on the internet where they belong! The first interview I re-posted was with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles co-creator Peter Laird. The second was the great Jeff Lemire! And now we have the amazing Ryan Ottley!
Although this interview takes place, quite a while ago, Ryan was already a well established superstar with 50 issues of Invincible under his belt. As I write this intro, Invincible now has 116 issues out, and Ryan is still drawing it! So it’s safe to say that the bulk of his professional career has been working on Invincible.
What stands out for me in this interview is Ryan’s straight talk answers about breaking into the comics industry. Pretty interesting stuff, and he doesn’t pull any punches. Of all the interviews I did, this one was probably the most informative. But don’t take my word for it! Read on!
So, starting at the beginning, how did you get interested in comics in the first place?
My cousin showed me a McFarlane comic and I was hooked. I started reading comics with cosmic Spidey, then I bought every back issue of McFarlane I could get my hands on. I was really into Spidey, Hulk, X-men, Wolverine, but mainly because of the art. So I followed those artists wherever they went, so you can imagine how excited I was when Image comics was created. I bought everything they put out, and sometimes two of everything if one had a foil cover. I loved it.
When did you realize that you wanted draw comics?
I always wanted to be an artist ever since I was 3 or 4, but when I saw my first comic at age 14 I knew what I wanted to do.
Self taught. I drew quite a lot when I was young, I started drawing portraits at age 16. My Mom would show off my art at her work and people would ask if I could draw thier family members or dogs. It’s never something I enjoyed doing, I was only happy when each one was done. It’s a job that requires you to be a complete perfectionist, you need to make the person you are drawing look correct or they will know something is off. Comics are MUCH more fun. I’ve always enjoyed using imagination more than drawing exactly what I’m seeing.
Legend has it that you were working in a medical supply warehouse prior to making the leap to comics pro. The same legend also has you citing that getting fired was your motivation… care to elaborate?
Yeah I miss warehouse work from time to time, it’s nice working around others, hanging out all day, doing manual labor type stuff that kept me moving. I enjoyed that part of it. But the place was owned by a family, and that was the part I didn’t enjoy. I worked there 6 years and I don’t miss having 10 bosses who love to power trip daily.
Robert is technically my Boss but it doesn’t feel like that at all, it feels like a collaboration, I speak my mind, I argue with him from time to time. It’s great!
I was fired from the warehouse job for talking back to my boss. I received unemployment checks after that because they fired me wrongfully. But hey, I really can’t complain. I lived on unemployment checks for a while and figured it would be the best time to try and get my dream job of drawing comics. Took some hard work but eventually it worked and I couldn’t be happier doing any other job. So I owe thanks to that place for firing me which got me moving. Maybe I should pay them back for those unemployment checks.
The other part of the Ryan Ottley legend has to to with Robert Kirkman “discovering” you through sites like penciljack.com and digitalwebbing.com while most artists seem to have to go through the whole submissions process, to attain their big break. How did that go?
Yep, Robert saw my posts from Penciljack and then he searched out my other work online which at the time was Ted Noodleman. That was a webcomic I did art for, and Robert thought it was annoying the way I drew the wierd looking Noodelman but he did see I knew a thing or two about storytelling and drawing. So he contacted me.
And just so you know most artists do NOT get work through the submissions process. I was talking to a DC editor once at a store signing that said in the last 15 years of working there they’ve accepted ONE artist through submissions, and I’ve heard Marvel is even less. It just doesn’t work that well. The best way is get your name out there on your own somehow.
Yeah, don’t submit. Get to know other artists, collaborate with people. Just keep doing work and posting stuff online for critiques. Post on your own blog, Deviant art, penciljack, digital webbing. hit em all. get known. Self-publish. Just get some projects out there, you can meet people online and then meet them at conventions, pass your work out.
I hear that you also go by the name “Uncle WyA.” What’s the story behind that?
Some of my nieces and nephews call me uncle Wya, and some Digital Webbing and Penciljack people, but that’s about it. My family and friends do call me Wya, it came from me not being able to say Ryan as a kid and it came out as “wya” so my Mom kept calling me that.
Your artwork as been compared to the likes of Todd McFarlane and Art Adams, which is a compliment to be sure, but who would YOU site as some of your influences, early and current?
McFarlane and Art Adams were my biggest influences when i was starting to read comics. Other influences were and some still are, Dale Keown, Mike Mignola, Travis Charest, Joe Maduriera, Dave Johnson, Moebius, Geoff Darrow, and more.
In an era where artists seem to barely latch onto books long enough to finish a story arc, you’ve been on Invincible for over forty issues, no small feat! What’s kept you on the same book for so long?
I enjoy it and it pays great. I really like the creator owned part of it, the fact that we have no editors is nice. We do our thing the best we can as fast as we can and no one else tells us how to do it. It’s great!
Having done so many issues together, I’d imagine that you’ve built up a great working relationship with writer Robert Kirkman. Can you tell us a little bit about that relationship?
Well, not much to tell. He writes it, I draw it. He asks for a design, I go ahead and design it, sometimes he wants revisions. We talk on the phone a lot about future issues. We are good friends, we get along well, we know what eachother wants since we’ve been working together for about 5 years now. I have done the occasional small script now and then from other writers and It feels wierd working with others since I am so use to Robert’s scripts.
Do you ever have the itch to work on other books?
Sometimes yeah, actually what I really crave is to do invincible along with MANY other books. I just want to do so much work because I know I’d love to work on a lot of things, to try out characters I’ve always wanted to try drawing. But I never want to leave Invincible, just do stuff on the side. And that’s tuff to do considering a monthly takes up more than enough time for one person.
Warren Ellis would be a lot of fun to work with. Just some crazy creator owned book would be a lot of fun.
If I were to run into you in a comics shop, what would you be buying?
Ultimate Spiderman, Hulk, Ultimates3, The Goon, Scott Pilgrim, Brit, Wolf-man, Walking Dead, and much more that I can’t think of right now.
Any special plans, events, or works you’d like to mention or plug before we wrap it up here?
Invincible 51 comes out SOON, and the books should be shipping at a nice rate from here on out. I got Cliff Rathburn helping out with inks on a few issues, and new colorist Fco Plascensia starts with issue 51. Issue 50 gets a reprint since it sold out. Death Grub is still out there, that’s my 24 hour comic. And keep an eye out for Sea Bear and Grizzly shark, a story about a bear and a shark that get MIXED UP! It’s something Jason Howard(Astounding Wolf-man) and I came up with while hanging out at Heroes con.
Well, Ryan, its been an honor to interview you! Thanks for taking the time out of what I’m sure is a really busy schedule to talk with us!