Since taking over art duties on Image Comics‘ “Invincible” #8, Ryan Ottley and superstar writer Robert Kirkman have told “the best superhero comic in the universe” for the past 12 years and counting. While fans have seen a ton of Ottley’s art over the book’s last 118 issues, they haven’t seen that much of his writing.
In 2010, Ottley created Grizzly Shark for “Sea Bear & Grizzly Shark,” an Image one-shot that split its story with Jason Howard‘s Sea Bear. And while Ottley has been hard at work drawing Mark Grayson’s superhero adventures, he couldn’t shake the idea of doing more with Grizzly Shark. Starting this April, Grizzly Shark returns with a new #1 that reprints the original black-and-white story in full color, followed by all-new issues that continue the bloody adventures of the world’s most feared animal.
CBR presents an interview with the “Invincible” team on “Grizzly Shark,” as Robert Kirkman — you probably also know him from “The Walking Dead” — spoke with Ottley about what prompted the return to Grizzly Shark, how things have changed since the early days, how the industry perceives writers versus artists and the different approach to writing and drawing stories for yourself.
Robert Kirkman: Holy crap, Ryan. When you started “Invincible” you were living in your parents’ basement (with your wife) after getting shit-canned at a warehouse job. I sometimes think back to that time myself. I was living in a shack of a house in an undesirable area of Lexington, Kentucky, with my wife. I think one of the coolest things about our time on “Invincible” is how much we have been able to grow and change as people over the decade plus time we’ve been working on the book and also how that affects our work on the book. You ever put much thought into that?
Ryan Ottley: I do! I was just thinking about it all a couple of days ago, about how you’d pay me everything the book made plus pay me out of your own poor ass pocket just so I’d get a livable wage. Moving out of parents’ basement was on my mind quite a lot, it took about four issues of working on “Invincible” to finally move out into an apartment, and then eventually a home when the book started doing better. But, that’s beside the point. Or maybe it is the point. Wait what’s the point? Are you going to ask me about my new book or what?
I’m getting to it. First of all, I’ve spent many years cultivating my greedy heartless persona. Don’t go outing me on funneling all the money to artists in the early days of my career so I could get the books off the ground. But since you brought it up, this ties into “Grizzly Shark” a little bit. “Invincible” has always been a passion project for myself (and Cory Walker, and you) same as every other comic series I’ve started. Writers are like work ninjas. While it’s a very hard job, and I strongly feel we [writers] do deserve the measly 100% of the credit we usually get from online comic press outlets, the honest truth is we zip in and zip out of projects in a way artists can’t. I literally couldn’t make myself sit at a keyboard typing a page for the same amount of time it takes you to draw a page. What I’m getting at is writers can lay bricks, paint houses or write other comics to make ends meet while a book fights through those lean years to get a foothold and become popular. With “Invincible” nearing its 13th year in publication, it proves that was a prudent choice and there was nothing altruistic about it. Paying you all the money from the issues so you could afford to stay on the book was just good business. Now we rake in tall TPB dollars on our multi-volume series and things are great. And all I had to do in order to make that work was do something I loved for free for a little while. Fun times.
So that gets me back to “Grizzly Shark” (honestly, it really does). It also, I think, shines a light on what makes independent comics so special. Books like “Invincible,” “Grizzly Shark” and other books at Image — and only Image because, sadly, Image seems to be the only company left that does truly 100% creator-owned comics — creators don’t look at this like a job. Image creators love what they’re doing. “Grizzly Shark” isn’t something you were hired to do, it’s not something you’re doing to make ends meet, and it’s not something you’re doing to be a stepping stone in your career. You care about this book, it’s a part of you, it’s special, and it should be treated as such. Having seen the book myself, that passion bleeds into every damn page. This is Ryan Ottley Unleashed in the best way. How much fun was it working on this book?
A lot of fun. It’s very freeing to write and draw, I get to choose whatever I want to draw. There’s not one kitchen scene in this whole series, Robert! I basically let loose and went as crazy as I wanted. The hardest part was finding time. A monthly book for an artist is so much to handle that now you rarely see them anymore. There are fill-in artists all the time. And I’m not saying that’s bad, that’s necessary sometimes, I get it! I used to beg you for a fill-in! I’d tap out like I was getting beat in an MMA match. But you are a fan of things staying the same structure, same artist, same writer. And so if I was sick or I injured my back you were fine with waiting until I healed up. But I totally agree. I love seeing the same team on a book for long amounts of time. I think fans appreciate the unchanging creative team, makes it feel more special.
It does make the book more special. Comic readers want twoÂ things, stories that matter and consistent creative teams. I agree that fill-ins are necessary but with better scheduling behind the scenes, it’s a thing that would happen far less often. I think it’s a real shame when Marvel lets the blame fall on Hickman and to a larger extent Esad Ribic for the delays in “Secret Wars.” Marvel knows how fast people are and could easily schedule accordingly. There are fast artists and there are slow artists, but after you’ve been working consistently for a year in the industry people kind of know your speed. It’s not a surprise when a guy who isn’t monthly doesn’t hit a monthly deadline. It’s not a matter of the artist being late, it’s a matter of the book being scheduled too soon. It puts an unfair burden on the artist to try and deliver on an unrealistic deadline that’s being imposed on them.
Exactly right. I am glad we have better scheduling right now. Because there’s been many times where it was all over the place and the expectations for me to satisfy every solicitation date got so overwhelming. When I say monthly artist, I mean every month a comic is drawn, 12 a year. That’s what I mean is rare. And it’s a pretty rough grind. Our average now has been 10 a year, and even that kicks my ass. My point was just that the monthly grind makes it so it’s almost impossible to squeeze any side project in. But that’s constantly on my mind. More projects! But no time! Also,Â it feels like people do compare writers to artists, “this artist only has one project going on, and this writer is doing five books?! How can one person do all that?” So it’s assumed that more projects means more work, harder worker, and can get their name out there a lot more! But we both know the artist is the only one putting all his time into the book. Full time! Overtime! All the times! That’s all they do!
I do feel the need to butt in here and say if a writer is doing five projects a month, they are at least working as many hours as an artist doing a monthly book. But… It takes three to five for writers to hit that point.
Oh I know it, but the perception is since more projects are happening from the writer, then more work is being done. And the good thing about more projects is more press. And image writers normally get 50% of each project. It’s a win-win being a successful writer with multiple books. My point is artists don’t have that option but always desire it. Sure, it might sound silly hearing someone say drawing all day is hard work. But truth is, constantly creating is pretty damn hard. And fighting against a deadline makes it twice as hard. I’ve said before that drawing a comic takes about three months, but you have to figure out how to do it in one month! Sometimes faster if your family needs a vacation. It is weird working everyday all day on one project and feeling like my name and career is just slipping away because very little press happens on someone who is not doing a new project. Most news outlets only talk about new projects.
I have to argue with you there. You’re right, in that news outlets mostly only run articles about new projects, or events in existing projects like the ones we do in “Invincible” every 18 months or so. But I think because we comic pros go to these sites so often to see what’s up with our friends in the business, we put a unrealistic value on their influence. While you may not get as much hype online, I think there’s a tremendous value to being associated with a project for an artist and being in a place where people can find you. In this day and age with the big companies shuffling artists from project to project at a break neck pace, as an art fan myself, I often times can’t follow my favorite artists. A good example is Stuart Immonen, that guy is probably my favorite artist working in comics (that I’m not working with) and I couldn’t list the last five years of his career. The book jumping, the constant fill-ins… It makes it hard to follow him around. It’s work for fans. But you? “Invincible,” and now “Grizzly Shark” — easy.
True, yeah, I’m mainly stating my paranoia. I’m not complaining, I’m not trying to say “woe is me.” I’m just stating the paranoid thought process of a comic artist alone at his drawing table all day, this is how it can feel. And part of you always wants to have more than one project but it’s almost impossible. I have always wanted to do other projects but that would mean leaving Invincible. And I just couldn’t ever bring myself to do that. I love the book too much. Sure the deadlines are rough, but the pros have always outweighed the cons. So yeah, any side project ideas only got as far as an idea. But this one I wanted to stick with to see if I could finish it on the side. And it happened slowly! Very slow. I’d work on “Grizzly Shark” in between “Invincible” scripts and at night. Sometimes only finishing a page a week, or even a page a month depending on how busy I was. But I did it mainly because it was fun and as a learning exercise. I now know how easy writing really is! [Laughs] Okay, okay, it’s not easy, I know. But coming up with ideas can be very rewarding and fun, and I need some of that in my life. But I still want “Invincible” too! I want it all!
I think every artist should try to write their own material. The best comics in history have been by people who both write and draw. As a writer who doesn’t draw, I’m confident that there will always be people out there to collaborate with. But it’s true, what I do is a blast. Being able to play god with fake people and just make up fun stuff is a blast.
Oh, and I thinkÂ “Invincible” is nearing its 14th year. Cory was there for the first year starting in 2003. I’ve been drawing since the beginning of 2004 for now over 12 years. And by the end of this year it’ll be a 14 year-old book, and in two years our book will be able to drive. It’s weird as hell that adults come up to me at cons and tell me they’ve been reading this book since they were a kid.
That is probably the worst part of my life now. It happens a lot to me, between “Invincible” and “Walking Dead.” Now I know how Erik LarsenÂ felt when I met him. “Savage Dragon” was only at issue #75 when we met. And thinking back, it seemed like that book had been running forever (eight years at that time) and it’s strange to think that “Invincible” has been around far longer than “Savage Dragon” had been at that point. We’re getting old, Ryan. We’re old men! Ugh.
Speaking of old, this rambling mess of an interview has steered a bit off course. How about you talk a little about “Grizzly Shark,” not about how much better the writing is than on “Invincible,” but assume I haven’t read all three issues of this masterpiece. Why should John and Jane Q. Interviewreader call their local retailer and pre-order this book right now?
Definitely not better than “Invincible.” It’s extremely different. I have no idea how you write the way you do. I’d love to learn how. I’ve always been a fan of your writing and it’s one of the many reasons I love working with you. Teach me! But for now doing stuff like “Grizzly Shark” is a breeze. I can do insane comedy stuff. I can do horrific gore and have it be funny. Even in “Invincible,” the gore I do is horrific and gross, but at the same time, a little cartoony and fun. I guess it matches what I title my style of art I like to do, which is “realistic cartoony.” If I go too realistic, it’s just too gross. If I go too cartoony, it’s not taken seriously. But if I go realistic cartoony, it’s the best of both worlds, horrific and fun at the same time. “Grizzly Shark” is a little more on the cartoony side. There’s violence. There’s gore. Hell, its a shark in the woods eating lots of folks. It’s gonna get red. But the book isn’t just about a shark. It’s mainly about these people that are striving to survive in a forest with antagonists that will kill out of pure hunger. It’s a continuing story of survival horror. You ever write anything like that, Robert?
Hey! We’re not talking about that project right now. This is all about you! So seriously. What is “Grizzly Shark” about? Spill it!
It all started when a bear and a shark got mixed up. Shark on land, bear in the sea. And my story is about some folks who really want to get rid of a terrible beast in the forest who is making a mess of things. Turns out that beast is a Grizzly Shark, and it also also turns out that there’s more than one. Is that lame? I don’t know. How would you pitch it?! This is technically my first time pitching my own comic. Hook it up!
Um… I’ll give it a shot… Artist unleashed! Ryan Ottley, artist extraordinaire of the hit series “Invincible” has escaped the shackles of hack writers to bring you a tale of terror and suspense! A monster lurks in the woods, no one is safe from “Grizzly Shark!” The terror of the seas is now the terror of the lands! But it’s not just action and gore — buckle up for a tale of heroism and triumph of the human spirit as a band of victims takes a stand hoping to once again make the woods safe for picnics again. Seriously. It’s awesome. That work?
Shit yeah that works! Cut, print, that’s a wrap!
“Grizzly Shark” #1 is scheduled for release on April 6 from Image Comics.