Artist Ryan Ottley came to “Invincible” during the Image Comics series’ first year as a relatively unknown artist whose only published work was in “Digital Webbing Presents” and the webcomic “Ted Noodleman, Bicycle Delivery Boy.” At first there to help keep the book on schedule, he’d soon follow series co-creator Cory Walker as the monthly artist. With only fill-in work from Walker, Ottley has been the sole artist on the series ever since he joined the book with #8. In an industry where creators skip around from title to title, Ottley has stuck with “Invincible” for nine straight years. Aside from “Haunt,” it’s been the only series commitment of his career.
CBR News talked to Ottley after the release of “Invincible” #100 to talk about his start in the industry, how the job came about and how he goes about producing the volume of work he does. After the “Invincible” #100 celebration at Earth-2 Comics in Los Angeles last weekend, we asked for the funny signing stories and we got them: The zombies, the cake, the stalkers.
CBR News: Give us “The Secret Origin of Ryan Ottley.” How does a guy go from Ted Noodleman to Mark Grayson? In other words, how did Robert find you? Your DeviantArt page? The webcomic? Or did you pester him with samples for months until he plucked you off the streets?
Ryan Ottley: [Laughs] I wish I could say I was a confident enough guy that pestered companies with countless submissions. I remember reading about Todd McFarlane sending out hundreds of submissions until someone picked him up. The most I ever sent out was six. Those rejections hurt my whiny little artist brain, so I gave up the dream job that was comics.
What did you do in those years in between? Did you have an artistic day job? Graphic design or something?
I did have a job painting Ben Franklin busts, but that was the closest to an artistic job I had. I worked at an insurance firm for a year, then a medical surgical warehouse for six years until I was fired. That led me to get unemployment checks which in turn led me to go for the dream job instead of look for more regular jobs.
But I still didn’t try the submission thing, just posted online and hoped someone saw my work. It worked pretty well, I think. It did take a year and a half of financial ruin, though. But it got better. I looked at that time as my schooling, and it didn’t cost me anything.
Years later, I decided to join a couple message boards online and post art for critique, which boosted my confidence a lot. I never thought I was good enough for pro work. Quickly, that led to doing short stories for Digital Webbing’s anthology, then art for a webcomic, “Ted Noodleman.”
Robert [Kirkman] saw my work on Penciljack.com and checked my links to “Noodleman” where he saw I could handle sequential art. He liked what he saw, so he sent me a private message and asked if I wanted to draw a mini-series called “Presidents of the United States.”
I quickly said no. [Laughs]
I liked his work. Actually, at that point the only thing I had read of his was “Tech Jacket,” which I loved. Oh, and maybe “Cloudfall.” “The Walking Dead” wasn’t even out yet, and “Invincible” was only about six issues in. But the story he was pitching me didn’t interest me at the time.
I was busy with “OZF5: Gale Force” and some other side projects, anyway. A little while later he asked if I wanted to do a fill-in on “Invincible” to help with the schedule. I did it and read the first seven issues and instantly fell in love with this comic. I was happy when he brought me on full-time.
You came onto the title after “Invincible” creator Cory Walker. Your art style isn’t too far off from his. Was that just natural luck, or did you attempt to model your art in the book after his at first, just to ease the transition?
I emulated it as far as not drawing a lot of detail and shading. I also stayed on model for the characters so it’s not too annoying for readers. That’s always a big pet peeve for me, and for a lot of comics fans: all these short runs in comics with creative teams changing all the time. To me, reading a comic with a new artist makes the characters feel like different characters. It’s like watching a TV show and they get a new actor to play a regular character. It’s very jarring.
So I eased into it. I could never straight up copy his style though. I don’t think anyone could. Cory is on another level than most American comic artists. His skill is above and beyond what’s out there in monthly comic land. Most artists have stock face angles. Go look at Cory’s work; He can draw a face (and anything, really) in any direction he wants. I bet he could animate a face perfectly rotating around, catching every angle. Mine and most other artists’ would be stock angles like front, side, and three-quarter view.
Seeing my art now, it’s very different than when I started. I was never that good at drawing without a lot of detail. Artists with heavy detailed styles are lucky because they can hide a lot of bad anatomy and lack of skill under thousands of crosshatch and tic lines. As a kid, that’s all I could see. I was blinded by it. So I had to work on my basic foundation as an artist over the years to up my skill and stop using the detail crutch.
Do you think you’ve progressed to the point now where you might be able to add more of that popular detailed line work into your regular “style?” I look at the art blog, The-BOG.tumblr.com, that you’ve done with James Harren. One of the things that stood out to me there was that, though it was clearly your work and your style, you were doing more detail in those sketches. More little lines. You have a great eye for texture and for shadows that comes through better in those black and white drawings with all the detailed noodling than in work like “Invincible” where the line work is kept so open.
Is that kind of detail not in “Invincible” because the book has a certain style you’re sticking to now, or because of how much time it would take to do all that noodling?
I have tried many different little style things in “Invincible,” but it’s more subtle. I don’t want to overpower “Invincible” with detail. That would change the book’s feel quite a lot. I do, however, do occasional crosshatching in the book, but not much. I did it a little more on my “Haunt” stint.
The BOG stuff is fun. It’s nice to experiment and play with details in those things, I’m going to have to do a short story of something in that style some day.
What is it about “Invincible” that attracts you to it? What keeps you hanging on? Is it the superheroics? The large cast? The storylines? Are you just in too deep now to ever think of getting out?
Well, it’s not the workload! It is definitely a fun comic to draw, has a great writer, and frankly the pay is better than anywhere else. If I didn’t have to work such crazy hours then it’d be even better, but that is the life of monthly comics.
How closely do you work with your colorist on “Invincible,” currently John Rauch? Do you pass notes in the margins back and forth, or have monthly phone calls? His colors do a lot to add shadows and drama to your art without being overbearing. Do you indicate any of those shadow lines along the way?
I don’t do much direction. Mainly I ask him to fix certain things if the colors are wrong since it’s hard to memorize every color on every character. John is amazing. He knows what he’s doing!
The only notes I do on the pages are for Cliff Rathburn about the inks, like if he needs to copy and paste a panel or something. His inks are the finished line art so there are no notes on the page at that point.
I just noticed that I think there’s only two sound effects in “Invincible” #100, and the one on the splash page is well hidden, almost. Did you draw that in, or was that letterer Rus Wooton?
I don’t draw any sound effects. That’s all good ol’ Rus!
Who’s responsible for the bloodshed in the book? It gets bloodier all the time, to the point where you squished Invincible’s head like a grape on panel as a splash page in #100. Is this something that’s built up over time? Are you pushing Robert for more red fluids, or vice versa?
Robert has it all in the script. I assume he likes the way I draw violence so he thinks up more gruesome scenes for me. I don’t know. I’ve always enjoyed the violent bits. I like to make it gruesome and shocking, but at the same time almost comedic. I enjoy the realistic cartoony art, so the violence isn’t just straight up gruesome; it has some happiness to it. I aim to create joyous smiles across the globe with my gore.
What’s your favorite part of the series to draw? Least favorite?
Favorite: gore. Least favorite: no gore.
Seriously, though, I enjoy drawing emotions, especially anger. It’s just so pleasing to make lines on paper act.
Some scenes can get tedious and boring at times, like talking scenes in a kitchen or something, but I just recall old regular jobs and remember I got it good.
You do some experimentations with Invincible. In the interview I did with Robert last week, I referred to the book as being “the playground” he gets to play in, while all his other books are fairly straight-and-narrow. You’ve done 16-panel page issues, all splash issues, divided art issues, etc. Would you like to do some of these techniques in “Invincible?” Color an issue? Draw an issue or a sequence in some kind of “hyper-realistic” style? More fantasy? More dragons or monsters?
I would like to do all those things but I don’t think “Invincible” is the right book for all that. If I colored an issue it’d be really late since I wouldn’t be drawing. The different panel stuff is great, I prefer the all splash page issue to the 16 panel grids though. A heavy detailed style would be too much of a departure. And fantasy? I guess Invincible versus a Unicorn could be the best, most violent battle of all time but I doubt Robert would go for it.
I’ll be disappointed now if someone doesn’t commission an “Invincible versus a Unicorn” sketch soon…
What will you be drawing in “Invincible” #150? Or what do you hope to be drawing?
Robert does occasionally talk to me about what’s happening in anniversary issues like that but I have no idea what will be going on for #150. I hope it’s something in space. I love the sci-fi aspects of “Invincible.” Maybe a Battle Beast origin!
How did the “Invincible” #100 celebration in Los Angeles go for you this weekend? What kind of craziness happened at the store?
The signing went amazing. The line was huge. Some people were waiting since midnight. Earth-2 Comics had a big cake made with one of my “Invincible” #100 covers on top in all its edible glory. Everyone in line would come in, grab some cake, get their stuff signed, and get photos if they wanted. Really fun time.
“The Walking Dead” fans counted for a lot of the line, of course. Robert said to one guy, “Oh, you dressed as a zombie for our ‘Invincible’ signing, good for you!” [Laughs]
There were lots of people who brought in just “The Walking Dead” stuff to get signed and walked past me all awkward and apologizing they had nothing for me to sign. I tell them it’s fine! Don’t worry about it. I totally understand “The Walking Dead” is a great comic and TV show, so the chance to meet Robert is what drove them to be there. It’s all good.
There were plenty of “Invincible” fans that loved the book and came mainly for “Invincible.” Their enthusiasm for the book is always great to hear. Loved to hear their opinion on the roller coaster ride that was issue #100. We got some killer passionate fans.
My wife and son and I left the store afterwards before Robert left. We were going to our car and saw groups of fans waiting outside for him behind the store near his vehicle. I really hope he’s still alive so we can make more comics.
Ryan Ottley draws “Invincible” every month from Image Comics.