At Image Expo, Robert Kirkman said he’s bringing some of the terror, violence and mayhem to his superhero series Invincible this year. But for people who’ve been reading the book, you have to ask: how dark can it get? Plenty, says series artist Ryan Ottley.
January’s Invincible #108 began pushing that boundary with a gruesome head-splitting sequence with Invincible and one of his most diabolical villains, and the issue ended with the titular hero Mark Grayson dropping the book’s first ever cussword. Invincible has never been a superhero book for children, but realistically it’s the kind of superhero book many budding teenagers would sneak away to read. Ottley, who will celebrate his 100th issue on the title with April’s Invincible #111 explains to Newsarama that although he abhors real life violence he tackles the eye-popping action of Invincible with such fervor due to reading superheroes growing up and always wondering why they held back.
As Invincible begins this new arc and delves into darker waters, Newsarama spoke with Ottley about upcoming events in the series, as well as the violence quotient along with what it’s like doing such an extended run on a comic in the modern day.
Newsarama: Starting it off slow, can you tell us what you’re working on today, Ryan?
Ryan Ottley: Yeah today I'm drawing Invincible #109 and working on this giant salad for lunch, it's delicious with pine nuts. Which are way too expensive BTW. FYI. But still delicious, and totally worth the extra hours I put in to afford such nuts.
Nrama: Invincible #108 just came out and Image, Skybound and Robert are putting their weight behind April’s Invincible #111 being a real milestone of an issue. What would you say to what’s coming in #111?
Ottley: I'm always excited about Invincible, but this stuff is amping up and I'm loving the changes Robert is cooking up. It really all starts in #108, so much awesome in a single issue. There's fun stuff to draw on almost every page. And the head explosion?! That's the fun stuff right there! When they said The Walking Dead's Robert Kirkman is writing Invincible, not only hilarious, but true. #108 is actually the first issue where Robert swears in it! I mean he's dabbled in the small swears but I'm talking the Sh*t and F*ck swears haha! Sure he swears in his scripts from time to time but normally swear words don't make it to the printed comic. The issue ends with Invincible dropping the F-bomb, I talked to Robert and asked, "so, are you keeping "Holy f*ck!" in there?" He said "Not sure, might be a good shocking ending for the trade paperback". So I think that alone will shock the readers a little bit, I hope that the swear changes won't be more shocking than the gore though! I worked hard on that gore! Swearing is easy. I hope we don't lose readers for it, that'd just be funny! "I can handle heads getting ripped off but not the potty talk!"
Nrama: At Image Expo (and in an ensuing press release), Robert Kirkman promised that #111 would see a darker more violent tone to the book. After reading #108 and that uhm – head explosion (no spoilers!) – with the alternative universe Invincible, I’m trying to come up how it could become more violent. If there is a Ryan Ottley violence scale, how would you rate #108 to what’s coming in #111?
Ottley: Well I think the tone does start to shift with #108, we've done plenty of dark crazy stuff, and I'm going to do my best to amp it up with the visuals. But yeah, what he's got coming should scare me away from drawing it, but I'll just close my eyes if it gets too scary and keep drawing.
Nrama: Overall, what would you rank as the most violent issues of Invincible in your run?
Ottley: Well the Conquest fight was pretty brutal, he stabbed Eve through her gut, Mark then headbutts Conquest’s face to a pulp. Then the second Conquest fight was again, pretty brutal, choked to death while he was disemboweled. Now I hope people don't think I get off on violence! Not the case at all, I abhor it, I hope I never see War, or even a car crash. It'd be terrible. But there is something about drawing comics with as much energy as I am able, to really amp up the situation. I do get off on that! As a kid reading comics, it bothered me to see these supposedly super-powered beings hold back. I always wanted to see them go all out.
Nrama: Has there been a piece where you drew it “too” violent and had to tone down the artwork, either by your decision or Robert or someone else?
Ottley: I'm really glad I hooked up with Robert all those years ago, we're a good fit. No one tries to hold me back! Robert encourages to go as crazy as I feel it needs to be. I can go all out and no editor is going to say "Hey there, that's gross, don't do that." Actually the scene in Invincible #108 where (for those that didn't read #108, this is a little spoilery, so close your ears) Where Robot cuts off the head of Angstrom, I asked for that! In the script Robert wrote that Robot slits Angstrom’s throat, which sure, is powerful in itself but I asked if I could just cut his head in half, to really amp it up. He said "hell yes!" I just want people to read the book and have a reaction when they see a moment like that, I want them to feel the gravity of all these situations. Drawing any emotion is fun for me, I'm trying to make the reader feel just by looking at a drawing of a face, I'm acting through drawing. Which is insanely fun to do!
Nrama: #108 is on stands and in many people’s hands, so I have to ask a little bit – the end of the issue saw Robot turn on Invincible and leave him behind in an alternate dimension ruled by Viltrumites and his doppelganger from that time. What can readers expect in March with #109?
Ottley: Ok so what's going to happen is, the Viltrumites rush in, see the mess, and kill Invincible on the spot. The End. Robot will rule our Earth. The End, again. Tragedies are always the best endings!
Of course none of that is true. What I can say about the issue is, our Invincible is a smart dude, he'll think of something!
Nrama: The cover to #110 is a real heartbreaker, showing Mark and Eve’s hands outstretching seemingly trying to reach one another but not bridging that gap. The solicits give me little hope, saying “all good things must come to an end.” Say it ain’t so, Ryan!?
Ottley: I can't talk about it. Not because I'm not supposed to, I just don't want to cry. Next question please.
Nrama: Understood. Getting into less tear-jerking waters,I’ve noticed in this issue and the last one that you’ve started inking yourself again, after having Cliff Rathburn doing almost exclusively since #51. What brought about the decision to start inking the entirety of your Invinciblework again?
Ottley: Oh I love inking, I really wanted to ink an issue, well it turned into two issues. Cliff is back on inks now. All is well! Also Cliff has been inking since issue 51 I think. I've inked myself on a few here and there during that time. I do ink all of my own covers, but sometimes I just want to jump on some interiors too. I'm a selfish prick. But it is speedier to have an inker! And Cliff is doing great, #109 is looking super nice.
Nrama: You started Invincible in 2004, and it’s now 2014. By the time you reach #111 you will have done 100 issues. You’re two issues away so how does that feel?
Ottley: It feels great! My back doesn't feel so great all of the time, but I'm starting to work on that too. Never thought I'd be on any book this long, or even any job this long. It's just a good gig, i can't think of a better one!
Nrama: In this day and age in comics, writers and artists rarely get to do those long comic runs of yore longtime superhero fans remember. But you here have done 100 issues with only two issues off and some shared issues. What’s that like being “the artist” on a book – especially one so well received – for an extended amount of time?
Ottley: At conventions I've got to talk to a few older artists I liked when I was a kid reading Marvel comics. And most of them are unfamiliar with new comics, they don't know who I am, and they wax poetic about the good ol' days when artists use to do long runs and how it just doesn't happen anymore. And it's fun to say "Well, actually, it does still happen. Just not at Marvel and DC anymore." I'd love to see it happen more often with other books. I mean at least one year on a title. But since it is such a writers market, and fans are caring less about visuals and more about the writing, a lot don't care that there is a new artist every few issues. They would rather have a book on-time, than visually consistent. Now me, I've always been very much into the art side of it, so I'd wait forever for a book. I did not mind waiting for Pitt, as long as the next issue was drawn by Dale Keown. Same with Battle Chasers, same with all of those first Image books. I had a hard time reading a comic with a new artist on a book, to me it's like watching a TV show and they get a new actor to play the part of a character. Like the Spartacus TV show, sure the main Spartacus actor, Andy Whitfield died of cancer, so obviously to finish the series they needed to hire a new guy. The new guy is not a bad actor, but he's also not Spartacus, he's playing as one. And it's jarring. Pulls me right out of the fantasy. Same with reading Hulk or X-men, the “actors” change every 3 issues or so now. But to me, comics aren't comics without visuals, and maybe I'm stuck up, but I need consistency in the visuals to enjoy a good story. Call me crazy.
Anyway, that felt long-winded. Sorry. I'm full of wind.
Nrama: No no, blow away. For this benchmark I wanted to ask something that had been on my mind. Image is a creator-owned haven, and Invincible was created by Robert and Cory Walker. In the credits for Invincible Universe you’re credited as co-creator of some of those characters; do you have stake in the characters who’ve debuted in your issues? If so, which are you most proud of?
Ottley: I actually have stake in Invincible itself. It says created by Robert and Cory, which means they both created the character Invincible. If there is a book about a character that Robert and I created together, it'll say our names on it as creators. Like Invincible Universe has my name added to Robert’s and Cory's since I helped create a lot of characters as well. But yes, Robert, Cory, and I all own Invincible together. Now, Cory gets paid for the issues he did, I get paid for mine. Robert and I split issues 50/50. Which is unheard of anywhere but creator-owned comics. But for movie options, toys, any kind of merch, Robert, Cory, and I split that evenly.
Nrama: 2014’s a big year for you for a number of reasons, as you’re also doing a new Creature sketchbook and also a new Violence artbook titled Violence & Pigtails. Before I let you get back to drawing Invincible #109, what can you tell us about these other releases?
Ottley: Yeah I have so much content I thought I'd make two sketchbooks this year. Been doing that blog with James Harren called The Bog, where James and I choose a loose theme and draw it! It's mostly based on monsters and creatures, things we both can't get enough of drawing. My new sketchbook will be called They Bite, and it's all my creature drawings from The Bog and just from whenever else I felt like drawing them. If you're interested in watching me draw with time lapse speed, I did a video of me drawing the cover here>
That sketchbook is very close to completion, I'll be taking that with me to all the cons I'm attending this year. The other one I still need to format is called Violence and Pigtails, which is the third in my violence series, the first was called Violence and Piggybacks, second was Violence and Pinwheels. Working on the cover now. I'll try to get it done as soon as I can, might be mid-year until that one is complete. So anyway, come see me at a con this year!