Ryan Ottley didn't design Invincible, but the character would never have made it without him.
Early in the tenure of Robert Kirkman's ongoing superhero series -- issue #8, to be exact -- Ottley was brought on as penciller of "Invincible" when co-creator Cory Walker had to step aside, and he never left. Over 40 issues later, Ottley is one of the most recognizable artists on any independent comic book in America, and is branching out here and there with his own projects such as this year's 24-hour comic "Death Grub." But of course, Ottley's first priority remains the adventures of Mark Grayson.
CBR kicked off its celebration of "Invincible" #50 earlier this week with a two-part, in-depth conversation with Robert Kirkman (Part I here, Part II here) in which the writer detailed history of the long-running superhero series, where he will be taking the book over the next 50 issues, and exactly what's going on with the Invincible movie. Tomorrow CBR talks to colorist Bill Crabtree, followed by an exclusive preview of "Invincible" #51, and now Ryan Ottley takes a moment to recall his earliest issues of the series and explain why he's stayed around much longer than he ever expected.
CBR: Ryan, the myth is that you were discovered by Robert Kirkman as the artist for "Invincible" on Digital Webbing. At the time, did you have a day job you were working? How soon did you quit it once you got the "Invincible" gig?
Ryan Ottley: Actually, Robert saw my work from Penciljack.com and a webcomic called "Ted Noodleman: Bicycle Delivery Boy." I did do a lot of stuff with Digital Webbing before I met Robert, though. I didn't have a day job at the time -- it was comic art full time for me. Digital Webbing had an anthology and I collaborated with many writers doing short stories. It was all for free, but to me I counted it as my schooling. I was able to do all this free work because after I got fired from my warehouse job I got unemployment checks, and my wife still worked. So we were ok for a while. Luckily Robert contacted me right in time, I needed some paying gigs!
Your first "Invincible" work was a pinup for issue #7, but had you been reading since issue #1 before you got the gig?
Not at all. I remember seeing issue #1 on the shelf when it first came out, and I thought "Naw, no more superheroes!" So I never bought it. I drew the book just so I could have a gig, I really wasn't planning on staying this long but once I read everything and realized what an awesome book this is, I just got addicted. I've been happy with the book ever since. And I'd forgotten about that horrid pin-up from issue #7. But yeah it was bad.
What were the early issues like for you from a work perspective? Cory Walker has remained involved in the creative process here and there over the years, but was there lot of instruction when you were brought on, or was all the pressure to perform in your own head?
A little of both really. More so in my head -- I was pretty intimidated by a monthly book. I'd never done anything like this before. My normal style of art was more funny and stretchy, and I covered up a lot of my problems with details and things. With "Invincible," I really had to step up and try and learn my craft more and more with every issue. Drawing anatomy in tights is seriously the most difficult thing to pull off and try and make it look cool. Those first issues I did are not something I'm proud of at all. I mean, I guess they still help Robert's great story along without taking the reader out of the book, but from a personal artistic standpoint it's hard for me to look back on those issues without cringing.
The book started to blow up around the time that you drew the big Omni-Man/Invincible fight. When was the first time that you realized that the book had gained such a readership?
I think it was issue #10 or #11 when sales started going up, I forget. We thought it was going to be canceled for sure, but nope, people starting talking about it, and we got a few award nominations here and there and sales kept going up.
Have there been times as you went along where you doubted that the book would continue?
Yeah, there was talk of cancellation two or three times. I remember Robert saying to me that the book will probably end at issue #14. I was happy when that wasn't the case. Every time the sales went up, I got a raise, and it was going up every issue. So I really didn't want to leave. And I'm still with the book because it's got everything going for it. We just need to get it out on a better schedule.
At this point, you've drawn over 40 issues of the book. Do you have any favorite moments you've drawn or favorite story arcs you consider to be your strongest?
Issue #50. I can't tell you what scenes, or it'll spoil the issue, but it was one fun issue to draw. And usually when I say something is fun to draw, it means there must be violence. Because I'm a huge fan of violence, I try to spread it wherever I go.
What do you think your strengths are in terms of storytelling skills? Do you prefer the action stuff or the talky stuff most?
Action stuff, definitely. I think most artists would say the same. I do try and inject more energy with every new action scene, I want the reader to feel everything. I want them to feel the emotions I'm trying to lay down whether it's action or talking. It's basically like I'm trying to act through my art. If I can cause an emotional response from someone looking at a panel then I'm happy.
Kirkman mentioned the close collaboration you two have culvtivated over the past few years. Are there certain characters or situations you ask him to beef up in the scripts? Any you wish weren't in there so much?
We talk about this every once in a while, like not making scenes too long in one setting. I still haven't forgiven him for making me draw eleven pages of Art the Tailor and Invincible talking in issue #35. There is only so much of the same background and lame headshots I can draw. Boooorrrring.
Getting into issue #50, how do you feel about your work these days? After working on a few non-Invincible stories over the past year, how do you feel your current work differs from the older stuff?
Well, I do feel I've gotten better over the years, I think busting your butt constantly on a monthly book forces improvement. I do feel there is so much out there I still need to learn. Stuff I'll learn by just trying new things all the time.
After issue #50, you're moving forward with a new Invincible costume. What was your first reaction when you heard Kirkman's plan for that? Have you been having to remind yourself as you draw new pages to put Mark in the new duds?
It took me a second to get used to it. Cory did designs for it, and I do like drawing it quite a lot. I had to correct my lines a few times because I was so used to drawing the old one, but I'm used to it now. I've been uneasy before with only one or two of Robert's ideas he's had for the book, but he's a smart guy. All his ideas have turned out for the best, so I really can't doubt the guy. He's the first to tell you he's always right, and you know what? He's right.
Anyway, I love where he's taking the story and handling the new costume. You guys are going to love where it's going!