Over the course of ten years, comics writer Robert Kirkman has build up quite a stable of books, stories and characters with series like Invincible, The Walking Dead and others. But he couldn't do it without the artists that turn his scripts into real comics. And leading that charge in the superhero realm is artist Ryan Ottley.In the past six years as artist of Invincible, Ryan Ottley has turned from a last-minute replacement to a defining figure in comics. Taking up the reigns of the book from original series artist Cory Walker on Invincible #8, he's come to make his book his own and took it to new heights even. Prior to Invincible, Ottley had only done a handful of comic strips but now he's become one of the premiere superhero artists in comics and probably one of the most wanted artists for Marvel, DC or any publisher. Ottley blends a stylish nuanced realism with classic cartooning abilities that brings to life one of the most diverse casts in comics into an ensemble book that owes as much to its art as it does its story.
With Newsarama sporting the "Kirkmanarama" banner this week, we spoke with Ryan about his enduring collaboration with Robert and Ottley's own ambitions for comics.
Newsarama: Ryan, how would you describe your working relationship with Robert?
Ryan Ottley: It's pretty basic: he writes it, I draw it. There are crunch times and I'll get a little prod from him or vice-versa if I need script. Lately he has much more prod marks then I do. He's a busy guy! As he should be, I'm excited for everything he has going.
Nrama: And you with him! Monday I interviewed Robert and asked about the participation with the artists on his books, and how Charlie likes to be surprised by the scripts while you’re anxious to know what’s coming up. What’s the process like for you illustrating a book, once you get the script?
Ottley: I am such a fan of Invincible and the whole universe, Robert knows how to write stories so well it draws you in and you just forget it's not real. He knows what he's doing for sure. I love hearing ideas he has for future issues and any big changes with characters, and occasionally I get to throw my 2 cents in. Because I do think about this stuff a lot and I've grown to care about these characters quite a bit.
Nrama: So what do you do when you get the script?
Ottley: I'll read the script once just to see what's happening because I'm dying to know, then my 2nd read-through I'll thumbnail out the pages right on the script. From there I'll do layouts on Bristol board and then finish pencils on top.
Nrama: Often when I talk to artist they talk about having to draw a cover for an issue well before they see a script – is it like that for you? What’s your process like drawing a cover?
Ottley: Yes, the solicitations are due well before the issue is even written. So Robert has to have a small idea of what the issue will be about, he'll normally ask for a cover by telling me who will be on it. I'll then do a quick sketch and after Robert approves it I'll draw it up.
Nrama You’ve kept a healthy workload doing Invincible full-time, but not without finding time to do your own projects like Haunt, Sea Bear & Grizzly Shark, and even a DC book a long time ago. How do you balance it all, and does being able to change it up from time-to-time help you, do you think?
Ottley: I'd love to be able to do many projects at once but that is very difficult to do without sacrificing quality. I'm not too happy with my work on Haunt, most of those issues were done in two weeks time each. Not my favorite schedule and very hard to balance. I'm much happier at a page a day routine. But it is satisfying doing small bits of other work here and there, I had so much fun doing Grizzly Shark there will be a part 2 as soon as I find time.
Nrama You’ve been working on Invincible regularly since 2004. I’ve seen you stretch the limits of the book from humor to bloody gruesome and space battles, aliens and a lot else. But do you have certain ground rules for yourself on what you can or can’t draw in Invincible?
Ottley: Yeah, I'll draw pretty much anything, Robert and I both have certain rules for Invincible though, no "rated R" sex stuff. People think this is strange since we go pretty far with the violence but to us it makes sense. For me as a kid reading comics I enjoyed the clean fun that comics were, a huge sex scene or even full nude scene in Amazing Spider-man would really throw the feel of a normal superhero comic, that would be jarring and pretty pointless. But I ALWAYS wanted some fight scenes with better repercussions. These are super-powered people, if they punched a normal guy it'd be horrific! I really enjoy the energetic fight scenes we do, gory totally makes sense to me in this universe. A Viltrumite isn't someone to mess with, they won't just beat on you to make you pass out; they will kill you in anyway possible. Its war out here, and these are superheroes fighting for their lives -- it's bound to be a little bloody.
Nrama: Although you draw Invincible and Robert writes, you’ve written your some comics too. If you were offered a chance to write a back-up or one-shot, what characters or story would like you tackle?
Ottley: 2 comics is hardly a fair share, that's totally UNFAIR actually. I need to write more!
Ottley: I'd love to tackle a story about a Viltrumite's past, maybe Conquest or Nolan. Or even Shrinking Ray and his adventures through the intestines of Komodo Dragon and his eventual death. A Battle Beast one-shot would be tons of fun also. How cool would that be to see him go planet to planet searching for the ultimate battle?! I'd love that.
Stay Tuned later today for Part one of our main event for KIRKMANARAMA: The interview with Robert Kirkman himself!What would you like to see Ottley draw?