Covering it All: Chatting with Ryan Sook

Chatting with Ryan Sook

DCU Special: Mongul

In the world of comics, there are those artists that are considered at the pinnacle of art – Jim Lee, Bryan Hitch, Steve McNiven, John Cassaday, and several others. And then there are those are almost there – one project away from spreading from critical favorites to those who fans flock to in droves.

One of those names bandied around is Ryan Sook. Best known for works such as X-Factor and The Spectre, and he was hand-chosen by Mike Mignola as the first artist, other than himself, to draw Hellboy stories. His style owes a bit to Mignola's work, as well as Adam Hughes – but in recent years he has found his own path taking the best of both and bringing his own unique sensibilities into something that's distinctly his.

As of late, he's been focusing on doing covers and licensing illustrations for DC Comics, but he produced his first interior comics work in some time with the recent Final Crisis: Resist one-shot written by Greg Rucka and Eric Trautman. We thought it'd be a good time to talk to Sook about what's he's doing, where he's been and where we can expect him next.

Newsarama: Thanks for talking to us, Ryan. Can you tell us what you're working on today?

Ryan Sook: Today I am actually drawing a bunch of figures for the DC Licensing branch of DC Comics. They do the art used for games, merchandise an things.

NRAMA: What's a typical work day like for you?

RS: I walk into my studio and look at whatever is sitting on my table that I hadn't finished at 2 in the morning when I went to bed. I walk upstairs to my office and check my emails to make sure that's what is top priority. Sometimes it's not but usually it is extremely urgent, so I respond to my frantic editors that I'm still working on it.

Then I walk back to the studio, grabbing a half-gallon cup of coffee on the way in, and scramble to finish whatever is on my desk so I can get on to what's next… which is most likely due the next day and will only be half done by 2 in the morning.

NRAMA: After a bit of a break from doing comic interiors, you returned in November with the Final Crisis: Resist one-shot. What made this the comic to get back into the flow with?

RS: I don't know exactly. It seemed a good opportunity to do something different than I'd done before.

Final Crisis: Resist

NRAMA: You're right. You're participating in a big event for DC Comics, Final Crisis. While you've been doing comics steadily for 10 years now, I believe this is a first for you.

DC has been your primary haunt over the years, with a few projects outside but primarily you're squarely under the DC Umbrella. Why is that?

RS: They were the first company to hire me and have always kept me busy. They've been a great company to work for.

NRAMA: As of late you've become a very in-demand cover artist, creating some dynamic covers for DC. How did that come about?

RS: Mark Chiarello, the great Art Director for DC Editorial, asked me for some house ad art. He was pleased and one of them became a variant cover, which led to a string of covers for all the collected material surrounding the Countdown to Final Crisis event.

NRAMA: And what's your process for doing a cover as opposed to a regular comics page?

RS: Very little difference actually, except that because it is one image to convey a theme rather than several to tell a story, I can focus on the elements of a single image for a lot longer than I can on inteiors. Once the design is figured out, I can just draw and just until I can't draw no mo'.

NRAMA: [laughs] In these ten years you've been in the business, have you had a dream project or two you wanted to tackle someday?

RS: A creator-owned crime drama. Period stuff, or barbarians. I haven't done any of that yet.

NRAMA: Last year I briefly talked to you by phone where you said you were working on a creator-owned project. That's a first for you - so where is that at in terms of production?

NRAMA: Actually, it wouldn't be my first. I did a creator-owned project with writer John Arcudi at Dark Horse many years ago called Ragnok which ran in Dark Horse Presents.

As for the project I mentioned last year, it is a solo project which basically means I have sketchbooks and notebooks full of material that I will eventually make a comic out of -- whether of not anyone will ever see it in print remains to be seen.

Countdown Special: New Gods

NRAMA: I'll buy the first one if you do. While we wait for that, I took a chance to browse your website. Your website is constantly updated with new sketches, penciled pages and finished pieces. It seems you do a lot of commissions and convention sketches - so what would you say is the most requested character you're asked to draw?

RS: Wonder Woman, for the Wonder Woman Day 3 Charity Event.

NRAMA: Your website also shows some of your oldest work, which made me think of the connection you have with Mike Mignola whom you credit with helping you break into comics. You paid that back by being the first person besides Mike to illustrate a Hellboy story with the original BPRD miniseries.

How would you describe your friendship with Mike?

RS: I don't get to talk to him much these days as he's a superstar media mogul and what not.

NRAMA: [laughs]

RS: But I love Mike for teaching me how to draw comics and how to tell stories with pictures. And also for letting me draw his very precious characters.

I wish I had recorded some of these conversations so I could apply his business-minded approach to work. I'm sure I'd be doing a whole lot more of it right now and that a whole lot better! Plus, I just love looking at his drawings.

NRAMA: How did you originally meet Mike?

RS: I met him at the first Super Con Comic Convention, which was in Oakland I think.

NRAMA: Being the first artist to follow Mignola in drawing Hellboy adventures must have been quite a challenge, especially now with how much it's grown into a franchise. What were your thoughts about it at the time and now looking back?

RS: It was awesome. I was very happy that Mike was comfortable with me drawing his world. I just tried my best to follow his lead and looking back… actually I rarely look because 'cause I get kinda depressed that it didn't look better. It looks better in my head. Most things I draw are that way.

NRAMA: Talking more about this as art, do you do any artwork outside of comics?

RS: Some commercial work like movie production sketches and some graphic design work and odd jobs. But I love to draw and paint, so I do that for personal work and for friends whenever I can.

Countdown Special: Eclipso

NRAMA: I've discovered that art has been around you since you were young - your father was a graphic designer. How did that influence you into ending up into comics?

RS: Greatly, I think. My dad has always been a fan of art, comics and pop culture. In additional, he was a terrific artisan in so many ways. I have no doubt that his interests and encouragement made a hue impact on my current work.

NRAMA: You've said in previous interviews that you're primarily self-taught, relying on your father's huge art book collection. Can you tell us about your early days of drawing?

RS: I sat in the basement with stacks of great old books like the Time Life art books of Da Vinci, Monet and Ruebens, an awesome collection of Frazetta's Balantine Poster books, The Studio, as well as my own flea market built comic collection. And I just poured over, and sometimes straight-copied, these things. That's where it stems from… I jut draw all the time, mimicking the techniques (as well as I Could) and really have never stopped.

NRAMA: Early in your career you were type-cast as the paranormal guy with work on The Spectre, Arkham Asylum and BPRD. You've broken out of that as of late with these covers - but was that a conscious decision to do something different?

RS: I find that m ost comics are supernatural to some degree, but I never really thought about ti that way. I looked at every job as something totally new and unique. I still do that.

It is a conscious decision to always try to be doing something new for sure. I hope that endeavor never ends in my career.

NRAMA: In doing research for this interview, I discovered that at one time you and writer Ed Brubaker were slated to do a run on Detective Comics. What happened to this, and will any of the work ever see print?

RS: Well, there is actually an entire issue of art sitting in the draw at DC somewhere that will probably never see print. I won't go in to all the details as to why it didn't happen, but it still bums me out!

NRAMA: That bums me out too. Wrapping it up then, what would you say is your favorite issue of any comic you've ever done?

RS: I really enjoyed doing Spectre #13, and I liked doing the third issue of Arkham Asylum a lot -- I learned a lot on that one. Also BPRD #1, Zatanna #2 and Hawkman #34 – there have been a lot of jobs I liked doing.

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