Battle Royale: "War of the Independents" with Dave Ryan

Civil Wars. Armageddons. Ages of apocalypses. Infinite crises. Year after year, comics fans have seen the biggest superhero characters in the medium come together to face insurmountable, world-threatening menaces. That, and beat the hell out of each other. But what about the indies? What about the madmen? The dragons? The public enemies? The aardvarks? They war too, surely? Well, if they didn't before, they certainly do now, in "War of the Independents," a milestone project coming next year from Arcana Studio that sees some of indie comics' most idiosyncratic come together in a war that is anything but civil. CBR News met on neutral ground with artist Dave Ryan to talk about the series.

"The War is a chance for readers to see their favorite independent heroes gathered together and for all of us to get a first-time view of new characters and talent," explained Ryan, who describes himself as the "Donald Rumsfeld" of this war. Joining him in the war room to plan "strategery" is scripter Scott Lobdell, inker Peter Palmiotti, and Richard Kane Ferguson helping with layouts and plotting. "Everyone involved has been personally chosen for their unique skills and contributions towards this specific project," Ryan stated. "Arcana Studio has become the perfect choice for such a project. (Arcana Studio chief) Sean O'Reilly has gone above and beyond to make this work."

Among the dozens of characters appearing in "War of the Independents" are Jim Valentino's ShadowHawk, Scott McCloud's Zot, Erik Larsen's Savage Dragon, Mike Allred's Madman, Joseph Linsner's Dawn, Billy Tucci's Shi, Dave Sim's Cerebus, and hip-hop legends Public Enemy, who, with their own indie comic out, qualify as independent heroes.

Bringing these characters together is the threat of villains who will appear first in Ryan's own series "Penance," which will be published in March 2008. "I promise you will love to hate these villains," declared Ryan. Indeed, "War of the Independents" finds all these characters dealing with a legitimate threat; not some farcical MacGuffin. "There will be some comedy but most of the series will be serious," said Ryan. The story revolves around the villains Kain and Orcus trying to create a reverse tower of Babel to open the gates of Hell and destroy the Earth." These villains appear first in Ryan's own Arcana book "Penance," which will be the prelude to the big war and host some of the heroes that will be seen in it. "The heroes in 'Penance' are not strong enough to deal with Orcus and Kain, so they recruit heroes from throughout time and space with help from Dawn."

Ryan credits the inspiration for "War of the Independents" to one simple thing: the Internet. "The inspiration came to me one day as I sat next to the recently finished 'Infinite Crisis' and 'Civil War' issues and glanced at the 'friends list' on my MySpace profile. It had occurred to me that no one has ever tried to unite the independents for a mega-crossover, but just as important to me was all the creators who have a dream but are stuck in a nightmare of self-publishing and will probably never be able to deliver their characters to the public.

"This was a way to do both."

Fans of independent comics are well aware of creators' passion for maintaining the integrity of their characters, which would make one assume that wrangling so many heroes – not to mention personalities – into a project like "War of the Independents" would bring with it an entirely new species of headache.

"It's pretty chill," confessed Ryan. "There's trustworthiness. Although I will be putting situations before the creators, getting their feedback on certain instances."

Not many artists get the chance to render so many indie favorites in one book, not outside of a 'zine anyway. A long-time indie comics reader, Dave Ryan found it difficult to choose which character gave him the biggest thrill to draw. "God, being 41 years old, I've grown up on a lot of these heroes which was a thrill for me to work on. From the 'old school' group, I'd say Mr. Monster."

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