Robert Kirkman and Cory Walker's Invincible debuted January 22, 2003.
Robert Kirkman, Cory Walker and Ryan Ottley's Invincible ends February 14, 2018.
Over 144 issues, various spin-offs, one-shots, tie-ins, and even a Marvel crossover, the modern superhero throwback Invincible has had love, loss, death, life, and even a few in-jokes at the comic industry. Ottley joined the book early on - 2003's Invincble #8 - and became the key artist of the series, drawing 127 of the 144-issue run. Working closely with Kirkman and Walker, Ottley made the story of Mark Grayson, Atom Eve, and the others his own - and spilled a bit of blood along the way.
On the eve of Invincible's grand finale, Newsarama spoke with Ottley about this ending, what the series has done for him, where he and Kirkman stand after 14 years - and the artist dodges questions of what he's working on next.
Newsarama: Ryan, for the first time I'm speaking to you as the former artist on Invincible. You’re all done – no other surprise second printing variants or other Invincible material this week?
Ryan Ottley: Oh man that sounds so weird. Yeah, everything is done, no more covers, interiors, nothing. We are all done!
Nrama: How does that feel? Has it sunk in?
Ottley: The first time I noticed when it sunk in is when you just now asked me how it felt to be the former Invincible artist. So, I’m dealing with some serious feelings right about now! Thanks, Chris!
Nrama: It’s what I do.
Nrama: So let’s get to loose ends – for you, was there a running list of stories/ideas to get to in Invincible that you were able to (or not) include as the series wrapped up?
Ottley: I think Robert really crossed his “t’s” and dotted his “i’s” on this one, he wrapped it up beautifully and I couldn’t be happier. I’m proud as hell with what we made.
Nrama: This is a massive achievement - did you do anything special personally when you finished it all?
Ottley: I stopped drawing for two weeks! I wanted to just take a vacation to cleanse my brain and relax, it was much needed after that last intense 12-issue arc, one of the craziest arcs I’ve ever drawn, definitely the most figures I’ve drawn in some of those war scenes. Spoilers! Lots of figures at war with each other!
Nrama: Do you and Robert have anything planned, say a signing or something, to commemorate the final issue this week?
Ottley: [Laughs] No, my wife and I would rather I take a break and go on a date for Valentine’s Day than me leave for a signing. I’m cool with that!
Nrama: Good luck on that date - let us know if Newsarama can chip in on a bottle of wine for the occasion. Speaking of your wife, can I ask what she thinks of you finishing Invincible?
Ottley: I will accept any and all wine.
Ottley: And yeah, Erin is happy with my career choices as long as I’m happy with them. She’s been along for the whole ride. I started Invincible way back when we were living in her mother’s basement in 2003. Which, by the way, we moved out of six months or so after I got the Invincible gig; thought I should mention that so people don’t assume I’m still there.
Ottley: Yes, Invincible made enough money to get me a house etc, so don’t worry about me! [Laughs]
This last year has been tough though with me working everyday to finish Invincible on time. So, I’m on a little more relaxed schedule right now. Feels normal! Also, my 12-year-old son loves the book and is sad to see it go, he still hasn’t read the very last issue, I’ll bring it home today to see if he approves. Which he will. He knows he’s grounded from all devices if he doesn’t like my comics! [Laughs]
Nrama: This goes down as one of the longest runs for a writer and artist on a modern comic book. When did Invincible become a long-term thing for you, to this degree?
Ottley: I didn’t really have a set plan, but time went on and It just kinda happened after getting so used to it month after month, the pay also got better as the readership increased and I really had no reason to leave. But the biggest reason to stay was I was honestly enjoying myself, I love working with Robert, I love the story he constantly fed me to draw, and I got so used to the characters of this book, they felt like family.
Nrama: As a comics fan, do you value long runs by creators on books? What are some that are most memorable and creatively-thrilling to you?
Ottley: Of course! Creators that stick to a book for a long time gets my appreciation for sure. I always had a hard time with fill-in artists when reading comics because it seemed the characters weren’t the same anymore. It’s like watching your favorite TV show and the new episode has all new actors playing the characters, that’d be a disaster! But people are a little more forgiving when it comes to comics and thank goodness for that because monthly comics are hard as hell to do month in and month out without a break. So I get it. Savage Dragon is one of the most impressive runs to me, talk about rare, a single artist/writer doing the full book for that long? That’s crazy.
Nrama: Do you have friends in the industry doing long runs you can appreciate from seeing what they do on the page and in putting in the time behind the scenes to do it?
Ottley: Robert has done plenty of long runs with amazing ideas and kickass writing which is super impressive but I’d have to say I’m even more impressed when artists stay on for a long run. Sorry writers! But yeah, I’m impressed by Charlie Adlard on The Walking Dead, Jason Howard on Astounding Wolfman and Super Dinosaur, Fiona Staples on Saga. Erik Larsen on Savage Dragon, of course! Skottie Young was doing Oz forever and now a nice run writing and drawing I Hate Fairyland. So many impressive creators out there doing their thing.
I don’t know if many people know this but the penciller is really the only full-time person on a book. They have to devote all their time to one project, unlike writers who are able to do multiple projects. Imagine if Robert just did the one project like I did? Only Invincible every month and that’s it! That’d be sad, no The Walking Dead, no Outcast, no Oblivion Song! That’s what it’s like for artists. They sacrifice quite a lot to do that, especially if they are on for long-term, which means you are somewhat out of the spotlight as time goes. You have one audience you’re exposed to, Other projects mean reaching different audiences and your popularity can grow.
So I get why artists want to leave to do new projects from time-to-time, it’s not a bad idea.
I actually went to Robert at the end of 2015 to do that exact thing, to quit Invincible, it was just time for a change. I love Invincible like crazy but over a decade on a book can be tough, I just needed a big break and to get away, I was having problems with my health and many crazy things going on in my life. Just needed a big change. Robert told me he was thinking about ending the book anyway and asked that I stay until the end which was another 18 issues out. I couldn’t do it! I was burnt out and done for. Cory Walker decided to jump in for six issues, which allowed me to take a nice break and to take my time pencilling and inking a batch of “the end of all things” arc. I honestly wouldn’t have come back and drew those last 12 issues if Cory didn’t draw those previous six issues. So, thanks goes to Cory! It’s been an awesome run, very glad I stayed. And very glad Robert took a chance on me 14 years ago, I look back at my work from then and I’m honestly surprised I got the gig. So, thank you, Robert! The constant work really made me force myself to level up, that was always the goal and I hope it shows!
Nrama: This leads me to ask - what's your relationship with Robert Kirkman like?
Ottley: I honestly wish I lived closer to Robert, we only see each other and hang out at cons and he’s told me to come work at his office in Los Angeles but I just haven’t made the time for it. He’s definitely a good friend that I wish I saw more. Seems we hit it off as friends from the beginning, I first met Robert in 2004 at Comic-Con International: San Diego. We shared a hotel room together with Cory Walker. Super rad dudes who made me laugh until I peed. And it’s always been that way, we have fun and there’s definitely a business side where we work and argue certain things about the book, we both have a big passion for the book and want it to be the best we can produce. Oh, and we both like movies and food, instant friends.
Nrama: Since you started Invincible, this little shop Kirkman started has grown into Skybound with editors, marketing people, and all sorts of staff - in some cases larger than Image Comics itself. Were Invincible's final issues still just you, Robert, Mark Morales, Nathan Fairbarn, and Rus Wooton talking directly or has it become more of a 'business'?
Ottley: Before there was Skybound or any editors it was basically just Robert doing all the production work, now the staff does all that. For me it’s always been just draw the book, do it on time. That’s all I could do. So on my front it’s the same ol’ nose to the grind stone drawing. I still talk to people I work with, I still have final say on the inkers and colorists I want and the work they do to my pencils, which makes sense to me, keep the penciller as the art director since he is initial creator of all the visual art and it is his work that’s being polished up by the inker and colorist. So yeah, it does feel more business/corporation like because it actually is. But not to the point where the editors are the only ones making the decisions, they are there to help, not to control what we make.
Nrama: With Invincible over, I noticed you picked up a rare commission on social media. How is your board time changing since not having an Invincible script waiting for you?
Ottley: I remember telling Robert after I finished the last page that it felt strange to not be bugging him for the next script. He said “Hey you didn’t always have to bug me for script!” I then laughed for three weeks and died.
In his defense he’s had to call me to get me motivated and moving at times too, so the bugging each other to get work done faster goes both ways! That’s pure collaboration right there. Or just super annoying. Collabannoying?
Really though, we got very used to each other, a lot of the times I felt he was writing for me, like he could read my mind and knew exactly what I wanted to draw! Wait I just noticed I didn’t exactly answer your question and went off on a tangent. Uh yes, I recently did a commission, which is rare, I normally only do head sketches at comic cons. But I had a little time.
Nrama: Do you plan to do another project in the immediate future after Invincible?
Ottley: I’m actually working on my new project right now! Hopefully it can be announced soon, but right now I took a vow of silence to never tell!
Nrama: I’m sure we’ll talk again real soon…
But moving on, I can't fathom to guess what it must be like - Invincible was your first major comics work, and you've done it pretty much without a break since 2004. Looking for work must be very different from 2004 to 2018 - do you even look for a job, or is it a matter of giving serious consideration to offers for the first time but receiving them a lot during Invincible?
Ottley: I actually wasn’t sure what I was going to do after Invincible, I just knew I needed something else. The not knowing was kind of nice for a change. But I thought about story possibilities for maybe doing my own thing, I talked to a few writers about working together. There was some pretty great offers I turned down but in the end I went with something I think will be a good career move and be extremely fun to work on.
Nrama: Have you gained any new perspective now being "between projects" for the first time in 14 years, personally or professionally?
Ottley: This is all new to me. I’m having a ton of fun on the new project already so it’s transitioning very easily, without a hitch. I’m kind of a lucky dork.
Nrama: What kind of advice would you give to people starting out the way you were on a webcomic, looking to branch out and do more, in today's market?
Ottley: I actually started with short story anthologies and in webcomics, it was all free work but it was necessary for my improvement. I’d recommend doing free work but only if it’s not too crazy, you don’t want to commit to a large mini-series for practice and learning. Keep it somewhat small, and let collaborators know that they are not your boss. Free work means I work how I want to work, and I make no promises to even finish. But I’d recommend finishing something you start, it’s a good trait to acquire as well. So, make sure you are committed before you do it, and make sure to read the script before you commit! I would recommend free work over art school any day, just keep yourself motivated and busy honing your craft and it can be done without the huge expense that schooling is.
Nrama: Last question, Invincible #144 – the grand finale – is out on Wednesday. But is the door completely closed on you ever doing more with the property?
Ottley: I wouldn’t say it’s closed completely. There is always a possibility to re-visit, we both know we will miss this book and these characters too much to never see them again. I know I’ll probably be drawing these characters for years to come at the request of Invincible fans at comic conventions. At least I hope they still do!