One of the most critically-acclaimed comic book series to be launched in the last few years has been “Lucifer” from DC Comic‘s mature reader Vertigo imprint and while writer Mike Carey and artist Peter Gross have, appropriately so, received a lot of spotlight for their accomplishments on the series, there is another creator involved with the comic who contributes towards it’s success. The series actually has two artists, the second being a former student of Gross’ named Ryan Kelly and his love for “Lucifer” is right up there with the rest of the creative team. It was recently at FALLCON in St. Paul, Minnesota that CBR News was able to speak with Kelly and the dedicated artist was more than happy to discuss all things related to his career, including, of course, “Lucifer.”
“Describe ‘Lucifer?’ I’d call it a political drama- there’s no clear boundaries between good and evil,” explains Kelly. “We know Lucifer, he’s a manipulating type of character, but there’s so many other types of creepy characters in the book that he doesn’t seem so bad. It’s a really political book with the way Mike writes. As far as the main cast goes, you’ve got Lucifer, then you’ve got Mazikeen, whose Lucifer’s second hand woman if you will and guardian who’ll be pretty steady with him throughout the series, and then every storyline introduces a new faction that either has a political or personal agenda with Lucifer. Each story involves some new confrontation with Lucifer and his wall of superiority is breaking down with each issue, showing that the devil is a vulnerable being in the end.”
Landing the job on “Lucifer” is one of the best things that’s ever happened to Kelly, at least from his perspective, and he explains that he got the job for two reasons: hard work and his partnership with Peter Gross. “I’ve always been with Peter,” says Kelly. “I started off as an intern and then on the last couple of issues of ‘Books of Magic’ I got more autonomy- I’d fill in spaces, environment, kind of filling up the mood the book, whereas in the last ten issues of the series I started add more of my own personal touch into the series, with Peter instructing me. When Peter took over ‘Lucifer’ with the fifth issue, I got more involved and he passes me pages where I fill in details and it works out really well. It’s not the conventional artistic relationship- it isn’t the traditional penciler/inker type of role. I’m kinda the technician of the book: if it were a movie, I’d say Peter’s the director and I’m the set designer. Peter’s layouts are rough and he gives me really rough directions, he’s in charge of the way the books flows and the way the book looks: I take lines, forms, shapes and fill in bodies, lights, shadows and fill in the grandiose environments. Sometimes Peter does 90% of a page and sometimes he only does 10%- and sometimes I do 90%, sometimes I only do 10%- it just depends. We just go back and forth: if we’re drawing Death for example, he’ll draw her because he’s more experienced and I’ve never dealt with her or if we’re doing something important like handling the introduction of a new character.”
Kelly also explains that his attraction to comic books is one that most comic fans will understand: he likes to tell stories. “It’s the only medium where there’s an emphasis on storytelling and I don’t get that with painting or illustration,” explains the artist. “You only get one image to say so much, but with comics you get more images to build momentum. You can build up suspense with each image and you have so much freedom, so much autonomy. Where else are you lucky enough to have [editor] Shelley Bond telling you ‘go, do your own thing’ and then applauding you? She rocks!”
Working with someone like Mike Carey, whose name sits atop the many critics and fans’ best writer’s lists would be a very daunting task to many, but Kelly says that he isn’t intimidated. “I’ve never been in direct communication with Mike the way Peter is, because Mike sends the script to Peter and then I do all my work with Peter, so I’ve always been pretty comfortable. I’ve always been daunted by some writers and editors, but with ‘Lucifer’ I’m in a place where Mike does his thing, Peter does his thing and I do my thing, and I think it works pretty well,” says Kelly, also adding that he is just as comfortable working with an acclaimed artist like Gross. “I know what Peter wants and I know what his expectations are on the book. I want the book to look different from other Vertigo series- there’s a certain quality you expect from ‘100 Bullets’ and there’s a certain quality you expect from ‘Hellblazer,’ and with ‘Lucifer’ I’m thinking that the series needs a dark look, which is inspired by a lot of old prints that we’ve looked at, seeing as how Peter comes from a print making background, a more textural, rich and lined look for the series.”
For Kelly, the best aspects of working on ‘Lucifer’ boil down to simple things: the people around him and the work itself. “The best part of working on ‘Lucifer’ has been the creative autonomy and gaining the trust of the writer, artist and editor you’re working with on the series. There’s so much freedom in that- I also love the characters and there’s a fantasy/horror aspect of the series that appeals to me. I’m not sure if I’d be so suited for a crime/drama book for example. I don’t have any least favorite aspects of the series really. With every issue we do, it seems like something happens to one of us that makes us go on a one week vacation or head off to classes, something that causes us to be one week behind- that’s about it.”
The newest project that fans can expect to see from Kelly is called “Funrama,” which he was distributing at FALLCON. “I’m putting out my own series on the side about a clown boy who’s deformed and gets banished from Cuba in the 1920’s. He gets trapped in the Bermuda Triangle and he builds an amusement park there, being the most talented boy in the world. So all these freaks from all over the world and other dimensions come: it’s kind of a swash buckling tale with pirates and it’s kind of cross between ‘Citizen Kane’ and ‘Wizard of Oz,’ and I’m really excited about the story. I’m self-publishing right now and I’m going to get someone to publish a 100-page trade paperback, but I can’t name names right now. I don’t have a Web site, but you can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll send them one.”
Being a student as well as an artist, Kelly keeps quite busy and has to leave, but has a few parting words for fans:
“Don’t stop buying comics- they are wonderful! Buy your single issues, buy your trade paperbacks and buy ‘Lucifer’- Rock on!”
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