Ryan Sparks a "War of the independents"

For the past several years, New Jersey-based cartoonist and illustrator Dave Ryan has been working on a project that he hopes will draw some attention to independent comics and characters. After a few false starts, Ryan has pulled together more than two hundred characters, some very well known and some less so, to face off against a villain with a universe-spanning plot.

"War of the Independents" is a new miniseries from Ryan's Red Anvil Comics label. The story opens in present day then flashes back centuries before its villains are interrupted by none other than Dave Sim's aardvark barbarian, Cerebus. Debuting at this week's New York Comic Con, we spoke with Ryan about the story's origins, the logistics of getting so many different creators and their characters on the same physical and logistical page, funding the project through the Kickstarter website and more.

CBR News: Dave, tell us a little about yourself and your background.

Dave Ryan: I'm a 45-year-old illustrator and graduate from New Jersey City University. I've worked as a freelance artist for most of my career with varying jobs from children's books, fashion design and magazine illustrations to, of course, comic books. I also am involved in fine art painting, which includes portraits. 

What exactly is "War of the Independents" and where did this idea come from?

A few years ago, I was taken aback by the continual flooding of events in comics and a dwindling of independent titles. I toyed with the idea of doing something to counter the deluge and shed a little light on an ever-shrinking indie market, so I gave a few close creator friends a call to see what they thought and if they'd be into it. The concept grew and developed into a huge indie crossover, which I hope will be fun, action-packed and give the reader an opportunity to become familiar with, or at least aware of, some of the incredible creativity that's out there in the indie market.

How do you go from this idea of using a lot of independent characters in one story to actually getting in touch with people, asking to use their characters and dealing with the obvious legal issues.

Every creator was contacted individually by myself and respectfully asked if they wished to participate or not. If they gave an OK, a form had to be signed. It took a while to get all the forms signed, as you might imagine, but everything is ready to go now. 

So, that's the story behind the creation of comic - what's the story readers will find within the pages of the comic? Why are all these characters coming together?

Without giving away too much, a gateway is being built, which is powered by ancient relics that are being gathered by the villains. An army of heroes is brought together to prevent this from happening. Things aren't as clean cut as they may appear as not everyone has the greater good in mind. Keep an eye out for betrayal, romance, humor and a whole lot of action!

How many characters are in the series?

That's a good question! I'd say close to 200 or so. It's a loose number. I'll give an example: Mark Ellis's The New Justice Machine which has six members is in the story, so technically they are all in, but they may not all appear. The same concept goes for all teams involved.

Was the thinking to just use every character you could possibly use? Because I have to say, when Fone Bone, Gumby and Too Much Coffee Man were brought in - I mean, I'm not sure how good Too Much Coffee Man is going to be in a fight.

No, not at all. The concept of the book is to draw attention to the indie market. Despite the title, it's not all about warring and fisticuffs. The issues are broken down into loose genre related stories.

Don't underestimate hot coffee in a fight either!

A fair point! Are there any characters who, when you sat down to draw them, you felt intimidated?

It was important to me to translate as much of the creator's intent as possible through the art as well as dialogue, so a lot of research and familiarizing myself with the characters was quintessential to keeping the creator's authenticity.

You helped fund the book's print run through Kickstarter. Why did you go that route and what was the experience like?

Kickstarter is a great way to get involved with a project you might find interesting. There are so many different types of categories to choose from, with fantastic projects going on. It's a spectacular idea that redefines and merges venture capital with an IPO.

Personally, I found it stressful, but in a positive way.  It pushes you beyond the common complacency that hinders personal projects and really puts you in touch with people who care about what you're working on.

Also, one of the rewards through Kickstarter gave people a chance to enter their characters into the series, which was a unique and personal way to get connected.

The book has been a long time coming, having been originally announced years ago. What's taken so long for it to come out. Was it a question of the rights issues, cost issues, and was it all worthwhile?

As you might imagine, it took a while to gather the right ingredients to bake this cake. Creators were asked to sign-off on the story, which is akin to corralling cats, but it was a personal issue that really delayed the progress. The story and art are at a better place than it was, and I'm a pretty firm believer that retooling a project is usually a good thing. The entire process has been amazing as I've reconnected with old friends and made many new ones. It seems as if the advancement of social networks have grown in conjunction with our connective community; interlacing an often patchwork world of creators and readers alike.

The first issue of the book is debuting at this week's New York Comic Con, and you have a big party planned. What can we expect?

There will be 200 copies available of issue #1 at NYCC as well as exclusive prints and ash-cans. A remaining 1,300 copies will be available in November for store signings and conventions. Diamond will be soliciting the series [at a future date].

The after-party on Saturday night of NYCC (Oct. 9th) will be at Blaggards Pub and Restaurant on 8 West 38th street at 8PM. Major recording artists are Gordon Gano & The Ryans! Gordon Gano (the Violent Femmes) is joined by Billy and Brendan Ryan (The Bogmen).

What do you have in store for readers with issue #2?

Issue #2 will highlight black creators as well as characters in the indie comic field. Longtime indie creators such as Andre Batts, with his critically acclaimed Dreadlocks, to up-and-coming stars like Brian Williams, with his ostentatious powerhouse, Lucius Hammer, will be guiding readers through a fantastic adventure that's bound to enlighten collectors.

Forget Immortal - Marvel Introduces The Living Hulk

More in Comics